December 3, 2015

A conversation with Board Member Luc Gnacadja

Alexandra KirtonEcoAgriculture Partners

In September, EcoAgriculture Partners welcomed Luc Gnacadja onto our Board of Directors.

This week, we spoke to him about what makes the landscape approach so valuable and his motivation to join the EcoAgriculture Partners board.

Through the involvement of raising issues related to scientific and evidence based policy for land management in the national and international arena, how did you become interested in land use policy?

Gnacadja: I was very much involved in advocating as a civil society activist for the imperative of monitoring the effectiveness of institutions in charge of the management of the environment we all depend on. That, in fact, was what open the door for me to to become the minister of environment regional development and housing of Benin from 1999 to 2005. Through that I have really been able to walk the talk. It wasn’t easy, but by walking the talk, I not only was bringing effectiveness, but the monitoring of that effectiveness in public institutions in the developing country has been quite challenging but coming from the private sector where if you’re not effective and efficient you just disappear from the business, I had to bring into the system indicators setting of course objectives and targets and measuring indicators and it was in doing, that I was confronted with the challenge of bringing policymakers and all stakeholders involved into understanding why land issues matter. A holistic approach to whatever we do especially a holistic approach in the context of ecosystem services and functions is what matters most and understanding especially the processes of the degradation that we are experiencing and still experiencing. That is often overlooked or deemed externalities.

Cotton production in Benin is still done in a way that is consuming a lot of land, causing a lot of degradation, including the pollution of surface water. Due to that smallholder farmers are still in the mindset whereby it is easier to degrade land, move to a new land and continue that process. I call it DAM, degrade, abandon and migrate.

From that background,  how did you come to association with EcoAgriculture Partners and what attracted you to become involved with us?

Gnacadja: Well, you know Sara right? You know how convincing she is in her advocacy? How she can challenge anyone under the sound of her voice to take responsibility. Maybe I have been a victim of Sara’s effectiveness and advocacy, if I can put it that way. It appears to both of us that we really much converge, both in our approach to land issues and the idea that understanding is the relevant scale for action, where we need to break all stakeholders to work. So, it was easy for me to welcome her call to join the board of EcoAgriculture Partners.

For six years, I have also been at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). The convention was confronted with despite the fact that it is an important convention, it is sidelined and overlooked because it is about land. We take land for granted, we take soil for granted. We think we can abuse it with zero consequence. This has been a legacy since the 19th and 20th centuries where big leaps in industrial development and science considered that land is of the past. The reality is, land is of the future. For we can’t feed 9 billion people by 2050,if we continue to degrade, abandon and migrate. Because we will be damning ourselves.

So, it is important to call upon the scientific community to really consider the issues and come up with more hands-on conclusions and recommendations that will be compelling for decision makers, be it private sector or public sector. In sustainable land management, there is a cost of inaction versus the benefit of investment. You cannot benefit from investment unless you have the right science to understand what are the costs of degradation and what might be the right solution, not just for the short term, but for the short, medium and long term. In land use policy, the real scale of assessment and bringing stakeholders around the table to make considerations of the trade-offs and potential synergies between systems is the landscape. There is no economy without the ecosystem.

Looking forward to the recent implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, how do you think we can encourage collaborations and research?  How do you think EcoAgriculture Partners, as an organization, can achieve these goals?

Gnacadja: We really need to bring the evidence of these 17 goals and how they connect with land and ecosystems because they all connect to it. As an architect by training, I have learned firsthand how even well designed projects can have negative impacts, if the design has not been holistically assessed. So, we need to bring the landscape as a scale for action. It is a relevant one to all stakeholders, to bring the science and the knowledge. Not only the science that is coming from scientific institutions, but I also insist on the work we need to do to capitalize on hands-on, grassroots level knowledge developed by farmers.

So, with EcoAgriculture Partners, now that the SDGs have been agreed upon, we need to come up with clear connections at the national and local levels to help governments create possible alternatives to land use management that will benefit the whole nation in a sustainable way and address the all the other SDGs.

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Editor’s Note: this photo featured here was taken by Arne Hoel of the World Bank, sourced from the World Bank Photo Collection Flickr account

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