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Cultivated and Fallow Land in the Highlands of Cañar (Ecuadorean South Andes): Effects of Farmer Emigration on an Agrarian Landscape

Michel Vaillant et Marc Oswald
Traduction de Kim Agrawal ( edited by Ann Elizabeth Norton (ISTOM)


On the threshold of the 21st century, Ecuador entered the darkest economic period in the history of its republic, resulting in a vast migratory movement to foreign countries. In the high Andes valley of Cañar, the speed and extent of the movement seemed, in many ways, to be the precursory signs of an exodus and of the environment’s return to nature. A decade later, the agrarian landscape reveals a strange paradox: some sections of the landscape, apparently abandoned to wilderness, suggest a progressive decline in agriculture, whereas others suggest the progression of a fodder front to higher altitudes. So what can we say about this landscape that shows a process of set-aside in some of its sections and cultivation in others? What meaning can we give to the term ‘fallow’ with the mountains displaying what appear to be antagonistic methods of agricultural development? These are the questions dealt with in this article, with ‘fallow’ as the main unifying thread. An analysis of the landscape, combined with the agricultural history of the study area, helps to shed light on the reasons for the observed paradox and gives meaning to the relationships between types of fallow and agricultural dynamics, mobility and the process of social differentiation. The principal result is: far from signifying abandonment, fallow land is visual proof in the landscape of the maintenance of agricultural activity by those who are unable to migrate or modernize their farms. This result invites us to revisit the notion of fallow (from an agro-economic point of view), in particular the need to understand the stakes and uses of the various tiered ecosystems and to understand the function of the different fallow lands assigned to them by the categories of farmers who benefit from them.

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  • 1 . Please note that for the purpose of this paper, we have chosen the term wasteland fallow to hel (...)

1In their usual acceptation, wasteland fallows1 have a bad reputation (Diry & Mignon, 2000). They represent the ‘notion of abandonment, gaps, crises, disuse’ (Janin & Andres, 2008). In the high Andes valley of Cañar (Figure 1), the analysis of relationships between changes in the landscape and past and recent agricultural transformations reveals a strange paradox: certain landscape units apparently abandoned to wilderness suggest a progressive decline in agriculture, while, at the same time, others located at a higher agroecological level indicate the development of new parts of the area. The landscape opens out to agriculture at higher altitudes or on the sides of the hill (resulting in increased agricultural risks and greater distances to the fields), whereas it tends to render inaccessible lower down, in areas that are a priori more favourable to agriculture and are closer to habitation. What can be said about this landscape, which presents a process of clearing in some parts and fallows in others? What is the meaning of the term wasteland fallow when the mountain indicates modes of agricultural development that are apparently contradictory?

2These are the issues we propose to address in this article, with wasteland fallow as the main unifying thread. Our focus will be on spaces that are not directly cultivated. The following are often grouped under this term: plots that are tilled but not cultivated, plots with no agricultural activity and abandoned to forest regrowth, and plots maintained as pastures but some of which will be converted into potato fields. Particular care is taken to ‘interpret’ the exact functions of these spaces in terms of the farmers’ practices for deriving value from them.

Figure 1. Map of Ecuador and location of the highlands of Cañar

Figure 1. Map of Ecuador and location of the highlands of Cañar

Source: Ecuadoran Military Geographic Institute.
Elaboration: Vaillant, 2013.

  • 2 . Contagion of the 1997 Asian crisis in the Ecuadorian financial system, the devastating consequen (...)

3We use the diversity of fallows and the agrarian dynamics that create them to discuss the meaning of the term ‘wasteland fallow’ before examining the agrarian situation in the Cañar highlands, by hypothesizing that the recent dynamics of clearing and abandonment of lands arises from the socio-economic disparities of farms resulting from (i) a differential access to resources as a legacy of history and (ii) these farms’ relationship to migration. In fact, Ecuador was struck by a series of events2 early in the 21st century, which plunged the country into the darkest economic period of its republican history (Acosta, 2006). As a result, 300,000 Ecuadorians officially left the country between 1998 and 2000. This emigration seemed, by its speed and extent, in many ways, to be the precursory signs of a rural exodus, with expected outcomes such as a return of the environment to nature, exemplified by the appearance of wilderness in some parts of the landscape.

