Widening the frame: Opportunities for integrating agriculture, trees and forests

Smallholder farmers all over the world make land use decisions that effect the configuration of landscapes. This has always been the case– but in the past state institutions have done a poor job of recognizing it.

At the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) at the University of Warsaw this weekend, development practitioners met to discuss and help shape the climate and development agenda for forests and agriculture beyond 2015. 

“Now we are embracing [a landscape] approach because for a long time the agriculture, forestry, conservation and energy sectors did not work together,” said Christine Padoch, a researcher with CIFOR.

Smallholder landscape models are diverse, dynamic and complex. Presumably this is a good thing, but the truth is that even though we embrace each of these as concepts, we don’t always have the science or the policy that copes well with these types of systems.

“Agriculture, pastures, trees and forests make up complex mosaics, which are difficult for us to understand and study. How do we get production figures for people who have a tremendous array of activities?” Padoch asked.

For this reason, governments often criminalize landscape approaches, or establish prohibitive legislation such as designating crop production areas.

However, a landscapes approach could help to reduce carbon emissions that come from cutting down trees for alternative land uses, managing the soils and crops of farms and keeping livestock. This could be achieved through better management and conservation of natural resources.

Part of the problem is getting governments to take a wider view of landscapes, rather than having fragmented policies in the ministries of agriculture, environment or forestry.

‘We draw lines around these issues. From the ground up they are compartmentalized,” said Elwyn Grainger-Jones of IFAD.  “Fundamentally, what has to change are the governance structures to allow for more integration between forestry, agriculture and other land uses.”

This means creating the right incentives for smallholder farmers to make investments in sustainable practices such as agroforestry and conservation agriculture. They not only need simple and affordable technologies, but access to agricultural extension services to troubleshoot when something isn’t working for them. When these supports are in place, scaling up can truly occur.

Smallholder farmers naturally adopt landscape approaches. This is evidenced by the fact that there is at least 10 per cent tree cover on agricultural lands in East Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America.[1]

Business actors were also represented at the forum. Bernard Giraud of Danone Group, a foods-products multinational, promoted a balanced portfolio of sourcing, with large and small-scale farms in the mix.

“We understand that we have to protect the source of our food products. If we don’t then we jeopardize the future of our company,” he said.

The ideas on display at the Global Landscapes Forum revealed that smallholder farmers have long been practicing heterogeneous production models and that more attention is being trained on reforming institutions, both public and private, to change how we view the parameters of landscapes.

[1] Zomer RJ, Trabucco A, Coe R and Place F. 2009. Trees on Farm: Analysis of Global Extent and Geographical Patterns of Agroforestry. ICRAF Working Paper no. 89. Nairobi, Kenya: World Agroforestry Centre.