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It's All Connected: Landscape Approaches to Sustainable Development

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China's Loess Plateau, before and after restoration through a landscape approach. Photos: Till Niermann, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0), Erick Fernandes/World Bank.
China's Loess Plateau, before and after restoration through a landscape approach.
Photos: Till Niermann, Wikimedia Commons (CC), Erick Fernandes/World Bank.

Yesterday, I joked that I didn't want to come to another Agriculture and Rural Development Day. I wasn’t trying to be flip, and I was only half-joking, but not for the reasons you might think.

I said that we need to be coming to “Landscape Days” – where we have the foresters in the room with the farmer and with the fishers and with the producers and with everybody in the research community.

The bottom line is that we can't achieve food security, or nutrition security, without preserving the ecosystem services that forests provide. We can't sustain forests without thinking of how we will feed a growing population. And we can't grow food without water.

Every single country in which we work is trying to figure their way through the nexus of food security, water security, and providing energy access to households and businesses so these countries can continue to grow. We need to work together – and with enough capital - to find a way to manage landscapes in an integrated way

We all know that to feed our growing population we need to intensify agriculture production. We need to produce more, sustainably, on less land. We must learn how to take to speed and scale the cultivation of ecosystem services, such as water purification, water retention, soil fertility, carbon sequestration, and coastal protection, and farm in ways that will have a reduced environmental impact.

Scaling Up Fast

There is so much good work going on, the question is speed and scale. This is our challenge. 

We're not going to be able to do any of this unless we value ecosystem services properly. And we're not going to be able to do any of this until we actually start using natural capital accounts rather than just talking about one day perhaps piloting them. That's an appropriate level of ambition.

Moving Beyond GDP ReportWe are very close to having 50 countries and more than 50 companies say that they will immediately start working out how to use natural capital accounting alongside GDP - perhaps not for their entire economy, but for a critical sector of the economy. We'd like that number to grow.

We can't achieve food security and nutrition security without ensuring that fish for food comes from sustainable aquaculture in the next decade. We can set targets around this issue. At the Global Partnership for Oceans launch, we said that we believe that private and public sector interests can get to 40% of fish for food from sustainable aquaculture within 10 years. That's an appropriate level of ambition.

Tackling these challenges requires continued, substantial investment in agriculture research. The results of agriculture research need to be more quickly moved into the hands of farmers and fishers and foresters.

Putting Landscape Approaches to Use

For its part, the World Bank Group is increasingly using landscape approaches to implement strategies that integrate management of land, water, and living resources, and that equitably promote sustainable use and conservation. The Loess Plateau Watershed rehabilitation project in China (pictured above) is one example that has returned a devastated area to sustainable agricultural production, improving the livelihoods of 2.5 million people and securing food supplies in an area where food was scarce.

I have to admit, to talk about landscape approaches in Brazil is humbling. This is not the same Brazil we visited 20 years ago. This is a country that has reinvented its own future and shows us lessons for how we can do that elsewhere in the world. The future is going to be even more complex for all of us.

Prices, the stress on land, the growing consumption of grains and other commodities will continue to put pressure on the way in which Brazil is leading. But in Brazil, we have the kernels of things we need to do elsewhere in the world.  Like public-private partnerships. It was a public-private partnership that turned back the rates of deforestation in the Amazon. It is a public-private partnership that is driving the effort to understand how to measure sustainability. We would do well if other countries could take a leaf out of Brazil's book.

One Pet Peeve ...

Before I sign off, I need to voice a pet peeve - and that's the nitrogen cycle. Here we are, a highly innovative and extremely creative community, and we are still using nitrogen-based fertilizer like it's 1952. With the brainpower assembled here at Rio for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, I cannot believe that we haven’t yet found a way to break out of that cycle. We can use prizes, we can use incentives, we can be really creative about how to stimulate innovation in a sector that will not innovate because it doesn't need to. We need to change the terms of the game. 

We have to consider critical sectors like water, forest, and agriculture together. Working in isolation means we will not get the right solutions and we will not have the right level of ambition.

Rachel Kyte
Vice President for Sustainable Development
Twitter: @rkyte365


Rachel Kyte

Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change

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