Analysis of the landscape and study of agrarian transformations: methodology

4The data was collected from January 2007 to December 2008 as part of a doctoral study (Vaillant, 2013) in comparative agriculture (Cochet, 2015), with a short sojourn in 2015 that helped complement the analysis and confirm the paradox. This analysis consisted of two stages. In the first, we sought to show that environmental conditions play a major role in localizing agricultural uses in the highlands, but that these conditions cannot, by themselves, provide meaning to it. This is why the second stage was necessary. Its aim was to reposition the landscape elements observed in the past and recent agricultural transformations of the Cañar highlands.

5The first stage, conducted at the scale of the study area, took the form of an analysis of the landscape. This work was based on a contextualization of observations (i) conducted with the elders on the field and (ii) cross-referenced with literature on geomorphological and edaphic aspects of this tropical mountain, as well as on the tiering of its vegetation structure. In order to characterize different sub-spaces, diverse variables were identified for the spontaneous vegetation – the characteristics and age of plant formations, significant species – and for cultivated plants – crops and their cultivation modalities, i.e. associations, rotations, etc. A similar exercise was undertaken for domestic animals, with their rearing methods being characterized. All these elements were the subject of discussions with observers to determine the date of their emergence and/or to qualify their processes of spatial diffusion. By incorporating data from the recollections of local elders, dialogue with contemporary scientists (historians, anthropologists) and a literature review, and by taking into account the sequence of important events that resulted in the large-scale migratory movement mentioned above, the transformations of the agrarian landscape were made coherent.

6The second stage was based on the monitoring of the trajectories of 163 farming families. Data collected through comprehensive interviews (Kaufmann, 2011) indicated the changes made by these families in their agricultural production systems. They were supplemented by a detailed analysis of non-agricultural activities including those resulting from migration. Finally, a careful observation of the plots actually cultivated helped cross-check the comments gathered from the interviews. These elements served to enrich the interpretations of these spaces and help explain the reasons for the observed paradox. It was a matter of taking farmers’ practices into account and identifying the reasons that underpin them. A study of the agricultural history of the Cañar highlands during the last half-century clarified the relationship between different types of wasteland fallows (nature, function, governance) and farm trajectories, spatial mobility and processes of societal differentiation at work.


Fallowing and clearing as a paradox of an agrarian landscape

7The profile of the Cañar highlands presents slopes and berms formed by the crumpling force of plate tectonics. The diversity of geomorphological and edaphic conditions, influenced by altitude (2350-4450 m), gives rise to a vertical zoning consisting of three distinct ecosystems (Figure 2): (i) the lowlands (lower level) formed by stepped terraces, (ii) an eroded ledge that is broken up into differential slopes, which is found in between the lowlands and (iii) the highland plateaus carved out by ice (upper level).

Figure 2. Map of the study area

Figure 2. Map of the study area

Source: Guaicha et al., 2001.
Elaboration: Vaillant, 2013.

8Spontaneous tree formations have practically disappeared in the lowlands, leaving behind only tiny clumps of Andean forests located mainly on slopes that are difficult to access for humans. Most of the rises (flanks of ravines, valleys with shallow regosols) are covered by a moor with Asteraceae. The terraces mainly alternate between temporary prairies of associations (fodder grasses, legumes) and fields of different crops, either in association or rotation (cereals, legumes, cucurbits, tubers, vegetables and fruit plants, medicinal herbs) that appear in some sections at this level (Figure 3). The lowlands are thus an intensely cultivated ecosystem leaving little room for fallows, and showing no apparent sign of abandonment, with the exception of a few rare areas overrun by kikuyu (Pennisetum clandestinum).

