Issue number 8 - September 2011

New horizons for Latin America

By Josefina Stubbs


In the IFAD-backed Gente de Valor project in Brazil, farmers are building intensive water-use systems to optimize water consumption. Replicating such technologies will be important in the implementation of the new knowledge-management project. (Photo © Greg Benchwick)

It’s been a wonderful year. And as we roll into the final quarter of 2011, it’s important to take stock of our successes over the year, and the challenges that we face ahead.

In this issue of Ventana Rural, we look at a series of new poverty reduction projects in Bolivia, Ecuador and Mexico. These new projects were built from the ground up with sustainability, responsibility and lasting results in mind. And while the regional contexts vary greatly, the projects share some common themes, looking toward ever-green approaches and new technologies, market access, value-chain strengthening and participatory practices to increase incomes and build better lives for poor rural people living on the margins of society throughout Latin America.
There are important interviews from members of IFAD’s Evaluation Committee that highlight their reflections on their recent visit to the Dom Hélder Câmara Project in Brazil. We also highlight a new knowledge-management project in Brazil that will help replicate the lessons learned in Dom Helder and bring them to other poor parts of Brazil’s northeast. A new video gives us insight into how age-old traditions are blending with new techniques and technologies to help weavers in Guatemala make more money from their craft. We also take in-depth looks at our current funding in Haiti, IFAD’s new policy on environment and natural resource management and how its implementation will affect the Latin America region, and how competition is creating new possibilities for peace and prosperity in Colombia.  

This September, IFAD’s Executive Board approved new poverty reduction projects in Honduras, Ecuador and Argentina. These projects leverage co-financing from the Spanish Food Security Cofinancing Facility Trust Fund, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, local governments and project beneficiaries, allowing us to scale-up the breadth, depth and effectiveness of IFAD’s poverty reduction efforts in the region.


In the Argentinian countryside, strengthening institutions, capacities and access to markets will be key for the next generation.

It’s also a time to celebrate new publications and new milestones. Below, you can see a video interview with IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze, in which he reflects on his recent mission to Argentina. There’s also a new publication on  The Issue of Land in Argentina, and a review from the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) and IFAD on Mexico’s emerging legal frameworks to address climate change. We look toward the successes of the Paraguay Rural Project at its mid-term review, and how Peru is leveraging information and communications technologies to build better opportunities for rural poor people.

The next several months will bring myriad and diverse challenges, along with new opportunities. By fostering a culture of collaboration and cooperation, we hope to continue our leading trend in creating innovative, sustainable and results-oriented projects across Latin America and the Caribbean. These projects are not only yielding tangible results in terms of poverty reduction, responsible natural resource management, policy dialogue and rural empowerment, but they are also essential in our efforts to safeguard peace, stability and progress across the region. 


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IFAD President reflects on his trip to Argentina

Haiti in Focus: PICV-II project closes, new jobs and irrigation project ramps up


Intensified crops have meant better yields for peanut farmers in Haiti. (Photo © Greg Benchwick)

The Haitian Government’s Food Crops Intensification Project ­– Phase II (known locally as PICV-II) came to close this March after improving the lives of more than 28,000 poor rural Haitians.

As the name indicates, the Food Crops Intensification Project aimed primarily to increase agricultural production - particularly food production – in an effort to create better household incomes and better living conditions for Haitians living in six municipalities of the Bas Plateau Central. The project also aimed to preserve natural resources and strengthen local development capacities, to develop small-scale irrigation systems and small rural enterprises, to improve transport infrastructure and water supplies, and to promote long-term risk-reduction strategies through the recapitalization of livestock farms and the creation of savings groups and institutions.

The nine-year US$20 million project benefitted from US$15.4 million in financing from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The Government of Haiti provided another US$1.8 million in financing, with the beneficiaries themselves staking nearly US$3 million. While the initial loan was issued under highly concessional terms, the debt was forgiven through IFAD’s US$50 million Haitian debt relief program approved in April 2010.

According to the project’s closing report, around 15,000 beneficiary households reported income jumps of 15 to 20 per cent. Some 6700 people learned to read and write, another 15,000 received technical training. Most of the work was driven from the ground up by Base Organizations, Community Development Programs and Community Project Initiatives. The project established and fortified some 420 Base Organizations, around 200 Community Development Programs and 504 Community Project Initiatives.

