Can small loans make big change in biodiversity in agricultural landscapes?
Conserving and sustaining biodiversity while promoting agricultural production is a challenge worldwide, and particularly acute in the highly populated landscape mosaics of Central America. Shifting financial incentives toward biodiversity-friendly agriculture is a key strategy in addressing this challenge. Over the past decade a number of international projects have focused on best management practice adoption by farmers as a tool for biodiversity conservation in the tropics, and market transformation for sustainable agri-commodity supply chains more broadly.
From 2008-2014 one of the most prominent of these was the Central American Markets for Biodiversity project (CAMBio, or Mercados Centroamericanos para la Biodiversidad in Spanish) financed by the Global Environment Facility, and designed and executed by the United Nations Development Programme and Central American Bank for Economic Integration. This discussion brief presents the results of a study undertaken by EcoAgriculture Partners in late 2015 focused on evaluating the CAMBio project’s biodiversity impacts, at field and landscape levels, across five Central American countries.
Findings suggest increase in best management practices
The evaluation’s methods included in-depth interviews with farm owners, rapid biodiversity assessments on farms and GIS modeling, with an emphasis on the spatial targeting of investments in seven clusters. Findings suggest that the CAMBio project was successful in improving the adoption of best practice management practices on farms, including increased tree cover (through agroforestry) and the reduction of agrochemical usage (through organic production). Further, by focusing on agroforestry-based commodity producing farming systems, CAMBio was able to effectively target areas in need of increased landscape connectivity or protection of high conservation values. However, our research pointed to an inability of CAMBio loans to enhance the protection of existing on-farm forests. However, our analysis was limited by a dearth of baseline data on which to assess forest status change.
Important lessons learned
Overall the project’s public-private partnership structure demonstrates that facilitating loans through banking institutions can be an effective tool in protecting biodiversity. These findings and the ex-post evaluation methodologies applied yield a number of important lessons for the design of future projects and programs attempting to support farm and landscape level biodiversity conservation in Central America and across the tropics.