ASSESSMENT OF THE ECOSYSTEM SERVICES PROVIDED BY AGRICULTURAL TERRACES

Evaluación de los servicios ecosistémicos proporcionados por las terrazas agrícolas

 

Asunción Romero-Díaz1*, Joris de Vente2, Elvira Díaz-Pereira2

1 Departamento de Geografía, Universidad de Murcia

2 Centro de Edafología y Biología Aplicada del Segura (CEBAS-CSIC)

 

ORCID identifier of the authors and e-mail:

Asunción Romero-Díaz: http://orcid.org/0000-0003-1355-4160. E-mail: arodi@um.es

Joris de Vente: http://orcid.org/0000-0001-7428-0621. E-mail: joris@cebas.csic.es

Elvira Díaz-Pereira: http://orcid.org/0000-0002-7459-5137. E-mail: ediazpereira@cebas.csic.es

*Corresponding author

 

ABSTRACT

Agricultural terraces have been widely used, throughout the world, since ancient times. Their scenic interest is undeniable and some are part of the UNESCO World Heritage. They are a very effective practice for soil and water conservation through the control of runoff and erosion, and provide farmers and society with important Ecosystem Services (ES). Here, we present a study based on 36 examples of terraces documented in detail in the WOCAT (World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies) database, complemented with a review of the scientific literature on the impacts of terraces, the objective being to assess the multiple ES they provide. The results show that the most important ES provided by terrace construction relate to regulating services, like control of erosion, runoff, and other off-site natural risks. In addition, terraces contribute to provisioning services like the supply of food, fiber, and water (quantity and quality), and to cultural services through the maintenance of cultural landscapes. Here, we verify the environmental, geomorphological, and hydrological functions of the terraces, as well as the improvement in the quality of life for the local inhabitants. However, technological advances in agriculture have led to the abandonment of this type of construction, with significant risks of erosion and loss of ES. Our assessment highlights the importance of preserving and restoring terraces as part of regenerative agriculture, with multiple benefits for the functioning of cultural landscapes and for society.

 

RESUMEN

Las terrazas agrícolas son ampliamente utilizadas en todo el mundo desde la antigüedad. Su interés paisajístico es innegable y algunas de ellas forman parte del Patrimonio Mundial de la UNESCO. Son prácticas muy eficaces para la conservación del suelo y el agua a través del control de la escorrentía y la erosión, y proporcionan a los agricultores y a la sociedad importantes Servicios Ecosistémicos (SE). Presentamos un estudio basado en ejemplos de terrazas documentados en detalle en la base de datos WOCAT (World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies), complementado con una revisión de la literatura científica sobre los impactos de las terrazas, con el objetivo de evaluar los múltiples SE que proporcionan. Los resultados muestran que los SE más importantes proporcionados por la construcción de terrazas están relacionados con servicios de regulación como el control de la erosión, escorrentía y otros riesgos naturales externos. Además, la presencia de terrazas favorece servicios de aprovisionamiento como el suministro de alimentos, fibras, y cantidad y calidad del agua. Se constatan las funciones ambientales, geomorfológicas e hidrológicas de las terrazas, así como la mejora de la calidad de vida de los habitantes. Sin embargo, los avances tecnológicos en la agricultura han llevado al abandono de este tipo de construcciones, con importantes riesgos de erosión y pérdida de SE. Nuestra evaluación destaca la importancia de preservar y restaurar las terrazas como parte de la agricultura regenerativa, con múltiples beneficios para el funcionamiento de los paisajes culturales y, en definitiva, para la sociedad.

 

Recibido: 13-02-2019. Aceptado: 24-03-2019. Fecha de publicación on-line: 07/06/2019

Citation / Cómo citar este artículo: Romero-Díaz, A., De Vente, J., Díaz-Pereira, E. (2019). Assessment of the ecosystem services provided by agricultural terraces. Pirineos, 174, e043. https://doi.org/10.3989/pirineos.2019.174003

KEY WORDS: Agricultural terraces; ecosystem services; WOCAT; sustainable land management.

PALABRAS CLAVE: Terrazas agrícolas; servicios ecosistémicos; WOCAT; gestión sostenible de la tierra.

Copyright: © 2019 CSIC. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License.


 

CONTENTS

ABSTRACT

RESUMEN

Introduction

Methods

Results

Discussion

Conclusions

Acknowledgments

References

1. IntroductionTop

World agriculture faces enormous challenges due to the growing population, the increasing demand for food, fibers, and biofuels, soil degradation, and climate change. In the coming decades, these processes will have serious implications for soil and water resources and, as a consequence, for many essential services of the ecosystems dependent on them, such as the production of food, fibers, and fuels, the supply of drinking and irrigation water, erosion and flood control, and climate regulation (Swinton et al., 2007). The conservation of soil and water is essential to face these challenges, due to its potential to increase production, protect natural resources, increase the resilience of agro-ecosystems, and minimize greenhouse gas emissions. There are examples of soil and water conservation from ancient civilizations and from the beginning of agriculture about 10,000 years ago. The best preserved and most documented measures, worldwide, are terraces on slopes and water capture and transport systems for irrigation (Spencer & Hale, 1961; Wilkinson, 2003). The importance of terraces is reflected, for example, in their estimated length in the EU (1,717,454 km) and in the more than 600,000 ha of stone terraces in Peru (Koohafkan & Altieri, 2011).

