Colombia has set ambitious targets to mitigate climate change and achieve stability. One promising approach to help achieve those simultaneously is designing and promoting sustainable land use systems that incorporate the views of all the stakeholders in the value chain.

In this interview, Dr. Augusto Castro-Nuñez, a climate policy and finance scientist at the Sustainable Food Systems Team within CIAT’s Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area who coordinates the SLUS project, sheds light on how a sustainable land use system can contribute to Colombia’s climate change mitigation and peacebuilding goals and how to develop such a system.

 What is a sustainable land use system?

A sustainable land use system may come in different forms depending on the context and location. Overall, it meets livelihood aspirations in ways that are sustainable and that maintain environmental integrity.

In the context of the SLUS project, sustainable land use systems are agricultural and livestock production systems that, by meeting the pillars of sustainability — environmental, social, and economic — contribute to achieving not only Colombia’s environmental goals, such as reducing deforestation, restoring lands, and mitigating climate change, but also other objectives, including building peace and improving livelihoods in rural areas, especially those affected by the country’s conflict.

Sustainable land use systems designed and promoted within the SLUS project will combine two kinds of approaches that have not been fully integrated yet. One is adopting land-based approaches, which seek to contribute to the conservation of forests by promoting sustainable land uses, an approach that focuses on land use decisions taken at the local level. The other is using market-based approaches, which are evolving into sustainable food system approaches. It has a perspective that considers value change relations and food choices by consumers. Diets and increase in food consumption, for example, have an impact on land uses.

To ensure its effectiveness, a sustainable land use system should be tailored to a specific context. That means its design must be informed by an in-depth understanding of enabling conditions, existing institutional arrangements, and agricultural value chain actors. Fostering adoption of promising land use systems will also require upgrading strategies, which incorporate financial and nonfinancial incentives and services, within the value chain.

How would a sustainable land use system that contributes to climate change mitigation and peacebuilding look like?

In municipalities emerging from conflict in Colombia, such as those located in the department of Caquetá, there are many areas whose landscapes are dominated by cattle pastures. A sustainable land use system could be a cattle ranching production system that includes trees in order to increase carbon storage in that location and that has good access to markets so it can earn revenues from its economic activities.

Why are sustainable land use systems important for achieving forest conservation and peacebuilding in Colombia?

It’s important because the broad adoption of these systems can help accomplish the targets of the government in terms of climate change mitigation, land restoration, and peacebuilding.

It’s not that promoting sustainable land use systems is new. It’s being done in Colombia and elsewhere around the world, and we have many good examples of how this could work. However, these examples are not necessarily reaching the scale needed to contribute to mitigating climate change or to building peace. So the question is, how can we reach the scale that we need?

The project that we have with the German government’s International Climate Initiative and several international and local partners aims to address that. We seek to develop a strategy and a business model that will incorporate the views of all the stakeholders in the value chain and then measure if these systems really contribute to peacebuilding and climate change mitigation.

Is this measurement something that hasn’t been done before?

It’s been done a bit but not fully. There have been studies that estimate emissions for cocoa production under agroforestry systems, which may be considered as a sustainable land use system, but not necessarily measure its peacebuilding benefits, or vice versa. Also, we don’t have a clear understanding of why these land use systems are not being adopted at scale.

It could be because they were developed using different views and without considering everyone’s views. For instance, some stakeholders believe the data they are gathering to do measurement is relevant and enough proof of sustainability. But maybe for someone else in the value chain, say an investor, the measurement is not a good indicator of the sustainability they are looking for.

How can we develop and scale up sustainable land use systems that contribute to climate change mitigation and peacebuilding in Colombia?

The SLUS project integrates four components. First is to identify synergies and integrate policies and approaches to reduce conflict and deforestation and/or to achieve land restoration. We have to put these together because otherwise, we may be promoting similar sustainable land use systems with different objectives and then maybe instead of having synergies, we will be having trade-offs.

The second is to identify the barriers to the adoption of a sustainable land use system at the farm level. If we identify those barriers, then we can make the adjustments needed to the system in order to overcome those barriers. Here we also need to measure contributions to both climate change mitigation and peacebuilding.

The third is to also identify the barriers at the value chain level. Then we need to develop the strategies and identify the motivation of stakeholders within the value chains to overcome those barriers.

And fourth, we need investments. So, we need to develop business models that are compatible with these sustainable land use systems and help to overcome barriers identified at the farm and value chain levels.

Additional information:

The project titled “Implementing Sustainable Agricultural and Livestock Systems for Simultaneous Targeting of Forest Conservation for Climate Change Mitigation (REDD+) and Peacebuilding in Colombia” aims to contribute toward reducing land-based greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, conserving forest, restoring degraded landscapes, and improving rural livelihoods while stimulating peacebuilding in rural Colombia. It is part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI). The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) supports this initiative on the basis of a decision adopted by the German Bundestag. The SLUS project is implemented by CIAT, together with the Centre for Research on Sustainable Agriculture (CIPAV), Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research, and Thünen-Institut.

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