On the ground, the work of the Haitian government, project personnel and the project beneficiaries, translates into 14 kilometres of new roads, over 700 hectares of land with new or renovated irrigation systems (a 200 per cent increase in irrigable land from the project start), and some 9000 new members in the savings associations created by the project.

“Haiti is the least developed nation in all of the Western Hemisphere. Central to this lack of development – and the nation’s never-ending battle with poverty and instability – is the risk factor. Reduce the risk profile of your average Haitian, and your reduce the risk for the nation,” said IFAD’s Country Program Manager for Haiti, Marco Camagni. “And the best way to reduce risk is to protect natural resources, build savings, diversify incomes and increase education.”

Ramping up funding in the Dominican Republic
In an effort to provide sustainable solutions for the island of Hispaniola as a whole, IFAD is also ramping up its funding for the neighbouring Dominican Republic. Last year, the organization approved US$28 million in new funding for the Dominican Republic. And in May 2011, the Executive Board approved an additional US$16 million in funding from the Spanish Food Security Cofinancing Facility Trust Fund for the Rural Economic Development Project in the Central and Eastern Provinces.  

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Spain creates Food Security Cofinancing Facility Trust Fund
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IFAD ramps up lending to Dominican Republic and Haiti
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IFAD signs US$14 million loan for rural development project in the Dominican Republic
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Natural resource management and productivity


Roughly 66,000 ml of irrigation systems have been rehabilitated, generating some 58,000 days' worth of work in the new project.

Haiti suffers from high-levels of soil erosion and land degradation. The nation also imports up to 60 per cent of its total food consumption and more than 80 per cent of its rice.

The project reported mixed results in its natural resource management initiatives. Around 100 natural resource management groups were formed (131 per cent of the target), while just 465 infrastructure groups were formed (58 per cent of the initial target). On the positive side, project personnel reported improved land-management practices, noting that exposed hills were replanted and improved soil conservation practices were put in place. Nevertheless, some mini-irrigation systems are creating standing pools of water that could pose a malaria risk and many farmers are using more pesticides on their farms.

“The really good news is that production – and incomes – increased substantially thanks to the new irrigation projects, technical training and improved organizational efficiencies,” said Camagni. “Overall, the project reported relative productivity increases from US$300 per hectare nine years ago to around US$800 per hectare today.”

In one community project, bean production increased by more than 125 per cent, with an overall revenue increase of 108 per cent. This increased productivity led to price stabilization in the region, according to project reports. Banana revenues increased by 200 per cent, while peppers dropped by 83 per cent. These increased incomes meant more jobs in construction and agriculture, with an estimated 100 per cent growth in agricultural wage-labour revenues.

Cattle and goats also proved highly profitable. Rather than simply give goats to people living in the region, the program is working with a pyramid-style model that allows for exponential growth. Each initial participant is given a goat. When these goats produce their offspring one baby goat goes back to the collective to be given to a new family, the other offspring staying with the project participants to be sold for a profit.

Not all the initiatives proved successful. Some project beneficiaries tried raising chickens, but lacked the productive technology to be efficient, while others tried bees with low success rates. 

Food security

Even before the January 2010 earthquake, nearly 2 million Haitians had food security issues, with around half of the country’s 9 million people living on less than a dollar a day. Today, the World Food Program estimates that “between 2.5 and 3.3 million Haitians are estimated to be food insecure. One third of new-born babies are born underweight. Acute under nutrition among children under 5 is 5 per cent and a third of them suffer from chronic under nutrition. Fifty per cent of pregnant women and two thirds of children under 5 are affected by anaemia. One in five Haitians dies before the age of 40.”

In an effort to improve food security, the project teamed up with ProHuerta to create kitchen gardens for some 700 families. The project also aimed to increase nutritional levels by encouraging legume consumption in an area that has traditionally favoured cereals.

While 1700 people were trained by the program in nutritional and reproductive health, this only reached 68 per cent of target.

Operating in post-earthquake Haiti


Green is the word. Over 800 people have received technical training in natural resource management, financial reporting and productive technologies (125 per cent above the target) from the new project.

Haiti is a country marked by a history of haves-and-have-nots, political turmoil and recurrent natural disasters.

While the big quake of 2010 mostly affected Port-au-Prince, the people in the Haitian countryside were also severely affected with damage to rural houses, water supplies and productive infrastructure. Seeds and tools were lost, and a significant migration to rural areas from the capital (preliminarily estimated to be more than 260,000 people) put pressure on local food availability.

