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Living Landscapes: Solutions for a Sustainable World

Peter Dewees's picture

Photo: Mduduzi Duncan Dlamini, Minister of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Kingdom of Swaziland, providing the closing keynote for Agriculture, Landscapes and Livelihoods Day.

The final rounds of Forests Day and Agriculture Day wrapped up at the UN Climate Change Conference in Doha this week under a new shared banner: Living Landscapes Days.

Both Days have become annual events on the sidelines of the UN climate change conferences, meant to bring together scientists and policy makers and, originally, to bring forests and farming onto the Conference of Parties (COP) agenda. Forests have largely achieved this objective with the the emergence of various agreements about REDD+.

Agriculture has slipped down the list of priority issues tackled by the COP, which has been struggling to figure out what to do about extending the Kyoto agreements and a range of other issues, but is certain to re-emerge. The agriculture discussions this week at Doha aimed to identify scalable solutions to specific mitigation and adaptation challenges which can benefit farmers; gaps where there are limited existing solutions or limited available knowledge; and potential trade-offs in implementing existing, known solutions.

This year, the two worked together to build on the themes of climate-smart agriculture, which became prominent in Durban in the last COP: farming which builds soil carbon, increasing food security, and enhancing resilience to climate shocks.

It doesn’t take more than a few minutes in Qatar to start thinking about the contradictions here: It has almost no agriculture to speak of, and imports over 90 percent of its food supplies, but speaks persuasively about expanding domestic agricultural production to increase self-sufficiency. There are no forests at all, yet Doha retains the name of a long-fallen “Big Tree” (ad-Dawḥa).

Among foresters and farmers, there are also contradictions. With more than 7 billion mouths to feed, and another billion coming before 2020, food security will depend critically on agricultural expansion. The best and easiest land to access is often forest land. Forests, with their vast supplies of environmental services, also generate income and jobs, so their clearance for agriculture comes at great cost.

Most foresters and farmers when challenged with respective and contradictory views most often reply, “Well, yes, but….”

This isn’t the best basis for a discussion.

A school of thought started developing at least 15 years ago that we needed to start looking at the forest and farm problem a bit more holistically, that any solution at all which sought to tackle tradeoffs and their complexities needed to accommodate competing narratives. In shorthand, we talk about this as a “landscapes approach,” and quite a lot of thinking has gone into what it means and how services could be organized in the rural space better to deal with these complexities.

At the core of a landscapes approach is the idea that rural development can be made much more resilient if synergies between sectors can be enhanced.

As the UNFCCC moves to putting in place a new climate agreement by 2015, a landscapes perspective could offer a new way of framing and tackling the challenges of mitigation and adaption.

This is principally because forests and farming contribute a high proportion of global greenhouse gases, because long-term food security will be most affected by climate change, and because agriculture and forestry remain central to the livelihoods of billions of people. And so, next year, the two groups which have backed Forest Day and Agriculture Day at the COP have agreed that to take these efforts the next step, and to create a broader platform for informing policy and communicating science findings to COP negotiators through a Landscapes Day.