In Colombia, ‘climate-smart’ villages show how the future of farming could look


A country of vivid beauty, Colombia is home to vast swathes of fertile land producing everything from coffee and sugarcane to bananas, cocoa and rice.

In Cauca, a department in the southwest of the country, efforts are underway to develop farming practices that it’s hoped will be both sustainable and resilient to future challenges.

Ana María Loboguerrero is head of global policy research at the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. One of the schemes she’s involved in is the Cauca Climate-Smart Village project.

According to CGIAR – a “global agricultural innovation network” that’s received funding from organizations including the European Commission, African Development Bank and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – farmers in the area covered by the initiative are faced with a number of issues including “the impacts of climate variability and climate change.” This can in turn hit crop productivity, cause soil degradation and hamper access to water, it adds.

Speaking to CNBC’s “Sustainable Energy,” Loboguerrero said the project was co-generating evidence with farmers on “the practices, the technologies, that can help us to increase productivity and food security, that can help us to increase adaptation to climate change and variability and that can help us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Loboguerrero stated that information on temperature and precipitation was being collected, while a low-cost weather station network was also being used.

“And then we use this information from what we call the ‘agro-climatic forecasts’, that tell us what is going to happen with respect to precipitation, with respect to temperature, humidity, in the following three months,” she added.

“And using this information, the farmers make better decisions in terms of when to plant, which varieties to use, when to apply the fertilizers. They are able to work with (the) climate.”

Lilian Torres Erazo is one of the farmers involved in the project, which has helped her to become self-sufficient by growing cilantro, onion, peppers and lettuce. “It’s a huge change,” she said. “We consume the food that we grow,” she added.

“We used to buy our food at the supermarket or at the fruit and veg stall. Now, we go to the fruit and veg stall to sell and what we can’t sell, we bring home for our own consumption.”

There is also a social aspect to the project. “Men have understood that women are able to do really good things in terms of generating more income,” Loboguerrero said. “They are becoming more empowered in terms of the household, they have more freedom and they are feeling that they are doing really good things for the community.”

The creation of more opportunities for young people is another feature of schemes like the one in Cauca. 

Andrew Jarvis, decision and policy analysis research area director at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, told CNBC that 30 “climate smart villages” had been introduced to 19 countries around the world.

Jarvis added that the team was looking at how rural areas could be re-invigorated so that they were attractive, “so that farmers do want their children to continue in farming.”

Focusing on Colombia and the project in Cauca, Loboguerrero noted how, initially, children there did not want to learn about vegetables. Instead, they dreamed of going to the nearest city, Popayan, to work in roles like that of a taxi driver.

“We don’t have to force young people to stay here but we have to bring the opportunities, we have to speak a language that they understand and it’s technology, it’s digital agriculture, it’s big data,” she added.

“So, we are bringing this and it’s amazing how the dynamics have changed: they want to study careers related to agronomy, related to environmental engineering so that they don’t have to run away from their lands.”

The work being carried out by Loboguerrero, her colleagues and the farmers in Cauca shows how projects that proactively involve local people can have an impact across many facets of society.

Thousands of miles away, in Brittany, France, Yann Laurans, biodiversity and ecosystems program director at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, was asked whether small-scale initiatives should be encouraged in order to change people’s mindsets.

“Definitely,” he replied. “Working on nature-based solutions means working with people which means you have to ask them what they think: How they can produce, how they can manage space, which takes time,” he added. “And that’s why small projects, small-scale projects, are always better.”

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