Steps toward sustainable ranching: an energy evaluation of conventional and holistic management in Chiapas, Mexico
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Rigoberto Alfano-Arguello; Stewart A. W. Diemont; Bruce G. Ferguson; Jay F. Martin; José Nahed-Toral; José David Alvarez-Solis; R. P. Ruiz
Publication Year: 2010

Cataloging Information

  • agriculture
  • Chiapas
  • cover
  • cropland fires
  • croplands
  • dairy farming
  • energy
  • farmer-to-farmer training
  • fire management
  • government assistance
  • grazing
  • herbicide
  • herbicides
  • livestock
  • Mexico
  • pesticides
  • range management
  • rotational grazing
  • trees
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: May 28, 2019
FRAMES Record Number: 48826
Tall Timbers Record Number: 25053
TTRS Location Status: Not in file
TTRS Call Number: Not in File
TTRS Abstract Status: Fair use, Okay, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


Conventional ranching in Chiapas, Mexico typically includes annual pasture burns and agrochemical use that decrease the biodiversity and forest cover of ranch lands. Members of a holistic ranching ''club'' in the Frailesca region of Chiapas, Mexico have moved away from this conventional management by eliminating burns and agrochemicals from their systems after decades of use because they believed that the land and their production process were growing unhealthy; they were further motivated by extension courses on holistic ranching. They have also implemented sophisticated systems of rotational grazing and diversified the use of trees. For this study all seven holistic ranchers and 18 neighboring conventional ranchers were interviewed about their cattle ranches and production strategies. An emergy analysis was conducted to compare the resource use, productivity and sustainability of the conventional and holistic ranches. Holistic ranches were found to have double the emergy sustainability index (ESI) values of conventional ranches, and the emergy yield ratio was 25% higher in holistic systems. Government assistance programs were found to have a negative impact on the ESI and were variably administered among holistic ranchers during the year of emergy evaluation. Overall improved emergy sustainability did not decrease milk nor cattle productivity. Transformities and specific emergies, the emergy of one type required to make a unit of energy (transformity) or mass (specific emergy) of another type, did not differ between conventional and holistic systems. Transformities for milk production ranged between 3.4E5 and 1.2E7 solar emjoules/joule (sej/J). Specific emergy for cattle production ranged from 3.5E10 to 1.5E11 sej/g. To improve the ESI assistance programs could be re-targeted toward incentive programs for increased forest cover in ranching systems and startup costs for holistic ranching. The results from this study show that productivity can be maintained as the sustainability of rural dairy ranches is increased. These results also show that local knowledge and understanding of the surrounding ecosystem can drive positive environmental change in production systems. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Alfano-Arguello, R., S. A. W. Diemont, B. G. Ferguson, J. F. Martin, J. Nahed-Toral, J. D. Alvarez-Solis, and R. P. Ruiz. 2010. Steps toward sustainable ranching: an energy evaluation of conventional and holistic management in Chiapas, Mexico. Agricultural Systems, v. 103, no. 9, p. 639-646. 10.1016/j.agsy.2010.08.002.