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FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

The underlying condition for fighting hunger and poverty is respect for the environment and the care of natural resources. With that in mind, FAO promotes agricultural, fisheries, livestock and forest management techniques that safeguard natural resources

Climate change and environmental sustainability in Latin America and the Caribbean

Climate change endangers agricultural production because of higher temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and increased incidence of extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods.

The improved agricultural practices needed to mitigate climate change are often the same as those needed to enhance productivity, food security and adaptation.

The world faces the challenge of increasing food production to feed a growing population, while safeguarding its natural resources and the environment, and dealing with the effects of climate change.

Agriculture makes intensive use of water, livestock production can seriously degrade land and irresponsible use of pesticides and fertilizers can contaminate soils and drinking water.

Sustainable resource management


The agricultural land area has risen from 561 to 741 million hectares in the last 50 years. Higher output has led to the degradation of land and water, reduced biodiversity and deforestation, under a market-oriented focus that undermines not only the quality and availability of natural resources, but also the livelihoods of the most vulnerable populations.


The process of increased livestock production that is occurring in the countries of Latin America represents both an opportunity and a threat for the sustainable development of the region. On the one hand, it is an opportunity to generate wealth and reduce poverty through appropriate policy decisions and the promotion of sustainable and environmentally friendly livestock production systems. On the other hand, it is a threat if this activity continues to expand without consideration of the environmental costs and the potential effects of marginalization of small producers.


The principal challenge facing the region is deforestation, which remains high despite falling in recent years. In positive contrast, forest earmarked for the conservation of biodiversity has expanded by an annual 3 million hectares since 2000.

Bioenergy

Liquid biofuels used in transport and other areas have been identified as feasible means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting rural development and ensuring energy independence. However, this will require appropriate management.

In particular, large-scale development of liquid biofuels could jeopardize the food security of small farmers and impoverished rural communities, and intensify climate change through greenhouse gas emissions resulting directly or indirectly from changes in land use. Bioenergy will therefore need to develop strategies that mitigate the risks and strengthen the benefits.

FAO's report "The State of Food and Agriculture 2008" identified Latin America and Africa as the two regions with the highest potential for increased biofuel production.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, first-generation biofuels (from foodstuffs such as maize, sugar cane and vegetable oil) can be economically viable in countries that have clear advantages in terms of natural endowment and that engage continuously in research and development and in innovation.

Second-generation biofuels (from agricultural and forest waste and algae), whose production does not compete with agriculture for land and water use, could be economically viable in countries that can sustain large-scale forest practices, or that have an abundance of residual biomass or marine coastline rich in nutrients

Disaster management

Disasters have multiple impacts that seriously affect food security and agriculture due to loss of harvest, cropland, livestock, housing and production infrastructure, in addition to the irretrievable loss of human life.

In 2010, 98 of the world's most serious natural disasters occurred in Latin America, and 79 of these were climate-related. They caused more than 300 000 deaths and losses valued at 49.4 billion US dollars, and affected 13.8 million people. The most lethal event was the earthquake in Haiti.

One impact of climate change is an increase of extreme weather events. FAO has warned about the need to strengthen food production systems, which are very vulnerable to variability of climate and to the consequences of drought, flooding and other natural disasters.

FAO provides support to the governments of the countries of the region in the prevention and mitigation of natural disasters, through a series of initiatives aimed at anticipating and handling their effects and building local capacities, with a special focus on small producers of the family farming sector.