Hivos International

Sustainable Agriculture, Biodiversity and Climate Change

Hivos’ approach pays attention to soil fertility, agricultural biodiversity, climate mitigation and adaptation, green knowledge development, a decent living for farmers and gender inclusiveness. We aim to stimulate green and rewarding smallholder farming by supporting and scaling up promising approaches. This key focal area has three pillars:  sustainable intensification, green transformation and biodiversity business.

Sustainable intensification
Hivos’ sustainable intensification pillar supports activities that increase diversity and productivity at smallholder farms. Because chemical intensification is in many cases a risky short-term strategy fraught with  environmental and health problems, we refer to optimise the performance of ecosystem- based production using capacity development, business development services (BDS) and a more enabling environment. To achieve efficiency in the use of scarce natural resources, greater biodiversity and improved ecosystem services are crucial. These include soil fertility, pollination, pest regulation, and water holding capacity. But for this, smallholders need both technical know-how and a technical and financial support system that acknowledges and favours sustainable approaches. Making agriculture less dependent on fossil fuels is also an important element of the strategy.

So Hivos collaborates with knowledge institutes, BDS providers and green financial institutes. We’ve seen that an important pull factor for sustainable intensification is the demand for quality products. Both large and small companies are increasingly becoming interested in sustainability in production products for reasons of resource depletion, risk aversion and corporate social responsibility. Worldwide, Hivos works with international networks (IFOAM) and knowledge institutes  (agrobiodiversity@knowledged) to support changes at regional, national and local levels.

Green transformation
Most smallholder farmers cannot provide the investments needed to transform their agricultural systems into more climate-smart and sustainable systems with higher soil fertility and greater diversity. Hivos’ programme aims to increase the sustainability of the agricultural system by highlighting the environmental services smallholder farmers do provide and laying out what is required to sustain and further improve these services.  For example, farmers can benefit from payments for ecosystem services (PES). While sustainability labels such as those for organic products (indirectly) acknowledge some of these services, they only provide payments afterwards. The programme further strengthens these developments with an aim to promote green transformation. Key activities include knowledge generation, strategy development and support to innovative pilots.  

Biodiversity business
Hivos promotes biodiversity business as a promising approach to deal with the twin challenges of sustainable biodiversity management and social development. Shade-grown organic coffee, value-added agroforestry products and the carbon-offset market are examples of commercial activities that have the potential to provide substantial biodiversity and socio-economic benefits in addition to financial returns.

Supporting specifically small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in rural areas is an important development strategy. Hivos’ aim is to turn around the current practice, and promote conditions which favour biodiversity SMEs over non-sustainable SMEs. Biodiversity SMEs have trouble mobilising the required investments.  Through our collaboration with the Triodos Bank and with Leaders for Nature (IUCN NL), Hivos’ biodiversity business programme aims to tackle bottlenecks like capital flows and create a sense of urgency  for the development of  biodiversity businesses .  Our collaboration with the University of Utrecht is generating new insights into the environmental and social benefits of biodiversity-oriented business models.  We also  support the creation of an experimental incubation fund for biodiversity SMEs managed together with Progreso Foundation.

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See also the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development report commissoioned by Hivos: Biodiversity Business from India to Peru