Agricultural terraces have different uses, typologies, and ages, in many countries around the world. They are found especially in mountainous areas (Arnáez et al., 2015), and although in the Mediterranean countries a high proportion have been abandoned (MacDonald et al., 2000; García-Ruiz & Lana-Renault, 2011; Romero Díaz et al., 2016), terrace cultivation is still practiced in mountainous areas of Asia, Africa, and South America. At present, terraces are still being built in areas of intensive agriculture adapted for the use of modern machinery. Table 1 provides an overview of the international literature related to terraces from different continents. Asia has the greatest representation, with 18 countries, most studies coming from China. In North America, terraces are frequent, but their importance is much greater in South America, especially in the Peruvian Andes. Terraces are common throughout Africa. In Europe, terraces are most common in Mediterranean countries (Italy, Greece, Spain), although they are also common in parts of Germany, Russia, and the Czech Republic.

Table 1: Overview of the international research on terraces included in this review.

Tabla 1: Algunas de las investigaciones internacionales sobre terrazas incluidas en esta revisión.

Continent Country References
AFRICA Ethiopia Gebrernichael et al., 2005
Kenya Thomas et al., 1980
Rwanda Kagabo et al., 2013
Tanzania Wickama et al., 2014
Tunisia Schiettecatte et al., 2005
Uganda Siriri et al., 2005
AMERICA Brazil De Oliveira et al., 2012
Canada Chow et al., 1999
EE.UU. Bragg & Stephens, 1979; Haas et al., 1966
Mexico LaFevor, 2014
Peru Antle et al., 2007; Sandor & Eash, 1995
ASIA Saudi Arabia El Atta & Aref, 2010
China Chen et al., 2012, 2017; Liu et al., 2004, 2011
Philippines Bantayan et al., 2012
India Sharda et al., 2002
Indonesia Van Dijk et al., 2005
Israel Hammad et al., 2004; Ore & Bruins, 2012
Iran Sharifi et al., 2014
Japan Qiu et al., 2014; Tokuoka & Hashigoe, 2015
Jordan Barker et al., 2007
Korea Park et al., 2014
Malaysia Hamdan et al., 2000
Nepal Tiwari et al., 2009
Oman Luedeling et al., 2005
Palestine Hammad et al., 2004; Hammad & Børresen, 2006
Pakistan Rashid et al., 2016
Thailand Sang-Arun et al., 2006
Vietnam Mai et al., 2013
Yemen Piestsch & Mabit, 2012
EUROPE Germany Loczy, 1998
Cyprus Galletti et al., 2013
Spain Arévalo et al., 2017; Arnáez et al., 2015; Asins 2006, 2009; García Ruíz et al., 2013; Lasanta, 1990, 2014; Lasanta et al., 2001, 2013; Ramos & Martínez-Casanovas, 2006; Reynes Trias, 2006; Romero Díaz et al., 2007, 2016; Romero Martin et al., 2016.
France Salvador-Blanes et al., 2006
Greece Koulouri & Giourga, 2007; Price & Nixon, 2005
Italy Agnoletti et al., 2019; Bazzoffi et al., 2006; Brandolini et al., 2017; Paliaga et al., 2016; Tarolli et al., 2014
Portugal Pacheco et al., 2014
Czech Republic Dumbrovsky et al., 2014; Kovár et al., 2016; Kosulic et al., 2014
Russia Borisov et al., 2012
Slovenia Ažman et al., 2016; Kladnik et al., 2016

Source: own elaboration.


The scientific interest in terraces is also shown by the many international conferences on this subject, such as the series of World Conferences on Terraced Landscapes (Mengzi, Yunnan, China in 2010; Cusco, Peru in 2014; Padua, Italy in 2016; Canary Islands, Spain in 2019), and by the various special issues of journals (Balbo & Puy, 2017; Varotto et al., 2019) and review articles (Dorren & Rey, 2004; Stanchi et al., 2012; Tarolli et al., 2014; Arnaéz et al., 2015; Wei et al., 2016; Chen et al., 2017).

