University of Vermont

Cultivating Healthy Communities

Publications by Juan Alvez


Alvez, Juan P.. Abdon L. Schmitt Fo, Joshua C. Farley, Jon D. Erickson & V. Ernesto Mendez Transition from Semi-Confinement to Pasture-Based Dairy in Brazil: Farmers' View of Economic and Environmental Performances. Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, Volume 38, Issue 9, 2014, pages 995-1014.

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The production of ecosystem goods and services has increased significantly in the last 100 years, while the capacity of ecosystems to generate supporting and regulating services has decreased. In this context, agriculture and livestock production have become major concerns. At the same time, livestock, particularly dairy cows, play a key role and can serve to improve ecosystems, production, and rural livelihoods. We randomly selected and conducted semistructural interviews with 61 dairy family farmers from four cooperatives in the Encosta da Serra Geral Region of the Atlantic rainforest in Santa Catarina, Brazil. The goal was to analyze their production and viewpoints about environmental variables after adopting management-intensive grazing (MIG). The overall results showed that when farmers changed from semi-confinement and continuous grazing to MIG they perceived improvements in production, livelihoods, and ecosystem services. Moreover, according to farmers’ insights, MIG could be a tool to increase water and soil quality, animal health, alleviate poverty, and complement Brazilian conservation efforts.


Alvez, Juan P.; Schmitt, A.; Farley, J.; Alarcon, G.; Fantini, A.C. The Potential for Agroecosystems to Restore Ecological Corridors and Sustain Farmer Livelihoods: Evidence from Brazil. Journal of Ecological Restoration.

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The Atlantic Forest is a highly diverse biome, extending from the northeast to the south of Brazil. The diversity of elevation and climate of this biome allows for extraordinary biodiversity with high levels of endemism. The original territory of the Atlantic Forest concentrates 65% of the Brazilian population, providing fundamental ecosystem goods and services such as climate regulation, water supply, erosion control, and pollination. An estimated 100 million people in Brazil depend on the water provided by the Atlantic Forest rivers and streams. In spite of its importance, the Atlantic Forest is one of the most threatened and fragmented biomes worldwide. Slightly over 11% of the original Forest remain, which are mostly remnants (83%) smaller than 50 ha and within 100 m from forest edges, revealing high levels of fragmentation. Reconnecting forest fragments became a national policy at the end of the 1990s through the Pilot Program for the Tropical Forest Protection (PP-G7), financed by the World Bank. This program has resulted in both the establishment of protected areas and some small functional corridors between them in high priority areas, particularly in the Amazon region. In addition to the PP-G7 program, Brazil’s main Forest Act of 1965 mandates permanent preservation areas (PPA or in Brazil, APP) along rivers and streams in an effort to provide natural ecological corridors for fauna and flora species outside protected areas.

Alvez, Juan P. "Livestock Management, Ecosystem Services, and Sustainable Livelihoods". Doctorate Dissertation, (275 pg.) defended Feb. 2012. University of Vermont

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Agroecosystems are frequently degraded beyond their capacity to support vital ecosystem services and thus sustain farmer livelihoods over the long-run. Adopting a more sustainable diary management system is particularly important given the pressure of this dominant human land-use worldwide. This research analyzes farmers' perceptions and the effects of different dairy management methods on ecosystem services provision, milk production, farm quality of life, and environmental awareness in two contrasting studies in Santa Catarina, Brazil and Vermont, U.S. Management intensive grazing (MIG) was found to out produce traditional grazing in Santa Catarina,while contributing to improved biodiversity protection, animal welfare, and ecosystem services from greater pasture coverage and soil restoration. No production differences were found between MIG, confinement and traditional grazing in Vermont, however environmental and social variables saw similar improvements under MIG adoption. Education and access to information was critical for the adoption of better management practices and environmental awareness. Both cases inform integrated policy strategies to address production, conservation and sustainable livelihoods.


Alvez, J., Matthews, A., Schmitt Filho, A., & Farley, J. Indicadores de sustentabilidade para pecuária (Sustainability indicators for cattle farms). Resumos do I Encontro Chapecó, SC, Brazil. Pan-Americano sobre Manejo Agroecológico de Pastagens, Cadernos de Agroecologia, 6(1).

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Sustainability indicators are important tools for assessing agricultural practices and implement changes when necessary. We suggest that sustainability indicators tied to agroecological practices could reduce carbon footprint and increase livestock sustainability. However, indicators and variables considered in sustainability analyses should be linked to specific activities and not generalized.