Figure 3. Mosaic of enclosed plots on the western part of the lowlands

Figure 3. Mosaic of enclosed plots on the western part of the lowlands

© M. Vaillant.

9The ledge constitutes an intermediate ecosystem that is distinguished from that of the upper level by the virtual absence of spontaneous vegetation, and differs from that of the lowlands by reduced diversity and a change in the composition of the cultivated vegetation. With the exception of kikuyu, which is susceptible to frost at these altitudes, fodder grasses are dominant in the few large prairies (> 20 ha), but which, however, remain marginal compared to the mosaics of grassy wasteland fallows, sometimes longstanding and interspersed by small fields of various tubers or bare soil. Prairies with spontaneous grassy vegetation (Calamagrostis in particular) also occupy some recesses of this ledge, whereas others already support secondary woody formations (from the stage of the heterogeneous and discontinuous cover to the stage of moors that are several years old and which tend to be rendered inaccessible). The composition and distribution of the vegetation here can, at first glance, leave the observer truly perplexed. This landscape unit actually suggests a process of fallowing (Figure 4), which is confirmed by the elders: the herbaceous vegetation, which is more competitive initially, quickly occupies areas that were a priori abandoned, before the appearance of the first woody species that will gradually starve the grasses of sunlight by monopolizing it.

Figure 4. Partially abandoned sub-spaces on the ledge (fallowing by woody vegetation)

Figure 4. Partially abandoned sub-spaces on the ledge (fallowing by woody vegetation)

© M. Vaillant.

10And finally, the upper level comprises of landscapes based on models of the glacial origin of elevated tabular reliefs. They were named páramos by the Spaniards, in reference to the inhospitable plains devoid of woody vegetation of their home country (Acosta-Solis, 1984). The páramos resemble high-altitude grasslands, consisting of low, dense vegetation, mostly composed of endemic species (60% of the 5000 plants recorded, according to Buytaert et al., 2006). While the steep slopes of the valleys are predominantly covered with short, slow-growing and generally rare woody formations (Polylepis spp, Buddleja incana, Gynoxis), grasses dominate this level, especially the genera Calamagrostis intermedia and Stipa ichu (Minga & Nugra, 2009). These spontaneous grasslands in the upper páramos are periodically burnt to provide easy access and grazing opportunities to free-range cattle. On the other hand, on some flats of the low-páramos, as also along river courses, prairies of allochthonous species of Poaceae (except Pennisetum clandestinum), already seen in the lowlands, seem to dominate over the spontaneous Graminea ground cover. These prairies can be interrupted, in certain places, by polygons of tuber or bean plots (Figure 5). In spite of the distance to habitation, the altitude and the difficult bioclimatic conditions, the páramos appear as an especially anthropized ecosystem: fire and tillage, markers of landscape clearing, are so extensive that the ecological balances of this fragile ecosystem seems to be impacted (overgrazing, soil compaction, endangered water resources).

Figure 5. Progression of a fodder frontier in the páramos, with prior clearing by tractor

Figure 5. Progression of a fodder frontier in the páramos, with prior clearing by tractor

© M. Vaillant.

11In summary, the analysis of the landscape of the Cañar highlands reveals a tiered vegetation distribution, influenced by geomorphological and edaphic factors which, in turn, depend on the altitude. The variation of these factors over relatively short distances makes a detailed representation of this tiered distribution complex. Nevertheless, a mapping helps in providing an overview of the interactions between characteristics of the environment and the development of distinct plant populations (Table 1).

Table 1. Mapping the ecological levels of the Cañar highlands

Table 1. Mapping the ecological levels of the Cañar highlands

Elaboration: Authors.

