Protecting the Mesosamerican Reef | WWF
	© WWF-Guatemala/MAR

Better Agriculture

WWF is working with the farming industry to transform agricultural practices around the Mesoamerican Reef
Farmers and conservationists have not always seen eye to eye. But in Central America, they are working together to the
benefit of both.

A decade ago, WWF was concerned about the impacts of agriculture on the Mesoamerican Reef, the world’s second-largest coral reef. Instead of confrontation, they chose collaboration.

Today, over 240,000 hectares in the Mesoamerican Reef region are under better management practices. This includes about 80 per cent of the land commercially planted for banana, palm oil, sugarcane, citrus, melon and pineapple, as well as shrimp farms throughout the reef’s watersheds.
Results include reductions in pesticide toxicity of 68 per cent and fertilizer and water use of more than 30 per cent.

What is good for the reef, turned out  to be good for businesses also. Biological Control of the froghopper pest in Mexico reduced costs by 47 per cent (US$57 per hectare compared to US$108 per hectare for chemical control). Chiquita reduced the cost of  controlling weeds in waterways by 46 per cent by planting cover crops  (US$78 per hectare compared to US$170 per hectare previously).


Sugarcane production is vital to the region’s economy. In Belize, sugarcane contributes 4.5 per cent of GDP. Marcos Osorio, Director of the Sugar Industry Research and Development Institute (SIRDI), admits that before his industry began working with WWF, environmental impacts were not high on the agenda. “Farmers were merrily applying fertilizer in a broadcast manner, ”he says. “And it was done after the end of harvesting, at the start of the rainy season, so the risk of run-off and erosion would have been high.”

WWF has worked with SIRDI to promote best practices that reduce the use of agrochemicals. “Today we have a welldeveloped system for managing pests, starting with preventative measures such as using mechanical methods to expose eggs in the soil, and biological monitoring,” says Marcos. “Where chemicals are needed, farmers have been trained in their application and understand safe handling procedures.” Since 2010, pesticide toxicity has been reduced by 65 per cent on sugarcane farms in Belize. In the neighbouring Mexican state with WWF have reduced their pesticide toxicity by 85 per cent. Similarly, precise application in response to soil nutrient analyses has led to significant reductions in chemical fertilizers, including an 82 per cent cut in phosphorus. WWF is also working with farmers to find natural methods of increasing nitrogen levels and organic matter in the soil, for example by leaving post-harvest residue on the field instead of burning it. This is important because it leads to less run-off into rivers that discharge sediment and pollution into coastal waters.

SIRDI runs a three-year training programme for farmers, with input from WWF that covers everything from land preparation to harvesting and delivery. Farmers are trained to train others, with the aim of eventually reaching all 5,339 cane growers in Belize. SIRDI has also worked with WWF to share lessons with other growers throughout the region. “We are reaping the benefits in higher productivity and better prices for cane farmers, while reducing the industry’s impact on the reef,” says Marcos. “As production grows to meet increasing demand, we need each and every grower to implement best practices.”


Understanding the specific issues facing an industry allows for the creation of mutually beneficial solutions. A good example is WWF’s work with the banana industry to develop an early-warning system to combat black Sigatoka – a fungal disease that can devastate crops and has to be controlled with regular fungicide sprays.

“We’re one of the first banana-producing regions in the world to look at climatic data in such a scientific manner and use that to control fungicide application on a large scale,” says Sam Mathias from the Banana Growers Association of Belize. “In the past, you’d spray if you thought the disease might be developing. Now we only spray when we know we must.”

“We know we’re getting better at controlling the disease,” he says. “And we’re certainly applying less agrochemicals, which means a cleaner environment and less contaminated watersheds.”

Today, WWF has over 35 agricultural partners in the Mesoamerican Reef region, and is regularly approached by businesses that see the value of better management practices – to their profits, their workers, their public perception and the environment.

“WWF has taken a risk in deciding to work with the industry – but it’s paying off and will pay off even more substantially in the future,” says Sam. “It’s only by thinking constructively that these advances can be made.”

Better Production for a Living Planet Series

	© WWF-Guatemala/MAR
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  • 241,817 hectares have adopted better management practices (BMPs), which is 81% of the land in MAR catchments devoted to commerical agriculture of these 7 commodities.
  • Pesticide toxicity reduced by 68%, fertilizer and water use >30%, soil erosion by a third.
  • 88% of shrimp producers in Belize committed to achieving ASC certification.
  • 80% of the oil palm industry in Honduras, and over 50% in Guatemala, committed to RSPO certification by 2015.
  • AZUNOSA achieved Bonsucro certification in Honduras in 2014.


  • 120,491 MT sugar in 2012-13; 68% exported to EU; half certified Fairtrade.
  • 105,863 MT bananas in 2012-13, 100% exported to UK and Ireland.
  • 2,782,693 MT sugar produced, about 1.4% of global production.


  • Sediments, pesticides and fertilizers — effluents from agricultural production in watersheds that drain to the Atlantic coast of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.

  • Increased productivity with less chemical inputs and more energy savings.
  • Improved habitat, biodiversity and waterways.
  • New methods of production that adapt farmers to climate change.
  • Promotion of certification schemes that include social components

“Through our work with WWF, everything we do is geared to ensuring production grows, but that it grows in a safe and sustainable manner. Growers now understand the need to produce in a sustainable manner that benefits the environment and everyone else.”

Marcos Osorio Director, Sugar Industry Research and Development Institute (SIRDI), Belize

	© Bonsucro
    Bonsucro aims to improve the social, environmental, and economic sustainability of sugarcane.

Priority Countries

  • Production
    Brazil, India, China, Thailand, Pakistan, Australia, South Africa, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia, Fiji

    China, India, USA, EU, Japan, Brazil

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