Increasingly, the concept of ecosystem services (ES) is used also to evaluate the benefits of sustainable land management practices to society and human well-being. Facing the challenges of environmental and social changes, sustainable management of the ES is a worldwide priority (Quintas Soriano et al., 2018). The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) defines ES as “the benefits that the population obtains from ecosystems”. Four types of ES are generally distinguished: (i) provisioning (e.g. supply of food, fresh water, fuel, fibers, genetic resources); (ii) regulating (e.g. regulation of climate and water, diseases, pollination); (iii) supporting (e.g. soil formation and nutrient recycling); and (iv) cultural (e.g. spiritual, recreational, aesthetic, educational, cultural heritage). The benefits of ES for society can be direct or indirect and can often be valued economically (Camacho Valdez & Ruiz Luna, 2012; Ferrer et al., 2012), which facilitates the evaluation of the costs and benefits of prevention or restoration measures as compared to the costs and benefits of no action. The ES can be considered as benefits (Costanza, 2008) or, more broadly, as contributions to human well-being (Potschin & Haines-Young, 2011).

The objective of this study was to analyze the impacts of and the ES provided by agricultural terraces, by: (i) evaluating the environmental and socioeconomic impacts and the cost-benefit ratio of the implementation and maintenance of agricultural terraces; (ii) determining the ES provided in different countries and climates; and (iii) contrasting these results with the data from the scientific literature concerning the impacts of terraces on ES.

2. MethodsTop

To assess the impacts, costs, and benefits of agricultural terraces, we used detailed descriptions of the characteristics of terraces from the World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies (WOCAT) database. WOCAT is a global network that supports innovation and decision making in Sustainable Land Management (SLM) appropriate to local conditions. WOCAT aims to facilitate knowledge exchange, decision support, and scaling-up of the implementation of SLM. WOCAT brings together knowledge of a wide range of SLM techniques from all over the world, reporting in a standardized manner their characteristics, effectiveness, advantages, disadvantages, and costs and benefits of application, from which their impacts on ES can be determined. All entries in the WOCAT database are provided by local practitioners and experts and go through an expert review process (WOCAT, 2016).

In this study we review all 36 available technologies related to agricultural terraces from different continents (Table 2), documented in detail in the WOCAT database. We analyze the characteristics of each one regarding: (1) location, type of technology, surface area involved, types and causes of degradation, objectives to be achieved, type of measure; (2) climatic, topographic, soil, hydrologic, and biodiversity characteristics of the areas of implementation; (3) socioeconomic aspects; (4) the costs of establishment and maintenance and the cost/benefit ratio; (5) socioeconomic, sociocultural, ecological, and off-site effects; and (6) the ES provided by the terraces.

Table 2: Evaluated technologies from the WOCAT database, specifying their climate conditions and countries.

Tabla 2: Tecnologías evaluadas de la base de datos WOCAT, especificando sus condiciones climáticas y países.

Reference Climate SLM technology Country
AS604en Semi-arid Alfalfa intercropping in terraced fruit orchard Afghanistan
BAN004en Humid Valley floor paddy terraced cultivation Bangladesh
CHN021en Humid Orchard terraces with bahia grass cover China
CHN045en Semi-arid Zhuanglang loess terraces China
CHN050en Semi-arid Terrace China
CHN051en Semi-arid Bench terraces on loess China
CHN053en Semi-arid Progressive bench terrace China
CYP004en Semi-arid Agricultural terraces with dry-stone walls Cyprus
ETH009en Semi-arid Konso bench Terrace Ethiopia
ETH014en Semi-arid Stone faced soil bund of Tigray Ethiopia
ETH015en Semi-arid Stone faced trench bund Ethiopia
ETH019en Semi-arid Stone bund of Tigray Ethiopia
ETH036en Semi-arid Sorghum terraces of Diredawa Ethiopia
ETH606en Semi-arid Large semi-circular stone bunds Ethiopia
GRE004en Semi-arid Land terracing in olive groves Greece
IDS090en Subhumid Paddy field terrace Indonesia
IND019en Semi-arid Contour trench cum bund India
KEN005en Subhumid Fanyajuu terraces Kenya
KEN657en Subhumid Agroforestry land use in bench terraces Kenya
NEP002en Humid Improved terraces Nepal
NEP010en Humid Traditional irrigated rice terraces Nepal
NIC003es Subhumid Individual terraces Nicaragua
NIG018fr Semi-arid Murets Nigeria
NIG073en Semi-arid Contour bunds for crops & forest/rangeland Nigeria
PER001en Semi-arid Rehabilitation of ancient terraces Peru
PHI012en Humid Rainfed paddy rice terraces Philippines
RSA003en Subhumid Traditional stone-wall terraces South Africa
RWA003en Subhumid Radical terraces Rwanda
SPA002en Semi-arid Vegetated earth-banked terraces Spain
SWI002en Subhumid Contour small bench terraces with green cover in vineyards Switzerland
SYR001en Semi-arid Stone-wall bench terraces Syria
TAJ013en Semi-arid Combined cut-and-carry and fruit-production system with terraces Tajikistan
TAJ105en Semi-arid Mulching in rainfed vineyards on terraces in the loess hill zone Tajikistan
TAJ362en Semi-arid Gradual development of bench terraces from contour ditches Tajikistan
THA025en Humid Small level bench terraces Thailand
YEM001en Semi-arid Bench terraces covered with small stones Yemen

Source: own elaboration from the WOCAT database.


