Colombia and CIATCommitted to sustainable development
Since CIAT´s founding on 17 October 1967, the Center has collaborated closely with its host country, Colombia, based on a shared conviction that agricultural research is an important tool for generating new technologies, methods, and knowledge that better enable farmers, particularly low-income smallholders, to make their production more eco-efficient: that is, competitive, profitable, sustainable, and resilient.
Among the achievements of this joint effort are more than 90 improved varieties of four key crops – rice (48), tropical forages (11), common bean (16), and cassava (18) – which help strengthen food security and raise the incomes of farm families. In addition, more than 5,000 Colombians – including undergraduates, master´s and doctoral students as well as experienced professionals – have enhanced their knowledge and capacity through different kinds of training offered by CIAT. Moreover, the Center and its Colombian partners have created an advanced biosciences platform that provides ready access to cutting-edge technologies for making agriculture more competitive.
Two long-term efforts of national scope have further strengthened CIAT´s collaborative ties with Colombia: one aimed at fostering sustainable development and making agriculture more competitive in the country´s Eastern Plains and the other focused on strengthening the capacity of agriculture and livestock production to adapt to climate change impacts.
Climate and the Colombian Agricultural Sector: Adaptation for productive sustainability
This agreement brought together for the first time national government, academia, research centers, NGOs, and farmers associations in the production chains of sugar cane, maize, beans, rice, potatoes, fruit trees, and palm oil, to form part of the Agreement between the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MADR) and CIAT.
The objective of this agreement is for the Colombian agricultural sector to improve its capacity to respond to climate phenomena, thus reducing losses and increasing productivity and competitiveness, by taking advantage of knowledge, tools, and technology, and a more efficient use of natural resources.
Among the fruits of this agreement are the agricultural climate bulletins that have become an important tool to facilitate adaptation to climatic variability and risk reduction. These bulletins offer data about the climatic conditions of the next 1 to 6 months, providing farmers in the departments of Córdoba, Meta, Tolima, Huila, Casanare, Valle, Santander, and Cauca with reliable information about when to plant, what varieties to select, how densely to plant, and when to harvest, among other decisive factors.
The importance and effectiveness of these agricultural climate bulletins as tools for decision making was demonstrated when, through a joint effort with the National Federation of Rice Growers (Fedearroz), the agreement avoided economic losses in the amount of US$3.5 million to 170 rice producers in Montería, Córdoba. Some 1,800 hectares planted to rice were saved from being wiped out by the intense summer that lashed the country in 2014 and 2015, thanks to the fact that the farmers followed a timely recommendation: change the planting date.
A strategic decision that was even awarded a prize in 2014 during the United Nations Climate Summit in New York, through the initiative of the Big Data Climate Challenge, created by the UN in partnership with the Secretary General’s Climate Change team, to make use of Big Data systems as a common good for sustainable development, while confronting climate change through the best ideas in the world in order to strengthen climate action.
Big Data is the word used to denote a growing quantity of data that can be analyzed to reveal knowledge that remained unpublished and that are of vital importance in order to give farmers specific recommendations by location.
Science, Technology, and Innovation - the future of the Orinoquia region
The purpose of this fundamental agreement, launched in 2011, is to develop and validate technologies for the improvement of production systems productivity and sustainability in the high plains of the Colombian Orinoquia region.
Thanks to the teamwork between the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MADR), the Colombian Corporation for Agricultural Research (Corpoica) and CIAT, this agreement has a work agenda that has included joint research in key areas such as genetic resources, sustainable livestock farming, rubber, maize, productive soil layer, agrosilvopastoral systems, biotechnology, and precision farming. An agenda whose recent results were shared at the end of September 2016 in Villavicencio, Meta.
It is squarely in precision farming that CIAT, in collaboration with its national partners, has obtained results such as calibration methodologies for the productivity monitors of equipment such as harvesters, database debugging techniques, and mapping of the spatial variability of yield, as well as the analyses of apparent electrical conductivity of the soil, and vegetation indexes, which will subsequently be integrated into detailed charting of plot management zones.
This forward movement is expected to provide momentum to the analysis of information (Big data), including variability, about the yields of rice, maize, and soybeans in the high plains, as well as of the physical-chemical characteristics of the soils and their respective management plans. That analysis will make it possible to determine the conditions of climate, soil, and varieties that offer the best yields. This variability has a great potential to be exploited by using the tools of precision farming that are adapted to conditions in Colombia, so that they may be integrated into a specific crop management plan.
Thanks to the agreement signed between Corpoica and CIAT (2016–2018) the Upper Orinoquia region research portfolio is focused mainly on the development of rice varieties, production systems for savanna soils and for improved soils, at the same time as it facilitates bringing to the dry Caribbean the results attained in forages, and to the rest of the country the advances in matters of climate change adaptation and mitigation.
This is without losing sight of such cross-cutting themes as strengthening of impact assessment, monitoring and follow-up, and knowledge management through the Tejiendo Lazos (Weaving Links) program, which promotes the exchange of knowledge among researchers of both entities in order to facilitate processes of mutual collaboration.
