The need for a common vision – catching crabs in a stream in Ghana – and rain shower of words –highlights from the opening session of the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature International Forum, Tuesday morning in Nairobi, Kenya.
It is well documented that many of today’s agricultural practices—along with population growth and changing diets—are placing huge demands on our land, water, and biodiversity. Meanwhile, many still go hungry or suffer from poor nutrition. What is less well-known is that a new approach is emerging that can contribute to solving all of these challenges: the integrated landscape approach.
The International Forum, which opened Tuesday morning, is a first step toward raising the profile of this approach in the minds and actions of key stakeholders—from farmers and rural communities to governments, non-governmental organizations, donors, and the private sector. The session began with a dramatic presentation of the vision for landscape for people, food and nature, framed by vivid images of flourishing rural landscapes from Brazil to China to Niger.
Kwesi Atta-Krah, Deputy Director General of Bioversity International, began with a poignant story from his own childhood about growing up in a south-eastern corner of Ghana. Weekends were spent on the family farm, foraging in the woodlands and searching for crabs in the little fresh water stream.
Years later he returned to the farm. “I was stunned,” he said. “The diversity is gone. The trees and the little stream have disappeared. All that is there now are maize crops. How did this happen? What is the cost to the community?”
This is an all-too-common story. In many landscapes, investment in agriculture, conservation, infrastructure, and health have historically been separate, poorly coordinated, and even at odds with one another. The result: agriculture that profoundly damages ecosystems, ecosystems that can no longer sustain productive agriculture, and people that suffer because of both.
As Sara Scherr, President of EcoAgriculture Partners, noted, “it is not always easy to break down barriers and work across sectors, and it can be costly. Yet landscape initiatives are popping up everywhere. These must have a motivating factor. What is it?”
In many places, rural communities themselves are the driving force. “Rural communities are, of course, concerned about the environment as they depend on agriculture and forests for their livelihoods. But they also want healthy environments for their families and raw materials for building their homes and supporting their enterprises.”
Many others are also beginning to adopt or advocate for a landscape approach—from food companies seeking to ensure sustainable supplies of raw materials, to governments tasked with securing future water supplies and addressing the effects of climate change, to conservation organizations interested in conserving plants, animals, and productive ecosystems.
“But how do we communicate an approach that has no common language?” asked Tony Simons, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre. He literally threw this question on the audience by tossing into the air a set of 74 note-cards containing different terms used to describe integrated landscape management. “These words are neither comprehensive nor coherent.”
But the idea is. Throughout the day, the 130 people in the conference hall shared a wealth of experience with integrated landscape management in rural communities, watersheds, and landscapes around the world. They hailed from a wide diversity of backgrounds, from agriculture and poverty alleviation organizations, governments, farmer organizations, scientific research centers, conservation groups, and many others.
This diversity was recognized as an asset for developing robust, locally-based solutions. But it is also a liability: experience and evidence related to landscape approaches is widely scattered, and there has been no common voice to advocate for support at the policy level. Better information, knowledge sharing, and advocacy is needed to “scale-up” the adoption of landscape approaches to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges. And that is what the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature International Forum is all about.
“In 2050 there will be 9 billion people,” said Simons. “We need to ask the question: what will they inherit from us? We have to avoid fragmented efforts and set ourselves ambitious but achievable targets”
With the opening session drawing to a close, John Buchanan, Senior Director of Food Security at Conservation International, laid out the specific challenge in front of the delegates for the remainder of the week: to launch a common vision and a strong coalition that will work over the next three years to catalyse a broad shift toward integrated agriculture and rural land use strategies.
More tomorrow, and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter #NIF2012
Watch The Vision: Landscapes for People, Food and Nature here.