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Landscape Approaches Ease Conflicts and Promote Sustainable Development

Agriculture landscape near Kijabe, Kenya. Planted trees create habitat and corridors for biodiversity and help protect water sources.

Farmers versus environmentalists. Rural food alliances versus tourism. Ranchers versus private industry.  Can we build alliances between them in Africa to increase food production? Boost rural incomes? Restore degraded land and rivers? Aid for Africa member EcoAgriculture Partners, says, “Yes, we can.”

EcoAgriculture Partners is part of Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative, a coalition that seeks to avert planet-wide food and environmental crises through a “whole landscape” approach. According to Sara Scherr, the president of EcoAgriculture Partners, “the world is stuck in a vicious cycle that locks farmers, governments, companies and communities in the pursuit of short-term, narrowly defined solutions to food, energy and water conflicts as they emerge.” 

This broad coalition of agriculture, environmental and rural development organizations includes such high-impact organizations as Conservation International and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.  Members believe that the “whole landscape” approach can produce long-term results, and in a new report, chronicles some 300 cases of success, including many in Sub Saharan Africa. 

For example—on the shores of Kenya’s scenic Lake Naivasha, flower farms, farm and livestock production, and wildlife tourism have let to the overuse of water and land that threaten the lake’s unique ecosystem.  But today, local government, nongovernmental organizations, commercial flower growers, small scale farmers, tribes that gaze livestock and Kenyan community organizations are cooperating to limit runoff and enable the sustainable use of the lake ecosystem. 

According to the coalition’s report, key advances in food production and environmental stewardship made in the past two decades have contributed to successes.  These include farming that uses minimal tilling, incorporating trees on farm, combining crop and livestock production, and decreasing fertilizer and water use trough precision application. 

In Kenya, agriculture practices with reduced tilling increased crop 60 percent and nearly eliminated surface water runoff and soil loss. In Malawi, incorporating trees on maize farms, known as agroforestry, increased maize yields by 280 percent and increasing the supply of fuelwood, reduced greenhouse gases and sustained hundreds of native plant species. 

Just last week, the coalition took its message to the UN Sustainability Conference in Rio de Janeiro.  Feeding an additional 2 billion people by 2050 while protecting natural resources will require an increase in food production of 100 percent in developing countries.  Can we do it? The coalition says, “Yes, we can.”