November 16, 2013

Embracing Complexity: Movement Toward Integrated Landscapes

As the Global Landscapes Forum kicks off today in Warsaw, there has still been frustratingly little official action on agriculture at the UNFCCC COP19 negotiation just across town. Despite this lack of movement, at COP19 side events held over the past week, the need for something resembling a landscape approach has emerged as a theme in discussions on agriculture in a world coping with climate change.

Wendy Mann from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) noted at an event on climate-smart agriculture that policies and institutions for agriculture and climate change remain largely fragmented. Particularly at the national level, greater coordination between ministries of environment and agriculture is required to achieve coherent action on problems of interest to both groups.

Another nod to a landscape approach came from Richard Choularton of the World Food Programme (WFP). Speaking at the same event, he emphasized that climate resilience in agriculture is also a function of the social system. WFP is working to improve social protection systems and safety nets to prevent rural livelihoods from being devastated by one bad harvest. Taking a landscape perspective recognizes this inseparability of the natural and agricultural ecosystems and social systems—all of which must be healthy for a landscape to be resilient.

Systems-level approaches again emerged as a theme at a separate side event hosted by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Hans Herren of the Biovision Foundation and the Millennium Institute described an integrated approach looking at food systems.  He drew connections between rural poverty, clean water, food production, and destructive weather events. Sustainable systems require attention not only to each of these components, but also to the interrelations among them.

The Environmental Defense Fund’s Richie Ahuja, speaking after Herren, distilled some of the key lessons for policymakers.  First, we must move from projects to policy.  There are myriad examples of successful small-scale projects incorporating agroecological principles. The challenge now is to move beyond the field, to incorporate integrated land management approaches at scale.

Second, we should recognize that activities are not permanent. An integrated approach does not expect static solutions over time. Even the best farm-level implementation of agricultural practices is not destined for unchanging perpetuity. As market forces, technology, and off-farm opportunities change, farmers too will change their actions. Under a changing climate, this flexibility is increasingly important. Such a temporal component underscores the importance of engaging at the policy level; internalizing a landscape approach into policymaking can ensure that as changes are inevitably made, they continue to advance landscape-level health.

Finally, Ahuja’s third appeal to policymakers is to embrace complexity. Landscapes are messy and complicated. Managing at that level, incorporating all the stakeholders that entails, is necessarily complex. But such complexity enhances resilience—“just like in ecosystems,” Ahuja points out—and resilience in a changing world is just what we need, for the landscapes themselves, and the policies and institutions charged with protecting them.

More In in Staying Current

1 Comment

  • tmgieseke
    November 16, 2013 at 11:52am

    very good – and yes, making this complicated is simple and making things simple is complicated