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Increasing local capacity in agricultural landscapes

September 29, 2014

Increasing local capacity in agricultural landscapes

When Jacob Slusser finished his undergraduate degree in political science, he thought law school would follow. But then he came to Panama to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years, working on native species reforestation projects

When Jacob Slusser finished his undergraduate degree in political science, he thought law school would follow. But then he came to Panama to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years, working on native species reforestation projects. That changed everything.

Spurred by this newfound interest, he completed a Master of Science in Forestry at Michigan State University. Now Slusser is the Panama Coordinator for the Neotropical Training Program of the Environmental Leadership and Training Initiative, or ELTI, an initiative of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, in collaboration with STRI.

“At first, a social science background doesn’t seem very helpful for a forester but in actuality it is, as you must recognize the social values of landholders and how they influence their land-use decision making choices.” said Slusser.

ELTI’s work to restore tropical forests via ecological restoration courses and sustainable cattle ranching projects in Los Santos is a perfect example. Traditionally, forests there were almost completely cleared for grazing. But this led to highly degraded and unproductive landscapes. ELTI hopes to instill change by training farmers on the advantages of conserving and restoring forests to establish silvopastoral cattle ranches. (See previous story.)

“As a Peace Corps volunteer, you really believe in the community you are working with and you want to provide them with the best opportunities to become educated and empowered, so that they make their own informed decisions,” said Slusser, who has extended that vision to his work with ELTI. His goal is for communities “to make more sustainable land-use decisions to conserve biodiversity and restore forests while also meeting their agrarian livelihood needs.

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