Improved forage grasses developed by CGIAR researchers and planted across 8,800 ha at Hacienda San José, a cattle ranch in Colombia, have increased not only cattle productivity but also soil carbon sequestration, helping to offset the emissions from the farm’s livestock production. The ranch secured a US$7.5 million investment from the &Green Fund to expand its sustainable ranch model to 180,000 ha, leveraging the scientific evidence and sustainable livestock certification developed by CGIAR and its partners.
Hacienda San José (HSJ) is a cattle farm located in Colombia’s Orinoquía region, working to become one of Latin America’s most sustainable livestock producers. Their goal is to create the “perfect beef” that meets the growing demand for environmentally responsible production practices and addresses issues such as deforestation, land degradation, and climate change.
To achieve its sustainability objectives, HSJ uses the “Nerole short cycle” breed of cattle, known for its low water and feed requirements and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The farm also planted 8,800 ha with hybrid Brachiaria humidicola cv. Tully (CIAT 679) grass selected by scientists at CGIAR’s Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT. This grass boasts high plant biomass, providing abundant feed for livestock. When combined with a rotational grazing strategy, the grasses increase soil fertility, and their deep root systems absorb up to three times the emissions generated by ruminants, thus significantly reducing the cattle farm’s carbon footprint.
“The involvement of CGIAR as a trusted science partner of HSJ assured us that HSJ were serious about their climate mitigation ambitions. The data presented so far indicates that a climate-positive cattle ranching model is possible, which is very encouraging, not only for HSJ but for the sector globally. We are excited to see the developments over time as the CGIAR team continues to monitor the long-term changes at the farm.” – Marthe Tollenaar, Environmental, Social and Governance Director &Green
HSJ first began working with CGIAR under the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock in 2019 through a partnership with the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation, and continued this partnership under the CGIAR Research Initiative on Livestock and Climate. The World Bank recognized the sustainability potential of HSJ’s approach and commissioned CGIAR scientists to develop a life cycle-based model to assess its operations’ annual and cumulative climate from 2017 to 2023. The assessments showed that the farm’s GHG emissions are 44% lower than reference cow-calf farms in the region, resulting in a negative carbon footprint.
HSJ leveraged this scientific evidence to obtain a US$7.5 million loan from impact investment firm &Green. The loan marked &Green’s first investment in livestock and in the region and supports HSJ’s scale-up of its sustainable livestock production model from 8,800 ha to 180,000 ha in the next decade. This investment contributes to Livestock and Climate’s overall initiative goal to raise US$25 million from climate investors to help livestock producers’ transition to more sustainable practices.
Further validation of HSJ’s sustainability was achieved under the GANSO certification process, receiving a “responsible” classification — an advanced level endorsement that indicates a livestock company has achieved over 81% compliance for the assessed sustainability practices. GANSO is a voluntary assessment tool for livestock producers and companies developed by Climate Focus and the Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT. It assures consumers that the livestock products they purchase have been produced according to specified standards.
HSJ’s social inclusion efforts were also recognized in the GANSO assessment. The ranch is promoting genetic improvement in neighboring farms, supporting educational initiatives for indigenous populations (particularly women) and collaborating with partners on crop and commercialization ventures that promote food security and other economic and social development initiatives. These efforts align with the ranch’s Environmental and Social Action Plan, which is part of the monitoring terms set out under &Green’s loan conditions. Through this plan, HSJ is prioritizing sustainability and social responsibility in all of its operations.
Moreover, HSJ’s surplus carbon resulting from its improved pasture and grazing management practices has made it eligible to access the voluntary carbon market. To navigate this complex market, HSJ is receiving technical guidance from the Initiative’s scientists.
These collective efforts and partnerships can serve as replicable models for livestock producers worldwide seeking to transition to more sustainable practices. The lessons learned from HSJ’s sustainable initiatives are paving the way for livestock producers in tropical regions to access climate finance and make the necessary transformative changes to improve productivity, reduce emissions, and increase carbon capture.
- Enciso, K.; Triana-Ángel, N.; Díaz, M.F.; & Burkart, S. (2021). The intricate path of forage technologies in Colombia: An institutional analysis. Policy Brief No. 62. Cali, (Colombia): International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). 12 p.
- Costa Jr., C.; Villegas, D. M.; Bastidas, M.; Matiz-Rubio, N.; Rao, I.; & Arango, J. (2022). Soil carbon stocks and nitrous oxide emissions of pasture systems in Orinoquía region of Colombia: Potential for developing land-based greenhouse gas removal projects. Frontiers in Climate, 4. doi:10.3389/fclim.2022.916068
- Arango, J.; Bastidas, M.; Costa Jr.; C., González; R., Marin, A.; Matiz-Rubio, N.; Ruden, A.; & Villegas, D. (2022). Carbon footprint and mitigation scenarios for Hacienda San Jose: Identifying opportunities and challenges using a consolidated modelling framework. International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).
- &Green Fund (2022) “&Green Fund’s first investment in Colombia: Scaling up Hacienda San José’s disruptive business model for the cattle sector”. (Feb. 4, 2022).
- GANSO. “Informe de valuación de conformidad con los pilares del AVAL GANSO Versión 2.0.” (Evaluation report of conformity with the pillars and practices of the GANSO endorsement version 2.0) (2021).
- &Green. “Environmental and Social Action Plan (ESAP) and Associated Targets” (2021).
- Arango, J. “Meat and milk are more sustainable when the grass is greener” (2022). Op-ed in Food Navigator Europe.
Header image: A cattle rancher at Hacienda San José in Colombia’s Orinoquía region. Photo by Hacienda San Jose