Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) are vital contributors to global agricultural production and biodiversity. The region is predicted to contain 43 percent of the world’s farmland by 2050 and currently includes eight of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots. However, its natural resources are poorly regulated (deforestation in the Amazon is an infamous example) and extreme inequality continues to plague economic development efforts. It is within this context that integrated landscape initiatives (ILIs) are becoming an important tool for promoting rural development and environmental sustainability. ILIs, in short, are projects that work at a landscape scale to improve overall food production, natural resource management, livelihoods and inter-sectoral cooperation.
Despite the region’s social, ecological, and economic significance, little research has been done on ILIs in the LAC region. To fill in the gaps Natalia Estrada-Carmona, a researcher and doctoral student at CATIE, and Ecoagriculture Partners’ Abigail Hart, undertook a study of these initiatives with colleagues from Bioversity, Conservation International, and Rainforest Alliance. They surveyed over 100 ILIs in 21 countries and found that, over the past ten years, these initiatives have become far more prevalent than ever before. Given the international community’s level of interest in sustainable agriculture and preserving ecosystems, this news alone is certainly cause for celebration. But, there’s more to the story, and this study provides a more nuanced glimpse into the specific challenges (and successes) of Latin American and Caribbean ILIs.
Many ILI leaders reported limited stakeholder participation, particularly in regard to the private sector. For companies seeking to maximize agricultural yields and profit margins, reforming their production methods isn’t immediately attractive. Along similar lines, many ILIs struggle to establish value chains for sustainably produced products and to generate adequate funding for their programs. Perhaps most frustratingly, many practitioners also face unsupportive legislation. For example, many Latin American governments have policies in place to support agribusiness, so small farmers pursuing agroecology receive little to no financial support.
Despite these obstacles, ILIs have shown a number of successes. Surveyed initiatives that were “multi-objective” tended to achieve the broadest range of results. In other words, ILIs that engage farmers, protect biodiversity, and manage resource systems—rather than simply focusing on one of these aspects—invest more widely and have farther reaching impacts in the landscape than those that focus on fewer objectives. Conservation tends to be the initial and primary motivation for initiatives in the LAC region, but this finding demonstrates how expanding efforts to other aspects of the landscape can effect greater change overall.
One ILI studied in Latin America is Argentina’s Grasslands and Savannas of the Southern Cone of South America: Initiatives for their Conservation project (also known as the Alliance for the Grasslands in South America). With funding from the Global Environmental Facility and the World Bank, this initiative aims to create sustainable livestock pastures by integrating conservation with agricultural production. The Alliance follows a set of strategic steps, starting with a model of sustainable production for the grasslands that includes low density grazing, livestock rotation, and protection of local species. This approach has been piloted on four different landscapes, which serve as demonstration sites for livestock management. While implementing the responsible production model in the field, the Alliance extends their impact by communicating the benefits of their program to a wider Argentinian audience. Finally, they push for regulatory and policy changes to accommodate sustainable livestock practices on a larger scale. This broad range of tactics and objectives—promoting both conservation and agriculture, from the local to national level—demonstrates the capacity of multi-functional ILIs in the LAC region and their capacity for initiating change.
As this case study shows us, ILIs are important and effective. Unfortunately, change doesn’t come quickly or easily, especially when navigating institutional barriers to environmental progress. These initiatives on the whole face many roadblocks to widespread success, and it will be up to dedicated members of civil society in the LAC region to pressure powerful political and economic elites into accepting sustainable reform to commodity production processes. Though a difficult process, engaging all relevant stakeholders will have major benefits for ecosystems, Latin American economies, and people.
To learn more about integrated landscapes in the LAC region, read the full report: Integrated landscape management for agriculture, rural livelihoods, and ecosystem conservation: An assessment of experience from Latin America and the Caribbean. Also be sure to check out an interview with the authors of the paper by Biodiversity International!