6 December 2016, Cancun, Mexico - In an effort to combat the impacts of environmental degradation and promote sustainable agriculture in the face of climate change, FAO this week presented a set ofVoluntary guidelines for agro-environmental policiesmeant to help policy makers in Latin America and the Caribbean in their ongoing work to eradicate hunger and poverty in the region.
The guidelines were introduced at an event on the sidelines of COP 13 - the UN conference on Biodiversity taking place in Cancun, Mexico, December 4-17 - for an audience of ministers and representatives of Latin American and Caribbean countries.
The guidelines will serve as a template for countries to create their own policies to promote sustainable production and consumption patterns, enabling them to transform their agricultural systems, ensure sustainable development and comply with the Paris Climate Agreement.
According to FAO, the transition to a sustainable future requires action on the intersection of economy, society, agriculture and natural ecosystems.
The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean share common environmental challenges, including the need to adapt agriculture to climate change, conserve biodiversity, manage their water resources and soils, and mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions.
Other participants in the event included Mexico's National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA), the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) and the NGO Razonatura.
Protecting the resources that support food security
Thirty-seven percent of the surface area of Latin America and the Caribbean is used for agricultural activities, which presents great challenges for sustainable food production and the care of the environment.
According to FAO, the region is experiencing increasing pressure on the natural resources that underpin food production and food security.
The guidelines presented at the COP13 point out that the impacts of environmental degradation and climate change mainly affect the most vulnerable social sectors.
Family farmers, small scale fishermen, smallholder forest producers, indigenous peoples and traditional communities are among those most directly dependent on natural resources for their subsistence and food security.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, family farmers account for 75 percent of total producers -involving some 60 million people - a number that exceeds 90 percent in some countries. These farmers safeguard the environment and the natural resources on which they depend and their work is key for the sector's current and future development.
What are the Voluntary guidelines
The Voluntary guidelines for agro-environmental policies have been prepared through a broad process of consultation between authorities and specialists in the region, with the support of the International Cooperation Program between Brazil and FAO.
The implementation of these guidelines may enhance the potential environmental benefits of agricultural, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture activities, reduce their impacts on ecosystems and improve food availability, as well as food and nutritional security.
The countries of the region, with FAO's support, will promote these voluntary guidelines as a guide to improving policies under an agro-environmental approach that links society, territory, environment and economy in a more integrated and harmonious way.
Policies emerging from these guidelines will be formulated through interaction with different social actors, and seek to promote rural development with a territorial approach, according to principles of conservation and sustainable management of natural resources.
Precious resources under threat
Latin America and the Caribbean accounts for 15 percent of the world's total agricultural land, receives almost 30 percent of precipitation and generates 33 percent of global runoff.
However, the rapid exploitation of minerals, gas, forests and pastures is producing dramatic changes in land use: the region currently accounts for 14 percent of global land degradation, a figure that reaches 26 percent for Mesoamerica.
Although deforestation has declined in recent decades, the region still has the second highest rate in the world, and each year more than two million hectares of forest are lost.
In the last three decades water extraction has doubled in the region at a rate well above the world average, most of which is used in agriculture.