Wasteland fallows in an agrarian history marked by social inequalities and spatial mobility

Before 1960: landscape dynamics part of a legacy of the colonial period

12In the early 1960s, agriculture in the highlands was characterized by a duality, a legacy of Spanish colonial rule. Extensive properties (hacienda) occupied much of the area. The farming system practised here, using a subjugated native Indian workforce, combined free-range livestock husbandry (cattle and horses) on the páramos and ledges with cereal-based systems (wheat, barley) in the more productive areas of the lowlands (gentle slopes, irrigation). Spaces of poor agricultural potential in the hacienda were given to permanent and seasonal Indian workers who set up diversified mixed crop-livestock systems. A common practice at the higher levels was to burn the vegetation to open up access to the landscape to herds while promoting a grassy regrowth more palatable to livestock. Native Indian communities living in the interstices of the large estates struggled to provide for themselves by also setting up diversified mixed crop-livestock systems on small farms (minifundia) whose surface area was dispersed across different ecological conditions. Privately owned farms in the lowlands were intensively cultivated: maize associated with various plants (squash, beans, quinoa), most often in rotation with legumes (peas, lentils) and straw cereals (wheat, barley). On the ledges were found numerous undivided plots that were periodically redistributed. While the fruits of the harvest were retained by the families thanks to usufruct rights (depending on collective obligations), the social organization of the production was decided by an elected community authority, responsible every year for deciding which wasteland fallow plots were to be cultivated and which plots were to be allowed to rest. The practice of controlled rotation was an effective method of biological control to break the development cycles of crop pests (especially those of tubers), with the several-years-old grassy fallows (pastures) helping revive soil fertility through this system.

The second half of the 20th century: clearing for dairy production and feeding a growing population by combining agriculture in the countryside and circular migration at a national scale

13The policies implemented in the 1960s and 1970s did not put an end to minifundia, due to half-hearted agrarian reforms (Cueva, 2003) and sustained population growth. Some families better endowed with capital (especially social capital) were able to take advantage of these reforms. They increased the size of their farms, forming together a fodder front that advanced on the ledge in order to produce milk to cater to an increasing urban demand. There were no grassy wasteland fallows in these cropping systems but there were temporary prairies of associations in rotation with tuber cycles.

14The neoliberal policies of the 1980s, on the other hand, forced many native Indian minifundia families to bring their agricultural practices in line with market demands. These policies did in fact lead to a further reduction in real agricultural prices (García Pascual, 2006). Faced with declining farm income, these families cut back on the time they spent on the farm, engaging instead in more remunerative ‘outside’ activities. To do so, they modified their diversified mixed crop-livestock system, mainly by no longer respecting collective obligations (end of controlled rotation, allocation of permanent individual usufructs) and by adopting new practices that relied less on organic processes. However, the shortening of the duration of grassy fallows (in favour of an increase in the number of tuber cycles in order to feed a growing population) and the continuous presence of cultivated plants, made possible by eliminating controlled rotation, resulted in pest infestations of the tuber crop and a decline in soil fertility that producers tried to compensate for through an ever-increasing use of phytosanitary products and synthetic fertilizers. The time gained from cutting back on farm work encouraged circulatory migrations (Cortes, 2008) between the Cañar highlands and the country’s employment-rich regions (vast banana plantations and sugar factories on the Pacific coast, construction sites in expanding cities). The advantage of this circulatory form of migration was that it allowed the presence of sufficient labour during the peak workload of the agricultural calendar, enabling a highly labour-intensive peasant agriculture in the Cañar highlands, illustrated by landscapes without any apparent sign of abandonment. Indeed, quite on the contrary, food crops and fodder began to be cultivated in areas of the ledge that were formerly earmarked for range feeding of cattle. Since the agrarian reform of 1964, the farmers of the Cañar highlands, although subject to many other difficulties (ethnic segregation, wage discrimination, inequalities in access to public services, etc.), at least enjoyed the freedom of movement.

In response to the combination of crises of the late 20th century, a massive international migration at the root of the ‘fallowing/clearing’ paradox marked the landscape

15The end of the 20th century saw a combination of different types of crises (ecological, financial, social) that led to the collapse of the national economy, which forced many families to seek the resources needed to meet their basic needs abroad (through emigration). Restrictive migration policies in destination countries (especially following the attacks of September 11, 2001) put an end to the circulatory form of migration of the farmers of the Cañar highlands (free movement between minifundia farms and external employment opportunities). Emigration, which now became highly clandestine, could no longer allow the short-term return of men during the peak workload of the agricultural calendar. This resulted, yet again, in a drastic change in the production systems of many families.

