The Chaco and Pantanal regions of Paraguay host rich biodiversity and supply water to both rural and urban residents. Forests and grasslands here act as important carbon sinks, sequestering carbon and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. On the other hand, the Chaco and Pantanal are also prime areas for cattle and soy production, activities that have traditionally led to deforestation and intensive GHG production. As ranching expands to meet increased global food demand, more forests are lost, and more CO2 and methane enter the atmosphere.
USAID’s Forest Conservation Agricultural Alliance (FCAA) is helping cattle and soy producers meet this increased demand while minimizing deforestation. Implemented by World Wildlife Fund, the $4 million alliance is introducing more efficient production techniques, helping develop land use management plans, and further increasing demand for sustainably produced beef and soy. Private sector partners are Minerva Foods and the Neuland Cooperative. Other partners include the Association of Municipalities of the Central Chaco, International Finance Corporation, Wildlife Conservation Society, and local NGOs A Todo Pulmón and Fundación Moisés Bertoni.
The FCAA team is encouraging producers in the Oriental Region to use practices that allow more beef production per hectare, such as additional fencing to allow for more frequent pasture rotation and supplemental feeding in winter. These practices are ultimately more efficient, but they also require more effort. “Sometimes it’s easier for producers to deforest than develop better management practices,” says Cristina Morales, WWF project director for FCAA.
But while it may be easier in the short term, Paraguay’s development cannot be sustained over time at the expense of its natural resources. To prove the benefits of their approach, FCAA and several local producers have established demonstration ranches in the Chaco. They have also developed a manual for sustainable cattle-ranching practices. These practices include high intensity, short rotation systems; improved water delivery systems; improved pasture vigor through mechanical treatments and special grass seed mixes; and minimum standards for residual forests and windbreaks to create biological corridors between protected areas and forest reserves.
To create the right incentives for producers, the alliance is also working to shift the demand side of the equation, encouraging consumers and suppliers to ask for beef that is raised without the loss of additional forest. “The people have to demand that their beef is coming from areas under better management practices,” says Morales.
Consumers are indeed starting to demand this, and corporations are starting to listen. Morales explains that the WWF has signed a memorandum of understanding with U.S. fast food giant McDonald’s, which has committed to selling only sustainably raised beef in its restaurants by 2020. The alliance will work on implementing a tracking system with meatpacker Frigorifico Guarani, the provider of meat for McDonald’s in Paraguay, “so they can have the capacity to verify the origin of the meat that they are buying.”
Additionally, Minerva Foods, South America's largest beef exporter, with a 40 percent share of the Paraguayan beef market, is providing technical assistance to producers in their value chain under an Environmental and Social Action Plan. The plan ultimately contemplates a strong traceability system to monitor compliance with local environmental and social legislation and International Finance Corporation standards.
Another challenge is the free-for-all that can result when there are few or no restrictions on how land can be used. Morales says that very few municipalities in Paraguay, whether urban or rural, have land use plans in place. FCAA is working with the Municipality of Filadelfia, in the central Chaco, to strengthen its land recording system to enable both territorial planning and the capacity to enforce it. “Official entities now have all the landscape in a geographic information system so they would be able to see which farm is working legally on the land and what they are doing,” she says. “They can approach these people to start a dialogue and see how we are going to plan all the activities on the land.”
The Neuland Cooperative in Filadelfia, another major FCAA partner, is demonstrating commitment to proper land-use management as well. With FCAA support, the cooperative drafted a joint environmental license request for its 450 producers, covering 320,000 hectares of land. The Environmental Secretariat recently approved this license, which includes a land use plan requiring the rational management of pastures and native tree species, and the protection of biological corridors, among other environmental safeguards.
Lucy Aquino, executive director of WWF Paraguay, says that dialogue is the cornerstone to the alliance. At the beginning “the producers always thought that the environmental NGOs were a pain in the neck,” she says. Morales agrees. “The majority of the producers didn’t believe that they would be able to work and talk with environmental NGOs.”
Now that these relationships are established, Aquino says the team hopes they will be able to make bigger steps toward GHG emissions reduction and sustainable development at all levels. “There’s a lot of work ahead of us.” she says. “But we think that with this kind of alliance, it will be much easier to get other producers, markets and the financial sector on board, and also to interact productively with the new governmental administration, that is being inaugurated in August, with sound proposals for sustainable development in Paraguay.”
Christine Chumbler is a communications professional with more than 20 years experience in writing, editing, and publications design. She has expertise in every stage of publication production, from concept and writing to editing, design, and printing. In the mid-1990s, she was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi. This experience led to a career using her writing and editorial skills with international development and foreign policy organizations, many of which worked to directly support USAID’s efforts. She has worked in a freelance capacity full-time since May 2016. Chumbler has a Master’s in journalism from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor’s in environmental studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz.