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Conservation Farming: cattle as a tool to preserve & revitalize the Paraná Delta

A bioregional framework for food production and ecosystems conservation.

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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Humboldt X S.A.S.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Although at the moment we are a single entity applying for the prize, we are working closely with a group of multidisciplinary organizations involved in ecological studies, agronomy, cattle farming and beef production: -Alianza del Pastizal, an alliance funded by Bird Life International, seeking to protect the Pampa Biome by promoting sustainable cattle farming. We are a certified member. -Wetlands International: Blue Corridor Program, an initiative set out to protect the wetland ecosystem from Pantanal to Paraná Delta through the Paraguay River. Currently studying water contamination and soil related matters. -Universidad de Lomas de Zamora: working with renowned scientist Dean Dr. Carlos Rossi on forage productivity and grassland sustainability. -National Agricultural Technology Institute (INTA): collaborating on forage and grazing management. -OVIS 21 (official representatives of the Savory Institute network in Argentina): Monitoring soil health and soil carbon sampling.

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Buenos Aires

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Argentina

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Islas del Ibicuy (Ibicuy Islands) // Delta del Paraná

What country is your selected Place located in?

Argentina

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Whenever I think of my childhood, I cannot help but get a mix of sensations and feelings that take me back to Monte Alto, our family’s farm in Entre Rios Province. Although I was born in Buenos Aires, I was able to frequently enjoy the richness and beauty of this unique setting at a mere 2-hour drive from the city. Very early in life I was swimming and fishing in rivers, riding horses and immersed in the wilderness. This unfiltered connection gave me deep curiosity and reverence for nature as well as for our gaucho culture, an appreciation that would later follow me in life. As I grew up and saw more of the world, I began to develop an interest in sustainability and the big questions behind how we live on this planet. Graduating from engineering school in Argentina, I did a career in energy and technology, working with hydrogen, renewables and big data platforms. I travelled the globe and met amazing people. However, as time abroad went by, my yearning for the farm grew stronger. Meanwhile, I continued to educate myself on ecology, biomimicry and other ways of living and producing in harmony with nature. Finally, after six years of traveling between the UK and Asia, I decided to get back and get involved. As soon as I reconnected, I felt an urge to participate in preserving and regenerating this wonderful habitat. I began to envision a chance to build thriving human systems that vibrate with nature and not against it. What better stage for that than the flooded plains of Ibicuy Islands, one of the most productive ecosystems on the planet? My connection to the place is strong and mysterious. I selected this place as much as it selected me. It is home, and at the same time it means more. It represents a chance to inhabit and steward the land, to live by and for regeneration. With our team in place, running operations with over 6,000 cows grazing 9,000 hectares of wild grasslands: what better set up to get me started?

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Ibicuy Islands is a department within Entre Ríos Province, Argentina, covering 4,500km2 of floodplains and low-level islands located in the Paraná Delta, the end point of a wetland system that extends across 3,400km, starting in the Brazilian Pantanal and emptying into the River Plate. The Paraná Delta is an area extremely rich in biodiversity, supporting a wide variety of flora and fauna which includes several endangered species. It also hosts a Ramsar Site and one Biosphere Reserve in the Lower Delta within Buenos Aires province. The Lower Delta was the site of the first modern settlements in the River Plate basin and most of its western end today is densely populated. As a consequence, the original ecosystem has been heavily modified and damaged by pollution. 

In contrast, at the eastern side of the Lower Delta, Islas del Ibicuy remains wild and unpolluted. With population totalling under 15,000 inhabitants, who reside mostly in farms and small village-type settlements, it is the province's least populated department. Only 150km away from the city of Buenos Aires, this unique territory stands out for its stillness and the sounds of nature. Endless plains and infinite horizons filled with a mosaic of wetlands and grasslands make up a shifting maze between streams and rivers. A tapestry of diverse grasslands, constantly washed by the recurring floods that characterize the area, is home to multitudes of flocking birds, rheas, foxes, otters, deer and other native animals, painting the landscape alongside locust, roman cassie and other short trees and shrubs. These extensive prairies of abundant and high quality native forage, plus the presence of abundant water suitable for animal consumption has made cattle ranching - an Argentine tradition in itself - the main activity in this region. This is the land of the gaucho. 

Skilled horsemen of simple customs and traditions, gauchos have forged their identity on these lands for over 300 years. Gallant, of few words and in tune with nature, for them livestock farming is not just a lifestyle, but a way of life. They know, respect and have been taking good care of the land for centuries. 

