Colombia embraces new approach to reduce emissions from agriculture, sustain food security

Analysis shows that increasing efficiency and productivity of the livestock sector will reduce the area allocated to pasture and slow deforestation in the Colombian Amazon. Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)

Researchers find that investments in livestock productivity and land-carrying capacity in Colombia would reduce deforestation, offset greater emissions from increased crop production, and generate higher profits.

A team of researchers led by Alex De Pinto, Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), has identified agricultural options that support climate change mitigation and resilience and are compatible with national development goals. Policymakers in Colombia used the results in 2015 to (i) develop national policies that mitigate emissions and (ii) inform their commitment to mitigate climate change under the Paris Climate Agreement. The authors suggest that other countries can do the same.

In an article published in the journal 'World Development', the team of researchers presented a modeling framework for analysing a range of policies that target emissions reductions in the agricultural sector in Colombia.

Analysis that policymakers need

To develop agricultural and land-use policies that allow for long-term development while decreasing contribution to climate change, governments need tools that evaluate trade-offs, opportunities, and repercussions of all policy options. 

Policies that solely aim to reduce emissions could ultimately reduce or increase area allocated to crops, pasture or forests, or affect yields and production costs. Policymakers need policies that meet multiple objectives, including food security, support of livelihoods, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Reducing expected increases in greenhouse gas emissions requires adoption of transformative approaches that improve the efficient use of resources. These approaches include optimising use of fertilizers, water, and fossil fuels in agriculture production; reducing food loss and waste; and shifting to foods that yield lower emissions. In Colombia, national decision-makers worked with the team of researchers to analyse how such low emissions development strategies might impact other objectives such as food security or export goals. By using the proper tools, countries can identify the agricultural production practices that promote the efficient use of inputs, foster healthy soils, and favour thriving ecosystems.

Government of Colombia leads

Both the public and private sectors in Colombia are engaged in finding low emissions development pathways in agriculture and land use that do not negatively impact farmers' profits. Through sustained engagement with both sectors, researchers identified a series of policy targets compatible with many of the priorities voiced by stakeholders. These priorities commonly involved the use of pastureland and cattle raising, the use of forests, and the problem of deforestation caused by annual crops or oil palm cultivation. Results of the analysis are summarized in the image below.


Visualization of trade-offs between profits and greenhouse gas emissions reductions for policies simulated in the models. “Win-win” solutions – those with increased profits for farmers and decreased total emissions – are in the upper left quadrant. (Source: Figure 7.1, De Pinto et al. 2016)

Results indicate that the Colombian government should focus on:

  • Investing in increasing the efficiency and productivity of the livestock sector to reduce the area allocated to pasture and reduce the rate of deforestation in the Amazon forest. This is actually preferable to policies that only target deforestation or a reduction of emissions from crop production alone.
  • Incentivize the efficient use of inputs in the cultivation of strategic crops, including oil palm, sugarcane and soybean, which will also help meet both biofuel and dietary demands.

Using this research, Colombia was one of the first Latin American countries to submit its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) in 2015. Read more about the development of the INDC and its presentation at COP21.

Colombia presented its national green growth vision, informed by this analysis, at a COP21 side event in December 2015. Pictured (L-R): Rodrigo Suárez (Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Colombia), Andy Jarvis (CCAFS), then Minister Gabriel Vallejo (Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Colombia), Alex De Pinto (IFPRI), and Diana Vargas (Cormagdalena). Photo: K. Fernandez (IFPRI)

Global relevance

The analytical framework proposed by Dr De Pinto and his colleagues can be applied to any country interested in exploring socio-economic, agricultural production, adaptation, and mitigation/sequestration impacts of low emissions development policies in agriculture.

It is our role to support policy-makers by providing them the best data and scientific analysis possible to support decision-making processes, explained De Pinto.

The range of options policy-makers face can be very diverse, and the effects of their decisions have important, and sometimes unexpected, repercussions,” he said.

Article: De Pinto A, Li M, Haruna A, Hyman GG, Londoño MA, Creamer B, Kwon H, Valencia JB, Tapasco J, Martinez JD. 2016. Low emission development strategies in agriculture. An agriculture, forestry, and other land uses (AFOLU) perspective. World Development.

The journal article acknowledged colleagues in the Colombian government – Ministerio de Agricultura (MADR), the Federación Colombiana de Ganaderos (FEDEGAN), and the Sociedad de Agricultores de Colombia (SAC), Ministry of Environment (MADS) – Universidad Javieriana, Universidad Nacional, National Cereal Growers Federation (FENALCE), the National Potato Growers Association (FEDEPAPA), and the National Forestry Research and Promotion Institute (CONIF). This work was supported by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the CGIAR research programs on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and Forest, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA).

Emil Caillaux, communications specialist at IFPRI, and Julianna White, program manager for low emissions agriculture research at CCAFS, authored this post.