Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is the developing region with the highest rate of urbanization on the planet. In fact, the urban population in LAC represents more than 82% of its total and it will reach 90% by the end of 2050 (IDB, 2015). The urban population in 2016 alone, demanded around 846 million tons of food (FAO, 2016), a number that will continue to increase. The agribusiness is growing rapidly to meet the high demand of food production, increasing the pressure on the natural capital of the region that houses 40% of the world’s biodiversity.
For example, palm oil is found in 60% of the items that we find in supermarkets, both in processed foods and household products. Consequently, palm oil plantations grow exponentially around the world, and in some areas such as the Southeast of Asia, it is the main cause of pristine forest deforestation. In Colombia, for example, the growth of the palm oil plantations is a reality, but with a total different context because most of its planted land was already being used for productive purposes. However, there is a challenge to promote sustainable development and move forward to concrete actions for biodiversity conservation, and to improve the socioeconomic conditions of local communities.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), in association with the Federation of Palm Growers of Colombia (Fedepalma), and with the support of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) have recognized this huge opportunity for Colombia. Together, they are implementing a project to contribute to biodiversity conservation in oil palm plantations, through the enhancement of their agricultural practices and generating access to international markets. This project is supporting six palm companies to pursue the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) Certification, which ratifies that management of plantations is environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, economically viable and complies with local law. Five palm companies (summing up 29,448 hectares) have already been certified by RSPO which will open access to new markets and ensure their permanence in international markets, such as Europe, a market that is becoming more rigorous every day.
The oil palm companies manage their own production and buy more from other small and medium producers who must also comply with the standards of the RSPO. Thus, 160 Farm Plans were developed to help these producers fulfill the certification requirements and integrate sustainability criteria to all their productive activities in the farm. As a result, good agricultural practices (GAP) are being implemented in more than 22,269 hectares to use water more efficiently, reduce agrochemicals use, improve soil conditions, and take advantage of the benefits provided by the biodiversity in crops, for pest control and soil formation purposes. In addition, more than 16,760 hectares of High Conservation Value Areas (HVCA) that houses endangered species, wetlands, pristine and gallery forests, social and cultural values for local communities, were identified and are now under protection.
I recently visited Mr. Charry’s farm in Magdalena, Colombia. During the visit he proudly showed me the living fences and the ground covers he made to improve connectivity and allow wildlife to move freely in his farm. He also showed me the areas in which he had previously planted palm trees and are now being restored with native trees to protect its water source. With the RSPO certification, Mr. Charry will be able to access international markets and increase his income, but most importantly, he and many other oil palm producers recognize the importance of the ecosystems services provided by the surrounding areas of forest and biodiversity, and consequently they are changing their agricultural practices.
The region biodiversity is still vulnerable, and its threats will not be fully solved by this project. However, substantial actions are already being implemented in Colombia to contribute to its preservation. And although there are still many challenges to face, with the adequate market incentives and a proper understanding of the contribution of biodiversity to agricultural productivity, such realities can be transformed. And why not? We could move towards the same goal with other crops such as soybeans, rice, bananas, or sugarcane, and make resilient productive landscapes a reality in Latin America and the Caribbean.
To learn more about the IDB and GEF projects in Latin America and the Caribbean, and to discover how countries work with these funds, please visit this link.
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