It is not strange then to learn that beef has always played a key role in their diet. Both asado (Argentine barbecue) and mate are indelible cultural rituals of the gaucho identity; part of the legacy we proudly share with the world. Besides, Ibicuy’s cuisine also boasts typical dishes based on fish, meat and other specialties whose recipes were brought by the first immigrants. Almost exclusively as subsistence activities, beekeeping, hunting, fishing, and handicrafts, are also carried out in the area. Each year, Ibicuy’s identity is reflected in folkloric festivities that take place in the small villages. Always around large asados, local families take part in regional dances, parades, shows and craft fairs to honor their history, identity and traditions.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

4500

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

13500

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

A core principle of our proposed food system is to rely as much as possible on what the natural ecosystem spontaneously provides. Ibicuy is abundant in nutritious and diverse grasses, food for herding herbivores to transform into animal protein. To allow this feed to manifest, the ecosystem’s delicate and complex balance needs to be cared for and protected. In that regard, the main challenges our food system faces today -and any given day- are those of land transformation and loss of biodiversity, driven mainly by the expansion of the agro-industrial and urbanization frontiers. Real estate developments, land change use for agriculture and the lack of effective and sustainable farming regulations are a constant threat to the conservation of the Paraná Delta’s natural wetland and all its life forms. 

Through millennia, humans have developed sophisticated herding and animal husbandry systems. Additionally, gaucho culture has been adapting these systems to our land for hundreds of years, learning to harvest nature’s produce while allowing it to recover and keep providing year after year. Grasslands are the key binding element in this land. To properly manage it and protect it, a well developed set of skills and practices are needed. Land transformation and modern urban culture are driving local people elsewhere and away from the farms, thus leaving behind ancient traditions that hold priceless knowledge and wisdom. 

Macroeconomic and current market trends are also having a strong impact on our food system. Our industrialized economy rewards short term, cost effective and large scale production systems, while our deteriorated food culture demands ever bigger quantities of fast, cheap and artificial food products, disconnecting more and more from nature. These conditions make it hard to get proper recognition and overall system support for food produced in more sustainable and crafty ways, making natural grassland cattle farming a challenging business. In addition, emerging dietary trends such as cultured meat and veganism might reflect a deeper cultural shift away from animal-based products and, although the latter is still on the rise, it could lead to a significant challenge in the long term. On top of things, technological advancement is making industrialized food systems more “efficient” while on the other hand gaucho herding struggles with low technology adoption. 

Recent changes in environmental conditions have modified predictability, frequency and intensity of draughts and floods in the region. These hydraulic variations generate direct economic losses and make production more challenging, particularly for systems so intimately linked to natural elements. Infrastructure developments upstream and variability in climate are the main causes behind these changes and are both expected to get worse in the coming decades. All together, environmental, macroeconomic and technological trends reinforce already increasing ecosystem degradation and cultural loss.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

We envision co-creating a multi-layered regional platform linking conservation, production and commercialization, while promoting strong collaboration among stakeholders and integrating value across the entire chain. 

However, there is still much to learn about how the ecosystem actually works and about how we adapt our human systems to evolve with the original design. That is why we have placed scientific research as the cornerstone of our endeavor, bringing together a group of renowned scientific and technical institutions to help us build an ecological framework that aims to integrate food production and ecosystem conservation. Having reached a common understanding on how to care for the ecosystem, we will focus on innovating the grazing operation; merging the best of traditional herding techniques along with systems design and new technologies and seeking process-based rather than input-based productivity enhancements. Validating these conservation-farming methods will enable us to claim for regulations that support and promote sustainable practices in the region. 

At the same time, we will encourage other cattle ranchers to implement conservation farming by joining our collaborative platform, which, among other key resources, will provide access to good practices, land management protocols and pricing schemes that will reward those efforts. We will also promote collaboration along the supply chain by bringing cattle farming operations together with slaughterhouses, butchers and reliable suppliers. These efforts will help guarantee fair trade and product traceability, promoting differentiation. This vertical integration will become the backbone of Ibicuy’s food system, reinforcing a fair chain of positive feedback loops among stakeholders that will help strengthen the region even more. A reinvigorating appreciation of the intertwined life-systems that the ecosystem, the gaucho and the cattle share will come back. Along with fair ownership and equal access to opportunities, it will help prevent migration to urban areas and enable the rural life-system to engage with the modern world in a positive and regenerative way. 

