Resilient Family Livestock Production in Uruguay

An experience of co-innovation to increase the climate resilience of family livestock production on natural pastures in Uruguay, with regional projection.

25 March, Uruguay. The EUROCLIMA+ Resilient Family Livestock project, which was implemented by the National Commission for Rural Development (CNFR) of Uruguay with the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INIA) as implementing partner, has been successfully completed. Its objective was to improve the resilience of family livestock systems in natural pastures to climate variability and change through the implementation of validated best livestock production practices.

Watch the corporate video of Resilient Family Livestock Production   

The objective of Resilient Family Livestock Production has been the resilience of family livestock systems on natural fields to climate variability and change, through the implementation of validated best livestock practices, working with a focus on co-innovation and generating useful information and knowledge on the productive and social processes involved, for their projection and scaling up at national and regional levels, in coordination with the Confederation of Family Producers' Organisations of the expanded MERCOSUR (COPROFAM).

The co-innovation approach and best livestock production practices

There are successful precedents developed by INIA and the University of the Republic of Uruguay in the implementation of the co-innovation approach in family production systems, together with CNFR and their local organisations. This is an approach that combines the systems approach, dynamic monitoring and social learning, through a work process carried out by field technicians (agronomists and veterinarians) together with the producer families, which is developed in 4 phases: characterisation, diagnosis, farm redesign, and implementation and monitoring. This last phase enables the restart of a new cycle of co-innovation, as illustrated in the following diagram. 


                       2022 GFR Cierre Fases Coinnovacin2022 GFR CierreDiagrama Coinnovacin                                    

Figure 1: The co-innovation approach: the three dimensions it encompasses (left), and the four phases of its implementation (right)

This approach is considered very suitable for guiding technical assistance to support the implementation of Best Livestock Practices (BLPs) in family systems. The BLPs are management measures that have been researched and validated at the level of these production systems, and they constitute a "toolbox" available at the time of the discussion of diagnoses and proposals for farm redesign between field technicians and producer families. These are low-cost, high-impact practices that aim to improve the management of the main resource available to families to feed their livestock: the natural field. This is the most dominant and representative ecosystem of Uruguay's rural landscape, which confers unique characteristics to its livestock activity, as it develops in its natural open-air environment, in a clear example of ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA). The BLPs also focus on improving livestock management, making meat and wool production processes more efficient, especially in the breeding phase. This results in multiple benefits: conservation of natural range biodiversity, improved fodder production, increased carbon sequestration capacities in pastures and soils, reduced relative Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions per unit of product, and increased household income without significant cost increases. 

Outcomes: Improved productive systems and social learning

In its two years of implementation, the project has generated important results in two dimensions: in the productive systems and in the social learning acquired.

In the production systems, progress has been made on the implementation of best livestock practices in the 51 beneficiary farms covering almost 17,000 hectares and 161 people (72 women and 89 men), which has had an impact on the process of improving the productivity, stability and resilience of the natural countryside. The importance of technical support to keep good records of the main actions carried out on the farms, as well as the results obtained, is also very relevant and has been highlighted by the families. The testimonies of the beneficiary families are a reflection of this situation.

Sandra and Abel raise cattle and sheep in the department of Salto. With regard to the records, Abel says that "it is very difficult for us to take a pencil and write down what we do", while Sandra adds that "our technician taught us the importance of knowing whether or not the expenses and investments we were making were paying off, and to know our costs better. Our work has a cost and we were not taking that into account."  



Sandra and Abel have positively assessed the importance of farm records for observing results.

José is a young cattle farmer and breeder in the department of Rocha, who implemented stocking rate adjustment as a first measure to encourage the recovery of the natural range. José explained that "With the drought and the winter, there was no grass for the cattle. So, we adjusted the stocking rate, we removed some animals and the first results were seen in the field, and then they had repercussions on everything else".  The facts prove him right, as the grass height monitoring carried out by the field technician with support from INIA on a control plot indicated that grass height increased significantly in a period characterised by low rainfall. The following graph shows the frequency of grass height ranges (cm) and their evolution over time in the control plot at José's farm. 


2022 Cierre Grafica altura pasto

Figure 2: Evolution of grass height in the control plot, by height ranges


The changes in the structure of the pasture in only 14 months can be observed, starting from an initial situation (July 2020) where 95% of the measurements did not reach 4 cm in grass height, with an average of 2.4 cm. By September 2021, the average increased to 5.1 cm, and only 10% of the measurements were below 4 cm, while 90% were already above that height, with measurements above 6 cm. It is important to note that the increased height of the grass is reflected in a greater volume and depth of the roots of the species that make up the natural field, improving their ability to absorb water from the soil in periods of drought, and also to increase carbon sequestration in the soil. 

Another of the best practices that have been promoted is the subdivision of paddocks to improve pasture management, which allows for reserves at critical times such as winter, and favours better use of native species of high forage value such as Andropogon lateralis, known as canutillo. Gustavo and Raquel, family livestock farmers from the department of Tacuarembó, explained that "the idea is to take advantage of the potential of the canutillo, which is why we closed off an area of 5 hectares, to give it special management ". The project was supported by a fund for strategic farm investments, which facilitated the implementation of the BLPs. 

