In 2010, when the project started, cattle ranching in Colombia occurred in a context of poverty, unequal income distribution and land ownership, illiteracy, and violence. Cattle ranching was considered a low-profit activity, highly vulnerable to climatic variation and with high environmental impact, including greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and land degradation. About 80 percent of the country’s total farmland area was pastureland, about 66 percent of which was degraded or unsuitable for grazing. Cattle ranching’s environmental footprint was high, including from greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and loss of unique animal and plant species, as secondary Andean forest with high biodiversity had been replaced by degraded pastures over many decades. The agricultural sector faced the challenges of boosting the sector’s competitiveness while generating mutual benefits for the environment and rural livelihoods.
Innovative, sustainable approaches to cattle ranching were needed to promote efficiency, increase the incomes of the rural poor, and deliver environmental benefits, including increased biodiversity and reduced GHG emissions, soil erosion, and water pollution. Silvopastoral production systems seemed promising, but they were not well known or in wide use in Colombia. SPS approaches required technical knowledge, expertise, and significant investment. Much of the knowledge generated on SPS systems was localized to a small pilot that took place on 100 farms in the Quindío Department. Applying SPS approaches in other regions of Colombia required considerable innovation, experimentation, and knowledge generation.
The objectives of the Colombia Mainstreaming Sustainable Cattle Ranching Project (CMSCR) were to (i) promote adoption in the cattle ranching sector of environmentally friendly SPS; (ii) improve natural resource management; (iii) enhance environmental service provision (biodiversity, land, carbon, and water); and (iv) raise the productivity of participating farms.
The project supported these objectives through three integrated activity streams. First, the project aimed to strengthen technical and operational capacity to support sustainable land-use transformation by generating new knowledge on sustainable cattle ranching production models; tailoring this information to diverse eco-regions; piloting and scaling-up effective training and technical assistance (TA) programs; and providing services and inputs (e.g., seeds, trees). Second, the project piloted and validated incentives to support these desired transformations, initiating the first attempt in Colombia to use green finance in the agricultural and cattle ranching sectors by piloting the scale-up of a financial instrument newly developed by the Fund for Agricultural Financing (FINAGRO) to support adoption of intensive silvopastoral systems (iSPS). The project also tested the viability of a payment for environmental services (PES) scheme in five ecoregions to reward land-use conservation in cattle ranching landscapes (PES1: Biodiversity scheme; initially tested on 100 farms in Quindío Department); piloted a new PES scheme to support conversion to iSPS (PES2: Carbon scheme) in five ecoregions; and, designed and piloted a PES scheme to provide long-term support for conversion to SPS. Finally, the project strongly emphasized achieving results and disseminating experiences, knowledge, and lessons related to the impacts of sustainable land transformation.