Innovative ways of doing agricultural development sustainably

So how is the development community responding to the crisis facing smallholder farmers in the developing world relating to climate change while also dealing with the biodiversity crisis?

Among other projects run by The Global Environment Facility (GEF), it has funded the Integrated Approach Pilot programme which commits US$110 million to helping farmers in Africa foster sustainability and resilience for food security, while also promoting programme level biodiversity objectives to conserve ecosystems that are habitats of globally significant biodiversity. This initiative and others involve a number of UN agencies including FAO, UNDP, UNIDO, UNEP plus the World Bank and CI.

IFAD, the leading agency on the Food Security Integrated Programme, targets agro-ecological systems where the need to enhance food security is linked directly to opportunities for generating global environmental benefits. The programme aims to promote the sustainable management and resilience of ecosystems and their different services (landwaterbiodiversityforests) as a means to address food insecurity.

At the same time, it will safeguard the long-term productive potential of critical food systems in response to changing human needs. The Food Security Integrated Programme will be firmly anchored by local, national and regional policy frameworks that will enable more sustainable and more resilient production systems and approaches to be scaled up across the targeted geographies.

IFAD’s Director of Climate and Environment, Margarita Astralaga, moderated the event, giving some opening remarks and introducing the panel.

Matthias Halwart, Senior Programme Officer at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) gave a presentation on some good examples of interventions that he believed should be scaled up.

“How do we see sustainable intensification?" said Halwart. "Achieving food security is at the heart of FAOs effort, striving for a world free of hunger.”

He also talked about the huge number of species that live in the waters of rice paddies and how these ecosystems are important.

"Save and grow works well together, zero pesticide use, leads to huge returns.”

He concluded by saying how up-scaling of all ideas, through programmes like IAP, are both possible and necessary.

The GEF's Mohamed Bakarr, Senior Environmental Specialist asked why The GEF considersscaling up is important.

“The forces of change that countries are experiencing are far greater now than ever before," said Bakarr. "There is a clear need to help countries harness what nature offers and still allow them to produce the food their countries need to feed growing populations.”

He talked of the biological heritage in Africa, the unique biodiversity that we cannot allow to be sacrificed. He spoke of experience gleaned from the Asian green revolution - that intensification not done sustainably can lead to water problems 40 years down the line.

Margarita Astralaga spoke to IFAD's role in the new IAP.

“IFAD is leading the IAP on food security," said Astralaga. "Concentrating on how, through management of resources, sub-Saharan Africa will be food secure. Climate change is also a huge threat in these places, which is why we are aligning food security work with climate change. It is a huge task, which is why for the first time, seven large development agencies are working together. We expect to bring 10 million hectares under sustainable management, with an increase of 15 per cent in genetic diversity while at the same time sequestering 10 million tons of greenhouse gasses.”

”57 countries have been involved in UNEP-GEF supported projects on mainstreaming agro-biodiversity in the agriculture sector. We want to tailor this knowledge into the IAP, mainstreaming biodiversity practices along the way,” said UNEP's Marieta Sakalian.

“We need a new integrated approach to achieve resilience and sustainability in food production - we need to incorporate the value of ecosystems into value chains,” said
UNDP's Midori Paxton.

The panel were asked a range of questions, one of which was; how they are building on indigenous knowledge?

It was noted that most agroecological practices are derived, and there is a loss of indigenous knowledge worldwide.

"We need to ensure that traditional knowledge is preserved, and the GEF Food Security Integrated programme includes a focus on preserving genetic diversity and traditional knowledge,” said Bakarr.

“Indigenous knowledge has to be fully taken into account - it is all about working with the people," said Halwart. "We are trying to achieve this with our Farmer Field Schools where we don’t go to impose our knowledge but we go to learn with them.”

Another audience question was about the panels opinions on biotechnology, a divisive issue at CBD.

“Participatory breeding is what farmers want - and it is what they have practiced for hundreds of years; it should not be confused with a foreign technology being imposed on them," said Bakarr. "GMOs are driven by the private sector, not by smallholder farmers."

"Farmers are doing amazing transformations on their farms through participatory breeding. We need to reconcile smallholder knowledge and practices with conventional approaches for increasing food production. We can’t sacrifice biodiversity in striving for more food.”

“There are a large range, and many can be useful," Halwart added. "Plants with resistances and animal vaccines - these are good. Obviously there are many applications."

"But by simply mixing rice paddies with fisheries we have seen yields increase by three tonnes per hectare. That’s amazing. Biotech doesn’t achieve these levels, so we have better options I feel."

IFAD's Astralaga closed the session by saying, “access to finance is obviously a key element for smallholders. However, there is also an issue with the way they are approached with help. We aim to empower. We find it is better bringing farmers to teach farmers. This is the best way, as they can relate to each other better, and also they have knowledge we could never have without being in their shoes.”