FACTBOX: "Whole landscape" approach challenges conventional wisdom in solving resource problems

by Astrid Zweynert | azweynert | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 15 June 2012 07:00 GMT
Examples of a different way of doing business

LONDON (AlertNet) - Conventional approaches to resolving a conflict of interest over natural resources often end up exacerbating another problem. A different approach, known as the “whole landscape approach” is seeking to involve all stakeholders in the process to work together to achieve their goals while preserving the environment and farming land sustainably.

This approach is key in helping combat hunger, poverty, climate change and environmental problems, according to a report released on Friday by the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative, an international coalition of agriculture, environment and rural development organisations.

The coalition is seeking to push landscape partnerships into the centre of agricultural and environmental policy, with the aim of averting planet-wide food and environmental crises, starting with the U.N. sustainable development conference in Rio de Janeiro from June 20-22 (Rio+20).

Researchers have identified more than 300 landscape-oriented initiatives where alliances are being formed among farmers, ranchers, pastoralists, tourism operators, forest owners, conservation managers and private industry - many of whom have been adversaries in the past.

Here are some examples of impactful whole landscape solutions:

Arvari Basin, Rajasthan, India

By the 1980s, drought and environmental degradation had severely impaired the livelihood security of local communities within the basin. Crop failure, soil erosion and watershed degradation were widespread, with communities facing a continual challenge to meet water needs. Twenty years ago, the Tarun Bharat Sangh – a voluntary organisation based in Jaipur – initiated a community-led watershed restoration program. The response was based upon re-instating johads, a traditional indigenous technology. Johads are simple concave mud barriers, built across small, uphill river tributaries to collect water. As water drains through the catchment area, johads encourage groundwater re-charge and improved hillside forest growth, while providing water for irrigation, wildlife, livestock and domestic use. By 2005, over 5000 johads were serving over 1000 villages.

The most notable positive outcome was the restoration of the Arvari river, which had not flowed since the 1940. Enhanced water availability resulted in more sustainable agricultural systems with greater irrigation opportunities, improved livelihood security, increased wildlife populations and strengthened emphasis on community-led natural resources management within the region.

Lake Naivasha Basin, Kenya

On the shores of Kenya’s scenic Lake Naivasha in the Great Rift Valley, over-abstraction of water and land degradation are threatening the lake’s unique ecosystem. In addition, farm and livestock production, water quality and availability, and wildlife tourism over the entire region are under stress, engendering tension among different water users. During a drought several years ago, the major river in the basin, the Malewa, ran dry.

In response, the Imarisha Naivasha Board was created in 2011 to lead and coordinate restoration and the promotion of sustainable development in the basin. The board brings stakeholders together to develop an integrated basin management plan. It promotes open sharing of information, monitors compliance with laws and regulations, reviews and adopts projects to improve water management. An effective ‘stop-light system’ links water abstraction rights for different groups of users to the water level of the lake.

All those groups who use or have an interest in the lake and its catchment -- local government, non-governmental organisations, commercial flower growers, small scale farmers, pastoralists, community groups and citizens -- are cooperating to restore the catchment and ensure the sustainable use of the lake’s ecosystems. Even commercial flower growers have advocated for more systematic and stringent management of water quantity and quality.

Murray-Darling River Basin, Australia

Salinity problems were threatening the Murray-Darling basin, which accounts for nearly $5 billion of Australia’s agricultural output, posing problems for farmers and rural communities, and water supplies for downstream cities were seriously compromised. Recognising the primacy of land management in addressing these challenges, Australia’s Landcare program and the Queensland Murray-Darling Committee created frameworks by which farmers could band together to solve productivity challenges on their own land while contributing to a broad-scale solution for the river basin.

