BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATE
I am from Bogotá, Colombia, a city with 10 million inhabitants, and I grew up in a very ‘urban’ family, so to speak. Our vacations usually involved big cities, museums, subways, and downtowns. We took one camping trip, and to this day we still talk about how out of our comfort zone we were. This is all to say, my interactions with rural Colombia were few.
Over the years, I started becoming more nature-inclined, participating in a few rural development projects, camping and hiking much more, and really starting to care more about where my food came from and who produced it (though I am still a big city person!)
I joined Sistema.bio a year and a half ago; a social enterprise whose mission is to create value from waste, mainly agricultural waste. In this time, I have really had to dive deep into smallholder farmers’ lives, which has helped me understand how crucial their day-to-day work is for us all (for putting food at our table), and how much more vulnerable they are to the effects of climate change. I’ve also begun to ask myself, how can I, from my role at Sistema.bio, play a role in creating environmental and social impact with the help of small farmers around the world?
Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, yet deforestation has degraded some of the most rich lands, with cattle breeding being an important driver. Cattle breeding takes up 80% of the country’s agricultural land, covering about 35.6 million hectares, and has contributed to the clearing of over one million hectares of forests. In addition, smallholder farmers in Colombia have historically been impacted by the armed conflict, a lack of access to land, forced displacement and an overall lack of investment in technical assistance, technology, and education. Added to this is the impact of climate change, both in terms of temperature increases and in changes in precipitation patterns.
There have been initiatives to address some of these challenges, such as the Sustainable Cattle Ranching program funded by the World Bank that supported over 4,000 farmers in the transition to silvopastoral systems. These systems bring together trees, forage plants and livestock to help farmers adapt to climate change. The activities allow farmers to have more cattle in a smaller amount of land, helping the soil recover, and incentivizing tree planting, which in turn allows for diversification in a farmers’ terrain. Overall, these systems enable greater income opportunities while caring for the land and preventing deforestation.
An additional component that can really add to the impact of silvopastoral practices in Colombia are biodigesters. Providing this technology to farmers that own livestock can complement the activities many are already implementing to become more sustainable. Biodigesters treat waste produced in farms and convert it into two powerful byproducts: biogas, a clean, renewable energy that can completely displace woodfuel and LPG; and biofertilizer, a power soil amendment that can displace chemical fertilizers, improve crop yields, and enhance tree and forage quality. On top of providing savings and improving health conditions at farms, biodigesters can avoid on average between 6 and 15 tons of CO2 equivalent per unit per year!
Sistema.bio Colombia opened its doors in 2017, and we have since installed about 500 biodigesters all around the country. We have a small but powerful team in the country that has reached some of the most remote areas in Colombia to bring our technology to the farmers who need it most (I personally like our technician Norberto’s story, featured here). Aside from working closely with dairy farmers, our systems have helped pig farmers who are committed to innovation and environmental sustainability to be recognized by the Colombian Federation of Pig Farmers (Porkcolombia) for their sustainable production, which includes favorable results related to environmental regulations, water resources, soil quality and climate change mitigation.
We are ready to continue growing our presence in the country, creating sustainable impact on smallholder farmers and on climate change. If your organization works with farmers and wants to implement a biodigester program in Colombia, please contact us!