16The decrease in availability of agricultural labour has resulted in a reduced number of tuber cycles. The conversion to dairy farming, already underway for some decades, has picked up speed. This production model responds to market demand (urban consumers in particular) while being fully compliant with the new conditions in which families have to function (unavailability of labour to satisfy peak workloads, remunerative milk prices and cash flows that are less strained due to staggered payments, lower agricultural risk, building up of livestock capital). In this more capital-intensive production system (high-yield cattle breeds, use of veterinary products) implemented by families well-endowed with capital (primarily families of migrants), fallows make way for temporary prairies of associations of higher quality. However, systems based on tubers in rotation with several-years-old grassy wasteland fallows still persist. They are farmed by families not so well-endowed with capital (no migrant members or failed migrations) and not able to convert their farms to more efficient dairy farming (maintaining the practice of tethering rural cattle breeds on fallow fodder fields). When it is successful (repayment of debt for the cost of the journey, accumulation of capital), emigration allows the acquisition of new land. Since the most sought-after plots (high quality agricultural land in the lowlands) are in great demand, a number of families of migrants ‘fall back’ on fields in the páramos ecosystem, which are more financially accessible (Vaillant, 2013). We note that the increase in the use of tractors coincided with emigration. The increase in the purchasing power of migrant families enables them to pay for tillage services and, in so doing, to expand the high-altitude fodder front. However, this mode of exploiting the environment threatens the future of the páramos since the use of the tractor to prepare the land significantly alters the structural properties of the andosols (de Noni et al., 2000), thereby reducing their capacity to regulate the water flows downstream and their resistance to causes of erosion (Poulenard et al., 2001; Estupiñan et al., 2008).


What we mean by wasteland fallow: an agro-economists’ view

17In addition to wasteland fallows’ bad reputation, at least in their usual acceptation (see Introduction), is the ambiguity of the term itself, with the sense attributed to it varying according to place and time. ‘The study of wasteland fallows is an apt example of the multidisciplinary theme that can be understood through several “approaches”, some from the natural sciences, others from the humanities and social sciences’ (Diry & Mignon, 2000). So, with regard to the results presented above, it is a matter of clarifying what we – as agro-economists – mean by wasteland fallows.

  • 3 . In this case, the diversity of the nature of the prairies can be further extended, given that th (...)
  • 4 . The development of spontaneous vegetation (deliberate choice) acts as a period of ‘rest’, in ord (...)

18Let us first note that wasteland fallow is not the same as fallow, the latter designating a plot that is tilled, with the aim of (i) reducing the number of weed seeds in the soil and (ii) preparing the seed bed to facilitate the germination and rooting of the crop (Morlon & Sigaut, 2008). Subsequently, let us recognize that ‘the term wasteland fallow is one of the most “tricky” in agriculture, since it’s current meaning explicitly excludes what it once covered’ (Morlon, 2012). Considered today as one of the signs of abandonment of agricultural activity, wasteland fallow formerly designated two uses of the land which, although very different, had in common the total absence of soil tillage and the fact that the vegetation was grazed: (i) most often, spontaneous or cultivated prairies3, in rotation with annual crops (clearing then serves to reintroduce a prairie) and (ii) less often, woody vegetation resulting from abandonment (ibid.). The difficulty then lies in the use of the same term to describe ‘(i) surfaces that have been cultivated in the past, where spontaneous vegetation is currently growing and whose re-cultivation is planned4’ [...] and (ii) surfaces that had been cultivated and which are, a priori, abandoned (Ducourtieux, 2009). In the present study, we describe the former as ‘culturable wasteland’ and accept Ducourtieux’s (2009) suggestion to retain, for the latter, the term ‘wasteland’ (Roussel, 1996). The latter can be identified in the landscape of the Cañar highlands by their woody vegetation.

