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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
Source: UPRA, SIPRA
Location of Sucre department and the agricultural frontier
Source: UPRA, SIPRA

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.

Grey-shanked Doucs. Credits: Ryan Deboodt

When biodiversity conservation needs inclusive land-use planning

Hiếu Commune, Kon Plong district, Vietnam

The Central Highlands of Vietnam still hold many surprises. Biodiversity surveys in this region revealed new populations of rare and endangered wildlife, including two critically endangered primates: the grey-shanked douc and the yellow-cheeked gibbon.

Grey-shanked Doucs. Credit: Ryan Deboodt

Despite the rising awareness of the uniqueness of this area, the local wildlife remains critically endangered and threatened by deforestation and habitat fragmentation, due to infrastructure development and agricultural expansion.

“With its high biodiversity level, Kon Plong deserves to be considered as one of Vietnam’s most valuable conservation forests.”

Nhân Dân news

This area is also one of the poorest regions in the country. Finding economic development opportunities consistent with the maintenance of ecosystem services is becoming a pressing issue in parts of the district. In recent years, Fauna and Flora International (FFI) Vietnam, a conservation organisation, brought attention to the threatened primates. FFI promotes an inclusive land-use planning approach to address the dual challenge of improving local income and conserving the natural habitat that sustains the unique biodiversity.

Decisive land-use choices in Hiếu Commune

Hiêu Commune in Kon Plong District is where FFI has been engaging in local discussions on future land use and investments. It is also where the Land-use Planner tool was piloted for that purpose.

In this commune of 2 984 inhabitants, 13.6% of the population lives at or below the poverty line. Their livelihood includes cropping systems based on cassava, rice, vegetables, maize, tree fruit, coffee, and medicinal plants (cultivated, not wild harvested). Stated economic development goals for Kon Plong District focus on agriculture and tourism, with a greater emphasis on agriculture for Hiếu Commune.

Map 1. Current land use in Hiếu Commune

Map 1. Current land use in Hiếu Commune

Map 2. Conservation and land ownership in Hiếu Commune

Map 2. Conservation and land ownership in Hiếu Commune

At the northern end of the Commune, some 1 742 hectares (8.5% of the total land area in Hiếu Commune) are designated as watershed protection forests. At the southern end, preliminary analysis by FFI identified an area of approximately 4 800 hectares as having particularly high value for biodiversity conservation. The Kon Plong Forest Company owns that area, together with another 10 172 hectares.

Participatory planning for Hiếu Commune

Vietnam’s new planning law and its implementing decree require provincial land-use and socioeconomic development plans to be inclusive, and science and fact-based. Commune and village-level feedback is an important part of the process.

Land-use planning is both a top-down and bottom-up process. While strategy and direction comes in the form of 10-year national strategies and provincial plans that are transcribed into district-level master plans, details are to be developed from all the villages’ data and opinions. The process includes the following steps:

  • The Commune People’s Committee begins by hosting a meeting to orient residents to the land-use planning process.
  • Villages then hold meetings to outline and discuss land use and related needs, based on district-level master plan.
  • Representatives from the villages then report back to the Commune People’s Committee.
  • Data and opinions gathered from all villages are then synthesised at the commune level and submitted to the District People’s Committee.
The FFI Team meets with Commune Leaderships as part of a field visit, October 2020. Credits: Nguyen Ngoc Lan
The FFI Team meets with Commune Leaderships as part of a field visit, October 2020. Credits: Nguyen Ngoc Lan

It is in the context of this dialogue between villages, the commune, and the district, that FFI facilitated a series of initial conversations to explore how various land-use and land management choices could affect future development potential.

Assessing alternative land-use options

In the weeks leading up to the October 2020 field visit and workshop, the FFI team used the Land-use Planner tool to model various possible land-use changes. The models result in different socioeconomic outcomes in terms of food security, employment and income, and environmental protection. First, the team developed a baseline or business-as-usual scenario, in which change is driven by the continuation of recent trends in population growth. Then, it developed alternative scenarios dubbed ‘Livelihood Support’ and ‘Conservation,’ based on initial conversations with local stakeholders.

Under the Livelihood Support scenario, Hiếu Commune would see increases in cassava cultivation, the establishment and some repurposing of greenhouses to grow fruits, vegetables, and possibly medicinal plants. In this scenario, fruit orchards and processing and sale of such products as mango, longan and avocado would begin or increase.

The Conservation scenario included the establishment of new protected areas designed to enhance biodiversity conservation. These would add to the existing watershed protection forest area already managed for water quality and other ecosystem services. The additional land protection would mean less agricultural production in specific areas. The high conservation value areas occur in the southern portion of the Commune, and the reduction in farm activity would happen there as well.

Focus group and workshop discussions in Hiếu Commune revealed a clear interest from participants to be better informed about the causal relationships between land-use decisions and economic development. Representatives from the District People’s Committee expressed an interest in using this kind of resource in their planning process.

From its last trip, the FFI team reported: ‘Our experience with the Hiếu Commune process shows that the Land-use Planner has the potential to be a very engaging means of helping local citizens and decision makers think more creatively and expansively about future economic development and environmental quality enhancing scenarios. This, ultimately, can lead to functional land-use plans against which development proposals, land reallocation, and public and private investment decisions can be compared and, depending on the comparison, either encouraged or discouraged.’

For more information

Josh Kempinski

FFI Country Director, Vietnam Programme

josh.kempinski@fauna-flora.org