Cross-posted from Bioversity International. Interview with Fabrice de Clerck, Bioversity Programme Leader, Agroecological Intensification and Risk Management at the International Forum for Landscapes for People, Food and Nature – Nairobi, March 6-9th 2012.
Q: We are here at the final day of the International Forum for Landscapes, Food and Nature in Nairobi. First of all, can you tell us why Bioversity International is involved in this partnership?
A: The theme of this meeting is looking at how we can have multi-purpose ecolandscapes that provide space for food production, livelihoods, and for conserving biodiversity and nature. We are also finding ways to support the institutions needed to put those together.
Bioversity’s role, especially with the conservation and use of agricultural biodiversity, is central to this sort of a mission. Our new Programme on Agroecological Intensification and Risk Management aims to provide the evidence base as to how biodiversity at multiple scales – genetic, species, and landscape – can be managed to provide ecosystem services in ecoagricultural landscapes.
One of the fundamental insights of ecoagriculture is that you cannot have production without conservation, and vice versa. So the tools that Bioversity has been working on, from genetic conservation to species conservation, really are, I think, the fundamental building blocks for many of the goals of these landscapes.
When we talk about landscapes for people, food and nature, we are really talking about how we can manage agricultural landscapes to make sure they can provide the food that people need. This includes how agricultural biodiversity, including pollinators and predators of plant pests (for example bees), or varieties that are more resistant to diseases, can be integrated from the plot scale to landscape scale, to provide those production functions. This really is the foundation of agroecological intensification – intensifying the contribution of biodiversity and ecological processes in production systems. The Global Review will provide the evidence base for ecoagriculture.
Q: What particular experience can Bioversity International contribute to the ongoing Global Review?
A: The Global Review is part of the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative and aims to provide the evidence base for ecoagriculture. It will highlight what we know, and identify the primary knowledge gaps that exist. Bioversity is involved in several of the knowledge products which will come out of the Global Review.
Firstly we are leading the Global Review of Latin American landscapes with CATIE and Ecoagriculture Partners. This involves scanning the evidence to find examples of communities that are managing multifunctional landscapes. Through the review we hope to understand what were the critical elements of success, motivations, and challenges faced by these initiatives.
We’re also heading up the review of Agroecological Intensification which aims to understand the current global extent of production systems that focus on ecological processes rather than relying on external inputs; and whether these systems can be scaled up to meet the global food demand projected to 2050. Agriculture is faced with a tremendous dual challenge of producing food for a population of 9 billion by 2050, while significantly reducing, or reversing its negative impact on the global environment.
In addition, we are putting together a knowledge product for conserving and managing agricultural biodiversity at the landscape scale, for nutrition, resilience and adaptation to environmental change, focusing on agricultural species and varieties.
These three themes are central to Bioversity’s Agroecological Intensification and Risk Management Programme.
Q: Can you give a specific example of one the landscapes Bioversity has worked in?
One of the landscapes I have done a lot of work in, is the Volcánica Central-Talamanca Biological in Costa Rica.
This landscape is very important for producing coffee, sugar cane, dairy products, cacao, and in some cases, forest products. It is also important in terms of its hydrological functions.
The Reventazon River in this landscape produces nearly 40% of the country’s electricity, not to mention the water produced for human consumption.
As the name implies, the landscape is also an important biological corridor, facilitating the movement of species between the well preserved Talamanca mountains to the south, and the Central Volcanic Range to the north.
What I like here is that you have all the elements of an Ecoagricultural Landscape - people, food and nature. This permits us to understand how the interactions between the various elements of agrobiodiversity, from the genetic to the landscapes scale, interact to provide multiple ecosystem services, particularly food, water, and pest control functions while maintaining corridors for wild biodiversity.
Bioversity’s knowledge of how agricultural biodiversity drives ecosystem services is a key element to making this idea of a multi-functional landscape practical and functional.
Q: What do you think will be the legacy of the International Forum event?
A: I think it will make two big differences. The first is that it is very much action-driven. There is a Call to Action being jointly written by the 125 participants which is an effort to not just to talk about what we need to do, but to outline specifically what we need to do and how to do it. It has generated a tremendous sense of excitement at the meeting. It’s ambitious, but then, that’s what we need at this stage.
The second is that it brings together really diverse groups that traditionally don’t interact much – the political groups, the finance groups, the agriculture groups, the conservation groups, and the farmer organisations. So you have a very fertile discussion that crosses traditional silos in terms of all the ramifications and implications for interactions between the activities and between each individual group, and how we can try then to cross those boundaries and get to these much more integrated landscapes.
Q: Do you really think this Initiative can make a difference?
A: Absolutely. I am an eternal idealist – otherwise I wouldn’t be here. I am very familiar with the biological corridors of central America, and there I think I have seen some very real change on the ground. In particular, I have observed stakeholders who are very keen on these much more integrated approaches, as they are tired of the conflict between the forestry group, the agriculture group and the water groups. They really see the benefits of communicating across these centres in terms of diminishing these barriers and really focusing on the synergies, building this vision of a shared landscape.
And there are also some classic examples, such as the of the Yolo Basin area in California: a wildlife area between David and Sacramento that has many functions – it provides flood protection for the city of Sacramento, rice for both national and international markets, a wildlife viewing area, a place where duck hunters go to recreate and it is loved by the birding community. It really is a multi-functional landscape that has brought together a lot of stakeholders who typically don’t usually talk together, such as bird-watchers and duck hunters, or farmers and conservationists. The benefits of that collaboration are clearly visible when you are out in that landscape and you recognise the multi-functionality.
I think it’s important to recognize that these landscapes aren’t pie in the sky, that they really do exist and when the right elements are in place, they produce some really exciting results.