“Landscape approaches” can end the debate that pits agriculture against forests, say experts

A maize farmer in Kisumu, Kenya. Photo courtesy of Neil Palmer (CIAT).

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (21 June, 2012)_A new approach to managing land based on the social, economic and environmental services it provides could end the ongoing debate that forests have to be sacrificed for the sake of agricultural development and help stakeholders decide how best to maximise the potential of their land to secure sustainable food supplies long-term.

“The landscape approach is a way that we can improve agricultural productivity and rural livelihoods while also addressing threats to forests, water and biodiversity,” said Frances Seymour, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) at Agricultural Rural and Development Day held on the sidelines of the Rio+20 summit this week.

Over 100 heads of state have negotiated an agenda entitled “The Future we Want” to balance the increasing demand for food, fuel and other natural resources, whilst making the transition to a greener, more equitable economy.

Landscape-based research understands that there are different parts of the landscape that provide different goods and services to support livelihoods and these are interconnected. So what happens in one part of the landscape has an impact on the other, explained Louis Verchot, Principal Scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research.

“What happens in forests has an impact on water quality and quantity. What happens to water has an impact on agricultural productivity. What happens to agricultural productivity has an impact on how much forest is removed from that landscape,” he said.

Landscape research has been hailed as a new way to bring together the agricultural, forestry, energy, and fishery sectors in order to come up with collaborative and innovative solutions to ease increasing pressure on the world’s resources.

According to the latest European Development Report, the global demand for water is expected to grow by 40 percent and for food by 50 percent, by 2030.

“We have a huge challenge in front of us in order to meet the needs of the planet in the world….agricultural production should be in harmony with the modern vision of sustainability…with the intention to end poverty and create jobs and income,”  said Jorge Alberto Portanova Mendes Ribeiro Filho, Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Food supply, Brazil.

Despite the increasing pressure on forest resources from the expansion of crop production, cattle ranching and biofuel industries, Seymour stressed that there needed to be an end to the debate that pitted ‘agriculture’ against ‘forests’.

Key research findings from CIFOR and others have established a strong link between the importance of forests for food security and this needs to be better integrated into global agendas.

“I think the days of forests for the sake of forests is over, and now we have to have forests integrated into other research agendas,” said Verchot.

“For example, we have groups that deal with forests and groups that deal with agriculture and that’s not productive. We have to bring them all together in landscapes in an integrated way to make them useful to each other.”

CIFOR, in collaboration with ICRAF, CIAT and Bioversity recently announced a new research program that aims to understand and enhance the way forests, trees, and agroforestry systems are managed across the landscape. The program aims to boost the productivity, sustainability, and equity of forestry and agroforestry systems, improve the management and conservation of forest and tree resources, and improve the management of forested landscapes for environmental services, biodiversity conservation and livelihoods.

“Through this programme, we are taking a full landscape approach that is not just focused on undisturbed and disturbed forest, but also the roles of trees on farms… it is an incredibly complex picture,” said Seymour.

Rachel Kyte, Vice President of Sustainable Development at the World Bank and CGIAR Fund Council Chair said that she felt reassured that the forest and agricultural sectors that were previously having “different conversations in different spaces” were “now beginning to talk the same language.”

Kyte also stressed that a landscape approach would be vital to understand how best to measure and maximise ecosystem services in order to secure future food supplies.

“We must learn how to…scale the cultivation of ecosystem services, such as water purification, water retention, soil fertility, carbon sequestration and coastal protection in ways that will reduce environmental impact,” she added.

While agricultural intensification has been posed as a solution to the food demand crisis, the degree to which it can help reduce deforestation has not been agreed upon and policies supporting intensification need to be well thought out, said Seymour.

“CIFOR research has found that if you increase agricultural productivity, you can actually accelerate deforestation as there are more opportunities to make money from doing so. Agriculture intensification needs to be coupled with forest policy and governance reforms, such as strengthening land tenure and law enforcement.”

In light of the challenges, landscape approaches could offer new opportunities to integrate the management of resources whilst promoting conservation and development objectives.  Public-private partnerships have driven significant landscape changes in countries like Brazil where agricultural production has ballooned without sacrificing forest cover, with deforestation being reduced by over 70 percent over the last decade.

“We must collectively visualise how a landscape will look, for whom it needs to work, how it needs to function and then we can meet the growing demand for a natural capital base,” Kyte added.

And scientific research is changing to meet this knowledge demand. “It is early days for the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees, and Agroforestry,” said Seymour, “but already there is sense of excitement amongst the scientists about what might be possible.”

With additional reporting by Michelle Kovacevic


  • http://saveourwoods.co.uk/ Pip Howard

    A landscape approach also enables proper engagement with everybody in that landscape and indeed starts with the people in that landscape. Landscape research in Europe (& N. America) is fairly well advanced but at present sits parallel with mainstream progress in sustainable land & forest management, without ever touching. It will be wonderful to see the chasm between the two bridged.

  • http://www.isetnepal.org.np Madhav Karki

    Landscape approach is also highly suitable to plan an integrated and sustainable adaptation that is being called Eco-system Based Adaptation (EBA). It is specially suitable to assess system wide vulnerability and impacts in mountain ecosystem wherein we have to look at the Coupled Human-Environmental System. We need more research in this area so that the overly dominant CBA can be replaced by EBA in mountain and fragile ecosystems since ecosystem services are central to successful adaptaiton.