Regarding the mitigation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a baseline of emissions was established in 4 control farms, employing the methodology used by Uruguay in its last National GHG Inventory. The results can be seen in figure 3. 

2022 GFR Cierrecuadro emisiones GEI

Figure 3: Baseline GHG emissions (expressed in Kg CO2 equivalent / Kg meat equivalent produced) for 4 control farms located in the 2 regions of work. (Source: @GFResiliente) 

It is expected that, based on the implementation of the BLPs over a full co-innovation cycle of approximately 4 years, relative GHG emissions per unit of product (meat equivalent) will be reduced, as set forth in Uruguay's NDC targets for the livestock sector. 

In relation to the lessons learned in the process, a detailed record was kept of the main activities and milestones, both in terms of audiovisual resources and written documentation by the social technical team, which carried out visits and interviews with the various actors involved: livestock farming families, field technicians, coordination team, institutional and governmental actors. Some of the lessons learnt by the actors are as follows: 

  • The co-innovation approach favours the implementation of practices in a holistic way, generating changes that produce results in the long term. It helps to overcome resistance to change and to modify entrenched practices in livestock farming families. 
  • The use of records and sustained technical assistance helps to integrate new technologies by facilitating the diagnosis of the initial situation and the analysis of the results being obtained. 
  • The integration of veterinarians and the social technical profile allowed for a comprehensive approach to livestock systems together with the families. 


Dissemination of knowledge

The actions to disseminate the results obtained in the different stages of the co-innovation process were carried out jointly with the 6 local organisations that bring together the 51 beneficiary families, through virtual meetings, dissemination of materials and audiovisual products on social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp) and the YouTube channel "Resilient Family Livestock", and also in face-to-face activities when possible, considering the health recommendations issued by the national authorities in response to the COVID 19 pandemic. More than 1000 people were reached directly. 

                                                          2022 GFR CierreDifusin local

Local producer organisations were actively involved in the different stages of the process, from the selection of beneficiaries and field technicians, to the dissemination activities in the territory.

Lessons learned have also been generated in the dynamic monitoring of projects, with the aim of contributing to the creation of a model for a national extension system based on the co-innovation approach. This approach has cut across all the project's areas of action: farm work with livestock farming families, work with local organisations, and spaces for governance and articulation with the institutional framework, where all parties learn from each other. 

At the local level, links of trust have been consolidated between families, field technicians and organisations, which will remain over time and strengthen local capacities for the continuity of the lines of action in the territories. 

Livestock families require time for trust building, which is key to implementing innovative processes. It is therefore essential to visualise their internal decision-making mechanisms in order to facilitate them. The training of field technicians in the gender approach is fundamental in this task, in order to integrate the visions of the women and men who make up each family nucleus. 

In terms of management and governance, the capacities of the producers' organisation (CNFR), with the support of the research institution (INIA) for the proper implementation of the project and the training of interdisciplinary technical staff with the inclusion of social disciplines that contribute new perspectives, should be highlighted. The importance of having systematised the process from the beginning allowed for permanent feedback.   

Finally, it reaffirms the validity of best livestock production practices as appropriate technologies to increase the climate resilience of family livestock systems on natural pastures, and the co-innovation approach as the most appropriate methodology for promoting their implementation.  


 Final Comments

The national experience indicates that, in order to achieve significant impacts on livestock systems, the co-innovation process requires at least 4.5 years of implementation. However, improvement trajectories are already evident after the first year of work in the field. 

The Resilient Family Livestock project has demonstrated the great potential of the articulation between producer organisations, research institutions and agencies responsible for the implementation of public policies in terms of climate change adaptation and mitigation and strengthening the climate resilience of family livestock farming. 

This experience has been accompanied by the Delegation of the European Union in Uruguay, with the important participation of the Confederation of Family Producers' Organisations of the expanded MERCOSUR (COPROFAM) and its affiliated national organisations, with very promising prospects for replicability and scaling up at national and regional levels.  

                     2022 GFR CierreSeminario COPROFAMIn December 2021, a successful workshop on Resilient Food Production was held in Montevideo, in the framework of the REAF - MERCOSUR agenda, with the participation of members of COPROFAM organisations, the EU Delegation in Uruguay and MERCOSUR governments.


The institutional framework of the project

The National Commission for Rural Development (CNFR) of Uruguay, the executing agency, is a second-tier national organisation that brings together 106 local grassroots organisations, mostly made up of family farmers, many of whom are engaged in cattle and sheep farming. The project's implementing partner was the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INIA), and it also had the political endorsement of the Sustainability and Climate Change Unit of the Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries, as it is aligned with the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) defined in 2017 for the livestock sector, and also with the livestock NAMA under development. 

The project, which had a total amount of €981,063 (an EU grant of €780,870), was carried out between January 2020 and March 2022. 

More information about Resilient Family Livestock Production

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Youtube Channel: Ganadería Familiar Resiliente

Facebook: Fan Page National Commission for Rural Development

Twitter: @GFResiliente

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