“While the initial wave of immigration from Port-au-Prince to the countryside has ended, in the Haitian countryside, food security, unemployment and access to markets is more of an issue now than ever,” Camagni said.

Just three months after the quake, IFAD provided a US$3.2 million grant – $2 million of which was provided by the Swedish government – to the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) for a locally-managed 18-month program designed to create jobs and ensure food security for the hard-hit Haitian countryside.

“The project is now nearing its third trimester with reports indicating that the project has been highly effective in creating jobs and rehabilitating productive infrastructure,” Camagni said.

Roughly 66,000 ml of irrigation systems have been rehabilitated, generating some 58,000 days’ worth of work. And overall, as of February 2011, the project has generated over 120,000 days’ worth of work.

“We are aiming to generate some 200,000 work days and reach some 12,000 households, representing about 60,000 people in the Departments of West and Nippes in Southern Haiti, the rural areas most directly affected by the earthquake,” said Camagni. “While we have our work cut out for us before the project closes this December, with many of the administrative systems now in place, it appears the project is on track to meet and exceed its goals.”

The project will also create around 65 community gardens to serve as open-air laboratories to learn about advanced cultivation techniques and to improve food security for people living in the affected area. And over 500 family vegetable gardens have already been planted following the ProHuerta Model, surpassing the 260 gardens called for in the project’s initial stages. Over 800 people have received technical training in natural resource management, financial reporting and productive technologies (125 per cent above the target).

Since 1978, IFAD has funded 7 projects in Haiti at a total cost of US$160 million with US$90 million in IFAD funding, directly benefiting over 150,000 households.

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See how peanuts helped area farmers (and urban refugees) after the quake

Promoting sustainable agriculture

By Jesús Quintana


Creating natural-resource management plans in Venezuela is an important part of the project's implementation. (Photo © Thomas Korczowski)

IFAD recently launched a new planning tool to better its investments and align them with other leading rural developmental institutions with the approval this May of its new Environment and Natural Resource Management Policy. The new policy focuses on the promotion of a more sustainable model for agriculture, with better productivity and maximized benefits – both economic and non-economic.

This informative document, which provides guidelines and examples of best practices, also responds to the priorities contained in the new Strategic Framework for 2011-2015, which aspires to promote a more sustained approach to environmental-based poverty reduction.

Unsustainable practices, a threat to food and environmental security

Many of the environmental problems related with agricultural practices are well known. The poor use of water, a scarce resource, is one of these. Agriculture consumes 70 per cent of the world’s fresh water, with anywhere from 15 to 35 per cent of this use considered unsustainable. There are 950 million hectares of salinized lands in arid and semi-arid zones (almost a third of the total arable land). And around 20 per cent of irrigated land (450,000 km2) is affected by salinization.

Another alarming tendency is the degradation of the world’s soils. Around 2 billion agricultural hectares are degraded due to deforestation or inappropriate practices. It is estimated that each year we lose between 20,000 and 50,000 km2 globally from land degradation, with erosion the leading culprit. These losses are anywhere from two to six times as strong in Africa, Latin America and Asia than they are in Europe or North America.

The net results of land degradation, climate change, the incorrect use of water, diseases, blights and unsustainable practices, combined with the phenomena of spiking urbanization and demand for land for other uses, could create a production decrease of somewhere between 5 and 25 per cent by 2050. The immediate consequences, without any change to the existing models, would be an increase in prices with a greater expansion of agricultural lands, creating negative impacts on poverty reduction, food security and natural resource conservation.

Sustainable agricultural intensification

Despite the advances of the last century brought by the Green Revolution and industrial intensification, nearly 1 billion people remain hungry, with another 2 billion malnurished. And this industrialization has not only failed to solve our food security issues, it has also carried with it severe environmental degradation, not to mention the economic and social exclusion of small-scale producers who have not been able to access to necessary tools (machinery, fertilizers, etc.) to put these “unsustainable” practices into place. 

This agricultural model, with its “high external negatives” – the costs of which oscillate between US$80 and US$300 per arable hectare per year – has been brought to question frequently. But the food price crisis of 2008 (which may repeat itself soon) and the growing threat of climate change, combined with the upcoming 20-year anniversary celebration of the Rio Conference of 1992 (where the first principal international environmental accords were approved), are giving new steam to promoters of a “green economy” (and green growth) that will work together with balanced and long-lasting development models.

