Antioquia field sampling

In December 2020, January and February 2021, researchers from the University of Antioquia were able to safely visit four study farms in Antioquia to undertake field sampling, acquire UAV imagery and conduct interviews with the farmers. In the video below, Prof Mario Cerón, Mateo Vargas, and Lady Sepúlveda provide more information about the fieldwork.

Some of the collected data is being used in the development of predictive models for forage quantity and quality that can be shared with farmers and relevant stakeholders. Mike Zwick, a postdoctoral researcher based at the University of Glasgow is currently working on the development of these models and effective visualization and dissemination approaches for the outputs.

Preliminary user interface displaying the locations of the four farms; La Tablaza, Los Recuerdos, La Fe, and Don Bosco.
Predicted Ash (%), IVD(%), Crude Protein (CP)(%) and Dry Matter (DM)(g/m2) using 3m resolution PlanetScope satellite imagery for Don Bosco and surrounding areas in December 2020.

Sustainability Science Special Feature


The sustainable development goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations on 25 September 2015 are currently driving most development policies globally. With 17 goals, 169 targets, and 232 indicators to monitor and track progress, countries may lose sight of the synergies and trade-offs between goals and between targets, a fact that has been acknowledged from the beginning. To address this concern, approaches are being developed to identify and quantify these synergies and trade-offs. Most of these approaches address the national scale, as it is at this level that the SDGs are to be reported, but synergies and trade-offs are also relevant at the global and sub-national scales where, arguably, less research is underway.

Understanding the synergies and trade-offs between goals and targets is extremely important to (1) minimize trade-offs and maximize synergies, (2) avoid wasting resources, and (3) ensure equitable partnerships and ultimately, equitable development internationally, at the national scale and within countries. Research in this field is rapidly increasing and this is an opportune time to take stock of recent advances.

Scope of this special feature

The proposed special feature will give an opportunity to assess recent progress made in understanding synergies and trade-offs between goals and between targets. The special feature aims to include:

  • new theoretical and conceptual frameworks stemming from different disciplinary and geographic perspectives;
  • recent/emerging debates about the synergies and trade-offs between the SDGs (e.g. how sustainability is related or not to the resilience and disaster risk reduction agendas);
  • new comprehensive approaches and tools that allow for an analysis of synergies and trade-offs;
  • stakeholder and community engagement for raising awareness;
  • case studies of synergies and trade-off analysis and applications.

Deadline, submission, and review process

Please submit extended abstracts (maximum 500 words) to by 30 October 2020. The extended abstracts should include a proposed paper title, the names and affiliations of all co-authors, the email address of the corresponding author, and one sentence indicating which components of the call’s scope the paper aims to address. All this information does not count towards the word limit of the abstract. After review of the abstracts, a selection of proposed papers will be invited to submit full-length manuscripts through the journal’s electronic editorial management system. Notification to all authors will be sent by 20 November 2020. Full paper submission deadline is 31 March 2021.

Author guidelines

A Critical Resource for Ethical International Partnerships

Drawing on experiences of international, interdisciplinary and cross sector projects the Critical Resource explores the elements of partnership that determine the nature of the practice and outcomes of our research. It seeks to offer some provocations and guidance to those either well practiced or starting out with new partnerships, to help promote the importance of reflexivity and honesty with one another in the context of effective, sustainable, and ethical international development related research.

Barriers and Strategies to Achieve the GHG Mitigation Goals of the Livestock Sector in Latin America

