Strengthening participation in agricultural conversion and stabilisation of the agricultural frontier

The new delimitation of the agricultural frontier

In June 2018, the Government of Colombia, through collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MADR), the Rural Agricultural Planning Unit (UPRA) and the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (MADS), formalised the establishment of the National Agricultural Frontier. The Frontier aims to reduce deforestation caused by the expansion of agricultural activities in the country. With this measure, the Government allocates 35% of Colombia’s land (approximately 40 million hectares) to economic activities linked to various productive sectors. The remaining percentage, located outside the agricultural frontier, is mostly intended for the conservation of natural forests and other strategic ecosystems, such as wetlands and moorland.

The new delimitation of the agricultural frontier, which is part of the Comprehensive Strategy for Deforestation Control and Forest Management, raises various challenges for the agricultural sector. For instance, farmers located outside the agricultural frontier must convert their activities. Those within the frontier face the challenge of increasing their productivity per hectare as they are unable to expand their farm. To identify the best production opportunities and guide land-use planning, UPRA, in collaboration with the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM), carried out an extensive study to identify the areas of the country that are best suited for agricultural activities within the agricultural frontier.

To keep existing agricultural activities within the agricultural frontier while accelerating the transition to more suitable production systems, UPRA is developing a series of agricultural conversion master plans for different sectors. These plans will then be linked to other sectoral and territorial instruments, such as the departmental production planning strategies.

2021: a key year for agricultural conversion

One of UPRA’s main objectives for the 2020–2021 period is to produce five conversion plans for the rice sector (corresponding to five producing areas: Bajo Cauca, Llanos, Centro, Costa Norte and Santanderes). In this context, experts from UPRA’s production conversion team, in collaboration with the European Forest Institute (EFI), used the Land-use Planner to generate prospective agricultural conversion scenarios, in a collaborative process involving different actors in the rice sector.

This collaboration between UPRA and EFI resulted in a pilot project covering two administrative areas known as departments: Tolima and Sucre (in the Bajo Cauca and Costa Norte regions, respectively).

Location of Tolima department and the agricultural frontier
Location of Sucre department and the agricultural frontier

The project aimed to provide a comprehensive picture of the potential impacts of land-use changes over time. It also sought to facilitate dialogue between producers and industrialists in the sector, with a view to consensus regarding the future of the rice supply chain in both departments. The analysis included environmental and social criteria not generally taken into account by producers and entrepreneurs, such as greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss, forest cover, job creation and food security. These considerations contributed to the development of a roadmap for rice production in the two departments, as well as technical guidelines for land management. The pilot project also allowed for evaluating the possibility of using the LUP for other conversion master plans and extending the use of the tool to UPRA’s land-use planning team.

Rice production in Tolima and Sucre

In recent years, there has been limited expansion of rice production areas in Tolima and Sucre, although with significant differences in yields between areas in both departments. The producers and entrepreneurs consulted validated the following prospective scenarios:

  • Expansion of rice cultivation in areas with few land-use conflicts, while reducing and replacing rice production in areas with increasing land-use conflicts.
  • Yield improvements in areas where manual or poorly mechanised practices currently persist, but which would benefit from public, private and mixed investment.
  • As alternatives to rice production, soya bean and maize were mainly identified in Tolima, while dual-purpose livestock was identified in Sucre.
  • In the scenario describing current land uses in both departments, the expansion of livestock farming drives deforestation, but strategies to reduce deforestation and protect wetlands (Sucre) and moorland (Tolima) are implemented later.

As the dialogues took place among actors of the same sector, their visions were sufficiently aligned not to require major concessions within the different scenarios. However, three factors generated discussion and reflections that led the group to propose alternatives or reach compromises:

  1. Climate and seasonal changes and the need to adapt to maintain (or increase) yields (investment in mechanisation, irrigation systems improvement, etc.).
  2. In Sucre, the possibility of alternating between rice production and livestock farming every five years to increase producers’ incomes, improve soil productivity and limit the expansion of both uses into wetlands. However, this model has only been implemented in other countries, not in Colombia, and more information is needed to better assess its impacts through the Land-use Planner.
  3. The need to move towards sustainable production systems in both departments, to limit the loss of key ecosystems such as wetlands and moorland.

Future perspectives

Throughout 2021, UPRA will work on formulating conversion master plans for the milk and meat sectors, which both drive deforestation and generate significant land-use conflicts. In this context, the application of the Land-use Planner would demonstrate its full potential as a participatory tool that fosters dialogue. Full adoption and use of the Land-use Planner by UPRA experts will facilitate analyses of different territories and departments, as well as results sharing and dissemination.

Commune of Ngong: a discussion with the inhabitants of a village near Tchéboa, with the participation of their tribal chief. Credit: Pascal Douard

Land-use planning, a key to peace and development in the North Region of Cameroon

Cameroon’s North Region covers an area of around 65 000 km2, twice the size of Belgium. Its capital, Garoua, the third largest city in the country, has just under a million inhabitants. Garoua has an international airport, which is a reminder of a recent period (roughly between the 1970s and 2000), when foreign visitors came to visit the region’s various national parks and game reserves, referred to as hunting interest zones (in French, ZICs). Indeed, until the early 2000s, these tourist areas, which make up almost half of the region’s territory, generated revenue for the local governments and communities. However, since the mid-2010s, the worsening security situation in the neighbouring Far North Region has driven the tourists away from the North Region. In addition, people fleeing the most dangerous areas have come and settled there.