Across the basin, more than 120 sub-catchment planning groups sprung up to develop local land-use and management plans, while more than 160 Landcare groups were formed to share knowledge and ideas, procure technical assistance, and work together to solve local natural resource issues that crossed property boundary lines. Benefits for water quality, water availability, reduced erosion, and increased productivity are resulting from collective action that marries the dedication and on-the-ground action of local landowners to a clear strategy for diagnosing and solving complex regional challenges. Various innovative approaches using payments for ecosystem services to farmers have been implemented in the landscape.

Turrialba, Costa Rica

Turrialba in central Costa Rica is part of the Talamanca Central Volcanic Biological Corridor and the Reventazon Model Forest. The landscape includes rare virgin cloud forest, active volcanos, several national parks, an important archaeological site, highly populated suburban and industrial areas and extensive agricultural land, an active tourism industry, and watershed critical for hydroelectric energy.

It is also a key region for commercial vegetable growing, livestock and coffee production. To reconcile the recurrent conflicting interests of these different groups, the corridor initiative set up a multi-stakeholder platform. A grassroots-led approach coordinates activities among the different groups, promoting forest conservation to enhance ecosystem connectivity, mobilising community participation and cross-sectoral planning with local environmental organizations. The corridor facilitators assist in creating social agreements that promote the conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable use of natural resources, while also improving the quality of life of residents in the surrounding areas.

Luangwa Valley, Zambia

Across much of Zambia, small-scale farmers had long suffered from low agricultural productivity and frequent periods of hunger and famine. Without new farming strategies, persistent poverty and dependence on food aid seemed inevitable. Against this backdrop, the government in 1999 began to promote conservation agriculture, an ecologically-based farming system that incorporates no-till practices, crop rotations, mulches, and cover crops to restore soil fertility, conserve moisture, and make more efficient use of labor and other farm inputs.

Within twelve years, nearly 30% of Zambia’s small-scale farmers had adopted the system, with significant average yield increases.To shore up and extend this success, new landscape initiatives are now incorporating conservation agriculture into integrated landscape plans that reduce human-wildlife conflict (e.g., crop destruction by elephants) and conserve Zambia’s wildlife by sustainably intensifying agriculture in suitable areas while reserving adequate space for wildlife, away from human settlements. Conservation organizations have provided technical and marketing assistance to farmers who agree to stop poaching, and the products of farmers involved are sold at a premium in domestic markets with a ‘wildlife-friendly’ label.

Atlantic Forest Region, Brazil

More than 90 percent of Brazil’s high-biodiversity Atlantic Forest has been lost to urbanisation, agricultural intensification and extensive exploitation. Many social and environmental conflicts took place; restrictions on access to the forest were unworkable without alternatives to sustain local people, resulting in indiscriminate extraction and agricultural conversion, with devastating effects. The Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact was established with the ultimate aim of restoring 15 million hectares of forest by 2050. Three years into the Pact, over 200 organizations have signed on to provide support, resources and funding. More than 56,000 hectares of forest are currently in the recovery process through 103 forest restoration projects around the region, while agroforestry investments and improved practices are increasing forest cover and improving water quality.

Loess Plateau, China

In China’s northwestern provinces, centuries of erosion and land degradation had led to a critical condition of widespread poverty and far-reaching environmental impacts, extending hundreds of kilometers to Beijing and the Pacific Ocean. Between 1994 and 2005, China, with financing from the World Bank, used landscape planning and spatial targeting tools to apply combinations of practices such as tree planting, terracing, revegetation of denuded grazing lands, and land leveling to the locations where they could yield the greatest benefits at the lowest costs.

Local farmer groups and municipal governments adapted and implemented these activities within the broader landscape and regional strategy. Within ten years, per-capita grain output in the region had increased 62% while household income nearly tripled. Meanwhile, as perennial vegetation cover increased from 17% to 34% across the plateau, erosion and dust storms were greatly diminished, while the level of sediment flow into the Yellow River decreased by more than 100 million tons per year.

SOURCE: “Landscapes for People, Food and Nature: the Vision, the Evidence and Next Steps”, Landscape for People, Food and Nature Iniative, June 2012

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