RIO+20: The "landscape approach"

Thursday 21 June 2012
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A new and awkward term is doing the rounds at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is "landscape science/ agriculture/ approach", which now embraces "eco-agriculture", "forest landscape restoration", "territorial development", "model forests", "foodsheds", "participatory watershed management", "community-based natural resource management", "biological corridors", and many other connected concepts.

Photo credit: Cristiano Galbiati.

This is no fringe effort - its collaborators are the UN Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the World Resources Institute, and Conservation International, among others.

What is it?

As higher temperatures and erratic rainfall affect the lives of rural dwellers, this approach helps them develop and use their land and water resources more efficiently to earn a livelihood, produce food, maintain livestock and take care of other needs. But they do it in a manner that causes minimum damage to the environment while helping to restore and maintain biodiversity, according to Sara Scherr, president and CEO of EcoAgriculture Partners, a co-organizer of the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative, a US-based non-profit organization.

The initiative hopes to use spatial technology, for instance, to advise rural communities on which portion of the land in their village should be put under agriculture, or left alone to revive, to ensure the ecological balance is maintained.

It falls under the broader ambit of sustainable development. The Rural Futures programme of the African Union, launched in 2010, is based on a similar approach, better known as integrated rural development.

How is it different?

But unlike the integrated rural development models from the 1970s and ‘80s, where a lead organization devised and financed a "top-down" plan within a defined project period, landscape initiatives are led by local stakeholders, said Scherr.

"There are several such
initiatives where communities, pastoralists, farmers, the private sector, people from agriculture, water and other sectors, conservationists, have come together - we have found more than 300," she noted.

These efforts are known by different names, but the initiative’s collaborators thought it would be useful to band them under a single umbrella, which would help not only to create awareness but also funding, "otherwise these initiatives struggle to raise money sectorally."

Lindiwe Sibanda, head of the Food Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network, a think-tank based in South Africa, said: "It doesn’t matter what it is called - we are interested in its motives and results. Any initiative that helps reduce hunger and improve rural lives should be welcomed."

The landscape approach is a bit more than integrated development, said Tim Benton, the UK Champion of the Global Food Security Programme, who teaches at the University of Leeds. The use of remote sensing, resource monitoring, and spatial analysis are part of landscape science and provide the tools to communities to assess the impact of their actions on a rural landscape.

Benton said the expansion of mobile phone technology could help make such information available to communities at their fingertips.

This article was originally written and published by IRIN news network; humanitarian news and analysis from the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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