by Alejandro Ruden, Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT

Livestock production is a fundamental source of income and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Latin American countries. 20 percent of the region’s emissions come from agriculture, 70 percent of which comes from livestock (FAO, 2019). There are several management and technology options with enteric methane mitigation potential that have been evaluated and their scale is expected to contribute to achieving the GHG emission reduction targets under the Paris Agreement. These technologies include management of the animal diet, reproductive control, administration of supplements, and reduction of the age at slaughter, among others. However, widespread adoption of promising mitigation options remains limited, raising questions about whether the planned emission reduction targets are achievable. Using the results of local studies, a team conformed by experts from 10 different countries 7 of them Latin American have explored the mitigation potentials of currently proposed management technologies and practices to mitigate enteric methane emissions from livestock production systems in Latin American countries with the highest emissions. The experts then discussed the barriers to adopting innovations that significantly reduce enteric methane emissions from livestock and the main changes in policies and practices necessary to raise national ambitions in high-emission countries. Drawing on today’s latest science and thought, they have taken their perspective to an inclusive approach and reimagine how the academic, research, business and public policy sectors can support and incentivize the changes necessary to raise the level of ambition and achieve goals of sustainable development, taking into account actions from the farm to the national scale. Some improvements identified and that need to be made are improving access to information through effective technology transfer plans, access to financial products by small producers, and establishing seed multiplication systems for fodder materials. Everything from the integration of different sectors such as universities and research centers, private companies, the policy makers, consumers and producers.


Barreras y Estrategias para Alcanzar las Metas de Mitigación de GEI del Sector Ganadero en América Latina

La producción ganadera es una Fuente importante de ingresos y de emisiones de gases efecto invernadero (GEI) en Latinoamérica. 20 por ciento de las emisiones de la región provienen de la agricultura, 70 de las cuales provienen de la ganadería (FAO, 2019). En la actualidad, existen muchas opciones tecnológicas que poseen potencial de mitigar las emisiones de metano entérico, estas han sido evaluadas, lo que ha llevado a pensar que su escalamiento puede contribuir a cumplir los compromisos de mitigación de GEI bajo el Acuerdo de París. Estas tecnologías incluyen el manejo de la dieta animal, control reproductivo, administración de suplementos y reducción de la edad para el sacrificio, entre otras. No obstante, la adopción de opciones con potencial de mitigación sigue siendo muy limitada, lo que hace preguntar a los científicos del sector si los objetivos de reducción propuestos son alcanzables. Usando los resultados de estudios locales, un equipo conformado por expertos de 10 diferentes países, 7 de ellos latinoamericanos, han explorado el potencial de mitigación de las tecnologías y prácticas propuestas a la actualidad para reducir las emisiones de metano entérico de la producción ganadera de los países latinoamericanos con mayores emisiones. Los científicos discutieron las barreras para adoptar innovaciones que reducen significativamente las emisiones de metano entérico en el ganado y los cambios trascendentales en políticas y prácticas necesarios para alcanzar las ambiciones nacionales de los países con las más altas emisiones. Con base en la ciencia y el enfoque más recientes de la actualidad, han llevado su perspectiva a un enfoque inclusivo y re imaginaron cómo los sectores académico, de investigación, empresarial y de políticas públicas pueden apoyar e incentivar los cambios necesarios para elevar el nivel de ambición y alcanzar objetivos de desarrollo sostenible. teniendo en cuenta las acciones desde la finca hasta la escala nacional. Algunas mejoras identificadas y que deben realizarse son mejorar el acceso a la información a través de planes efectivos de transferencia de tecnología, acceso a productos financieros por parte de pequeños productores y establecer sistemas de multiplicación de semillas para materiales forrajeros. Todo, desde la integración de diferentes sectores, como universidades y centros de investigación, empresas privadas, tomadores de decisiones, consumidores y productores.

Arango J, Ruden A, Martinez-Baron D, Loboguerrero AM, Berndt A, Chacón M, Torres CF, Oyhantcabal W, Gomez CA, Ricci P, Ku-Vera J, Burkart S, Moorby JM and Chirinda N (2020) Ambition Meets Reality: Achieving GHG Emission Reduction Targets in the Livestock Sector of Latin America. Front. Sustain. Food Syst. 4:65. doi: 10.3389/fsufs.2020.00065

FAO (2019). “GLEAM 2.0 – Evaluación de las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero y su potencial de mitigación.” from

More Sustainable Beef Production from Silvopasture in Colombia

Dr Jacobo Arango and Prof Jon Moorby

Cattle grazing the silvopastoral plots at CIAT – Brachiaria pastures grown with trees of the legume Leucaena
Ganado pastando en las parcelas silvopastoriles del CIAT – pastos de Brachiaria cultivada con árboles de la leguminosa Leucaena

