Agriculture and Forests: From Sparing to Sharing

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Nathan Russell, CIMMYT

Agriculture is the main driver of deforestation, so it is simply too important to be ignored in the development of new REDD+ schemes against the background of stalled negotiations on an international climate change agreement.

But in order for agriculturalists and foresters to work together toward shared goals, they need to examine critically some of the simplistic concepts around which their interactions have revolved so far. Only then, can they move toward an integrated approach that addresses successfully the intertwined challenges of reducing deforestation for climate change mitigation while strengthening food security and steadily reducing rural poverty.

In a presentation that one participant described as a tour de force, Peter Minang of the World Agroforestry Centre did the important job of clarifying concepts, with some help from a few friends in the Alternatives to Slash and Burn Partnership for Tropical Forest Margins and United Nations REDD Programme. He spoke at a Forest Day 4 Learning Event During, in part II of a discussion that began the day before during Agriculture and Rural Development Day 2010.

After pointing out that deforestation rates vary widely depending on how one defines forests, Minang took a hard look at the so-called Borlaug hypothesis, which has it that producing more food on less land spares forest from conversion to agriculture. If the hypothesis is valid, then agricultural intensification is clearly essential for REDD+ implementation.

It did apply during the 1980s, Minang explained, when food prices were declining in real terms as a result of huge agricultural productivity gains during the 1970s. But in the current environment of rising global food and energy prices, a more profitable agriculture in many cases speeds forest destruction.

So, agricultural intensification may be a necessary condition – especially in Africa, where extensification is still the rule – but hardly a sufficient one for the success of REDD+, Minang insisted. Rather, it must form part of a new “multi-functionality” paradigm, he argued, that emphasizes not just sparing but sharing forests and adjacent landscapes in an integrated effort to manage forests sustainably while satisfying the aspirations of rural people for better livelihoods.

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