Race to Resilience in action: Coffee, cocoa, and conservation – New agroforestry systems set to transform Sierra Nevada’s national park

By Climate Champions | May 23, 2024

Race to Resilience partner Initiative 20×20 is collaborating with ECOTIERRA in Colombia to transform degraded landscapes through the RioSierra Project, an ambitious effort in coffee and cocoa agroforestry. The project aims to revitalize old coffee farms and establish new cocoa agroforestry systems in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park’s buffer zone, securing sustainable livelihoods and enhancing resilience. Learn more about this transformative initiative here.

Partner: Initiative 20×20

Implementers: ECOTIERRA, Red Ecolsierra

Country & Region: Colombia, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

SAA System: Food Security and Agriculture Systems

Beneficiaries/Impact: 4,500 hectares of land through sustainable agroforestry practices, directly engaging 1,500 farmers, including a targeted effort to involve women, who make up 20% of participants. The initiative aims to sequester approximately 1,300,000 CO2eq.

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park in Colombia is a natural wonder, featuring the world’s highest coastal mountain range. This UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve stretches skyward, with peaks reaching an altitude of 5,775 meters (18,947 feet) above sea level, just 42 kilometers (26 miles) from the Caribbean coast. The drastic elevation gradient from sea level to snow-capped peaks within such a short horizontal distance creates a spectacular array of ecosystems, from tropical beaches and coral reefs to cloud forests and permanently snow-covered mountains. This park is not only a sanctuary for countless species of flora and fauna, many of which are endemic and endangered, but also a vital water source for the surrounding regions, making it a critical area for both ecological and human sustenance.

Located in the buffer zone of this protected area, a project is underway to transform agriculture through coffee and cocoa agroforestry systems, aiming to revitalize degraded lands while promoting economic and climate resilience. It’s the second project funded by a partner of Race to Resilience partner, 20×20, Urapi Sustainable Land Use.

The core objective of the RioSierra Project is to convert old, underperforming coffee farms and establish new cocoa agroforestry systems on previously degraded lands. This approach not only rejuvenates the soil and local ecosystems but also provides substantial support to smallholder farmers by supplying essential resources such as seedlings. This aids them in renovating existing plots or initiating new ones, thereby enhancing their livelihoods and ensuring sustainable land use.

In addition to improving agricultural productivity, the project prioritizes ecosystem recovery and biodiversity enhancement, contributing to significant carbon sequestration efforts. The initiative is designed to bolster farmer resilience by diversifying their income through the integration of honey and timber production into their agricultural practices, coupled with generating carbon credits to align financial incentives with global climate action objectives.

The project was co-designed with Red Ecolsierra, a collective of 22 coffee farmer associations that was established in 2001 and currently boasts 394 members. It’s managed by ECOTIERRA and backed by a $8.6 million investment from the LDN Fund over 13 years. Investments include the development of collection centres, a biofertilizer plant, and a state-of-the-art coffee processing mill. These facilities not only add value to the agricultural products but also improve market access for farmers, enhancing their economic stability.

The project provides extensive technical assistance, focusing on:

  • Optimizing agricultural practices: By enhancing the understanding of the ecological conditions and market demands for products like timber and honey, the project ensures the integration of suitable varieties that bolster the business case for these commodities.
  • Market analysis for cocoa: This involves analyzing niche market dynamics for cocoa to tailor production to specific consumer demands, thus maximizing profitability.
  • Conservation initiatives: Efforts are made to identify potential conservation partners and assess additional land for conservation purposes, aiming to conserve an ambitious target of 70,000 hectares in the park’s buffer zone.
  • Data collection and monitoring: Establishing comprehensive data collection systems for the 400 already engaged producers helps in effective project management and supports initiatives for carbon finance and biodiversity monitoring.

The RioSierra Project is set to have a transformative impact on the region, with plans to restore 4,500 hectares of land through sustainable agroforestry practices and engage 1,500 farmers, including a proactive effort to involve women, making up 20% of participants. The project also targets the sequestration of approximately 1,300,000 CO2eq.

About Initiative 20×20

Initiative 20×20 is a country-led effort seeking to change the dynamics of land degradation in Latin America and the Caribbean by beginning to protect and restore 50 million hectares of forests, farms, pasture, and other landscapes by 2030. The initiative—launched formally at COP 20 in Lima in 2014—supports the Bonn Challenge and the New York Declaration on Forests, global commitments to bring 350 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2030.

So far, 18 Latin American and Caribbean countries and three regional programs have committed to improve more than 52 million hectares of land (or about 124 million acres, an area roughly the size of Paraguay and Nicaragua combined) through Initiative 20×20.

The initiative is supported by more than 85 technical organizations and institutions and a coalition of impact investors and funds deploying US$3.09 billion in private investment.

About the Race to Resilience

The Race to Resilience campaign – the sibling campaign to Race to Zero – is the race to catalyze a step-change in global ambition, to accelerate the investment and implementation of adaptation solutions, and to put people and nature first in pursuit of a resilient world where we do not just survive climate shocks and stresses, but thrive in spite of them.

The Campaign was launched by the UN Climate Change High-level Champions in January 2021 at the Climate Adaptation Summit, alongside the State-driven Adaptation Action Coalition.

The ultimate goal of the Race to Resilience is to increase the resilience of four billion people living in vulnerable communities, in collaboration with partner organisations from around the world, while developing tools to support them in their work. It prioritizes the climate risks faced by urban, rural and coastal vulnerable communities and elevates the potential and actions that NSAs( e.g. businesses, cities, regions, finance sector, CSOs, local communities) are already pursuing towards system transformations enhancing resilience. The convening power of the campaign is geared towards increasing the ambition loop by delivering resilience breakthroughs and mobilising and increasing  financial flows for resilience.


Main image: Unsplash/Denys Nevozhai

Race to Resilience

Revitalizing landscapes damaged by intensive agriculture in Brazil’s Paraná State

Race to Resilience partner Initiative 20×20 is working with MIROVA and the SLB Group in Brazil to restore degraded land caused by intensive agriculture in Paraná. This project seeks to rejuvenate 1,400 hectares previously used for intensive farming practices by implementing innovative forestry methods that promise greater biodiversity and environmental sustainability.