Livestock based agriculture is both a large source of emissions and critical source of income for Colombia, with investments in silvopastoral systems being a critical pathway for reducing emissions while sustaining this vital income source.
The project worked with 4,100 farms across the country in order to facilitate the conversion of 38,000 ha of degraded cattle pastures into silvopastoral systems. Silvopastoral systems are those that involve planting trees, shrubs and fodder crops on grazing land in ways that increase and preserve tree cover, enhance carbon dioxide sequestration, improve biodiversity and soil quality, and increase livestock productivity. In this case the intervention targeted rural cattle ranchers and hoped to increase habitat connectivity within the landscape. In this national program the additonal money provided by the United Kingdom was able to set up a payment for ecosystem services scheme which compensated farmers for the additonal carbon captured on their lands as part of the silvopastoral system. The funding was also able to support farmers through technical assistance and information exchange. This included setting up demonstration farms and subsidizing the cost of seedlings, trees and organic fertilisers in order to facilitate the adoption of silvopastoral systems.
Overview of context and outcomes:
In Colombia the agricultural sector produces 38% of the countries greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time cattle ranching employs 28% of the rural populations, making it critical to the livelihoods of these communities. Poor farmers in rural communities are also especially vulnerable to climate change risks, making their income sources potentially unstable. The outcomes of this intervention caused the doubling of the sustainable livestock target in the 2018-2022 Colombian National Development Plan.
Within the projects lifespan is has reportedly mitigated 1.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.
Landscape surveys in project areas reportedly found a a 32% increase in bird populations and a 47% increase in beetle populations when compared to the previous baseline. It was also reported that the increased landscape connectivity improved habitat extend and expanded the mobility of monitored species by 65%.
This intervention reportedly caused farm incomes to increase by $523 (USD)/ha/year, exceeding projected estimates by up to $70 (USD)/ha/year. This was in part due to the reported milk productivity per ha increased by 17% on average and the livestock carrying capacity increased by 23% on average across participant farms.
The payment for ecosystem service funding elements of the project was governed by the UK’s ICF fund, but program data was transferred to the Government of Colombia to assist in
establishing an enhanced national sustainable cattle-ranching target.
The initial funding for this work came from the Global Environment Facility and totaled $7 million (USD). Building upon this previous work the UK’s ICF Fund contributed and additional £15.3 million (GBP) in order to expand and upscale the project.
The project reports that impacts were being continuously monitored and evaluated, with results reported to relevant stakeholders with the goal of improving the wider evidence base available for silvopastoral systems. Reported changes indicate that monitoring of biodiversity, carbon, and livelihoods outcomes took place.
Whilst the project was reportedly successful they also found that implementation could be limited by a lack of labour, seeds, or severe weather. They also found that when funding is limited there can be a partial trade-off between poverty reduction, climate, and biodiversity. This is reportedly due to financial incentives not always outweighing the upfront costs of switching to a silvopastoral system.