Cattle are an important part of many Colombian farmer’s lives, but climate change and the pressures of increased production on land use mean that more sustainable systems of agriculture are urgently needed. As part of the GROW Colombia project we have been investigating the benefits of using new and improved crops of Brachiaria, a drought-resistant grass native to Africa, grown together with leguminous shrubs (Leucaena) in silvopastoral plots at the Alliance Bioversity-CIAT’s (ABC) headquarters in Cali, Colombia. The leaves of Leucaena are rich in protein, which complements the grass growing around them to produce a nutrition diet for the cattle. Improving the diet of cattle means they grow faster and are ready for slaughter more quickly, which in turn lowers the carbon footprint of Colombian beef production and means that land freed up from cattle production can be returned to other uses, such as forestry. The GROW work at ABC is a valuable resource for demonstrating the potential value of silvopastoral systems to local farmers, encouraging them to sow better crops of grass and plant trees on their land. This research will help farmers to make more money from their land and animals at the same time as reducing the burden of beef production on the local environment.

El ganado es una parte importante de la vida de muchos agricultores colombianos, pero el cambio climático y las presiones para lograr mayor producción sobre el uso de la tierra muestran que se necesitan con urgencia sistemas agrícolas más sostenibles. Como parte del proyecto GROW Colombia, hemos estado investigando los beneficios del uso de forrajes mejorados nuevos de Brachiaria, una pastura resistente a la sequía nativa de África, cultivada junto con leguminosas arbustivas (Leucaena) en parcelas silvopastoriles en la sede de la alianza Bioversity y CIAT (ABC) en Cali, Colombia. Las hojas de Leucaena son ricas en proteínas, que complementan el pasto que crece a su alrededor para producir una mejor dieta nutritiva para el ganado. Mejorar la dieta del ganado significa una tasa más rápida de engorde y sacrificio más, lo que a su vez reduce la huella de carbono de la producción de carne colombiana. También abre la posibilidad de liberar áreas dedicadas a la ganadería para dedicarse a otros usos, como la silvicultura. El trabajo de GROW en ABC es un recurso valioso para demostrar el valor potencial de los sistemas silvopastoriles a los agricultores locales, animándolos a sembrar mejores forrajes y plantar árboles en sus tierras. Esta investigación ayudará a los agricultores a ganar más dinero con sus fincas y al mismo tiempo reducir la carga de la producción de carne al medio ambiente local.

Patía Fieldwork – November 2019

by Dr Marcela Ramos – University of Glasgow

The social science component of the CoForLife project has been framed as being preoccupied with issues of current farmer practices and collaborative experiences – the role of indigenous knowledge; agency, collaborative learning and skills, as well as questions of farming process and adaptive practices.

Three broad questions have guided the design and data collection procedures: how climate change is experienced among male and female farmers? What are the barriers experienced while adopting new technologies to inform farming practices? What resources, opportunities and capacities do farmers have available/deploy in trying to incorporate new technologies and adapting to climate change? In November 2019, we returned to Patía to share findings from phase 1 of the project with the phase 1 participants through focus groups and presentations and to conduct new data collection activities, to further develop and enhance the gender-inclusive participatory focus that has characterized this research. In this visit, two focus groups were conducted.

Focus group one: mixed group of smallholders
Presentation and focus group two: female-only participants

The main aim of focus group one was to share preliminary findings from phase 1 of the project to include participants’ reflections and insights. In this way, we aim to assess, from a participatory perspective, if our conclusions were meaningful to the participants. Focus group two was undertaken after a presentation of the project aims and main features delivered to a women-only organization in Patía, named FUNAMUAFRO. The primary purpose of the focus group was to understand, from the perspectives of female smallholders, the challenges they have faced to develop their farming plans as a women-only organization and evaluate how their ‘farming agenda’ evolved after the first interview conducted in September 2018.

Based on the Patía fieldwork preliminary results and gender focus of the project, the proposal is to keep working with FUNAMAUFRO, to see how female farmers organized themselves to meet their goals and face particular challenges. Particularly interesting will be to follow up sub-groups organization and explore and understand sub-groups different experiences and characteristics.