The classifications used for the assessment of the impacts are listed in the WOCAT Questionnaire on SLM (WOCAT, 2016). In the WOCAT database the impacts of technologies are considered high (H) when they are above 50%, medium (M) when between 20 and 50%, and low (L) if a measure results in a change of between 5 and 20% in a variable.

3. ResultsTop

3.1. General characteristics of the technologies and where they are applied

Of the terrace technologies described in WOCAT, 50% originate from Asia, 33% from Africa, 11% from Europe, and 6% from South America, with a notable presence of countries such as Ethiopia or China. The technologies are generally applied in small areas: 30% have an area between 0.1 and 1 km2, and 70% occupy less than 100 km2 (only 27% have an area > 1,000 km2).

Soil degradation in the areas where the terraces are applied usually occurs due to a combination of different causes or drivers: (i) indirect (land tenure, population pressure, education, inputs and infrastructure, poverty); (ii) human induced (deforestation, soil management, disturbance of the water cycle, gradual abandonment of mountain agriculture); (iii) indirect and natural (extreme rainfall, steep mountain terrain); and (iv) indirect and naturally induced. In relation to the terraces, the main type of degradation reported in WOCAT is degradation due to water erosion (75%), followed by the combination of water erosion and chemical soil deterioration (21%) and the combination of water and wind erosion, representing only 4% of the cases. Hence, the main technical functions of terraces are the control of runoff, the reduction of the slope, the increase in water infiltration and soil cover, the incorporation of organic matter into the soil, and the increase in soil fertility. The objective of the interventions is predominantly the mitigation of degradation processes, followed by prevention and rehabilitation. Farmers are aware of the need to implement measures to prevent soil degradation, so in 50% of cases the origin of the technologies is a local initiative, while the other 50% have an external origin.

In 64% of the cases reported, terraces are structural conservation measures, in 14% they are combined structural/vegetative measures, and in 8% a combination of agronomic/vegetative/structural measures. The typology of the terraces is diverse: terraces made with stones predominate, representing 36%; followed by those built with earth and vegetation (25%) and earth alone (22%). The remaining 6% correspond to terraces built with diverse materials such as tires or cement bags filled with earth. The choice of the type of terrace depends on several factors, such as the type of soil, slope gradient, availability of stones, availability of labor, or cost. The dimensions of the terraces vary depending on the technique used and the type of slope. On steep slopes, high terraces predominate (Ethiopia, Peru, Syria). The technique used is usually related to the purpose or to the type of crop to be planted.

From an environmental point of view, 64% of the technologies reported have been developed in semi-arid climates, 19% in sub-humid, and 17% in humid. The predominance of terraces in semi-arid regions is due to the irregularity of rainfall and the serious problems of soil degradation in these environments. Regarding the pre-existing morphology, hillslopes account for 64% of cases. The predominant slope is hilly (16-30%), followed by steep (30-60%) and rolling (8-16%).

The soils from semi-arid regions where the terraces are implemented are mostly shallow (< 50 cm), while those from more humid regions can exceed 120 cm in depth. Regarding the texture, most (72%) have a medium texture (loam), 19% have a coarse (sandy) texture, and the rest have a fine texture (clay). Soil fertility is low or very low in 60% of cases and average in 37%, while only 3% of the soils have high fertility. The superficial soil organic matter content is consistent with the soil fertility, being low (< 1%) in 60% of the cases analyzed and moderate (1-3%) in 40% of them. Regarding the hydric properties of the soils, the drainage capacity is moderate-high in most cases and the soil water storage capacity is moderate-high in 50% of them.

3.2. Cost-benefit ratio of implementation and maintenance

The cost-benefit ratio of terrace implementation and maintenance is an important aspect for farmers. Analysis of the WOCAT database shows that if the implementation costs of terraces are low, their maintenance costs are usually high and vice versa. This is because the terraces built with earth are cheap to build, but have to be repaired continuously, while the cost of building terraces with stonewalls, that require specialized personnel, is much higher but they last longer and have very limited maintenance costs. There are records of centuries-old terraces built with stone from Peru, Syria, and Israel (Ore & Bruins, 2012).

Farmers consider the establishment costs of terraces to be negative in the short term (1 year), but positive and very positive in the long term (10 years). Regarding maintenance, the costs are perceived as positive and slightly positive in the short term, and positive and very positive in the long term (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Cost-benefit ratios for the establishment and maintenance of terraces in the short term and long term. Source: own elaboration from WOCAT database.

Figura 1: Relación coste-beneficio para la implantación y mantenimiento de terrazas a corto y largo plazo. Fuente: elaboración propia a partir de la base de datos WOCAT.

