March 15, 2013

Towards Sustainable Agricultural Landscapes in Suriname

By Dr Agnieszka Latawiec, the International Institute for Sustainability, Brazil

On Wednesday we presented a vision from the Solutions from the Land initiative for a 21st century model of agriculture in the United States. Today, Dr. Agnieszka Latawiec of the International Institute for Sustainability provides insight into another example of agriculture in transition, offering up the results of a study on greening the agriculture sector in Suriname.


Suriname is an interesting example when considering development of sustainable agricultural sector in the context of a landscape approach; one that considers multiple demands from scarce land resources, such as food and fuel, and preserving nature. The smallest sovereign state in the South America, Suriname has retained most of its forest resource, with pristine tropical rainforest of the Amazon still covering over 90% of the country. On account of the low historical deforestation path and high levels of biodiversity, Suriname is now in an extraordinary position to benefit from payments for ecosystem services schemes, such as REDD+. Concurrently it is poised to develop a sustainable agricultural sector by, for example, improving the use of existing lands, investing in higher value crops and markets (such as organic products), reducing environmentally harmful practices, and conserving ecosystem services through forest protection.

A study conducted by the International Institute for Sustainability in Rio de Janeiro, in collaboration with Conservation International and the University of East Anglia, explored some of these selected solutions for greening of the Surinamese agricultural sector, in both a quantitative and qualitative manner.

For instance, rice production has a long tradition in Suriname, dating back to the time when the country was a Dutch colony. To this day, rice cultivation is one of the most important economic activities in the country. Because productivity levels have a large impact on the demand for land from the rice sector, if rice productivity in Suriname stagnates at current levels (approximately 4.2 tonnes per hectare), future high production targets would mean that area under cultivation in Suriname would need to increase by more than 20.000 hectares by 2022. On the other hand, an accelerated productivity increase combined with modest increases in production targets would mean that 10.000 hectares could be liberated from rice production. In brief, if the country invests in sustainable intensification of rice production, it may both diminish environmental pressure from current practices and spare land for nature or for other agricultural uses (for products with higher economic returns, such as açai or organic agriculture).

By developing a framework to stimulate organic farming, and by working with smallholder farmers (most farmers in Suriname have between 5 to 10 ha of agricultural land), Suriname may benefit from an increased value of its national agriculture, and offer an alternative path or create new job opportunities for rural people. Recent initiatives, such as safe farming (more environmentally-friendly farming that uses fewer pesticides or compost instead of chemical fertilizers), showed that there is a national interest in, and a market for, more sustainable agricultural products. These projects and existing institutions (e.g. Centre for Agricultural Research – CELOS) may provide a starting point for the development of a national organic farming framework, especially as the global market for organic products is likely to continue to expand.

In addition, global trade is moving towards higher-quality products, demanding more rigorous social and environmental standards. Indeed, there has been a recent increase in environmental awareness from private actors, such as the Consumer Goods Forum, mostly fuelled by increased awareness in final consumers. These private actors have pledged to remove from their supply chains products related to deforestation. The Consumer Goods Forum is an association that brings together over 400 retailers and manufacturers from 70 countries, with combined sales of US$3.1 trillion. The ability to access these markets by pursuing sustainable agriculture production without deforestation would bring an important competitive advantage to Suriname goods. Therefore, although investing in sustainable intensification of rice production, supporting a ‘zero deforestation’ policy and development of organic farming market in Suriname may be challenging, take time, and incur some set-up costs, it is an opportunity to develop and establish a more sustainable and higher income agricultural sector, resulting in long-term benefits for the environment, people, and the economy.

The project on ‘Developing Sustainable Agriculture in Suriname’ was a collaborative study between the International Institute for Sustainability (Dr Agnieszka Latawiec and Dr Bernardo Strassburg), Conservation International (Ana Maria Rodriguez) and the University of East Anglia (Dr Elah Matt). It sought to formulate recommendations for development of a greener agriculture through a landscape approach for the benefit of the local people. The Report can be obtained by emailing

Photo credit: Maureen Silos (Caribbean Institute)

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