Colombia looks to lead on 'climate-smart' agriculture

Maize field in Colombia. The Inter-American Development Bank and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture work together to scale up research efforts on climate change adaptation in the country and expand them across Latin America and the Caribbean. Photo by: Neil Palmer / CIAT / CC BY-SA

Colombia learned a hard lesson on the need for climate adaptability in its agriculture sector in 2010 and 2011, when La Niña-related floods destroyed thousands of hectares of crops and caused millions of dollars in damage.

Since then, the country’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has been working with the Cali-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Cali to identify vulnerabilities to climate change and strategies for adaptation, and now with support from the Inter-American Development Bank.

The IDB is working with the CIAT to scale up the center’s research efforts in Colombia and expand them across Latin America and the Caribbean as a part research program on climate change and agriculture conducted by the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers.

At an event hosted last week in Washington D.C. by the multilateral institution and the Colombian embassy, participants highlighted Colombia’s efforts in these areas and how they might provide a model for the types of interventions that could improve the adaptability of farmers across the region and around the world.

A recent IDB report noted the substantial effects that climate change could have on the region in the context of the impacts it would have environmental and social impacts, region’s food insecurity, making the “triple win” of climate-smart agriculture — food security, climate change mitigation, and improved productivity and incomes for farmers — especially relevant to Latin America and the Caribbean.

CIAT researcher Andrew Jarvis said that building the evidence about what works and making a business case for those sustainable solutions will help to increase investment in adaptation, and pointed out that currently 96 percent of climate investment funds go to mitigation, while only four percent are allocated to adaptation.

One example of the solutions developed in Colombia that have now spread across the region is the use of “silvopastoral” systems that integrate trees into livestock grazing and serve the the triple purpose of climate mitigation, improved productivity of the livestock, and adaptability to higher temperatures.

Making an activity that has been the “bad boy” of agriculture because of its high emissions into a net reducer of emissions is a “game changer,” explained Jarvis. And it’s ideal for climate financing, he said, because high initial costs to farmers are the main barrier to adoption.

The ability to scale up such innovations will certainly get an extra boost later this year as the World Bank spearheads an effort to create a global alliance for climate smart agriculture aims to accelerate the development and implementation of solutions and investments in them.

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About the author

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    Paul Stephens

    Paul Stephens is a Devex staff writer based in Washington, D.C. His coverage focuses on Latin America and World Bank affairs, as well as Washington's global development scene. As a multimedia journalist, editor and producer, Paul has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Washington Monthly, CBS Evening News, GlobalPost and the United Nations magazine, among other outlets. He's won a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for a 5-month, in-depth reporting project in Yemen after two stints in Georgia - one as a Peace Corps volunteer and another as a communications coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development.