3.3. Impacts of terrace construction

Socioeconomic and production impacts. The most important positive impacts derived from the construction of terraces are increases in crop yield, fodder production, and farm income. Other benefits mentioned, although less frequently, are the simplification of farm operations, increased animal and wood production, reduced demand for irrigation water, more efficient irrigation and fertilizer use, and a lower risk of crop failure. In a few cases negative effects are reported - such as increased labor constraints, the need for greater agricultural inputs, loss of land, access constraints, and reduced crop production, since the terrace occupies part of the previously productive land. The changes with lower impact are the increased supply of irrigation water, breakage of the structure of the topsoil, hindering of farm operations, increased economic inequality, and, in some cases, reduced animal output.

Sociocultural impacts. The most notable benefits are the improved knowledge of soil conservation and erosion, strengthening of community and national institutions, and improved food security. In three cases the improvement of cultural opportunities and of the situation of certain disadvantaged groups is mentioned. Regarding negative impacts, sociocultural conflicts are mentioned in four cases and the loss of recreational opportunities in one.

Ecological impacts. A high positive impact is associated with the reduced soil loss, increased soil moisture, improved soil cover, and reduced surface runoff, together with increases in the soil fertility and biodiversity. To a lesser degree, the collection of surface runoff improves, the loss of excess water by drainage is diminished, the soil organic matter increases, and the risk of adverse events is reduced. A small number of cases report reductions in the evaporation, soil crusting/sealing, and wind velocity, and increases in the aboveground biomass, plant diversity, quantity of water available, carbon sequestration, and groundwater recharge. The main ecological disadvantages, mentioned in three cases, are related to reduced river flow and an increased number of niches for pests. In two instances, increased fire risk, increased risk of waterlogging, and reduced biodiversity are cited.

Off-site impacts. The positive effects, with high or very high impacts, are related to reduced flooding and siltation downstream. In second place is increased streamflow in the dry season, followed by reduced surface water pollution, reduced damage to infrastructure in the fields of neighbors, and a decline in wind transported sediments. To a lesser extent, there is increased groundwater recharge, the sediment yields in the valley bottom decrease, and the water buffering/filtering capacity improves. By contrast, reduced sediment yields are considered a disadvantage in six cases, in four of which reduced river flows are also evaluated negatively.

3.4. Ecosystem services provided by terrace construction

Based on the impacts that derive from terracing, we identified a series of provisioning, supporting, regulating, and cultural ES provided by terraces.

Provisioning Ecosystem Services. Often, the term provisioning ES refers mainly to the supply of food, fiber, fuel, and water, but we also include the supply of land available for production, since this was mentioned in two cases. Increases in the provision of food and, as a consequence, improvements in food security stand out, as do, to a lesser degree, the increased animal output, reduced risk of crop failure, and increased fodder production. In some cases, terraces have improved the quality and quantity of the available water. The water quality rises due to improved buffering and filtering, thereby reducing groundwater and river pollution. The quantity of water available increases due to a reduced demand for irrigation water, thus enhancing the harvesting of water and its availability. Wood production constitutes a provisioning ecosystem service in six of the technologies present in the WOCAT database and land supply does so in two (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Provisioning ecosystem services provided by terraces. Impact: H = high, M = medium, and L = low. Source: own elaboration from WOCAT database.

Figura 2: Servicios ecosistémicos de aprovisionamiento proporcionados por las terrazas. Impacto H = alto, M = medio y L = bajo. Fuente: elaboración propia a partir de la base de datos WOCAT.

Regulating Ecosystem Services. In order of importance, these are: (i) reduction of natural hazards, (ii) reduction of erosion, (iii) water regulation, (iv) climate regulation, (v) biological regulation, and (vi) health (Figure 3). By reducing runoff and erosion, the floods, sedimentation, and damage to infrastructure downstream and in neighboring fields are reduced. Water regulation involves increased soil moisture, decreased runoff, reduced evaporation, water retention, and recharge of aquifers. Climate regulation is achieved by the sequestration and stabilization of carbon in soils. Regarding biological regulation and health, terraces are less important, although in some cases increases in the diversity of plants and animals and in the abundance of beneficial species, and an improvement in the functioning of the ecosystem, are mentioned.

Figure 3: Regulating ecosystem services provided by terraces. Impact: H = high, M = medium, and L = low. Source: own elaboration from WOCAT database.

Figura 3: Servicios ecosistémicos de regulación proporcionados por las terrazas. Impacto H = alto, M = medio y L = bajo. Fuente: elaboración propia a partir de la base de datos WOCAT.

Supporting Ecosystem Services. These ES, identified in fewer cases, refer to: (i) genepool protection, due to enhancement of (soil) biodiversity, and (ii) nutrient cycling, due to increased soil fertility, aboveground biomass, and nutrient cycling recharge (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Supporting ecosystem services provided by terraces. Impact: H = high, M = medium, and L = low. Source: own elaboration from WOCAT database.

