A tech-and behavior-centered solution for empowering farmers and safeguarding nature in Colombia and beyond
Lands for Life program Sustainable Development Goals.

The Challenge

In one way or another, we all depend on family farmers—the traditional communities, Indigenous peoples, pastoralists, and fishers, among others, who feed the world, tend to our natural resources, create jobs, and shape our global food systems. But faced with climate change and other challenges, family farmers, their lands, and the ecosystems that underpin them suffer.

As the world around them changes, farmers continue to rely on entrenched farming and ranching practices and resort to quick, short-term solutions, like overusing chemical fertilizers, that further degrade soils and water, expand the agricultural frontier, and generate high carbon emissions. These practices undermine ecological integrity and agricultural productivity and damage farmers’ livelihoods and their communities’ prosperity in the long-term. The traditional extractive approach to agriculture and livestock management is not sustainable.

Sustainable alternatives to farming-as-usual must feed the world’s growing population, tackle the climate crisis, and safeguard our ecosystems and local livelihoods from climate change impacts.

There are more than 500 million family farms around the world. They produce more than 80% of the world’s food and occupy over 70% of the planet’s farmland

Globally, agriculture is a leading driver of land-use change: together, land use and land-use change produce 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions

Globally, 75 billion tons of soil are lost every year from poor land-use practices


The Opportunity

Solutions like regenerative agriculture and more sustainable cattle ranching hold tremendous promise for tackling behavioral challenges. However, the most significant barriers to their adoption are insufficient training and information as well as psychological and cultural barriers.

Farmers must adopt sustainable practices and maintain them long-term to reap regenerative agriculture’s full benefits. This means changing mindsets around what “good farming looks like” and better understanding its benefits. And transforming entire landscapes will require farmers and rural communities to shift their behaviors collectively. 

We need people-centered and locally owned solutions that make sense to farmers confronting challenges, like climate change, in real-time. These solutions must empower and equip farmers to be agile, informed, and skilled decision-makers and unlock direct benefits for people and nature: improved yields and productivity, safeguarded soils, water, habitats, and biodiversity, increased resilience to climate change, and improved livelihoods for millions of people.

In Colombia

  • Family farming generates 70% of agricultural products 
  • Fewer than 2 in 10 Colombian farmers have received technical assistance. 
  • 7 out of every 10 farmers in Colombia are small-scale family farmers
  • Nearly four in ten rural farmers are women
  • The land sector generates over 60% of GHG emissions

Our Solution: Changing Mindsets and Norms through Behavior and Technology

Through Lands for Life, Rare supports smallholder farmers and their communities to shift to more sustainable agricultural and ranching practices. We do this across entire landscapes to achieve tangible, sustainable, and long-term results for the climate, biodiversity, livelihoods, and productivity. 

Our people-centered approach, rooted in behavioral science and design thinking, shifts farmers’ mindsets around what sustainable farming and stewardship look like, overcomes barriers and biases and helps new behaviors stick. We leverage technology to empower farmers to farm and steward the land more sustainably and reach more farmers cost-effectively. We partner with agricultural extension agents to apply this tech-augmented behavioral approach to make sustainable farming the new norm. And we nurture and harness local leadership to guide agricultural and environmental policy at local and national levels, catalyzing change across communities and municipalities. 

Collective conviction delivers sustained change at scale.


 

How We Make Change Happen

Farmers

We equip and empower farmers with the information, skills, and tools they need to generate and use data to inform their farming decisions. Through mobile-based advisory services, farmers receive timely, personalized advice complemented with field-based support from extension agents. Using behavior-centered design strategies, we train and support farmer innovators to become multipliers of sustainable practices across their communities.

Extension Agents

We train extension agents in the best technical information and behaviorally-informed outreach to help farmers improve how they farm. Working with regional universities, we use technology courses to train extension service agents to instill innovation and local capacity across agriculture communities.

Community Members

We partner with community members to co-design gender-responsive social marketing campaigns that awaken farmers’ pride in their land and new farming practices and foster social cohesion and trust.

Local Leaders

We mobilize municipal authorities, community board members, water funds, watershed associations, and grassroots associations to build the necessary political support and buy-in to align agricultural productivity with environmental protection.

Technology

Mobile-based technical support provides timely, quality support to farmers. Our digital platform collates farmers’ mobile data in an interactive dashboard, enabling us to target support where needed and generating a live planning tool to advance environmental outcomes.


Our Goals

Through Lands for Life, we aim to change the way farming communities in Colombia manage their lands and surrounding landscapes and influence the way family farms around the world contribute to more sustainable and regenerative agriculture that delivers lasting benefits for people, biodiversity, and climate.

Over the next five years, we will:

10,000

Partner with at least 10,000 farmers to shift their farms to more sustainable agriculture and livestock management

50,000

Advance regenerative agriculture and sustainable cattle ranching across 50,000 hectares and maintain or increase tree cover on land under sustainable practices

20%

Improve soil health, reducing yearly average agrochemical use by 20%

1,000

Engage at least 1,000 communities (veredas) in using more climate-compatible practices

2,000

Train at least 2,000 extensionists

Where We Work

Lands for Life works in high-biodiversity areas located near protected areas and strategic ecosystems. Of vital importance, the high-mountain Andean ecosystems, which include paramos and cloud forests harboring rich diversity of fauna and flora, are critical water sources and sequester high carbon levels. We also work in the Andean foothills—a highly strategic ecological transition zone from the lowlands to the Orinoco and Amazon watersheds’ natural grasslands. Our work across Colombia’s rich topography and diverse landscapes creates a strong foundation for applying our solution to other countries and regions.

Delivering Lasting Change

Meaningful change takes time and will require a critical mass of farmers and their communities to adopt and sustain a new way to farm and relate to nature. Our behavior-centered and tech-augmented solution not only advances the change but ensures it lasts. 

We have designed the program for replication, scale, and sustainability. Partnering with farmer innovators, building peer-to-peer networks, and applying social marketing and behavior adoption techniques enables us to reach more farmers more efficiently, engage them in knowledge-sharing, and mobilize them in a broader movement toward sustainability. Using digital technology provides timely, cost-effective, and tailored extension support to ever-greater numbers of farmers and ranchers. And working in partnership with leaders in agriculture and environmental sectors encourages alignment of agricultural productivity with environmental protection.


Our Tools & Resources


Climate-Compatible and Sustainable Behaviors

We are targeting multiple behaviors and practices to improve soil health and water quality. These “climate-compatible” practices increase carbon storage in soil, encourage native tree planting, protect natural habitats (through reduced deforestation), and shift how farmers and their families interact with biodiversity.
  • Record weather and production data

    Farmers use simple agroclimatic stations to record weather (rain and temperature) data. Farmers also keep track of their production data, including costs, inputs, and income.

Annual Report

Contact Us

For more information on Rare’s work on watersheds and other productive landscapes in Colombia please contact us at info.landsforlife@rare.org.