Uruguay is a country whose economy was built on cattle grazing. It has rolling hills, a temperate climate, sprawling beaches, and no difficult-to-access areas, like jungles, dense forests, or mountainous regions. But while in some countries cattle farming is a driver of deforestation, in Uruguay it presents a different climate challenge – the increased release of the greenhouse gas methane.
One GEF-funded project is testing a simple mitigation strategy to address this challenge in Uruguay. Traditionally, ranchers graze cattle by moving the animals from one lot to another. Cows eat the grass down to the ground and then are moved on to greener pastures where the process is repeated, only returning to the first field when the grass has regrown. But grasses, like all plant life, play a key role in storing carbon and offsetting the creation of methane, which is a natural gastrointestinal byproduct of cattle grazing. So instead of letting cows eat the grass to the ground, this project is testing the impact of moving the animals more frequently, when the grass is only half-consumed.
It works; not only does this effort increase the amount of grass that is permanently storing carbon, it also improved beef production.
This project is an excellent demonstration of a solution that reduces environmental impact and puts money in farmers’ pockets with minimal need to change existing processes. It’s a win-win.
The question is: how do we replicate strategies like this one?
Key aspects of this question are what the Country Relations team deals with regularly at the GEF. While on the surface this seems simple – it is a relatively small change for farmers to make – but from project planning, funding, and execution, a lot goes into making a GEF project successful. For example, just in terms of data-gathering, the implementers had to measure baseline numbers – including beef and methane production. Then they have to take measures throughout the lifecycle of the project. This takes specialized tools and knowledge, time, and resources.
The GEF is a funding mechanism and knowledge-sharing partner for projects like this that benefit the global environment; but in order to make effective use of its resources, our partners need to have an understanding of the current GEF strategies, policies and procedures – how to get funding, how to follow up on the projects, and what impact is expected as a result.
The GEF and its network of partners, like the environment itself, is a complex organism. We adjust how we operate to serve an ever-shifting political and environmental landscape and staying up-to-date on our latest modus operandi can be a challenging job. We’re also asking our partners to drive substantial change in their countries where they might not see immediate results – another extremely difficult task. The Country Relations team and I use our diplomatic skills in negotiation, environmental issues, and bilateral relations to ensure our partners understand how the GEF works and can use the resources it provides to support their national efforts.
One key tool we use to share knowledge about the GEF is the Expanded Constituency Workshops (ECWs). These workshops were born out of a need for stakeholders within governments who are responsible for GEF activities – called GEF “focal points” – to understand how we work and provide clear expectations of their responsibilities. We are running 11 of these workshops around the world this year.
GEF focal points, usually two from each recipient country government, attend the workshops, but so do other stakeholders – representatives from civil society groups, staff from implementing and executing partners, government staff who are responsible for the Conventions the GEF serves – who could potentially benefit from a better understanding of the GEF and how it works.
The project to mitigate methane release, together with one on protected areas and one on elimination of mercury, was shared with 160 focal points and other stakeholders from Latin American countries during the third day of the region’s ECW on March 26 to 29, 2019. The third day of every ECW is dedicated to learning directly from projects in the host country that provide a significant finding or demonstrate an effective new process or use of technology that can be learnt and replicated elsewhere. The goal is to show the workshop participants how project implementers were able to change the way things were done and generate ideas for improving GEF-funded efforts in their home countries.
The Latin America ECW also used interactive techniques to help participants learn. While some presentations were necessary to relay information about what’s new in terms of strategies and policies at the GEF, we used games and other activities to test how much of the information was absorbed, processed, and available to be put into practice.
These activities take various forms, but one game this year was structured like a card game and required the participants to outline a project, identify the focal areas covered, the key objectives to be achieved, and the success indicators to be measured. Then they had to lay out a series of cards representing the order of activities needed throughout the project cycle, from beginning to end. As a larger group, we discussed and debated these different components to encourage engagement and learning.
Our workshop design also adapts to participants’ needs. In the previous cycle of ECWs this project-design game focused on the early stages of the project; but we found that the focal points had not realized the need and value of following the projects throughout their life from design to closure. Therefore, this time we focused on the entire project cycle.
This year’s ECW in Latin America was a success. People were attentive and stayed in the sessions for the full four days. Participants were so engaged they took the game home to share with their colleagues.
We hope that all the participants now have a better understanding of how the system works, and their roles within that system to make projects more effective. We want them to walk away with a clear picture of what they can do as environmental leaders to ensure that their national objectives are being met. Most importantly, we hope they see the GEF as an ally in this endeavor and a key source of funding and guidance.