Building upon this framework, a unique set of ecological products guaranteeing traceability, high quality, distinctive taste and texture will serve as spearhead of our food system. Rallying those consumers who are keen to participate in our conservation efforts, these products aim to honor the value of the ecosystem and the gaucho culture while praising the cow’s sacred contribution to our nourishment. All together, these attributes will allow us to price accordingly, gathering growing support from consumers and producers thus improving environmental and economic conditions even further. Consumers will be the driving force behind a flourishing bioregional network that will contribute to the conservation of Islas del Ibicuy.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Supported by its community and society as a whole, Ibicuy’s ecosystem will thrive more than ever: holding its multiple life forms in full, its soils healthy and rich in carbon, its grass diverse and abundant, its waters clean and fresh, its culture dynamic. 

It will be mandatory that cattle across the region is allowed to express their natural behaviour. As they graze, they will roam freely throughout their lives, participating in the magnificent choreography of nature. When the time comes, the sacrifice will express gratitude and respect for their contribution. Showcasing unparalleled productivity thanks to a fine fusion between ancient wisdom and modern knowledge, cattle ranching in the region will boom and gaucho culture will be revitalized, transcending into the next century as an example of land stewardship. Our food system’s inclusive and participatory design will make resources and opportunities available to all farm operations, no matter their size. Having healthy and sustainable products reaching wider audiences, everyone will get their fare share according to how well they care for the people, the animals and the land. 

While preserving its distinctive rurality and wilderness, Ibicuy will emerge as a place of hope and opportunity, where thriving and resilient communities will enjoy a sense of belonging to a bioregion with shared values. Local products, crafts and ecotourism will come back to life. Moreover, an intertwined web of abattoirs, butchers and distributors will strengthen the local dynamics, preventing economic value to be lost along the supply chain. Local government together in open collaboration with academia and the private sector will cement this framework and make its learnings available to the world. Ultimately, Ibicuy will enjoy a flourishing food system that will protect and regenerate its natural capital while guaranteeing social fairness and animal welfare. The tension between economy and ecology will be a matter of the past.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Stepping up conservation efforts to preserve the ecosystem while meeting people’s basic needs is going to be a fundamental work in the decades to come. For that matter, we believe the starting point should be a common landscape standard followed across the region to protect the health of the ecosystem. Authorities should orient regulations towards the creation of tools and incentives that reward those who seek to care for the land, and punish those that don’t. 


We envision communities and their food systems relating to the natural world in a harmonic way, following nature’s rhythm while adding to its biocapacity. We believe the future is about evolving with ecosystems, moving from sustainability to regeneration by actively participating in life systems as stewards of the land. To get there, we must tap into the existing culture linked to the place. Here, gauchos have developed a fine understanding of the abundance of the ecosystem and its limits, harvesting nature’s produce while allowing it to recover and keep providing year after year through the centuries. They know, respect and take good care of the land and the animals. However, with the advent of modern civilisation, we have evolved in ways and numbers that call for an adaptation of the rural life-system if it is to survive and thrive. We imagine a reinvigorated gaucho culture capable of engaging with the modern world in a positive and regenerative way, sharing their knowledge and wisdom while incorporating the benefits and avoiding the drawbacks of modern science and technology. Moreover, we honor and praise their values of austerity and land stewardship, while we see an opportunity to develop a more profound way to relate to the cow and embrace a higher state of interbeing. 


Following Nature, we wish to rely as much as possible on what the ecosystem provides. Grass is the key resource in these lands; growing freely, abundantly and in great diversity, with over 250 different species registered in just one farm. In other words, plenty of free nutritious food is lying on the ground and yet, our biology cannot process it. Luckily, we don’t need to. Grazing herbivores have roamed the Earth’s grasslands since prehistoric times, showcasing a co-evolutionary balance between flora and fauna, feeding each other and contributing to ecosystem cycles. Understanding and respecting this relationship is essential if we wish to emulate nature in our food system, following its patterns and imitating its features to benefit from its surplus and abundance. 


Truth is, the bond between humans and grazing herbivores is likely to be one of the most successful partnerships in history -comparable to our relationship with wheat or rice- and has allowed our species to live from the land in all sorts of prairies around the planet. These animals help retrieve otherwise inaccessible nutrients, harvesting and converting grass fiber into animal protein digestible for humans. It is estimated that grasslands and rangelands cover about 70% of the Earth’s surface, making herbivores potentially the biggest transformer of free food in the world. 


