January 6, 2017

What We’re Reading: The argument for intentionally designing agricultural landscapes

The EditorsEcoAgriculture Partners

This short reading list, which kept us busy in front of the fire over the holiday period, is a great way to get excited about transforming agriculture in 2017:

Designing agricultural landscapes for biodiversity-based ecosystem services – Basic and Applied Ecology

This vital new article by Douglas A. Landis makes a clear argument for more intensive design of agricultural landscapes, beyond the farm scale. From the abstract: “While it is well known that local and landscape factors interact, modifying overall landscape structure is seldom considered due to logistical constraints. I propose that the loss of ecosystem services due to landscape simplification can only be addressed by a concerted effort to fundamentally redesign agricultural landscapes. Designing agricultural landscapes will require that scientists work with stakeholders to determine the mix of desired ecosystem services, evaluate current landscape structure in light of those goals, and implement targeted modifications to achieve them.”

Systems Research for Agriculture – SARE

This short and highly practical new book from the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education program of the USDA “addresses the theoretical basis for agricultural systems research and provides a roadmap for building effective interdisciplinary and multi-stakeholder teams. This handbook is essential reading for researchers and producers working together to plan, implement and analyze complex, multifaceted systems research experiments.”

First map of smallholder farms in the developing world: They produce more than half the planet’s food calories – ILRI Clippings

Smallholder farmers are critical to the world’s food supply, but until recently there was no single map that showed where they were, or how much land they farm. Researchers at the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment (IonE) used household census data to fill this knowledge gap. Combining news originally published on the University of Minnesota’s website, along with the abstract and excerpts from the scientific article the story is based on, ILRI Clippings provides a detailed overview of this important accomplishment.

This Kansas farmer fought a government program to keep his farm sustainable – Ensia

This feature story highlights a classic catch 22 in American agriculture: when the system is set up to protect farmers from economic losses that are caused by ecological factors, there is a direct incentive to use ecologically unsound practices. Journalist Kristin Ohlson does an admirable job uncovering the complicated web of agencies and regulations, including federal crop insurance, that throw up roadblocks to the adoption of even scientifically-proven best practices.

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1 Comment

  • Johannes (Hans) J. Groenendijk
    January 9, 2017 at 4:05am

    Perhaps the following sketch I made in 2014 contributes to the development of “new” approaches of landscape management.

    “Sketch of an integrated development vision”
    New paradigms for rural (and urban) development

    By Hans Groenendijk
    TISE Consultancy BV
    The Hague, 19 October 2014

    Developments based on integration as leading principle instead of development by sectorial approaches will be more successful and sustainable.

    Most development programs and projects have been designed as a result of identification of specific material or immaterial needs in an often well-defined geographical or administrative region or locality. Of course in solving the problem of satisfying those needs the entire economic, social, cultural and ecological context is taken into account but this is centred in most cases around a sectorial approach. This often causes development projects to behave like the buttons of a ventilator. Push in one and another pops out. You solve a problem and other problems arise.

    Although in general projects fit perfectly in overall rural development policies the absence of explicit cross references with existent, past and planned programs and projects is striking.
    Collaboration between projects, departments etc. are hardly existent. This is well known and often recognised but has seldom led to feasible and satisfactory solutions.
    Many projects to become opportunistic and complex and less focused on development objectives. M&E and follow up consistent with these become an illusion. Problems arising will be considered to have the same status and priority and thus are solved as soon as they appear instead of viewing them as integral parts of a contextual development cycle.

    Projects seem to lead a life of their own and there seems to be an equal tendency to funnel
    towards specific objectives without seeking connections and synchronisation with parallel developments in other disciplines. So rural development programs rarely address related urban development, agriculture rarely addresses (local) industry or infrastructure development, and natural resource management (NRM) and forestry seldom touches on production of wood for construction or furniture production, to name but a few examples.
    This lack of complementarity and coherence provokes inconsistencies and contradictions of different approaches and is cause for many projects to be less effective and efficient and often to fail altogether. What is missing in these projects is associative thinking in terms of integrated development. The creative and conceptive force applied to resolve problems of technical, procedural and e.g. logistic nature is rather limited.

    This triggers the question how to realise a true integrated development model in which the above issues will all be addressed at their appropriate time and place in the development cycle. Projects offering solutions for specific sectorial problems are often presented as solutions for rural and/or urban society as a whole. However coherent approaches and consistent development objectives of projects and programs are rare.
    In international cooperation long term development policies and programs in different sectors and disciplines have been distributed over different departments and their different donors. This is not in favour of integrated approaches.
    Solutions can be found in defining development and formulating programs based on integration concepts with different projects and phases equipped with the necessary “plugs” and “sockets” that can be connected or disconnected earlier or later in time dependant on situation and/or necessity of the entire development cycle.
    These kinds of developments can take place, not necessarily simultaneously but within the same planning and programming cycle and dynamic and integrated development models become possible with great flexibility and well defined phases.
    Governments should be encouraged to exercise their sovereign responsibility to improve their coordinating role e.g. by supporting existing or new coordinating bodies that would receive financial and technical assistance to facilitate integrated approaches of rural development.

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