Figura 4: Servicios ecosistémicos de soporte proporcionados por las terrazas. Impacto H = alto, M = medio y L = bajo. Fuente: elaboración propia a partir de la base de datos WOCAT.

Cultural Ecosystem Services. Cultural ES include the potential for recreational activities, education, and strengthening of institutions. It is worth pointing out the improved knowledge of soil erosion and conservation (64% of cases) and the strengthening of community institutions (42% of cases) (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Cultural and amenity ecosystem services provided by terraces. Impact: H = high, M = medium, and L = low. Source: own elaboration from WOCAT database.

Figura 5: Servicios ecosistémicos culturales y recreativos proporcionados por las terrazas. Impacto H = alto, M = medio y L = bajo. Fuente: elaboración propia a partir de la base de datos WOCAT.

4. DiscussionTop

Here, we discuss the results obtained from the analysis of terrace technologies described in the WOCAT database and the review of the scientific literature. Table 3 summarizes a selection of studies related to the ES provided by terraces.

Table 3: Selected papers reporting information related to terraces and ecosystem services provision.

Tabla 3: Documentos seleccionados que contienen información relacionada con las terrazas y la provisión de servicios ecosistémicos.

PROVISIONING
Food Hass et al., 1966; Hammad et al., 2004; Hammad & Børresen, 2006; Wei et al., 2016; Rashid et al., 2016
Water Hass et al., 1966; Thomas et al., 1980; Chow et al., 1999; Beach et al., 2002; Liu et al., 2004, 2011; Schiettecatte et al., 2005; Rashid et al., 2016; Reynes Trias, 2006; Wei et al., 2016
REGULATING
Erosion Thomas et al., 1980; Wheaton & Monke, 1981; Chow et al., 1999; Beach et al., 2002; Sharda et al., 2002; Dorren & Rey 2004; Hammad et al., 2004; Gebrernichael et al., 2005; Reynes Trias et al., 2006; Romero Díaz et al., 2007; Chen et al., 2012; Pietsch & Mabit, 2012; Kagabo et al., 2013; Dumbrovsky et al., 2014; Zhang & Li, 2014; Arnaez et al., 2015; Mekonnen et al., 2015; Kovár et al., 2016; Rashid et al., 2016; Wei et al., 2016; Arévalo et al., 2017; Chen et al., 2017
Water Thomas et al., 1980; Sandor & Eash, 1995; Chow et al., 1999; Beach et al., 2002; Liu et al., 2004, 2011; Schiettecatte et al., 2005; Rashid et al., 2016; Reynes Trias et al., 2006; Wei et al., 2016.
Flooding Sandor & Eash, 1995; Beach et al., 2002; Dumbrovsky et al., 2014; Kovár et al., 2016.
Climate Antle et al., 2007; Bocco & Napoletano, 2017.
Fire risk Reynes Trias et al., 2006; García-Ruiz et al., 2013.
HABITAT OR SUPPORTING
Nutrient cycling Liu et al., 2011; Chen et al., 2012; Damene et al., 2012; Stanchi et al., 2012; Kagabo et al., 2013; Rashid et al., 2016; Wei et al., 2016; Arévalo et al., 2017.
Biodiversity Bragg et al., 1979; Kosulic et al., 2014; Tokuoka & Hashigoe, 2015; Wei et al., 2016; Arévalo et al., 2017.
CULTURAL & AMENITY
Cultural value Reynes Trias et al., 2006; UNESCO, 2008; Koohafkan & Altieri, 2011; Wei et al., 2016
Landscape value Paoletti, 1999; Reynes Trias et al., 2006; Arévalo et al., 2017
Tourism & Educational resource Reynes Trias et al., 2006; UNESCO, 2008; García-Ruiz et al., 2013; Qiu et al., 2014; Wei et al., 2016

Source: own elaboration.


4.1. Provisioning Ecosystem Services

Our analysis demonstrates that many terraces are designed to provide a larger area for cultivation on slopes, spaces that would otherwise be very difficult to cultivate, while guaranteeing long-term agricultural cultivation (Figure 2). Thus, terraces contribute to greater agricultural production potential. Haas et at. (1966) highlighted their contribution to the increase in the provision of food and water, indicating that there is greater soil moisture in the terraces, contributing to higher crop yields. Hammad et al. (2004) reported that terraces contributed to increased wheat production, while Hammad & Børresen (2006) found a 2.5-times higheryield with terraces. In addition, several studies indicated how terraces, especially those made with stones, favor drainage, water conservation (Chow et al., 1999), and groundwater recharge (Liu et al., 2004). Schiettecatte et al. (2005) and Rashid et al. (2016) considered terraces very effective water harvesting techniques.