According to the United Nations Environmental Program (one of the principal institutions supporting this paradigm), a green economy is one that “results in the betterment of human beings and social equality, at the same time significantly reducing environmental risks and the scarcity of ecological resources.” In the simplest of terms, a green economy is low in carbon, efficient in its use of resources and socially inclusive. In a green economy, increases in incomes and job growth should come from public and private investments that have been earmarked to reduce carbon emissions and pollution, to promote the efficient use of energy and resources, and to avoid the loss of biodiversity and environmental services.

What would a “green agricultural system” – that is to say more sustainable and more resistant – look like?  There are diverse forms to achieve this objective, but in general it implies the use of systems based in ecological practices (no till, agro-forestry, crop rotation, inter-planted crops, integrated pest management, etc.) that seek to build productivity without an increase in inputs.

There are other priority areas that can facilitate this transition to a new green economy. These include research and agrarian development, extension and formation, the support for associations and agricultural consortiums dedicated to changing the paradigm, improved value chains (that are integrally sustainable and carbon neutral), new farming technologies (that are use little carbon or are carbon neutral), storage and treatment post-harvest, and finally, better use and management of water.

Applying the new paradigm to family agriculture

IFAD has comparative advantages in many of these areas given the organization’s long-standing experience supporting smallholder farmers and poor rural communities to overcome poverty through research, social organization, optimized resource management and commercialization. Nevertheless, greater and more focused efforts are needed to achieve a “greener” agriculture, scaling-up investments with a focus on ecological and sustainable agri-businesses, as proposed by the Strategic Framework and the new Environmental Policy.

This effort will not be totally new. There already exist many positive experiences in different regions including Latin America. With the goal of resuscitating and systematizing these experiences, the Latin America and the Caribbean Division is finalizing an environmentally-based analysis of its portfolio with an eye on identifying best practices and trends. This analysis will propose priorities and options for future investments following the recommendations of the new environmental policy.

Some of the best practices from the region include the design and certification of ecological value chains in Guatemala, the contest system that is applied in Bolivia and Peru as an optimized social mechanism to assign funds that help to improve sustainability, the promotion of sustainable forest management combined with new mechanisms (REDD+) that help in the mitigation of climate change as seen in Mexico, the adoption of an agro-ecological focus as proposed in Ecuador, the projects for sustainable land management in Brazil, projects that include carbon sequestration (as are the cases in Venezuela and Panama), or, finally, those investments that look to improve people’s adaptation to climate change as we see in Haiti and Argentina. 

The region offers good opportunities to continue experimenting with and expanding sustainable investments given the institutional interest and the social backing of ecologically-centered paradigms (those close to the idea of Mother Earth, or Buen Vivir - living well). The leadership in ecological agriculture (the region contains almost half the total agro-ecological cultivation in the world) also plays a factor. Or, looking at it from another point of view, another key ingredient will be the application of new instruments (like paying for environmental services and certification) that can ensure resource conservation, and job and income generation work hand-in-hand.

Jesús Quintana is the Regional Climate Expert for IFAD’s Latin America and the Caribbean Division.

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Map It

Agricultural value-ad vs. deforestation (World Bank Data)

Agricultural value-ad vs. CO2 emissions in Latin America (World Bank Data)

Graph It Renewable freshwater resources vs. agricultural value-ad (World Bank Data)


Funding new opportunities for microenterprise development in Colombia


By promoting competitive processes that inject funds directly into the hands of small businessmen and women, Colombia’s Rural Microenterprise Assets Programme – known locally as Oportunidades Rurales – is funding innovation, peace and sustainable development in the Colombian countryside one competition – and one campesino – at a time.

Targeting traditionally marginalized communities like indigenous peoples, youth, afro-Colombians and people displaced by violence, the Oportunidades programme focuses on funding technical assistance through competitions, providing financial services and capturing the lessons learned through their knowledge-management programme.

“One of the primary objectives is to finance innovations that will be relevant to rural people, especially in the areas of micro-credit, insurance and savings,” says Andrés Silva, Director of Oportunidades Rurales.

Made possible through US$20 million in funding from the United Nations’ rural poverty agency, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the project has a total price tag of some US$32 million and is slated to benefit around 50,000 people.

The project is nearing its mid-term review, and is set to close in December of 2013. Thus far, the numbers and impact data paint a positive picture.

Some 3800 young rural people have taken part in the Financial and Entrepreneurial Education Programme, which is teaching young people the value of savings by providing matching funds of 50 per cent for every peso saved, and by creating training programs that emphasize business administration, marketing and investment.