A herd grazing in a crop-growing area in the commune of Ngong. Credit: Pascal Douard

In the North Region, customary land is managed by Lamidos, the main land chiefs. For generations, the region has been given over to agropastoralism, which continues to be the primary occupation of the vast majority of adults today. Indeed, this rural region is currently the country’s grain basket, as well as its main supplier of pulses and onions. However, since the 1950s, this part of the country has been undergoing a process of agricultural transformation, mainly driven by the introduction of cotton growing.

The transhumance corridors currently used by livestock farmers, whose herds can number up to several hundred animals, partly encroach on agricultural production areas, which can give rise to land-use conflicts.

Despite all these activities, the region is still poor and food security remains an issue. Added to this challenge are environmental issues related to soil depletion, water management and climate change.

Various development programmes are active in the region, addressing wildlife management, natural resources and rural development. With some 20 initiatives underway and a growing number of actors, better coordination, consultation and planning are necessary.

Map: Conservation, security and transhumance in the North Region of Cameroon. Source: Central African Forest Observatory (OFAC), 2019.

Towards the integrated management of Cameroon’s North Region ecosystem: the vision of the EcoNorCam programme

Given the security, environmental and agropastoral difficulties encountered, as well as the large number of actors on the ground, the Cameroonian Government is encouraging the emergence of an integrated management model for the region. Supported by the European Union, the authorities have the long-term goal of reconciling the different uses in a sustainable manner: improving resilience to climate change; producing sufficient food to feed a young and rapidly growing population; and protecting the soil and biodiversity.

At the national level, the EcoNorCam programme involves the MINFOF, the MINEPAT, the Prime Minister’s Office and the governor of the North Region. It aims to foster dialogue with a view to ensuring stability and sustainable development in the region. This initiative also aims to ensure the coordination and pooling of actions among the different technical implementation partners. The specific objectives of the programme include supporting the development of a resilient territory, conserving biodiversity and improving food security.

The implementation of EcoNorCam requires the establishment of consultation forums and activities at the local and national levels. These activities must take place both in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital, and on the ground, with local mayors, the managers of protected areas, village communities, livestock farmers and private businesses. They will aim to support the climate resilience of degraded areas outside of the parks, maintain the integrity of Bénoué National Park while fighting against poaching, and increase plant and animal food resources.

In order to facilitate multi-stakeholder discussions about the future of this territory at the local level, the Land-use Planner has been used within the framework of the EcoNorCam programme to obtain initial diagnoses. This tool provides a participatory evaluation of the economic, social and environmental impacts of different land-use scenarios.

Stage 2 of the Land-use Planner: evaluation of the socioeconomic and environmental data relating to the main land uses in Cameroon’s North Region, to inform land-use planning discussions.

Complementary scenarios with multiple objectives

The Land-use Planner indicates preliminary trends corresponding to different land-use scenarios. These scenarios can inform discussions between the different groups of stakeholders as they seek a balance between conservation and development.

  • Establishment of ecological corridors between three national parks in the North Region: the areas between the national parks, where there is remarkably rich fauna, are game reserves in which biodiversity corridors could be created to provide a continuum between the protected areas. Classifying certain ZICs as multi-use zones is an initial possible option.
  • Restoration of degraded areas (soil and vegetation) to enable a return to sustainable agricultural production: the starting point for identifying the areas to be rehabilitated is the capacity of some ZICs to provide the ecosystem goods and services necessary to maintain their functions, particularly those that are grazed during the transhumance of herds. Programmes to restore forest landscapes are taken into account as a rehabilitation scenario.
  • Improvement of crop yields in connection with food security: increasing the amount of agricultural land dedicated to cotton culture must not be at odds with local food production needs. Thus, areas of agricultural intensification are envisaged, based on practices that particularly mobilise women and young people in the sustainable exploitation of non-timber forest products and fuel wood.
Commune of Ngong: on the edge of a hamlet, branches cut for domestic needs. Credit: Pascal Douard

Enough space, but competition for the most fertile land

Special attention is given to territories where there are several competing land uses. Hunting, livestock farming and agricultural production are sometimes concentrated in the same areas, and in order for managers of protected areas, livestock farmers and crop farmers to coexist harmoniously, regular consultation is necessary. The ZICs are key in this consultation among the various land users: agro-sylvo-pastoral operators want to obtain the official recognition of their activities on these lands, while other stakeholders are keen to restore or ensure the continuity of hunting activities framed within the objective of a sustainable tourism offering.

Commune of Ngong: a discussion with the inhabitants of a village near Tchéboa, with the participation of their tribal chief. Credit: Pascal Douard

Realistic prospects

Changes in land use are envisaged, based on necessary compromises among political, economic and environmental actors. These collective choices must be set out in consensual plans and need to be made sustainable through long-term funding. Tools such as the Land-use Planner will help quantify the costs and potential benefits. The challenge will be to define a development scenario in a document that is understood and adopted by all the stakeholders, in the common interest.

The negotiated regional land-use scenario that results from the participatory process will then be transcribed in local land-use and sustainable development plans. This will enable the application of regional-level reflections to the communal level. This local-level articulation will be ensured through the implementation of local plans that reflect local practices and customs.

Commune of Ngong: a water point in a village near Tchéboa.

For more information

Delegation of the European Union to Cameroon in Yaoundé
Sylvaine JARDINET, Agriculture and Environment Team attaché