May 31, 2013

Maps for Innovation: Greening Agricultural Development in Mbeya

Raffaela Kozar, EcoAgriculture Partners Louise Willemen, EcoAgriculture Partners

In the southwest of Tanzania, the Mbeya region encompasses several important areas for biodiversity. The land has a variety of productive uses, including livestock production in the drylands, irrigated rice near the rivers, small-scale maize in the hills, and fruit and plantation trees in the more humid, higher elevations, while large protected forested areas supply water to the region. Overlapping with the Mbarali cluster identified by the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT), the region faces imminent challenges for ecosystems, agricultural producers, and the local communities that rely on natural resources, all of whom are vulnerable to land and water degradation. Climate change is already a factor impacting food security and livelihoods, and affects farmers’ decisions around expanding agricultural expansion, land management practices, and protected area incursion.

There is a strong need to protect critically important watersheds, wild biodiversity, and culturally diverse livelihood systems from the potentially adverse effects of rapidly expanding investment in agricultural intensification and commercialization. With this as backdrop, a workshop held in Mbeya in March 2013, led by EcoAgriculture Partners, the Environmental Resource Management Center for Sustainable Development (ERMCSD) and the Cornell Ecoagriculture Working Group aimed to tackle integrated planning to address these challenges. With support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the team brought together local leaders from diverse sectors in Mbeya to begin discussing the types of technical and institutional innovations that could help to green agricultural development in this part of Tanzania’s southern highlands.

Building Enthusiasm with Maps

As the different sectors that are active in the region all focus on specific areas of different sizes and character, maps were front and center during the workshop, helping participants to locate and focus the discussion. Participants and the workshop team shared a diversity of maps to make the case that spatial information on many different biophysical and socio-economic features of the landscape can contribute to the full picture supporting integrated landscape planning and management. A workshop-team member showed examples of thematic maps of the Mbeya region (agriculture suitability, biodiversity and protected areas, population density, land use and land cover) and invited participants to refer to and use these maps throughout the workshop to link their activities in the landscape to these other aspects. To stimulate discussion, a land use planning officer, a scientist of the Agricultural Research Institute, and the Rufigi Basin planner shared with other participants how they use maps in their work. Their presentations highlighted the features their maps demonstrate and for what purposes they use the maps. Workshop participants then had an opportunity to explore the relevance of maps to planning for diverse green growth innovations in the Mbeya context.

One of the maps, now marked and pinned, used during the spatial planning workshop. Photo by Louise Willemen.

Splitting up into five groups, participants shared their observations on current activities in various sectors in Mbeya, drawing the key areas of trends and changes in the landscape on a map. Participants then identified and located areas where potential innovations could address desired changes to the business-as-usual or sectoral approach. In this way, groups deepened their understanding of the locational dimension of their innovations – “why there?” – including where innovations are already happening and where they could be piloted, replicated, or scaled-up. In all, the groups identified 50 innovations to ‘green’ agriculture within several overlapping themes; crop and livestock production, biodiversity conservation, markets and marketing approaches, institutional and policy mechanisms, and knowledge, planning and learning systems. To take the next steps in planning the innovations, participants selected priority innovations – ones that had an appropriate technology, and were economically viable, socially acceptable, and environmentally sustainable.

Maps in Context

Sharing information across sectors and drawing locational dimensions on maps helped initiate a spatially explicit planning approach for integrating biodiversity conservation and climate resilience into agricultural development in the Mbeya area of Tanzania. The process spearheaded cross-sectoral collaboration in locating, designing, pilot-testing, and scaling up priority innovations to stimulate and advance a culture of socioecologically sustainable agricultural and rural development in the Mbeya region.

The full workshop report is available online.

1 Comment

  • John Recha
    June 1, 2013 at 10:09am

    Well written! The blog captures details of the spatially explicit planning approach for integrating biodiversity conservation and climate resilience into agricultural development in the Mbeya area of Tanzania.