This is how conversations have been started about topics such as biofortified bean varieties resistant to drought and high temperatures, and varietal improvement of cassava for the Cauca department.
Agriculture, the key to lasting peace in Colombia
The armed conflict in Colombia has given rise to 6.9 million internally displaced people, 87% of whom come from the countryside. The municipal areas most affected have seen 3 million hectares of forest destroyed and account for 87% of the illicit crops grown in the country.
Many of the results from the Third National Agricultural Census 2014 underline the difficult predicament of rural Colombia. Particularly noteworthy is the difference in quality of life between urban and rural areas. In this regard, the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) indicates that of 2.7 million agricultural producers in the countryside, 44.7 % live in poverty, with small- and medium-sized growers most affected.
Of the total land area used for agriculture in Colombia, 80.4% is sown to pastures and 19.1% to various other crops. Since the last census, agricultural land has expanded from 5.5 million hectares to 7.1 million – an increase of 29%. Of this total, 74.8% is sown to permanent crops, covering 5.3 million hectares, followed by annual crops, accounting for 16%, or 1.2 million hectares.
Once Colombia achieves lasting peace, its annual economic growth rate is expected to rise by 1.1 to 1.9%, primarily as a result of a boost in confidence about the country´s future. Faster growth will generate between 120,000 and 200,000 new jobs over 10 years. This projection is based on employment elasticity, which in Colombia is 0.7 %, meaning that for every percentage point increase in gross domestic product (GDP), employment expands by 0.7%.
50 years of applied research dedicated to making rural Colombia more productive, inclusive, and sustainable
On 23 June 2016, the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) agreed to a bilateral ceasefire, thus bringing to an end more than 50 years of armed conflict and taking a tremendously significant step toward a definitive peace agreement. Despite its initial rejection in a referendum held during early October, the final agreement was signed on 24 November.
The post-conflict scenario offers a unique opportunity for CIAT to support its partners in Colombia by providing objective technical advice through various strategic approaches. These include conducting applied research for rural development; strengthening the capacity of diverse actors in rural areas; carrying out pilot projects in high-priority zones, such as the departments of Cauca, Nariño, and Caquetá; and guiding processes of territorial development, while helping to integrate new initiatives with ongoing work (such as the peace laboratories and national programs for development and peace), and to start rapid-response post-conflict efforts in affected territories.
CIAT has the expertise needed to support new work on key tasks, such as landscape restoration and the development of sustainable food systems; strengthening smallholder farmers associations, using the LINK methodology and participatory methods; providing extension services for rural innovation to boost agricultural production, reduce food imports, and strengthen food security; and promoting a more inclusive, eco-efficient, and competitive agriculture.
The Center also has the capacity to mount initiatives using other high-potential approaches, such as income generation through production alliances, promotion of sustainable food systems in post-conflict zones, and Climate-Smart Villages, which offer means of making Colombia´s agricultural production more resilient.
For reinforcing food security, the best options include biofortified (nutritionally enhanced) varieties of common bean together with community-based seed systems; institutional strengthening, especially among private and public sector actors in the coffee value chain; land use planning supported with a novel approach for understanding the complex dynamics between conservation of tropical forests and armed conflict.
The idea then is to put 50 years of research at the service of the country that has not only served as CIAT´s host from its beginnings but also provided the Center with a strong platform from which to project its work to the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean. The time has come to build peace, taking advantage of CIAT´s reliable scientific experience in strengthening the capacity of smallholder farmers to adapt to climate change and variability; forming alliances to create sustainable value chains based on inclusive business models; designing production systems collaboratively that are environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable; and using Big Data as a tool for closing yield gaps and fostering innovation to modernize the national system of technical assistance in agriculture.
This new agenda for joint work could include steps like those described below, which offer tangible support of rapid-response efforts during initial preparations for post-conflict recovery:
- Biofortified varieties of common bean with drought tolerance and improved yields, which offer an effective way to improve public health, while raising incomes and enhancing food and nutrition security.
- Establishment of climate roundtables in key regions and Climate-Smart Villages as means of preparing agriculture for climate change and variability.
- Application of Big Data with information and communication technologies (ICTs) to close yield gaps, while supporting systems for innovation and technical assistance, which are needed to facilitate adaptation to climate variability.
- Strengthening and development of value chains to diversify income, improve access to specialty markets, and foster rural development without deforestation – based on crops such as quinua, cocoa, rubber, and coffee – by building local capacity and participatory alliances.
- Support for the development of public policies that encourage conservation of forest carbon.
- Identification of areas for restoration of degraded land, using multipurpose forages as well as agroforestry and silvopastoral systems at both the farm and landscape scales, with the aim of contributing to climate change adaptation and mitigation in small- and medium-scale production systems.
- Improved efficiency in the production of crops such as rice, reducing both its water and carbon footprint, while lowering production costs (for water and agrochemicals) without affecting productivity. Use of techniques such as rainwater harvesting as productive and sustainable alternatives for adapting to drought, while diversifying production and raising incomes.