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Landscapes need to be restored. The growing global population needs enough food to eat. How can both needs be met at once?
“Agriculture has been a key driver of land-use change and deforestation, and is responsible for 80 percent of forest conversion,” said Karin Kemper, the World Bank’s senior director for the Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice, at the 2018 Global Landscapes Forum conference in Bonn.
The demand for food, and meat in particular, is growing, projected to increase 50 percent by 2050. “Meat needs more production input than grains and vegetables,” she said, “so as we are all striving to get people out of poverty, it has this effect of leading to more land use and land degradation, if we don’t do it right.”
According to Erick Fernandes, a World Bank advisor on agriculture, forestry and climate change, one answer to solving this paradox is the so-called jurisdictional approach – a government-led approach to forest and land use in legally defined territories. With sub-national or national governments addressing land management, this approach converges public and private sectors to comprehensively address pertinent issues; in this case, it would seek to couple sustainable food supply chains with efforts to reduce environmental damage.
“Private sector actors,” he said, “are crucial for success given the dominant role that market forces play in driving land use change compared with public finance.” Working with, engaging and empowering local land-users is also a major part of the equation.
As such, among the number of lessons that has been learned from this approach over the years it has been in place, one of the largest has been the importance of effective communication to all stakeholders on what related initiatives are intended to do. “It’s not that easy to discuss it as a simple approach to ending deforestation,” he said, “because of the need to engage with different parts of the stakeholder community.”
The role of stakeholders was prominent in a recently completed World Bank project in Tajikistan, said Drita Dade, a senior natural resources management specialist at the Bank. More than 90 percent of Tajikistan is mountainous, which not only makes it highly vulnerable to floods, landslides and avalanches, but also allows farming on only a tiny fraction – 6 percent – of the country.
In its effort to promote more sustainable management of natural resources and increase resilience to climate change, the project focused on local water- and pasture-user unions as well as other community-based groups.
Those organizations received technologies, often simple, to improve their income while reducing pressure on pastures and water resources. A new strain of Carpathian bees that don’t hibernate, for example, allowed honey producers to increase production, while a more productive breed of cattle gave dairy farmers 10 times more milk per day than local breeds.
“There were also a lot of experiences in several districts on how to better manage pastures,” said Dade, “including improved access to underutilized mountain pastures and the rotational management of seasonal raising areas.” Meanwhile, water availability increased by approximately 50 percent thanks to the project, through the use of drip irrigation, cleaning of drainage canals, and installation of water meters and water pipes.
While more than half of the project’s 323,000 beneficiaries saw their income increase by 20 percent, Dade said, “the objective was not only how to create productive assets for rural people, but also how to engage people, how to change the mindset to better protect their resources.”
Community participation was also key in a three-year project in Guatemala run by the Forest and Landscape Values partnership, said Larry Paul Fuentes of Heifer International who developed the project. Taking place in two different areas close to protected forest reserves, the aim of the project was to monitor, plant native species, and also find production methods that preserve biodiversity, he said. The project builds upon the Guatemalan government’s Forestry Incentive Programme, which provides grants to landholders who take on forest conservation and restoration projects.
“We are very committed to working with value chains because at the beginning of the project we did a participatory process in which community families decided what were the main sources that can generate more income for them,” he said.
The 49 communities involved in the project decided on three products that would earn them income: honey, cacao and Maya nut (Brosimum alicastrum). “And these are value chains that are environmentally and land-restoration friendly,” he added.
With support from the project, cacao farmers are now planting over a dozen species of shade tree among their cacao trees, and 300 families are now producing honey from 2,300 beehives.
Local communities have traditionally harvested wild Maya nuts – nutrient-rich fruit – for their own consumption. But now that is quickly becoming a popular food outside of Central America as well, the project helped communities obtain the facilities to dry and process the nut for sale on broader markets.
Examples such as these show that change is underway in countries around the world. “We can increase crop productivity and green supply chains to minimize deforestation and habitat conversion,” said Kemper. “We can restore soils and degraded areas to healthy ecosystems and productive landscapes.”