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MEA Bulletin - Guest Article No. 51b - Friday, 18 July 2008
Applying the Ecosystem Approach to Biodiversity Conservation in Agricultural Landscapes

Sponsoring Institutions: Ecoagriculture Partners; Biodiversity International; World Agroforestry Center; UNDP Equator Initiative; IUCN; Landcare International; Kijabe Environmental Volunteers (KENVO), Kenya; Kalinga Mission (KAMICYDI), Philippines; and Asociacion ANAI, Costa Rica
Text by Sara Scherr and Seth Shames, Ecoagriculture Partners
Nearly a third of the world’s landmass is dominated by crops or planted pastures; another quarter of land is under extensive livestock grazing. Production activity affects 80 to 90% of lands habitable to humans. Areas critical for conservation are often most affected by agricultural production while more than 1.1 billion people, most directly dependent on agriculture, live within the world’s 25 biodiversity ‘hotspots’. Agriculture’s ecological ‘footprint’ will continue to grow with increases in population, meat consumption, and the use of biofuels.

The conservation community has traditionally prioritized the establishment of Protected Areas (PAs) and 10% of the world’s land is currently protected publicly; however, this is not sufficient to maintain critical habitats and ecosystem services. Given trends in production demand, the percentage of land dedicated to agricultural purposes and pressures on biodiversity, the conservation community needs to re-address the role of agriculture in conservation efforts.

Recent research in synergistic relationships between ecologic and agricultural systems, as well as documentation of sustainable agriculture have revealed a multitude of ways to maintain ecosystem integrity while increasing agricultural production and livelihood opportunities. These production and conservation approaches that lead to positive-sum interactions in agricultural landscapes are often referred to as ecoagriculture.

While ecoagriculture landscapes can enhance the efficacy of nearby PAs and contribute to on-farm conservation of genetic diversity, they also boost agricultural productivity, food security and financial returns. Diverse crops, livestock, tree and wild species generate income by opening commercial options and allowing greater adaptability to changing environmental and economic conditions for farmers. Although more research is needed, breakthroughs in ecology, agroforestry, agroecology, precision and conservation farming, geographic information systems, genetics and postharvest technology processing continue to provide channels for scaling-up ecoagriculture systems.

Agricultural Biodiversity and the CBD
The management of agricultural landscapes jointly for conservation and production is particularly relevant to the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), most specifically to the Programme of Work on Agricultural Biodiversity, in charting new directions for biodiversity conservation in agricultural areas. The CBD’s Ecosystem Approach encompasses ecosystem functions, decentralization, intersectoral cooperation, equitable distribution of benefits, and adaptive management policies. The following five guidelines provide a foundation for discussions on how the Ecosystem Approach can be applied to agriculture:

1. Adopt an ‘agricultural landscape’ perspective.Agricultural landscapes are mosaics of natural features and agricultural land uses in a particular geographic region. Agricultural lands should be managed as part of the matrix surrounding PAs; while natural habitat areas should be managed in relation to surrounding agricultural lands. Examples of ecoagricultural landscape management strategies include:

  • Protecting local crop and livestock diversity
  • Maintaining connectivity between native habitats within agricultural landscapes
  • Planting hedgerows around farm fields
  • Protecting watersheds with spatially targeted perennial vegetation
  • Enhance rainfall infiltration with continuous year-round soil cover
  • Managing inputs and wastes to minimize agricultural pollution
  • Designing farming systems to mimic the functions of natural ecosystems

2. Empower multi-stakeholder processes for landscape management. Ecoagriculture landscape management should be based on dynamic and neutrally facilitated multi-stakeholder processes that recognize all stakeholders and engage, not only multiple government sectors and NGOs, but also local farming and livestock-raising communities as lead stewards of biodiversity and priority beneficiaries of conservation. Local communities and agricultural enterprises will often advocate for habitat protection in particular areas because it provides local benefits, such as pollination and water recharge. The mobilization of these multi-stakeholder groups can also promote integrated approaches to conservation and development that effect policy at regional and national policy levels. Agribusinesses and the corporate sector should be included in this process, as they begin to recognize the importance of ecosystem conservation for meeting consumer demand, sustaining supply or reducing regulatory costs.

3. Build the landscape management capacity of farming communities. For farming communities to successfully participate in ecoagriculture landscape management, many first need to secure rights to own, use and manage the natural resources where they live, providing incentives to manage their farms for environmental sustainability. Access to markets for diverse agricultural goods and services will further spur the management of landscapes for multiple goals.  Financing and technical assistance for community investment should complement local initiatives rather than introduce exterior models that are governed from above.

4. Adapt the role of conservationists in agricultural landscapes. The centrality of agricultural communities in conservation strategy requires that conservation organizations support local stewardship of agricultural landscapes from production and conservation. This includes a focus on yield improvements, market access and livelihood opportunities that contribute to local conservation agendas. Conservationists can engage in a wider range of institutions by:

  • Supporting multi-stakeholder planning facilitated by neutral parties
  • Working to lower marketing costs and links to warehouses, transportation, loans and any other market bottlenecks
  • Engaging in national policy processes on agriculture by advocating for ecoagriculture approaches
  • Encouraging environmental ministries to see agriculture as a potential partner
  • Including local farmer partners in research initiatives and translating the results for local benefits.

5. Coordinate environmental and agricultural policies for more effective landscape planning. Policy, legal and institutional frameworks need to harmonize action on ecosystem management, agricultural productivity and rural livelihoods. Intersectoral policy agendas must be integrated into public investment plans, including the Poverty Reduction Strategies of low-income countries and donor strategies designed to support the Millennium Development Goals. To support international coordination, CBD focal points need technical support for agricultural landscape management. Implementation of the Program of Work on Agricultural Biodiversity, and relevant CBD programs should be coordinated between environment and agriculture ministries.

With coordinated efforts, policy-makers must creatively confront current challenges and the expanding demand for agricultural output. Useful policy tools include:

  • Mapping technologies that allow planners to identify sensitive ecological areas and the use of ecological production practices
  • Financial incentives, such as ecocertification and payments for ecosystem services
  • Public regulations and private investment screens that require large agricultural investments to incorporate conservation plans consistent with multi-stakeholder agreements developed in-situ.
Key References
  • Campbell, A. 1994. Landcare: Communities Shaping the Land and the Future. Allen and Unwin, St. Leonards, Australia.
  • Jarvis, D.I., C. Padoch and D.H. Cooper, eds. 2007. Managing Biodiversity in Agricultural Ecosystems. Columbia Univ Press, New York.
  • Molnar, A. S.J. Scherr and A. Khare. 2004. Who Conserves the World’s Forests?: Community Driven Strategies to Protect Forests and Respect Rights. Forest Trends and Ecoagriculture Partners, Washington, D.C.
  • Scherr, Sara J, and Jeffrey A. McNeely eds. 2007. Farming with Nature: the Science and Practice of Ecoagriculture. Washington D.C.: Island Press.
  • Wood, S, K. Sebastian and S. Scherr. 2000 Pilot Analysis of Global Ecosystems: Agroecosystems. IFPRI and World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C.
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