Suriname: Reconciling agricultural development and conservation of unique natural wealth

Agnieszka Ewa Latawiec (Lead Author), Bernardo B.n. Strassburg, Ana Maria Rodriguez, Elah Matt, Ravic Nijbroek, Maureen Silos

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National and transboundary adverse effects of competition for land are being increasingly recognized by researchers and decision-makers, however the consideration of these impacts within national planning strategies is not yet commonplace. To estimate how increasing agricultural production can be conciliated with protection of natural resources at the national scale, we analyzed current land use in Suriname, and investigated opportunities for, and constraints to developing a sustainable agricultural sector.

Suriname is a remarkable case study. To date, Suriname has retained most of its natural resources with forest areas covering over 90% of the country. Surinamese forests combine extremely high levels of both biodiversity and carbon, making them top priority from a global ecosystem services perspective. Among other national and international pressures from increased demand for agricultural products, the country is also considering significant expansion of agricultural output to both diminish imports and become a ‘bread basket’ for the Caribbean region, which collectively may pose risks to natural resources.

In this study, combining locally-obtained primary data, expert consultation and secondary data from the Food and Agriculture Organization we analyzed a range of scenarios, we show the complexities associated with current land management and we discuss alternatives for developing a sustainable agricultural sector in Suriname. We show that Suriname can increase the production of rice, which is the most important agricultural activity in the country, without expanding rice area. Rather, future increase in rice production could be promoted through an increase in rice productivity, and the employment of more environmentally-favorable management methods, in order to both diminish pollution and avoid encroachment of the agriculture into pristine areas. Further, we show a potential to both contribute to greening of the agricultural sector and to higher economic returns through expanding the production of ‘safe food’ and through possible development of organic agriculture in Suriname.

If Suriname develops a ‘greener’ agricultural sector, it may both increase economic returns from the agricultural sector and benefit from continuing protection of natural resources. Because most of Suriname forests present top levels of carbon and biodiversity, the country could benefit from so-called ‘early-action’ Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) finance, which is already being paid mostly through bilateral agreements. Further, by adopting land-use planning that protects natural resources, Suriname may be in extraordinary position to benefit from both improved-quality agricultural production and from incentives to conserve forest carbon and biodiversity, such as payments for ecosystem services. Given the high stakes and the severe lack of both primary data and applied analyses in Suriname, further research focused on better informing land-use policies would be a valuable investment for the country. Although this analysis was performed for Suriname, conclusions drawn here are transferrable and may assist formulation of policy recommendations for land use elsewhere.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)627-636
Number of pages10
JournalLand Use Policy
Early online date12 Feb 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2014


  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Organic farming
  • Development
  • Avoiding deforestation
  • Landscape approach
  • Suriname

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