Stakeholder Engagement meeting – Bogotá

by Dr Marcela Ramos – University of Glasgow

On 8th November 2019, a stakeholder engagement workshop was held at the Universidad Nacional Colombia in Bogotá. A series of presentations were delivered by project partners to Colombian stakeholders, including the sharing of phase 1 preliminary findings and phase 2 plans. The main topics discussed in the presentations included the role of remote sensing technologies for assessing forage production and quality, soil greenhouse gas emissions, farmer capabilities to implement new forage management strategies, barriers and opportunities to new technology uptake, and opportunities for forage conservation.

Colombian stakeholders provided valuable feedback on many aspects, including how to incorporate the Colombian conflict variable as part of the analysis of the social science data and design of the data collection. After presentations were delivered, two broad themes emerged as relevant for further research; 1) the importance of developing new network channels (to introduce/enhance the use of new technologies) and 2) to look for strategies to incorporate new generations in the development of sustainable food production in Colombia.

14 participants from MGS: Mesa de Ganadería Sostenible Colombia (The Colombian Roundtable for Sustainable Bovine Livestock), MADR: Ministerio de Agricultura y Desarrollo Rural (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development), GGGI: Global Green Growth Institute, RAPE: Región Administrativa y De Planeación Especial (Administrative and Special Planning Region), CATIE: Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (Tropical Agronomic Center for Research and Teaching), UNAL: Universidad Nacional (Sede Medellín) (National University, Medellín), WWF: World Wildlife Fund and the British Embassy in Bogota were in attendance, in addition to all CoForLife project partners.

Research visit to the University of Glasgow

by Diana María Gutiérrez Zapata, PhD student at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, University of Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia (adapted from a post in Spanish available here)

Between July and October 2019 I did a research internship at the University of Glasgow (UofG) in the United Kingdom. The UofG is one of Scotland’s oldest universities with more than 560 years of history. The main campus is a neo-Gothic building located in Gilmorehill, on the west end of the city of Glasgow. The university has a high reputation in research and is in the top 100 of the best universities in the world according to the QS ranking of 2020, it has approximately 29,000 students of which 37% are foreigners from more than 140 countries. Currently, the University of Antioquia does not have any exchange agreement with the UofG; However, this visit was possible thanks to the contact established since 2017 with Dr. Brian Barrett. 

My visit was to the School of Geographical & Earth Sciences, the objective was to develop and improve skills in the area of ​​remote sensing and spatial analysis through the use of geographic information systems (GIS). My work experience was very satisfactory because during that time I became familiar with the use and programming language of the Google Earth Engine (GEE) platform. This tool allows access to numerous remote sensing data sets that provide information about the land such as climate, geophysical, demographic or social factors. The use of GEE represents a great advantage for the analysis of geographic information, since it makes the loading, processing, visualization and analysis of data more efficient.

When visiting Glasgow it is important to keep in mind that the city is recognized for its architectural and cultural wealth and for the friendliness of its people. In the city and its surroundings there are many gardens and public parks; numerous world-class museums and art galleries that in many cases have free admission, including the Hunterian museum inside the main campus of the university. Public transportation has a wide coverage, but it is expensive, as is the general cost of living in the city. Although there are many foreigners in Glasgow and it is easy to find Spanish speakers at the university, English is essential, especially since some of the accents of the Scottish people can be difficult to understand.

Currently, the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences is related to the UofG through the participation as academic partners of members of the GAMMA research group in the project “Advancing sustainable forage-based livestock production systems in Colombia (CoForLife)”. The project is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council in the United Kingdom and the following entities participate: University of Aberystwyth, University of Glasgow, International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Colombian Corporation for Agricultural Research (Agrosavia), Sustainable Livestock (GANSO) and GAMMA Research Group. The objective is to strengthen and develop new multidisciplinary partnerships between experts from Colombia and the UK to improve forage-based tropical farming systems in Colombia. The project started in 2019 and lasts for 2 years, it has an experimental phase that will be carried out on farms in the departments of Antioquia, Meta, Cauca, and Valle de Cauca and represents an opportunity to consolidate relations and establish an agreement that allows academic mobility between the project partners.

