Planning ecosystem services and resilience in large agricultural landscapes: Putting ecology to work for development
In the past, agriculture was considered the big menace to ecosystems, responsible for deforestation, water pollution and degrading natural resources. At times this has pitted those concerned with feeding people and alleviating poverty against those who want to preserve ‘natural’ ecosystems. Today, we recognize that agricultural ecosystems are the world’s single largest ecosystem and play a central role in ensuring both human health and environmental health. Agriculture is dependent on ecosystems to provide healthy diets for a growing global population; on the flip side, decisions we make regarding how to manage agricultural landscapes can transform their impact on the environment and contribute to environmental conservation and restoration. Healthy, resilient socio-ecosystems can sustainably increase food security and alleviate poverty. Protecting landscapes while also allowing farmers to harness the benefits they provide will require carefully considered management and investment.
The CGIAR, a global agriculture research for development organization has embarked on a multiyear program on “Water Land and Ecosystems” that puts ecosystem services at the center its approach. The central hypothesis of the program is that uniting nature and agriculture is essential to meeting both human development and global conservation goals. This departs from traditional ecosystem service work by highlighting five core principles: (1) meeting the needs of poor people is fundamental, (2) people use, modify, and care for nature which provides material and immaterial benefits to their livelihoods, (3) cross-scale and cross-level interactions of ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes can be managed to positively impact development outcomes, (4) governance mechanisms are vital tools to achieve equitable access to and provision of ecosystem services, (5) building resilience is about enhancing the capacity of communities to sustainably develop in an uncertain world.
In this symposium presentation, we highlight how ecological tools, particularly ecosystem service science and landscape ecology are being put to work to address some of the most pressing development challenges faces by impoverished communities globally. We present the results of consultations with Ministries of Agriculture, Environment, Health, Water, and Planning from several African nations identifying pressing development challenges, and how existing ecosystem service and landscape planning tools are being modified to address food security, human health and nutrition, water security, and climate change. A critical result of this work is the transformation of environmental health as a victim of agricultural development, to environment and ecosystems services as a driving force in sustainable development and national level decision-making.