You can have a great idea, but it goes nowhere without someone on the ground to put it into practice.
In the case of sustainable land management that means motivated farmers. At the landscape level that means producer movements with the capacity to engage in dialogue and action to integrate agriculture, rural development and environmental sustainability.
New research examines producer movements
A team led by Abby Hart of Cornell University’s Ecoagriculture Working Group, has published some interesting research on the how this works in an article in the journal Agriculture and Human Values. The authors studied the role of producer movements in influencing multi-functional farm and landscape management in six different countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Canada, the Netherlands, Peru and the Philippines.
The results are convincing. They show how local producer movements are able to create platforms to participate in institutional processes for dialogue and planning with other stakeholders in the landscape. They also show how these movements engage in awareness- raising and knowledge sharing with their members on the benefits of improved agricultural practices and landscape management.
Case studies show importance of economic viability
In its work to develop the evidence base for a landscape approach to rural development, EcoAgriculture Partners has already shown the importance of having a common vision for developing a full range of goods and services from the landscape, supportive public policies and inclusive stakeholder processes for planning, implementing and monitoring decisions. This study goes further by specifically tying the landscape approach to the role of producers’ organisations. It shows what producer movements can achieve in managing landscapes, and identifies certain factors for their success.
By their very nature, producer movements are driven by the common interests of their members, and in particular to improve the economic viability of their production systems. So what incentives are they responding to? The authors of the study note for examples that:
- In the Bolivian altiplano, Quinoa farmers were responding to higher prices received from buyers sourcing fair-trade and organic products for export, grown using multi-functional farm and landscape practices.
- In Brazil, a network of smallholder farmers were able to develop new markets for agro-ecological products.
- In the Netherlands, farmers in the Northern Friesian Woodlands Agricultural Cooperative were able to benefit from incentives provided by both their national government and the European Union to integrate nature management into their farming practices.
- In Canada, the Saskatchewan Soil Conservation Association (SSCA) was able to obtain new funding streams to support R&D for conservation agriculture. SSCA also helped shape Canadian agricultural policy, with the Saskatchewan government explicitly framing incentive programs for farmers in terms of the contribution of best management practices to landscape multifunctionality.
Scaling landscape initiatives to a global level
How can such promising local landscape initiatives be scaled-up into a global approach? It is a challenge, but this ambition is increasingly on the agenda of world leaders. For example, the Annex to the G-7 Leaders’ Declaration in Germany on 8 June 2015 states inter alia: “We aim to follow an integrated multi-sectoral approach to support rural areas in developing their potential, with a particular focus on the rural poor, smallholder and family farmers”. This is in fact the landscape approach. The World Bank now has integrated landscape management on its radar screen, and the private sector is moving this way too, as witnessed by the 120 million Euro Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming set up by Danone and Mars.
Producer movements are well-placed to play a key role in the transformation of landscapes from a jungle of single-sector approaches to support for integrated management of agriculture, ecosystem services and rural livelihoods.
Improved negotiation skills and policy will bring success
Hart study offers some pointers to help make this happen: producer movements need to improve their ability to negotiate with other stakeholder groups, and also their ability to deliver goods and services that are important to all players in the landscape.
But producer movements cannot do this alone. Governments at all levels have a pivotal role in developing the enabling strategy for an “integrated multi-sectoral approach to support rural areas”, promoting it and providing financial incentives where necessary.
This article by Abby Hart and her colleagues will hopefully motivate producer movements, to include in their strategic plans a road map to adapt to changing local contexts and the increasing necessity for landscapes to deliver multi-functional objectives.
“Multi-functional landscapes from the grassroots? The role of rural producer movements”, by Abigail Hart, Philip McMichael, Jeffrey Milder & Sara Scherr, Springer Science, Summer 2015.
David King is a board member of EcoAgriculture Partners and a former Secretary General of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers.
Image credit: Landsat image courtesy USGS EROS Data Center