Supported by Climate Focus, GANSO, and CIAT, Colombia’s largest retailer – Grupo Éxito – began offering sustainable beef in select supermarkets this month. By sourcing sustainable beef, Grupo Éxito has taken a major step to implement the Colombian cattle sector’s zero-deforestation agreements signed in 2019. In recent years, sustainability concerns have become increasingly prominent in Colombia’s cattle sector. However, until now Colombian households have had limited to no opportunity to buy sustainably produced beef in major supermarkets. This month’s debut marks an important step on the sector’s journey towards sustainability and will enable consumers to directly support sustainable cattle production.
The Aval GANSO
Grupo Éxito chose to collaborate with GANSO – a Colombian initiative founded by Climate Focus and CIAT – to assess beef providers for compliance with zero-deforestation agreements and utilizes the Aval GANSO to assess and endorse farms wishing to sell sustainably produced beef. Cattle ranchers to date have had limited incentives to adopt sustainable management practices and no clear roadmap toward sustainability. Through premiums paid by Grupo Éxito for sustainable beef, producers will now receive a direct monetary incentive to implement and maintain sustainable management practices.
The Aval GANSO provides a clear road map and a recognition for achievements through the GANSO label. The Aval was developed by GANSO over the past year and was formally launched this week. It provides a structure to assess the sustainability performance of farms based on 50 criteria organized into four pillars.
In addition to guiding the independent assessment process, the 50 criteria provide a roadmap for continuous improvement towards sustainability and help guide farms in their transition. Farms can reach three levels according to their performance.
Sustainable Cattle Ranching
Extensive cattle ranching is a primary driver of deforestation and environmental degradation in Colombia. The conversion of tropical forests and savannahs to cattle pasture results in a major loss of natural ecosystems and is the main source of greenhouse gas emissions in Colombia. GANSO’s center of operations is the Colombian Orinoquia region, a vast landscape in the northern part of South America stretching across the eastern regions of Colombia and Venezuela. In Colombia alone, the Orinoquia covers an area of roughly 37 million hectares. Despite only 4.6 million hectares (or 12.4%) of the area being considered suitable for cattle production, an estimated 14.6 million hectares (or 39.5%) are used for extensive cattle grazing and covered by degrading pastures. These areas would often be more suited to agriculture, forestry plantations, and agroforestry than cattle grazing. The region presents a prime opportunity for intensification of cattle production, productive restoration of degraded pastures, and deforestation-free commodity production on former pastures. To realize the goals of the zero-deforestation agreements, cattle intensification, and productive restoration of pastures must be a starting point.
GANSO was founded with support from Climate Focus and CIAT in 2018 with the mission to drive the adoption of sustainable cattle management practices, diversification of production systems through tree crops, and conservation and restoration of forests. GANSO works with landowners to improve cattle management practices, boosting productivity and reducing the land required to support the cattle herd. Areas liberated through the intensification process become available for timber, cocoa, and other tree crop plantations that provide additional and diversified income, as well as the conservation and restoration of natural ecosystems. The overall objective of the intervention is to build a scalable business at the farm level that helps reduce pressure on natural ecosystems while supporting local economic and social development in areas occupied by inefficient livestock production systems. GANSO has now entered into a strategic partnership with Grupo Éxito to review third-party suppliers and assign the GANSO seal for sustainable cattle.
Overcoming implementation challenges
As an initial stage toward transitioning the beef supply chain to sustainable production, Colombian consumers now have access to a supply of sustainable beef, while farmers are incentivized through the Aval GANSO. However, much work is required to mainstream the adoption of sustainable management practices and build sustainable supply chains to reach scale. Sustainable intensification is essential to remove pressure from natural ecosystems, free up land to produce food and fiber, and enable the restoration of natural forests. GANSO is working with partners and the support of the Tropical Forest Alliance to scale the implementation of zero-deforestation agreements, pilot financial mechanisms such as direct farm investments and green credit lines, and facilitate the transition to sustainable landscapes.