Berlin, L., R. Schattman, J. Hamilton. Working towards the Common Table: How Vermont Addresses Social Justice and Food Access with Local Food and Why it Matters. Opportunities for Agriculture Working Paper Series 2(5). Food Systems Research Collaborative at the University of Vermont Center for Rural Studies.*

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Hunger and food insecurity are growing concerns in the United States and around the world. Consequently, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) designated Global Food Security as one of the five focal areas for the National Institute for Food and Agriculture. Recently, the USDA released a report indicating that 13.6% of Vermonters are food insecure (up from 9.6% in 2004-2006) and 6.2% are hungry ("very low food security") compared to the national averages of 13.5% food insecure and 5.2% hungry (Nord, Coleman-Jensen, Andrews, & Carlson, 2010). At the same time, farmers in Vermont are struggling. The average net income of Vermont farms according to the USDA's 2007 Agriculture Census was $22,816/ year. This indicates the financial risk associated with agriculture and the challenges that Vermont farmers face in achieving business viability.

Unconnected strategies that either enhance food access or build economic success for agriculture may work at each other's expense. Hence there is a growing need for efforts that simultaneously support access to high quality, local food for low-income Vermonters while ensuring fair return to Vermont farmers. Approaches driven by this dual-goal have great potential to strengthen communities and further social equity, both important tenets of sustainable agriculture.

Farley, J., Schmitt Fo. A., Alvez, Juan P. Ribeiro de Freitas, N. "Ecosystem Services, Agriculture and Economic Institutions". Mountain Sky Group Articles.*

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Society must increase food production and restore ecosystem services or suffer unacceptable consequences. Unfortunately, conventional agriculture may be the single greatest threat to ecosystem function, while restoring farmlands to native ecosystems and reducing ecologically harmful agricultural inputs threatens food production. We fell into this predicament because we designed agricultural and economic systems that failed to account for ecosystem services, and the path forward requires redesigning both systems. Agroecology is a promising approach to redesigning agriculture, but perhaps the greater challenge is creating economic institutions that reward the provision of ecosystem services and hence provide the necessary incentives to scale it up to the desired level. Payments for ecosystem services (PES) are a policy mechanism designed to provide these incentives. However, the mechanism must be carefully tailored to promote agroecology among service providers and to capture adequate resources from service beneficiaries. The private sector either fails to provide the research and development required by agroecology, or else patents the resulting knowledge, decreasing its availability to those who need it. It also fails to provide fails to provide extension services, infrastructure and affordable credit. Public sector provision of these services has historically generated exceptional returns on investment. Similarly, the private sector is unlikely to voluntarily pay for most ecosystem services. Collective institutions however can restrict access to some services, like waste absorption capacity, then charge for their use. These institutions should be at the scale of the service provided. Revenue generated can then be used to fund international research centers to develop agroecology, national extension services to disseminate it, and affordable local microcredit schemes that finance adoption by farmers, but share the risk with service beneficiaries. The resulting knowledge and those ecosystem services not depleted by use should then be open access or all. The nature of the problem requires public sector solutions, while the scale of the problem requires public sector to public sector transfers. The solutions described here may not be ideal, but they are a useful starting point as we move forward.

Farley, J.; Schmitt, A.; Alvez, Juan P.; Ribeiro de Freitas, N. How Valuing Nature Can Transform Agriculture. Solutions Journal, Vol 2, No. 6. pp. 64-73

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Society must increase food production and restore vital ecosystem services or suffer unacceptable consequences. Unfortunately, conventional agriculture may be the single greatest threat to ecosystem function. At the same time, reducing ecologically harmful agricultural inputs or restoring farmlands to native ecosystems threatens food production. We fell into this predicament because we designed agricultural and economic systems that failed to account for ecosystem services, and the path forward requires redesigning both systems. Agroecology—which applies ecological principles to design sustainable farming methods that can increase food production, wean us away from nonrenewable and harmful agricultural inputs, and restore ecosystem services—promises to be an appropriate redesign of agricultural systems. We focus on the example of management-intensive grazing (MIG), which mimics natural grassland-grazer dynamics. Compared to conventional systems, MIG increases pasture growth and cattle production, reduces the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and enhances biodiversity, water quality, nutrient capture, and carbon sequestration. Redesigning economic institutions to reward the provision of ecosystem services and provide the public goods required for the global-scale development and dissemination of agroecology practices still presents a serious challenge. Payments for ecosystem services (PES) are a promising mechanism through which those who benefit from ecosystem services can compensate those who provide them, for mutual gain. Numerous schemes already exist that pay landowners for land uses that sequester carbon, regulate and purify water, and enhance biodiversity, but their effectiveness is debated. We propose a form of PES in which the potential public beneficiaries of ecosystem services at the local, national, and global scales fund the research and development, extension work (i.e., farmer education, usually supported by government agencies), and affordable credit required to scale agroecology up to the level required to provide for a growing global population.

