Conserving Uruguay’s natural grasslands

October 9, 2013

Federico Gutierrez

In Uruguay, around 25 percent of the country’s vulnerable family farmers adopted economically and environmentally sustainable practices through the intervention of the Integrated Natural Resources and Biodiversity Management Project. These interventions promoted practices that integrate soil, water, and biodiversity management. The project funded over 5,300 on-farm sub-projects and covered 880,000 hectares throughout the country.


Threatened by climate-related extreme events, Uruguay’s challenge is to increase agricultural output while also conserving the country’s vital natural resources. Uruguay has sought to develop strategies and mechanisms to exploit fully its natural resources in the pursuit of market op- portunities presented by increasingly aware and demanding consumers.

Agricultural production and the agro-industries are responsible for over 70 percent of Uruguay’s total export earnings. The extensive beef produc- tion sector uses 80 percent of the country’s land, 70 percent of which is currently natural pasture. In addition, expanding irrigated agriculture accompanies reduced crop pressure on land and livestock pressure on natural pastures. To promote increased productivity on the same amount of available land, Uruguay will need to reduce soil erosion and degradation and utilize and manage water and pasture resources sustainably.


The Integrated Natural Resources and Biodiversity Management Project made a considerable contribution to the improvement of natural resource management by supporting on-farm agro-environmental and climate-smart investments mainly in the beef and dairy subsectors throughout the country. The investments promoted technologies that reduce the vulnerability of livestock producers to the country’s increasing climatic variability (such as severe droughts). The project also supported a comprehensive set of complementary services, which included technical assistance to farmers, training to all segments of the rural population, and improved communication and dissemination. Technical services provided by private professionals in extension were upgraded and more fully integrated with sound practices.

" On our farm, we witnessed improvements in pastures, ponds, irrigation, and fencing – which we value very much – and of course, we managed to improve production "

Daniel Lalinde

Livestock producer from Maldonado

The well-targeted combination of demonstrations through on-farm investments and knowledge management led to tangible behavioral changes within Uruguay’s livestock and agricultural producers. These changes included the mainstreaming of biodiversity conservation in production systems, and in national agricultural institutions and organizations’ agendas, which allowed for the creation of joint ventures for better rural practices.


The project assisted thousands of families operat- ing small and medium-size farms through the implementation of 5,300 subprojects promoting natural resource management; 1,308 subprojects promoting biodiversity conservation; 627 subproj- ects applying an innovative approach for blending support to biodiversity-specific investments in livestock operations; and 47 subprojects promoting ecotourism initiatives.

The project served as a catalyst for “biodiversity- awareness” building in the productive and public sectors, spurring important behavioral changes for mainstreaming biodiversity in production and management decisions. More than 100 producer associations incorporated these practices into their institutional areas and agendas.

Other practices promoted regeneration and im- proved management of natural pastures, enhanced soil quality, increased accessibility to water, reha- bilitated native forests, protected riparian forests, and controlled invasive alien species. As a result of these interventions, the conservation of 243 native species was supported, including 79 listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List, 18 identified by the Convention on International Trade in Endan- gered Species of Wild Fauna and Flore (CITES), and 51 defined as National Priorities.

Financial returns to project investments were measured as follows:

  • About US$33.5 million per year total incremen- tal income for project beneficiaries in the dairy sector.
  • Over US$30 million avoided loss in livestock production due to summer droughts.
  • Significant environmental externalities for the benefit of the Uruguayan productive landscape.


This was a blended project of the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The success of this project contributed to the preparation of the US$49 million follow-up operation, Sustainable Management of Natural Resources and Climate Change Project, with an expanded scope and focus on climate-smart agriculture, complemented by a US$6 million grant from the Adaptation Fund.

Federico Gutierrez


The project was instrumental in supporting the development of strong partnerships among key agricultural institutions in Uruguay, such as the National Dairy Institute (INALE), the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INIA), the School of Agrarian Sciences of the National University (UDELAR), and more than 160 farmer organizations. Periodic meetings led by the Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture, and Fisheries (MGAP) with the most active multilateral agencies—the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agriculture and Development (IFAD), and others—helped coordinate investments and analytical work. The Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining (MIEM), and the Ministry of Housing, Land Planning, and Environ- ment (MVOTMA) are working much more closely on agro-environmental policies and programs.


The US$49 million Bank follow-up operation has provided continuity and expanded scope with a focus on climate-smart agriculture and farm-level adaptation to climate variability. In addition, a study focused on climate-smart agricultural water management is currently in development. MGAP’s newly acquired experience and technology will allow for scaled up initiatives, with continued support from the Bank and others.

Because of the effectiveness of the matching grants program and approach, 90 percent of on-farm investments are still in operation four to five years later. In addition, farmers are adopting many of the technologies and practices without supplementary support from the Government.


“The project helped many Uruguayan small producers.  It provided opportunities to improve, motivate, and assist farmers like us to stay in the rural areas and improve our quality of life. On our farm, we witnessed improvements in pastures, ponds, irrigation,  and fencing –which we value very much– and of course, we managed to improve production" said Daniel Lalinde & family, livestock producers from Maldonado.
“Now we work as a group… suddenly you have three cows, another has five and another has ten, and all together we have a shipment that allows a differential price” explained Wilson Pereira, livestock producer from Salto.

More than 100
producer associations incorporated these practices into their institutional areas and agendas.