19We observe that culturable wasteland and wasteland are occupied by similar vegetation formations in their first phase of development; however, a change in its intended use can induce an invisible shift from one category to the other. This shows the uncertain side of the use of land envisaged by the farmers and emphasizes that the concept of abandonment turns out to be ultimately relative because the types of land use remain subject to the intrinsic uncertainties of the trajectories and decisions of actors (especially that of emigrating). This is the case in the Cañar highlands, where culturable wasteland and wasteland constitute areas that are differently used by people and animals who, in turn, modify the shape, composition and evolution of vegetation formations.

Revisiting the agrarian situation of the Cañar highlands, with regard to the meaning accorded to the concept of wasteland fallow

  • 5 . The classification of agricultural households, established on the basis of a well-structured sam (...)

20The integration of this rural society in the national arena (since the 1960s) and then international ones (from the 21st century) has weakened the highland agriculture practised in relatively unfavourable bioclimatic and socio-economic conditions. While migratory movements once helped sustain labour-intensive agricultural production systems, recent emigration patterns have disrupted these systems profoundly. This, however, happens in a differentiated manner, depending on the resources available to families (most notably access to the labour market of the migrants’ destination countries). Wastelands on the ledge and the progression of the fodder front in the páramos (with clearing) highlight the process of social differentiation at work, which moreover produces the antagonistic transformations of the agrarian landscape. Could we, for this purpose, consider wasteland fallows as an indicator of poverty in the landscape, with families who resort to it being precisely those that, for lack of means, are unable to set up farm production systems incorporating temporary prairies of associations and using tractors to prepare the land?5

21As for wastelands that are observed in certain sections of the ledge (Figure 4), they perhaps express the inability (or the choice by default?) of some families (including mainly those with migrants) to continue to farm areas that were once intensely cultivated. In addition, certain wastelands are community-owned. In this sense, would the clearing not reveal the dysfunctionality of the collective bodies? It is true that for some (mainly families of migrants), the distance from habitations to the small plot located in community lands (i.e. remote, at a high altitude and of poor agricultural quality) and the inability to use tractors due to the slope and the small size of the plot, no longer justifies allocating more than 40 working days for community obligations. It should be noted, however, that some previously abandoned spaces would probably have been rendered inaccessible by the development of woody vegetation if not for ruminants, who keep the vegetation at shrub level. Once again, it is the poorest families in the highlands here who often occupy these spaces abandoned by the families who own them or who have the usufruct rights over them (Vaillant, 2018). That said, this land abandoned by farmers is taken advantage of by other actors, chief among them traditional healers who find many useful spontaneous plants for making various remedies.

22Finally, the stage of formation of the vegetation (woody for wasteland) provides information on how long ago the land was abandoned. In some cases, this duration corresponds to that of the absence of the migrant. On the other hand, the disappearance of spontaneous vegetation (clearing through tillage by mechanized equipment) is indicative of his return or his success abroad.


23In the Cañar highlands, wasteland fallows, far from signifying abandonment, instead indicate a maintenance of agricultural activity by certain sections of society. On close study, both culturable wastelands and wastelands indicate a marginalized landscape, in which marginality results from local constraints (abandoned cultivated land or having poor agricultural value). The effect is also evident in society, in the sense of the prevalence of economic constraints of those who are unable to ‘modernize’ their farms (use of tillage services, sowing of selected fodder plants, chemical fertilization) especially those who could not emigrate or failed in their attempt to do. In short, it is the most vulnerable families who try to maintain culturable wasteland (rest rotational grazing) within tuber cropping systems in order to restore the fertility of their land, a path that is more accessible to them (Mazoyer & Roudart, 2006). In casual language, we can describe culturable wasteland as a ‘poor man’s trick’. Between cultivated and fallow land, the landscape thus reveals social heterogeneities and differentiated relationships that families have with migration. In some Andean highlands elsewhere, migration has encouraged new and more capital-intensive models of agricultural development, such as market gardening around Cuenca driven by urban-rural relationships (Rebaï, 2012) or the quinoa boom on the Bolivian Altiplano (Vassas Toral, 2011) riding high on the back of international demand. However, in some others, it is the abandonment of cultivated land (lack of resources and outlets) that primarily characterizes the region, as in the case of the extreme southern Andean region of Ecuador (Gray, 2008). Perhaps the originality of the landscape of the Cañar highlands then lies in the coexistence of two dynamics that at first glance seem antagonistic (the paradox), a uniqueness that was revealed by the focus on wasteland fallows.

