24 Oct 2017 Story Climate change

Small-scale farmers learn to adapt to climate change in Colombia’s dairy capital

Climate change is an urgent challenge for small-scale farmers in Latin America and the Caribbean, who produce up to 60 per cent of food in some parts of the region. Many of these farmers live in poverty and have little access to financing and other services.

In Colombia, the region of Ubaté is known as the country’s dairy capital because it produces around 25 per cent of the capital city Bogotá’s basic goods. But in the last decade Ubaté has been hit hard by cycles of intense rain and drought associated with phenomena like La Niña and El Niño. Adapting farming practices to new climatic conditions has emerged as an urgent priority.

With the support of the private sector and the local community, UN Environment has implemented a demonstration plot at Ubaté with 11 ecosystem-based adaptation measures to teach farmers how to innovate on their lands, adapt to the effects of climate change and increase their productivity in a sustainable manner, while offering them microcredits that make these solutions feasible.

The 11 measures were applied in the Ubaté Institute of Agroindustrial and Environmental Sciences (ICAM), as part of the UN Environment’s project Microfinance for Ecosystem-Based Adaptation (MEbA), which is funded by the Government of Germany.

Producers can visit this farm, launched on 21 September, and participate in a training programme that aims to help them apply the recommended techniques to their own land, with the support of the financial institution Bancamía.

Farmers are very interested in overcoming the effects of floods and droughts that have hit their crops and livestock. Between 2010 and 2011 Ubaté experienced one of the most intense rainy seasons in 70 years, with floods that forced hundreds of farmers to abandon their work. These atypical rains damaged 1 million hectares and caused $5 billion losses in Colombia.

© Adriana Ahumada

And just when the agriculture sector was initiating the recovery process, El Niño covered the mountains and valleys of Ubaté with an intense drought that damaged pastureland and cut livestock activity almost by half. This led to an uptick in poverty and an increase in the migration of peasants to the city, says Rafael Rincón, director of ICAM.

According to Rincón, a continued economic downturn in Ubaté would have serious consequences for Bogotá´s food security.

Now, at the demonstration plot, farmers can learn about measures that will help to protect themselves from these effects of climate change, for example: how earthworms can generate nutrient-rich natural fertilizer; how beekeeping can benefit crop pollination; and how to use ditches to divert and distribute excess water during the rainy season.

Other measures are greenhouses that allow production all year long; family orchards; solar dehydrators that add value to the products and shield the farmer from price volatility; drip irrigation to maximize water efficiency; and a silvopastoral system that diversifies production and provides forage for livestock.

"Sensitizing farmers on how to face climate change, produce and find alternatives that allow them to stay in their lands is supremely important, not only for the inhabitants of the region but also for Bogotá,” Rincón said.

ICAM will provide technical education on adaptation measures to some 600 farmers during the first year of the plot, while Bancamía will offer microcredit options to finance the application of the techniques on farms. Thanks to this alliance, two large gaps are closed: availability of financing and access to technical advice.

If no actions are taken to address climate change, damage to Colombia's farming sector would cause annual losses of 0.49 per cent of the national gross domestic product between 2011 and 2100. This is equivalent to the country suffering losses similar to those incurred by La Niña 2010-2011 every four years, according to a study by the national government, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

The demonstration plot in Ubaté is the fourth of the Microfinance for Ecosystem-Based Adaptation project in the Andean regions of Colombia and Peru. The project has been raising awareness on climate change and its effects among 7,000 producers in both countries and more than 3,000 farmers have been trained to implement ecosystem-based adaptation measures. In this context, more than 10,000 credits have been disbursed, representing $12 million of private investment aimed at helping small-scale farmers adapt sustainably to climate change.