4.2. Regulating Ecosystem Services

Terraces reduce the slope gradient and surface runoff, favoring the infiltration of water so that soil erosion processes decreases. For this reason, terraces deliver numerous regulating ES to the owners of the land and to society (Figure 3). As erosion decreases and water retention increases, the production of food, fiber, and wood together with the quantity and quality of the water available improve and income increases. This retention of soil and water minimizes natural risks (e.g. floods), reducing construction and maintenance costs for infrastructure like irrigation channels or reservoirs, especially in regions affected by irregular or intense seasonal rainfall (Sandor & Eash, 1995). This function of water retention in soils and reservoirs will be increasingly important if the climate change projections characterized by a decrease in precipitation and increased droughts and torrential rains materialize (Eekhout et al., 2018). Regarding fire risks, the agricultural use of the terraces configures areas with scarce vegetation and a marked horizontal discontinuity of fuel, thus reducing the risk of fire and its propagation (Reynes Trias, 2006). However, García-Ruiz et al. (2013) commented that abandoned terraces in which plant colonization has been rapid can be more prone to fires.

The importance of the regulating ES is reflected in the large volume of research highlighting the effectiveness of terraces regarding erosion and flood reduction (e.g. Beach et al., 2002; Gebremichael et al., 2005; Zhang & Li, 2014; Chen et al., 2017). Mekonnen et al. (2015) identified terraces as sediment retention traps and Wheaton & Monke (1981) considered them the best measure for erosion control. In a sub-humid climate in India, Sharda et at. (2002) verified experimentally how terraces are very effective in reducing runoff and soil loss: by more than 80% and 90%, respectively, compared to the system without terraces. In addition, Zhang & Li (2014) noted how terraces in northeastern China reduced the rate of soil erosion by 16% for the entire slope and recommended that traditional farming practices be changed to terraced cultivation. Terraces can reduce water erosion significantly, provided they have been properly planned, constructed, and maintained; otherwise, they can cause land degradation and increase erosion (Dorren & Rey, 2004; Romero Díaz et al., 2007). The important role of terraces in water regulation has been shown on numerous occasions, from the ancient Mayan terraces (Beach et al., 2002) to those of Pakistan (Rashid et al., 2016), China (Liu et al., 2004), and Spain (Reynes Trias, 2006).

One consequence of the regulation of runoff, increased infiltration, and enhanced recharge of aquifers (Liu et al., 2004) is the reduction of floods (Wei et al., 2016). In fields of Bohemia, Kovár et al. (2016) simulated the influence of terraces on runoff using the KINFIL model and verified the effectiveness of terraced systems in flood mitigation and the resulting soil erosion. Dumbrovsky et al. (2014), in the Czech Republic, modeled the impacts of different terraces and performed a cost-benefit evaluation of the effect of terrace design on the sedimentation of water courses and potential damage in urban areas as a consequence of floods. They concluded that the average potential damage exceeded € 2.4/m2. Thomas et al. (1980) highlighted the regulation of water by terraces. The higher carbon sequestration in terraced soils and its relevance to climate mitigation was highlighted by Antle et al. (2007). Bocco & Napoletano (2017) stressed the important role of terraced agriculture in climate change adaptation in Latin America.

4.3. Supporting Ecosystem Services

Supporting ES mainly concern the improvement of the nutrient cycle and biodiversity (Figure 4). The formation of terraces by filling and plowing also helps to form zones with a high content of nutrients (Stanchi et al., 2012). Liu et al. (2011) demonstrated how terracing in the Loess plateau in China stores and retains large volumes of water, promoting more favorable interactions between water and fertilizers. Damene et al. (2012) concluded that terracing in Ethiopia reduced the loss of nutrients by erosion, but indicated that it is unlikely that terracing alone will improve soil fertility. This requires terracing combined with integrated nutrient management. In an extensive review, Stanchi et al. (2012) concluded that soil fertility often declines following the abandonment of terraces, if erosion processes intensify. Kagabo et al. (2013) analyzed the fertility of soils in terraced and non-terraced areas in Rwanda, and verified that soil fertility was higher in the lower parts of the terraces, which had a higher organic carbon content (57%) and higher phosphorus availability (31%) than the higher parts of the terraces. Arevalo et al. (2017) showed that the soil quality in terraced fields on the island of Lanzarote (Canary Islands) was better than in non-terraced fields. Soil conditions are often improved in consolidated terraced terrain, in comparison with recently terraced landscapes, as found in vineyards in the Northeast of Spain (Ramos et al., 2006).

Regarding biodiversity, terraced cultivated landscapes often allow the conservation of varied plant and animal communities. According to Bragg & Stephens (1979) and Wei et al. (2016), terraces can benefit the restoration of vegetation and improve the biodiversity due to the higher soil moisture and nutrient content. Egea Fernádez & Egea Sánchez (2010) mentioned how some birds build their nests on the terraces of rainfed arboreal crops, and Kosulic et al. (2014) found that vineyard terraces can serve as a refuge for endangered spiders. Following abandonment, on occasions, the diversity of plants is greater and even the stone-walls themselves can house a large number of plant and animal species (Tokuoka & Hashigoe, 2015).

