March 5, 2012

What we call “Landscapes for People, Food and Nature”

Sara Scherr, EcoAgriculture Partners Seth Shames, EcoAgriculture Partners

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…” (William Shakespeare)

During a tea break in the EcoAgriculture Partners office a couple of weeks ago, a familiar conversation broke out about the proliferation of words that describe various aspects of ecoagriculture. Usually this conversation ends with a collective shrug once our teacups are empty, but this time was different. We have always struggled to some extent with the issue of terminology, but now the challenge of organizing the Landscapes for People Food and Nature Initiative has highlighted the proliferation of terms as a potential barrier to collaboration.  Someone asked, “How many different words can we come up with that overlap in meaning with ecoagriculture?” So we started counting….and now we are up to 78 (and that is just in English)! Find the full list at the end of the post.

A bit of history

The word ecoagriculture was coined by Jeff McNeely and Sara J. Scherr in 2002. They used it as the title of their 2003 book laying out the foundations for an integrated approach to agricultural landscape management that seeks simultaneously to enhance human livelihoods and well-being, improve agricultural production, and conserve biodiversity and ecosystem health. A table in the book clarifies the meaning of ecoagriculture relative to the closest related terms at the time. Most of these terms referred either to sustainable approaches to farm management or to ecosystem or forest management practices for non-farmed lands. By distinction, ecoagriculture approaches focus specifically on landscape-scale sustainable management in rural landscapes where agriculture is an important land use or economic activity. Ecoagriculture involves collaboration among different groups of farmers and other land managers and stakeholders in the landscape to solve shared problems or capitalize on new opportunities. This is achieved through technical, ecological, market, or social means that reduce trade-offs and strengthen synergies among different landscape objectives. This was by no means a new concept in practice—many diverse examples were highlighted in the 2003 book. But at that time, there was relatively little policy, investment, or research focused on such systems. EcoAgriculture Partners was established to study and promote such integrated landscape approaches– “landscapes for people, food and nature.”

Confusion around terminology began almost immediately. In some European countries, the preface eco, when applied to agriculture, was widely understood to connote organic agriculture. The term agroecology sounded similar, though at the time referred mainly to farm- and local community-scale sustainable farming practices. Meanwhile, the landscape approach and ecosystem approach were attracting new interest, but mainly in the international forest and biodiversity conservation communities as a strategy to restore large deforested areas. Initially, these strategies did not give much attention to agricultural development.

Rather than mere semantics, the debates on terminology reflected substantive conversations about how best to link action at field, farm, community, and landscape scales, among diverse stakeholders. Indeed, over the past decade, integrated approaches to rural livelihood development, agricultural production and ecosystem management have proliferated across sectors and communities of practice. Groups coined new vocabulary that reflected their varying points of departure. Thus, water-oriented efforts called their work participatory watershed management while biodiversity-led efforts were biological corridors. Territorial development emphasized governance process and economic development, while food sovereignty movements sought to secure local food security through better management of farm and non-farm resources.  Proponents of technological innovation around agroforestry, agroecology, permaculture and organic agriculture began advancing their work at a landscape scale. Growing appreciation of the sustainability of many indigenous land management systems, with their embedded ecological knowledge, led to the rise of indigenous territorial development, while farmer-led collaborative action to restore degraded lands and waters prompted the Landcare movement. Concepts such as climate-smart agriculture and the green agricultural economy arose more recently to incorporate climate change resilience and mitigation goals.

Photo credit: IFAD/Masy Andriantsoa

As these different communities of practice gain experience implementing action on the ground, most are building on their original concepts to embrace more integrated approaches to landscape management. This is not simply a matter of language; it is borne of complex realities on the ground and of unanticipated positive synergies discovered and created. All of the approaches in our “list of 78” have much to teach, and to learn from, one another.

Indeed, the good news is that the proliferation of approaches and language reflects the enormous innovation and creativity underway to integrate the management of food systems and ecosystems to meet the full range of growing demands on the world’s land. But the down side of these independent steps forward is fragmentation of knowledge, re-invention of ideas and practices, and inability to mobilize action at scale. For policymakers, this rich diversity is simply overwhelming; they have received no clear message as to what an enabling policy environment would look like to address the full set of landscape values.

The Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative provides a unique opportunity for those of us interested in these issues to discuss and better understand one another’s diverse perspectives and approaches. It is neither likely nor desirable that we will all agree on a single ‘best’ approach. Collectively, we are still early in the process of re-inventing more productive, sustainable, resilient, and equitable food and land management systems for the 21st century, and there is much to be gained by diverse innovation driven by local needs and priorities. But far more unites than separates us.  Hopefully over the next few years we can consider how we as a larger community seeking to promote “landscapes for people, food and nature” can most clearly communicate our ideas and enthusiasm to others as that process unfolds.

Follow along on the blog over the coming week, as thought leaders meet in Nairobi to discuss these very issues. And please let us know if you have any terms to add to our list!

The List
  1. A permanent agriculture
  2. Agricultural landscape mosaics
  3. Agricultural watershed management
  4. Agroecology
  5. Agroforestry landscapes
  6. Agroecological landscapes
  7. Biocultural landscapes
  8. Biodiverse agricultural landscapes
  9. Biological corridors
  10. Bioregional planning
  11. Climate-smart agricultural landscapes
  12. Community-based agriculture and natural resource management
  13. Conservation agriculture
  14. Diversified farming systems
  15. Doubly green revolution
  16. Ecoagriculture
  17. Eco-agriculture
  18. Ecoagriculture landscapes
  19. Ecological agriculture
  20. Eco-farming
  21. Ecofunctional intensification in agriculture
  22. Econutrition
  23. Ecoregional planning
  24. Ecosystem approach to agriculture
  25. Eco-territorial development
  26. Evergreen agriculture
  27. Evergreen revolution
  28. Farming with nature
  29. Food sovereignty/food security
  30. Forest farming
  31. Forest management for food security
  32. Forest landscape restoration
  33. Green agricultural growth
  34. Green infrastructure
  35. Greening agro-industrial corridors
  36. Holistic land management
  37. Indigenous territorial development
  38. Integrated agricultural landscapes
  39. Integrated management of territories
  40. Integrated natural resource management
  41. Integrated rural development
  42. Integrated sustainable solutions from the land
  43. Integrated territorial development
  44. Integrated water resource management
  45. Integrated watershed management
  46. Intelligent landscapes
  47. Joined-together landscapes
  48. Landcare
  49. Landscape restoration
  50. Living landscapes
  51. Model forest development
  52. Multifunctional agriculture
  53. Multifunctional agroecological landscapes
  54. Multifunctional agroecosystems
  55. Multifunctional landscapes
  56. Organic agriculture
  57. Permaculture landscapes
  58. Resilient biocultural landscapes
  59. Satoyama landscapes
  60. Smart landscapes
  61. Socioecological landscapes
  62. Sustainable agricultural land management
  63. Sustainable agriculture
  64. Sustainable agri-culture
  65. Sustainable agriculture landscapes
  66. Sustainable farming systems
  67. Sustainable intensification
  68. Sustainable production landscapes
  69. Sustainable urban landscapes
  70. Sustainable working landscapes
  71. Systems approach to rural development
  72. Territorial development
  73. Territorial management planning
  74. Terroire
  75. Transboundary landscape approach
  76. Transboundary ecosystem management approach
  77. Urban eco-foodsheds
  78. Whole landscape approach
More In in Staying Current


  • Julian Oram
    May 29, 2012 at 6:34am

    Excellent blog post, and quite inspiring to reflect on how much is happening under the broad church of ”landscapes for people, food and nature”.

    However the question posed at the end is for me the central one: how do we respect this diversity of approaches, while communicating a coherent alternative vision to the dominant paradigm of intensive, monoculture-based farming?

    We need to get a lot smarter at developing clear and complimentary (if not common) policy messages if we are to convince decision-makers to actively support eco-agriculture.

  • T R Shankar Raman
    March 8, 2012 at 10:37pm

    That’s quite a list! Words and terminology do matter, but it is also important to clarify distinctions and nuances, preferably explaining these in a manner that everyone can easily understand. An interesting initiative to do that, combining art and science, is the Lexicon of Sustainability:

  • Julien Custot - FAO
    March 7, 2012 at 7:31am

    Impressive list … as proposed, I propose some more terms!

    The 73 “urban eco-foodsheds” seems really focusing on urban areas, and not taking into account the territorial approach. Could we therefore add:
    – city-region food system, or city-region eco-food system ?

    The 34 is “Green infrastructures”. “Urban-rural continuum” may then also be added.

    Sincerely, Julien

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