24The notion of highland wasteland fallows (as understood by agro-economists) shows that studying them without linking them to an agroecological stage in particular makes little sense. A systemic vision of the stakes and uses of the various tiered ecosystems, at a given moment, appears in fact necessary to the understanding of the function of the various wasteland fallows assigned to them by the categories of farmers who benefit from them.

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1 . Please note that for the purpose of this paper, we have chosen the term wasteland fallow to help distinguish among three types of fallow :tilled, untilled and apparently abandoned (see Discussion).

2 . Contagion of the 1997 Asian crisis in the Ecuadorian financial system, the devastating consequences of El Niño in 1998, which included heavy economic and human losses, a decrease in global demand for tropical and mining products triggering a fall in Ecuador’s export earnings (Gastambide, 2005), and chronic political instability (4 presidents between 1997 and 2001) (Larrea & Sánchez, 2003).

3 . In this case, the diversity of the nature of the prairies can be further extended, given that the period of growth of the herbaceous formation is determined by the pressure exerted by livestock on the vegetation or by the possible use of fire to limit the progression of ligneous species.

4 . The development of spontaneous vegetation (deliberate choice) acts as a period of ‘rest’, in order to promote a low-cost restoration of soil fertility.

5 . The classification of agricultural households, established on the basis of a well-structured sample of 163 cases studies, cited previously (Vaillant, 2013), highlights: that it is those with accumulated capital (especially through international migration) who first access páramos lands and clear them to mainly establish dairy production systems;
that production systems integrating culturable wasteland (in rotation with tubers in particular, but also those alongside roads or in marginal areas) mainly belong to poor agricultural households without any migrants (primarily young rural households and single-parent families resulting from a failed migratory attempt).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Map of Ecuador and location of the highlands of Cañar
Crédits Source: Ecuadoran Military Geographic Institute.Elaboration: Vaillant, 2013.
Fichier image/jpeg, 656k
Titre Figure 2. Map of the study area
Crédits Source: Guaicha et al., 2001.Elaboration: Vaillant, 2013.
Fichier image/png, 700k
Titre Figure 3. Mosaic of enclosed plots on the western part of the lowlands
Crédits © M. Vaillant.
Fichier image/jpeg, 360k
Titre Figure 4. Partially abandoned sub-spaces on the ledge (fallowing by woody vegetation)
Crédits © M. Vaillant.
Fichier image/jpeg, 456k
Titre Figure 5. Progression of a fodder frontier in the páramos, with prior clearing by tractor
Crédits © M. Vaillant.
Fichier image/jpeg, 388k
Titre Table 1. Mapping the ecological levels of the Cañar highlands
Crédits Elaboration: Authors.
Fichier image/png, 193k
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Référence électronique

Michel Vaillant et Marc Oswald, « Cultivated and Fallow Land in the Highlands of Cañar (Ecuadorean South Andes): Effects of Farmer Emigration on an Agrarian Landscape », Journal of Alpine Research | Revue de géographie alpine [En ligne], 107-1 | 2019, mis en ligne le 06 avril 2019, consulté le 17 août 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/rga.5386

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Michel Vaillant

ISTOM, College of International Agro-Development, 4 rue Lakanal, 49000 Angers, France

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Marc Oswald

ISTOM, College of International Agro-Development, 4 rue Lakanal, 49000 Angers, France

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