On the other hand, terraces can also have negative impacts, especially if poorly planned, constructed, or maintained. For example, through severe land leveling, subsoiling, and the use of heavy machinery, terracing can reduce the content of organic matter, the water retention capacity, and the stability of the aggregates. In this respect, Bazzoffi et al. (2006) showed that soil losses due to landslides were greater in Italian terraced vineyards, and Romero Díaz & Belmonte Serrato (2008) found that the terraces built for afforestation destroyed the original soil, leaving poor soils that lacked structure and nutrients.

4.4. Cultural Ecosystem Services

Terraces have an important cultural and ethnological value throughout the world. The transformation of the environment by the application of traditional techniques has given rise to a set of knowledge, practices, and techniques of great value. These cultural landscapes form part of the identity and cultural diversity of many regions and are worth conserving and protecting. In addition, in many cases, they can become a tourism resource, taking into account their landscape, cultural, and historical values. Among the educational and scientific ES of the terrace technologies analyzed, the better knowledge of the erosion and conservation of soils acquired by farmers stands out, as does the strengthening of the community institutions (Figure 5).

The uniqueness of terraced landscapes is recognized internationally, as reflected in some cases by their status as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This is the case, for example, of the terraces of Machu Picchu in Peru (since 1983), the rice fields of Ifugao in the Philippines (1995), Cinque Terre in Italy (1997), the vineyards of the Douro in Portugal (2001), and the Sierra Tramuntana on the Spanish island of Mallorca (2011), among others. These areas also stand out from the landscape point of view (Paoletti, 1999), which is why they constitute a tourism resource (Qiu et al., 2014). It is also worth mentioning that in November 2018 “The art of dry stone construction: knowledge and techniques”, with contributions from countries such as Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Spain, and Switzerland, was declared part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

5. ConclusionsTop

We have shown the importance of terraces in the functioning of agricultural landscapes and their impacts on ES. Terrace construction, sometimes going back millennia, has brought many benefits to farmers and society in general. Our assessment of different terrace techniques documented in the WOCAT database highlights their advantages, disadvantages, costs, and benefits. WOCAT proved an essential resource to review global Sustainable Land Management (SLM) practices and their effectiveness, and to facilitate the dissemination of local knowledge. From our review of the impacts, we conclude that the construction of terraces, in general, has very positive effects on socioeconomic, production, sociocultural, ecological, and off-site factors. Although to a lesser extent, some negative impacts are reported for certain technologies as well, especially when terraces are poorly planned, constructed, or maintained.

We identified different provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural ES provided by terraces (Figure 6). Of particular importance are the regulating ES that result in the reduction of runoff and soil erosion and of natural hazards downstream (e.g. floods), which could cause damage to infrastructure. Terraces help to improve soil conditions and soil moisture and, in some cases, crop yields and/or biodiversity increase. In this way, terraces can make an important contribution to the adaptation to climate change.

Figure 6: Main ecosystem services provided by terraces. Impact (%): H = high, M = medium, and L = low. Source: own elaboration from WOCAT database.

Figura 6: Principales servicios ecosistémicos proporcionados por las terrazas. Impacto (%) H = alto, M = medio y L = bajo. Fuente: elaboración propia a partir de la base de datos WOCAT.

With certain exceptions, the cost-benefit ratio has not been a well-developed research topic, but it is implicit in many studies. Our analysis shows that, in general, the cost-benefit ratio, in terms of both implementation and maintenance, is positive or very positive in the long term. However, the ES provided go beyond monetary costs, so the overall relationship is very positive. Nevertheless, in many areas, the maintenance of terraces is insufficient or terraces may even be eliminated to facilitate extensive mechanized monocultures. While recognizing the potential difficulties that terraces can produce in terms of access, their maintenance continues to have an incalculable value for the sustainability of agricultural lands and for society. Terraces will only fulfill their ecosystem functions when properly maintained, while their abandonment, especially in semi-arid areas, promotes soil erosion processes and other hydro-geomorphological consequences (Moreno de las Heras et al., 2019). It is necessary to make the multiple benefits that terraces offer to farmers and to society more visible, since they are one of the most effective soil and water conservation measures on hillslopes. Economic support as part of current and new agricultural policies and sustainable development plans is necessary for the maintenance of terraces and their ES. This requires monetary and non-monetary quantification of the intrinsic and patrimonial value of terraced landscapes and the ES they provide.


AcknowledgmentsTop

We acknowledge the support received from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, through the ADAPT project (CGL2013-42009-R), and the Seneca Foundation, through the project CAMBIO (118933/ JLI/13). We thank Dr. David J. Walker for his revision of the written English in the manuscript.

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