Approximately 2100 grassroots-level initiatives have competed for funds to finance technical assistance, of these, some 730 – or roughly a third – have been awarded grants that will work to build strong businesses from the ground up.

The micro-enterprises and technical assistance offered vary widely – from artisans seeking an expert on merchandising to fish farmers looking for help in building an effective holding tank. 

“We’ve found these competitions to be a highly effective tool for transferring assets,” says Roberto Haudry, IFAD’s Country Programme Manager for Colombia. “Not only are we providing rural entrepreneurs with the capital base they need to take control of their own destiny, we are also working to reduce their risk through micro-insurance schemes.”

More than that, by helping small business owners tap into the expertise of local technical specialists, Oportunidades is building a technical base that will be fundamental in ensuring lasting returns for these new enterprises.

Through the public competitions – in which experienced microenterprisers serve as the jury and award financing to the project participants – around US$6 million has been transferred directly into the bank accounts of small businessmen and women. Programme reports indicate that the number of people competing for funds is increasing systematically as the programme steps into its second half of implementation.

Development for peace

Every year an estimated 200,000 Colombians are displaced by either violence or natural disasters, creating difficult working conditions for sustained rural poverty alleviation efforts. This said, the government is developing a long-term strategy to reduce poverty and inequality. And the Oportunidades Rurales programme also received some US$1.5 million from the Colombian government to support young people displaced by the conflict.

This support has been used to help build and support numerous producers associations like the Association of Young Producers. This fish-farming collective in the far eastern edge of the country is based in the town of La Dorada and is run by young people who came to the area after fleeing from violence in other parts of the country.

“These were young people without any future,” says Oscar Eduardo Toro, a member of the producers association. “So they got together to create productive projects.” The association now has five holding ponds and has seen good success in marketing its fish thanks to high quality standards and marketing know-how they learned through the Oportunidades program.

The sustainability challenge

“The principal challenge is one of scale… to be able to go from a pilot project in Colombia to one that constructs supportive policies for rural micro-enterprises,” says Silva.

The primary asset in this sustainability challenge is the people themselves, according to Silva, but working in a transparent and coordinated manner will be essential.

“We need to create value propositions from our experiences from the field and create a knowledge marketplace from these learnings,” says Silva.
In order to leverage the lessons being generated in the Oportunidades programme, IFAD is also funding “learning routes” through the Regional Corporation for Capacity Building in Rural Development (PROCASUR). This initiative brings visitors – mainly community leaders, development professionals and policymakers – to rural development projects to learn about their successes and struggles, enriching both visitors and hosts.  
PROCASUR and its partners have created learning opportunities for some 60 local leaders and technicians in Colombia. Worldwide, the organization has supported over 40 learning routes in 15 countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Themes have included ecotourism, microenterprises, rural microfinance and local development.

“Through the learning routes, we are creating a network of talented rural youth who will be the leaders of tomorrow,” says Josefina Stubbs, Director of IFAD’s Latin America and the Caribbean Division.

IFAD is also looking to scale up its funding in Colombia, with more than US$30 million in new funding slated for the country.

“The key will be looking toward the young enterprisers and ambitious businessmen and women that are taking part in Oportunidades as the key drivers of development,” says Stubbs.

Engaging with youth


Some 3800 young rural people have taken part in the Financial and Entrepreneurial Education Programme, which is teaching young people the value of savings by providing matching funds of 50 per cent for every peso saved. (Photo © Paula Rodriguez)

Over the past year, IFAD has hosted a series of events on the topic of youth entrepreneurship – two in Colombia and one during the organization’s Governing Council at headquarters in Rome. 

“These events centred on the willingness of youth to accept risk and the need for increased flows of venture capital to young enterprisers,” says Stubbs.  “Young people taking part in these events also highlighted the need to access markets and play an active role in value chains, the need for better education and dialogue platforms, and the need to extend project interventions beyond associations and also target individuals.”
Dayana Rivera Rivas is a young farm promoter from Colombia who is emerging as one of the leading voices in this dialogue on youth. For Rivera, presenting tangible indicators and fostering true partnership are key for any engagement with youth. This can be done by promoting policy dialogue on issues like land access and financial services. “We want concrete actions,” said Rivera. “After all, being young lasts a short time.”

This article originally appeared in The New Agriculturalist.

Youth meeting in Colombia

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