Blessed with nearly a quarter of the world’s arable lands, one third of the world’s fresh water and some of the most productive fisheries on the planet, Latin America is poised to become the world’s breadbasket. But today’s methods of producing food already overtax the environment. Current practices consume 70% of the region’s fresh water and cause 70% of habitat conversion, contributing to deforestation at three times the global rate. Nearly half of Latin America’s assessed fish stocks rank from fully exploited to depleted.
TNC and partners are demonstrating that there is another path forward. Helping small and medium-sized producers shift to sustainable agriculture, ranching and fishing has increased yields and household incomes. The understanding and respect of nature’s value is spreading in the places where we work, as healthier soils retain more carbon, nutrients and water, becoming more productive. Threatened fish stocks are recovering. Collaboration with governments and businesses is providing practical, open-source tools to increase accountability and reduce environmental impacts. Together, we are paving the way forward to position Latin America as a sustainable model for the planet.
Lessons from the Maya Forest Garden
Addressing one of humanity’s greatest challenges— finding sustainable ways to feed a rapidly increasingglobal population—is Latin America’s great opportunity.
FishPath to Sustainable Oceans
When fish populations start crashing in areas with few restrictions it’s up to fishers to decide if they want to race to take what’s left or change their practices.
Working Together for Water Protection
Latin America holds a third of the world’s fresh water, but most of these resources are concentrated in areas like the Amazon and the Andes where few people live—80% of Latin Americans live in cities.
A Future for Food and Forests
Though global demand for food will double by 2050, our science shows that forests don’t need to be cleared to keep us full. With our online tool called Agroideal, we are helping the world’s largest companies identify where to expand soy or beef production on already-cleared land, ensuring that native forests or grasslands remain intact while meeting global needs. Agroideal connects government agencies, lenders and the food industry to chart a course for sustainable food production in sensitive biodiversity hotspots like the Amazon forest and Cerrado grasslands of Brazil. In 2019 we expanded Agroideal to help manage soy’s growing footprint in the Argentinian Chaco. The second largest dry forests in the continent, the Chaco is home to giant anteaters, armadillos and tapirs, but holds one of the highest rates of conversion of natural areas in Latin America.
Sowing in the Seas
In Belize, TNC is helping fishers grow seaweed to supplement their livelihoods and decrease pressure on overexploited fish stocks. Why seaweed? Not only does seaweed absorb carbon dioxide, it also filters water, has a high nutrient content and provides nursery habitat to wildlife, such as lobster, crabs and parrotfish— some of the most economically and ecologically important species in the Caribbean. Belizean seaweed fetches $10 to $15 per pound, and it is used in soups and stews as well as lotions and toothpaste. Sustainable aquaculture also awards rare opportunities: the chance to empower women in a sector that normally has significant barriers of entry for them, and the ability to generate financial returns while tackling a key challenge of our era—feeding a growing population while restoring the environment.
Reaping the Benefits of Regenerative Agriculture
Thousands of small-scale producers across Latin America’s most biodiverse landscapes are working with TNC to adopt regenerative agricultural practices that increase yields and enhance conservation and climate resilience. For instance, in Colombia, TNC and partners just concluded a 10-year project that helped 4,100 family farms adopt “silvopastoral” techniques that combine trees with pasture, in a beneficial combination for farmers and the environment. Shade-grown cows are more productive and healthier for the environment.
The shade lowers the animals’ heat stress, so they produce less methane, while the diversified vegetation improves their diet and productivity. About 94,000 acres have been converted to sustainable productive systems, increasing incomes by up to $212 per acre/per year and boosting milk production by an average of 36%. By rewarding farmers through payments for environmental services, the project has also contributed to the conservation of an additional 44,500 acres of ecosystems that are key for biodiversity. Farmers planted more than 3.1 million trees of 80 different species and sequestered more than 1.6 million tons of carbon.
Mejorar los medios de vida al tiempo que se reforesta la Amazonía
Our work with 250 farmers in São Félix do Xingu, a deforestation hot spot in the Brazilian Amazon, has proven that agroforestry systems—which combine native species such as cocoa, manioc, açaí palm tree and hardwood— can significantly boost farmers’ incomes while restoring degraded pasture lands. Compared to ranching, cocoa requires less land with no need for constant expansion and profits can be up to five times higher. There are also many ecological benefits, as cocoa plantations can emulate natural forests, helping to restore native wildlife, improving water resources and absorbing carbon. To achieve our goal of reaching 1,000 families by 2025, we have developed a business plan and convened cocoa processing companies, chocolate producers, lenders, unions and cooperatives. This initiative is helping break the vicious cycle of slash-and- burn expansion that perpetuates poverty and deforestation by providing a profitable alternative that keep forests standing.