December 4, 2013

Producer Support Structures for Sustainable Landscapes: Solidaridad's Perspective

By Katie Minderhoud and Andreanne Grimard, Solidaridad Network

To open our fourth installment of the Landscapes Roundtable, representatives from the Solidaridad Network discuss the role of sustainable agricultural production as an entry point to an integrated landscape approach. Coming from an agricultural commodity supply chain perspective, there is a strong emphasis on partnership and looking beyond the farm level.

Produce More with Less: Optimizing Land and Resource Use
We see potential to meet growing demand for food, feed, and fuel by producing more with less. Introducing good agricultural practices can bring higher yields, lower input costs, and fetch a better price for a better product. That is one piece of the puzzle. Solidaridad is an international NGO with a track record in supply chain development and sustainable agricultural production in a variety of commodities and regions around the world. So from the farm level up to end markets, we seek direct collaboration with producers in the field and throughout the supply chain. It is with these partners that we aim to improve efficiency and quality of produce, while realizing a social, environmental, and financial return on investment.

Over the past decades, we experienced how sustainability challenges – such as deforestation and land degradation – linked to agricultural production reach beyond the farm gate, and even beyond an organized and motivated supply chain or sector initiatives (e.g. Roundtable for Responsible Soy or the Bonsucro Initiative for sugarcane). Today, a landscape approach significantly broadens the scope in addressing these challenges, both on-farm as well as off. Solidaridad believes that working on a landscape level allows for optimization of land and resource use, based on what is sustainably feasible in the physical landscape. Optimization is not limited to agricultural productivity and economic returns, as it has to meet multiple objectives such as ecosystem services, livelihoods and overall well-being. Incentives to realize these win-win scenarios require multi-stakeholder partnerships, a combination of public and private investment, and cross-sectoral collaboration.

Producer Support Structures: A Piece of the Landscape Puzzle
On-farm improvements carry beyond the farm gate. Farmers managing riparian strips and biodiversity corridors in the soy production zone in Paraná state in Brazil affect the bordering Iguazu National Park. Off farm improvements concern governance, finance, and market structures – establishing the enabling environment to support producers with clear policies, foreign investment guidelines, a functional tax regime, and administration of land and property rights. Whether such a framework is in place determines to what extent farmers can contribute their piece to the landscape puzzle.

As such, there is great need for support structures to farmers that can guarantee best practices in the long term, such as independent extension services providing direct access to knowledge and innovative approaches, access to finance, and continuous investment in R&D (e.g. for local seed varieties). In our programs we mobilize private sector and service providers to this end, but public support and institutional uptake is essential for long term sustainability and sector innovation. We use our network and relations with producers and producer organizations to involve them directly in contributing to more sustainable landscapes by changing practices in the field.

In our current partnerships we bridge the gap between farmers and market realities. Piloting producer support projects helps to provide proof of concept to the sector and industry that there is a real business case for sustainability. For example, Solidaridad is implementing the Farmer Support Programme (FSP), a public-private partnership for the period 2012-2015, which aims to set positive examples for sector wide improvements in 5 major commodities: soy, cotton, palm oil, sugarcane, and livestock. Connecting to the policy level and designing business models that appeal to investors, is the next step in scaling up our work – stepping up in contributing to a landscape approach.

Public Private Partnerships: Who Does What Best?
On an abstract level, it is tempting to sketch an ideal picture of a landscape approach, but clearly the devil is in the organizational details. Considering the number of actors that have a stake and a role in bringing a landscape approach to life, it is crucial to have a clear understanding what is expected of whom. Public private partnerships are common nowadays, and we expect the private sector to step forward with sustainable business practices. However, policy makers have a clear mandate to provide the framework of rules and regulation on jurisdictional levels, by which the private sector must abide. Shaping and changing this enabling environment to realize the best possible impact requires continuous policy review based on active dialogue with business and civil society actors. Understanding how policy and finance instruments shape the landscape on the ground is key to optimizing outcomes on an individual farm as well as landscape level. As Solidaridad is active in different countries and sectors, we see that every context requires a tailor-made approach.

The potential of a landscape approach is clear and Solidaridad aims to contribute by building on its existing expertise in producer support, supply chain, and sector initiatives. Sustainable agricultural production is an entry point to the landscape approach, since it already taps into existing sources of investment and delivers to growing markets.

Read More: 
Reducing Risk: Landscape Approaches to Sustainable Sourcing – Kissinger, Brasser, and Gross, 2012. Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative. Washington, DC.

Responsible Soy: First Brazilian Family Farmers Achieve Certification – Solidaridad

1 Comment

  • Claire Kellerman
    December 4, 2013 at 8:20pm

    I am surprised I did not see a mention of biochar which has local soil community benefits and carbon sequestration benefits for a global impact for the best. And it would be interesting to know what principles and ethics are being used to bring a systemic regeneration there. Permaculture Design offers so much. Aloha, Claire Kellerman, Permaculturist, Maui, Hawaii –

    Maui, Hawaii: where sugar cane burns regularly, and leaves clouds of black smoke, a very nasty smell, and major headaches and health issues for those children and adults downwind. They burn the thick black plastic when they do their cane burning. All is well, as we are embracing Permaculture more and more, and inviting change from these life-denying practices. Ban the Burn!