Surdi, J., Schmitt Filho, A., Farley, J., Alvez, J. P., & Satschumi, H. O fluxo de serviços ecossistêmicos na agricultura familiar da Encosta da Serra Catarinense (The flow of ecosystem services in family farming of the Encosta da Serra Catarinense). Resumos do I Encontro Pan-Americano sobre Manejo Agroecológico de Pastagens, Chapecó, SC, Brazil. Cadernos de Agroecologia, 6(2), 1-6.

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Considering the predominance of family farming in the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil, a more sustainable livestock production has proved crucial. The objective of this study was to understand dairy farmers' awareness about ecosystem services. Sixty dairy farmers working under the Voisin system were randomly selected through structured interviews. Results revealed that farmers perceived that soils were more structured, moist and covered under Voisin system. In addition, the annual silage production and supplementation decreased due to the improvement of naturalized pasture. Farmers also observed an increase in carrying capacity. After the adoption of the Voisin system, farmers began to deliver water through water-tanks in the paddocks, decreasing animal access to water sources. Thus, it was observed that pasture-based milk production improved the farm environment, causing an apparent increase in the flow of services of this pastoral agroecosystems.


Farley, J., Schmitt F. A., Alvez, Juan P., Rebollar, P. M. The farmer's viewpoint: Payments for ecosystem services and agroecologic pasture based dairy production. Advances in Animal Biosciences (2010) 1: 490-491.

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Ecosystems provide a variety of services essential to human survival and well-being. For example, forests provide food and fiber, regulate climate and water, generate cultural benefits such as recreation, and create habitat for biodiversity. All economic production requires both energy and raw materials provided by nature, and unavoidably produces high entropy waste. Most raw material inputs into economic production otherwise serve as the structural building blocks of ecosystems. When economic activities remove ecosystem structure and return waste, the the result is a loss of function, including ecosystem services. Perhaps the most important problem our society currently faces is how to allocate ecosystem structure between conversion to economic production and conservation to provide ecosystem servies, both of which are essential to our well-being (Farley, 2010) Different agriculture systems proivide distinct conditions for the flow of ecosystems services. Farmers are required to produce food on an increasingly degraded environment for an ever growing population. Markets compensate for goods from the provisioning functions (food, raw materials, ornamental). Provisioning functions are tangible and can be tradable, such as the case of dairy products. On the other hand, the market does not account of the value from regulating functions such as water, forest, habitat and biodiversity protection among others (Alvez, 2010). When best management practices are adopted livestock management, especially dairy farming has the potential to promote ecosystem services such as water supply and regulation, soil formation, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, food provision, as well as supporting rural livelihoods (Meurer et al., 2009). The aim of this study is to assess farmers' perception about the flow of Ecosystems Services (Farley, 2010) associated to the transition from confined dairy production to pasture based dairy system called management intensive grazing - MIG (Meurer et al., 2009).


(In-review). Alvez, Juan P. and Murphy, W. Irrigation, Nitrogen, and Soil Amendment Effects on Pasture Forage Yield and Quality. Journal: Renewal Agriculture and Food Systems.

Maurer, F., Schmitt, A., Farley, J., Alvez, J., Oldra, A., DaRolt, L., & Francisco, F. (2009). Serviços Ambientais e a Produção de Leite sob Pastoreio Voisin na Agricultura Familiar: Ativos Ambientais que Devem ser Considerados. Revista Brasileira de Agroecologia, 4(2), 3830-3834.

Matthews, A., Alvez, Juan P., Cooper. C., Kestenbaum, D., Purchase N. Dairy Stewardship Alliance: Sustainability Indicators for Dairy Farms. UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture*

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Which sustainable practices contribute to increasing environmental stewardship on dairy farms? The Dairy Stewardship Alliance study has developed and vetted sustainability indicators for dairy farming. To be sustainable, practices guided by the indicators must enhance the natural environment and herd health, support profitability and improve the quality of life for farmers and their communities.

Book Chapters


Schmitt, A.; Farley, J.; Alvez, Juan P.; Alarcon, G.; May Rebollar, P.; Integrating Agroecology with Payments for Ecosystem Services in Santa Catarina's Atlantic Forest, In: Muradian, R. & Rival, L. Governing the provision of environmental services. Springer. ISBN 978-94-007-5175-0.

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Last modified May 07 2015 02:57 PM