Although cows are not originally from this region, gaucho’s have excelled in adapting herding and animal husbandry systems through centuries, making cattle farming a good approximation that mimics nature. Opposite to modern feedlot systems, traditional gaucho cattle ranching allows cows to express their natural behaviour, roam freely and eat from the naturally occurring vegetation.


Understanding the importance of this intertwined alliance between grassland, cattle and man, we plan to build a replicable farming framework that focuses on restoring balance to the land while boosting its fattening capacity; aligning traditionally opposed concepts of land regeneration and beef production. We will bring innovation into the grazing operation, merging the best of traditional herding techniques with systems design and new technologies. We plan to enhance traditional land stewardship using information technology to improve processes, traceability and accountability; boosting our real-time understanding of forage resource, animal health and geolocation. This powerful combination will increase harvesting capacity and make labor more efficient. Eventually, satellite images, RFID chips for electric fencing and sensors will allow us to implement dynamic designs for each paddock according to weather and load conditions. 


Once the framework for ecological food production is ready, we will build Ibicuy’s commercial platform offering a unique set of ecological products guaranteeing traceability, high quality, distinctive taste and texture. These products will honor the value of the ecosystem and the gaucho culture while praising the cow’s sacred contribution to our nourishment. As consumers, we must remember our choices matter and they create the world around us. We must try to be aware about how the food we eat impact’s our body and our planet. We must ask ourselves, “Is this food being produced fairly and in harmony with nature?”. We believe we should always strive to eat moderately, from known sources and purposeful products. Ibicuy plans to be an excellent choice for those who wish to follow these principles. 


Rallying those consumers who crave for healthy artisan products and are keen to participate in our conservation efforts, these attributes will allow us to price accordingly and get the attention of more skeptical producers. Having healthy and sustainable products reaching wider audiences, everyone will get their fare share according to how well they care for the people, the animals and the land. 


At the same time, we will be reaching out to farmers around the region to share our findings and invite them to be part of our open bioregional network, offering regular on-farm workshops, scientific lectures and a digital infrastructure to promote cooperation and free flow of information. Our inclusive design will make resources and opportunities available to all farm operations, no matter their size, with Ibicuy’s people at the center of our food system. A fairer treatment reflected in more participatory processes and shared ownership along with growing recognition for gaucho’s culture, will trigger a virtuous loop and reinforce their sense of identity and self worth.


To consolidate Ibicuy’s bioregional platform, growing demand for our products will be linked with sustainable producers through a strong alliance with local abattoirs, butchers and distributors. This will help strengthen the local dynamics and prevent economic value and integrity to be lost along the way. Centralized, large scale slaughterhouses are one of the main pain points in today’s animal-based food production systems, where care and respect for animals has been replaced with cruelty and disdain. Moreover, big abattoirs subdue small producers and twist regulations, putting the entire system at risk. Animal sacrifice is a common practice carried out by every human culture with animal-based diets. What got lost is the meaning behind the process. We plan to bring it back by disrupting current standards with more caring practices around on-farm, mobile and local slaughtering supported by rigorous health and safety protocols and procedures.


Scaling up, we plan to launch Ibicuy’s Conservation Farming Fund, a public-private initiative to manage and pull together financial, human and land resources at a regional level to support the entire program. Together with local authorities we will turn the incentives’ schemes upside down. A new mindset based on value over volume-based economics will be forged. Taking good care of a world-class bioregional brand will bring all value chain actors closer, sharing prosperity and giving people reasons to stay, work and live in the area. 


All across our food system, we must stress the need for regulations that promote sustainable and fair practices in farming, industry and consumption. Governments must design policies that reward the implementation of these practices and catalyze the transition to circular value chains through tools such as subsidies, tax cuts, payments for ecosystem services and green credits.  


Moving forward, we hope our shared framework and our approach extend to other bioregions. By 2050, we envision a future where interdependence is the norm and where land everywhere is used and respected according to its means and possibilities, with humans contributing to life on Earth as a force for good. Life’s most innovative design is to create the conditions conducive to life. Let’s sync and be a part of it.

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Attachments (4)

Digital Herbal reference.pdf

We have created a Digital Herbal with near 300 species (around 250 grass species). It was based in a paper version done in 1999-2001 and different grass manuals of the region. This attachment is a reference of two species.

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