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Jesus Quintana

Jesus Quintana discusses IFAD's new Environment and Natural Resource Management Policy (© IFAD)
Jesus Quintana discusses IFAD's new Environment and Natural Resource Management Policy
© IFAD

Sustainable intensification - learning from Latin America

On June 1st, 2011, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) launched its Environment and Natural Resource Management Policy. The policy promotes sustainable agricultural intensification that can benefit poor rural people and the planet. Jesus Quintana, climate and environment specialist with IFAD's Latin America and the Caribbean Division, offers his view on the links between rural poverty alleviation and climate change mitigation.

Rural livelihoods, natural resources and climate change are tightly linked. Latin American economies are highly dependant on commodities, including those derived from agriculture and forestry. And while these industries contribute as much as 20 per cent of global carbon emissions, sound farming practices can lessen the environmental footprint, reduce the emissions and increase the carbon sequestered in the soil. IFAD is advocating a more sustainable agriculture so that people can increase their production, while also minimising their impact on the environment. We are promoting 'climate smart' interventions that will increase resilience and bring better management of resources, including biodiversity, forests and agricultural land.

Climate change is going to have a critical impact on smallholders because they depend heavily on land, soil and water but have fewer means to adapt. But smallholder agriculture can be an ally in fighting climate change, as well as reducing poverty. We believe in sustainable intensification of smallholder agriculture and a new, green economy in which productivity can be increased while benefiting the environment. Smallholder communities should be part of the climate change solution, and deserve support from international mitigation funds.

Strategies that offer multiple benefits

IFAD's new Environment and Natural Resource Management (ENRM) policy advocates a number of approaches to rural development, that offer multiple benefits. There are already several excellent examples from Latin America which can be scaled up. In semi-arid northeast Brazil, an agro-ecology intervention is decreasing the amount of inputs needed and introducing new varieties that are more resistant to drought and variable rainfall. In Mexico, IFAD is supporting an innovative project on sustainable forest management. This has introduced income-generating activities while also exploring the REDD+ mechanism, which offers payments for reduced carbon emissions. This is an example of multiple benefits: on the one hand trying to reduce poverty but at the same time achieving other benefits, such as food security, greater resilience and climate change mitigation.

Venezuela is an interesting case because in 2009-2010 they suffered one of the worst droughts in their history. This was followed by heavy rain and flooding, displacing thousands of people, devastating agriculture and causing an economic crisis in the country. Our new project there aims at better land and water management, erosion control and increased carbon sequestration. In Guatemala and other Central American countries we are working to improve value chains, from crop production to commercialisation, leading to an integrated and ecologically sound system where all the inputs and outputs, including carbon emissions, are considered. Through approaches such as these, we are demonstrating that sustainable intensification of agriculture can bring environmental, as well as social and economic benefits, and greater resilience to change.

Inclusive, integrated and comprehensive

The ENRM policy is part of our agency's overall effort to reduce rural poverty and, as such, promotes the participation of women and indigenous people. In the end, they are the custodians of our natural heritage. Both groups have traditionally embraced environmentally sound practices. The challenge today is to create participatory approaches to enable these key stakeholders to be involved in the decision-making process. In Bolivia and Ecuador we are working with Quechua and Aymara communities to promote agroforestry, zero tillage agriculture and improved livestock production packages. Better management of soil and water resources has increased their production, and at the same time they are reducing the amount they need to spend on fertiliser. Creating opportunities for smallscale producers to make more money, all the while protecting our environment is key to long-term sustainability.

We believe our new policy is comprehensive in tackling climate change and environmental degradation in an integrated way. If I had a message for our rural communities, I would say that agriculture is important; it is important to the overall economy and the surrounding ecosystems, and it is important both as a contributor to climate change and as part of the solution. With more sustainable farming and forestry practices, rural smallholders can achieve better production levels and greater income. More importantly, they will also become a key ally in our efforts for overall climate change mitigation.

Date published: June 2011

 

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