For those interested in learning about this university as a postgraduate research student, they should consider that it is required to complete an application form that contains the objective of the visit and the approval by the home university and a supervisor at the UofG, as well as the delivery of a research proposal for the research visit. Once the application is approved, the UofG issues a letter of support for the student visa application and provides all relevant information for registration as a student on its website; the registration is complete once the visa is presented at the UofG service offices, where the card is obtained. This process allows the student to access the facilities, library and some other technological services such as computer equipment; However,

Finally, the author thanks the Mobility Program of the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, the GAMMA Research group, COLCIENCIAS and the project “Towards resilient and sustainable tropical livestock production systems in Colombia” for the financial support that made this visit possible. Likewise, the University of Glasgow and Dr. Brian Barrett for hosting and advising me during the three months of my stay there.

Patía fieldwork

Between, 17th – 20th September, five researchers and two field technicians from CIAT, University of Glasgow, University of Bristol, and University of Antioquia (Colciencias-funded PhD student Diana Gutierrez) visited Patía in Cauca (~six hour drive from Cali) to meet with smallholder farmers and collect field and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) data at several different farms. A series of semi-structured interviews, focus groups (seven men and four women respectively) and map making exercises were undertaken. Participants came from a recently established (~two years) women`s smallholder organisation (Fumamuafro) and a more established men and women`s organisation (Asogapa & Coagro Usuarios). 65 forage samples were collected from various forage types: Brachiaria brizantha cv Toledo, Brachiaria brizantha cv Marandú, Brachiaria híbrido cv Cayman, Brachiaria híbrido cv Mulato II, Brachiaria decumbens, Megathyrsus maximus cv Mombasa and the most widely sown Dichantium aristatum (angleton) for biomass analysis and later determination of forage quality back in the laboratory at CIAT Headquarters. Some pictures are below.

Finca Villa Paula – Brian Barrett (University of Glasgow), Diana Gutierrez (University of Antioquia), Miller Escobar (CIAT), Robier Caicedo (Patía smallholder (Finca Villa Paula)), Marcela Ramos (University of Bristol), Rodrigo Pena (CIAT), John Freddy Gutierrez (CIAT) and Juan Andrés Cardosa (CIAT).

Francisco José de Caldas

The statue of famous Colombian scientist, botanist and inventor Francisco José de Caldas in Caldas park in his hometown of Popayán. Fitting that we stopped here on our way back from Patía on our BBSRC Newton-Caldas Fund project to visit the University of Cauca.


Patía, Cauca department

Next week, we`ll be visiting smallholder farmers at Patía in Cauca department to carry out mapping exercises, walking interviews and semi-structured interviews to establish current farmers’ practices to assess forage health and productivity; understand how they make pasture-improvement decisions and how much of a concern forage productivity is for them. Attitudes and eventual barriers to the use of new technology will be explored, along with different personal and contextual factors: socio-economic, agro-ecological, institutional, farmer’s perception, behavioral and technological factors.

After some trial and error and conversion from ISO to ANSI paper sizes we got our posters printed. Dr Marcela Ramos displaying some of the initial attempts and the final outputs (copy of El País newspaper for scale!). These will be used to help identify how smallholders can benefit from incorporating information derived from remote sensing into their practice, from their perspective. Satellite, UAV and in situ measurements will also be collected at five farms in this region to supplement the dataset being acquired at CIAT headquarters.


Colombian departments with the municipality of Patía in Cauca department highlighted in yellow.


UAV data acquisitions

At our trial site at CIAT headquarters, we have been acquiring weekly Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) acquisitions and coincident ground measurements over multiple 20m x 20m subplots of Brachiaria humidicola, Brachiaria Mulato and Brachiaria Brizantha Marandu. The slide show below outlines some of the process. We`re combining these observations with satellite acquisitions to develop a multi-source remote sensing based approach to monitor and manage tropical forage-based production systems.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.