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Bigger Picture Landscape Approach to Forest-Agriculture Management Gains Credibility

Setting "best practices" guidelines for forest and agriculture land use managementA world population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 is going to create ever-greater demand for food and fuel, putting ever-growing pressure on forests. Our conventional way of looking at forests as a resource heavily favors the short-term strictly monetary gains associated with clearing forests for timber and making way for agriculture. That essentially ignores the essential, longer term gains and benefits forests provide, which include reducing soil loss and erosion, providing habitat for plant and animal species that in turn provide food, materials, fuel, recreation and psychological support for human populations, their importance in the water cycle and the long-term atmospheric carbon uptake and storage they provide as terra firma’s largest carbon sink.

In order to prevent ongoing deforestation and sustainably value, make use of and manage forest resources and ecosystem, services, scientific researchers and policy makers are now looking to employ a broader, more holistic and interdisciplinary approach. The resulting “Landscape Approach” takes a socio-ecological perspective of these issues, factoring in human needs and activities, such as alleviating poverty and developing communities’ economic and social capital, along with the traditional focus on non-human biodiversity and ecosystems conservation.

The Landscape Approach to Land Use and Management: UN CBD Takes Note

Though support for adopting the Landscape Approach to the interlinked problems and issues related to forests, agriculture and sustainable development among forest communities has been growing, several hurdles have held up further progress. For one thing, the wide diversity of landscapes and their inherently specific, localized nature makes it difficult to generalize and “scale-up” research findings and apply successful solutions broadly across geographies. The complexity of natural ecosystems also poses vexing problems, while decision-making is typically plagued by numerous, vexing trade-offs.

Organizations such as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) have been working with the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and other agriculture, forestry, local community groups and academic researchers around the world to address shortcomings by reviewing published literature, conducting workshops for consensus building, and sponsoring conferences and events. They’ve also been taking a local, participatory approach in conducting ongoing research that’s been validated by field practitioners.

At the 11th Conference of Parties (COP 11) to the UN CBD held in Hyderabad, India Oct. 8-19, the CBD executive secretariat announced it would take into consideration a ten-point set of “best practice” guidelines developed within CGIAR’s Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and approved by a CBD executive advisory committee.

On Oct. 11 at CBD COP 11, Terry Sunderland, CIFOR principal scientist and lead researcher for the group that developed the guidelines, presented, “Ten principles to apply at the nexus of agriculture, conservation and other competing land uses” at CBD COP 11, CIFOR reports.

“These guidelines could set a standard for policymakers, NGOs, and practitioners working in conservation and development in over 100 countries across the world on how to develop and improve land-use planning policies,” Sunderland was quoted as saying.

As CIFOR explains, ‘Landscapes’ are a fairly new way of considering the management of land based on the social, economic and environmental services it provides. Proponents hope that moving away from thinking of land in terms of the segregated management of natural resources could end the ongoing debate that forests have to be sacrificed for the sake of development.

“It could also help stakeholders decide how best to maximise the potential of their land to secure sustainable food and energy supplies long-term, while maintaining the ecosystem services trees and forests provide.”

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