Agricultural production is among the main drivers that are responsible for biodiversity losses, deforestation and soil degradation in Central America. Until recently, however, conservation of biodiversity and agricultural production have been considered as incompatible goals for the regional sustainable development. According to Macfadyen et al. (2012), measures aiming at protecting biodiversity can facilitate the preservation of ecosystem services, while the opposite is not necessarily true. Indeed, biodiversity supports ecosystem functioning which in turn sustains the provision of ecosystem services. In line with this concept, today and more than ever, the conservation of biodiversity in protected areas is becoming integrated in the agricultural matrix to provide additional services. Current research has shown that good land-use management practices in the
tropical forests and agricultural land, such as by establishing silvopastoral systems (SPS) and agroforestry systems (AGS) instead of treeless agricultural land, can provide an important solution to mitigate climate change through the increased carbon stocks in living biomass and soils (Daily 1997; Polasky et al. 2011; Pagiola et al. 2004). In addition, SPS involve the integration of woody perennials (shrubs and trees) with animal and pasture components, and have the potential to reduce the impact of livestock systems on the environment in the long term and enhance both livestock productivity and rural livelihoods (Pezo and Ibrahim 1997). A study by Harvey and Haber (1999) also shows that within fragmented forest landscapes, farm trees may represent critical habitats and corridors for plant and animal species, help maintain local and regional biodiversity and improve the ecosystem services. Given these multiple co-benefits, promoting SPS has become a very popular land-use management alternative in Central America. Moreover, it is obvious that forest conservation, SPS and other landuse practices and management may have significant impacts on the future economic returns to people whose livelihoods rely on the utilization or commercialization of natural resources. Therefore, a good understanding of the economic
and ecological impacts of land-use changes and management is essential for designing cost-effective management strategies to exploit sustainable agricultural practices. The current chapter proposes a methodological framework for a cost-benefit
analysis of alternative land-use options, and illustrates its application in a specific site in Costa Rica, known as an important biodiversity hotspot, the Central Talamanca Volcanic Biological Corridor (VCTBC), located in Cartago province. This site has been chosen for its high ecological and cultural value, due to its proximity to the Caribbean region, and secondly because of the existence of conflicting interests and trade-offs between the protection of the environment and current economic activities. Due to these reasons, it represents a very interesting location for analyzing the competing uses of land. The area extends over 72,000 hectares, spanning 18 districts of Cartago
province. Forty per cent of this area is covered by forests that protect significant resources, among them local biodiversity and water. It is home to 889 species of vertebrates (59 per cent of the national total), 601 species of birds (70 per cent), 169 species of mammals (70 per cent), 73 species of reptiles (31 per cent), and 46 species of amphibians (25 per cent). The VCTBC is a part of the Central American Corridor implemented in Costa Rica to allow wildlife to move from one protected area to another thanks to the connectivity provided by remaining forests and afforestation efforts in some farming areas. In addition to forest conservation, dominant economic activities of the region
are agricultural production, including mostly coffee, sugarcane and livestock. By 2010, the land uses within the corridor embraced 51 per cent of forest cover, 31 per cent of agricultural fields (pastures, coffee, sugarcane and forest plantations), 1 per cent of urban settlements, and 6 per cent of secondary semi-natural shrubby vegetation. Other important activities that may affect the regional sustainable economic development include trade and growing tourism (mainly ecological and adventure tourism). Collectively, these economic activities have resulted in the reduction and fragmentation of forest cover and the creation of complex mosaics of small agricultural plots, pastures, fallows, secondary growth and forests, in which the diversity and composition of plant and animal communities is often degraded (Harvey et al. 2005). Moreover, continual increase in global temperature will only accelerate the alterations in the functioning and performance of the tropical forest ecosystems, and ultimately affect human livelihoods through changes in the flows of ecosystem goods and services. In order to improve the land-use management in the VCTBC and increase the
regional resilience to climate change, four management principles have been established, including (i) regional institutional coordination for management, funding, systematization of experiences and data within the corridor, (ii) promotion of activities and capacity building related to environmentally friendly agricultural production, (iii) development of biodiversity conservation and research activities within the corridor, and (iv) use of education and diffusion of information as a strategic tool for fostering growth and consolidation of the corridor (Canet-Desanti et al. 2008).