Opportunistic priorities hindering progress in Ecoagriculture
Raymond Erick Zvavanyange1
1National Chung Hsing University 250 Kuo Kuang Road Taichung 402 Taiwan, R.O.C
The article discusses two aspects in the ecoagriculture strategy: key points needed to make the ecoagriculture strategy successful and the missing links in realization of this strategy.
The world population continues to grow unabated in spite of the inability of current agricultural systems to provide and meet demand for food. Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations estimates that world population will grow by 2.3 billion between 2009 and 2050 with all this growth expected in developing countries. In a bid to increase food production new agricultural lands have been opened up at the expense of biodiversity. This situation calls for a rethink of the agricultural systems by the scientific and farmer community with the objective of mutually reinforcing the benefits from agricultural production and biodiversity. Conventional agricultural production methods are not only unsustainable; they put the future farming and species survival at threat from effects of warming climate.
In light of the multiples challenges, stakeholders recognize the need to change the way agriculture is practiced through intensification, reducing land conversion, reducing agricultural pollution, and use of non-farmed lands but this falls short in several aspects. For example, scientists, policy makers and farm communities lack a unified position on dealing with culprits polluting the environment and stressing the nature balance. One group, say proponents call for stiff penalties, withdrawal of licenses and so forth while on the other hand the other group employs social, economic and political strategies that interfere with and undermine environmental legislation and regulations enforcement. This creates a misplaced ‘win-win’ situation. Furthermore, there seems a wide disagreement as to how to look at the future.
Despite this division there is general agreement that satisfying people’s livelihoods with agricultural production and protecting biodiversity need not be antagonistic visions. As such a promising concept and approach which integrates agricultural production and biodiversity goals is the ‘ecoagriculture’ strategy. Furthermore, it is reported that the possibility of eco-friendly locally adapted agriculture is sparking widespread innovation in Africa and worldwide.
What is Ecoagriculture?
Ecoagriculture is an approach that unites agricultural development and conservation of biodiversity as explicit objectives in the same landscapes. Ecoagriculture aims at reinforcing relationships between agricultural productivity and conservation of nature. Innovative ecoagriculture takes its lessons from the past and the anticipated future. Louise E. Buck illustrates the ecoagriculture concept as a stool with a base (ecoagriculture) supported by legs each representing agricultural production, biodiversity conservation and viable local livelihoods, respectively. Supportive institutions form the connecting joints. At first glance ecoagriculture looks the same as sustainable agriculture, agro ecology and integrated natural resource management. However, three ideas can be singled out which emphasize the interrelationship of these fields: focus on large scale, synergy and importance of conservation.
Accordingly, biological diversity is defined by The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity as the “variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial marine, and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species and of ecosystems”. Ecoagriculture operates at a landscape level. A landscape is defined by researchers McNeely and Scherr as a mosaic where a cluster of local ecosystems is repeated in similar form and is characterized by a particular configuration of topography, vegetation, land use, and settlement pattern that delimits some coherence of natural, historical, and cultural processes and activities. The point here is that a holistic view is what ecoagriculture encompasses in its goals to capture the uniqueness and diversity of ecosystems.
What are the key points to focus on?
In the development arena there is a consensus that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ is not the best of approaches when addressing developmental problems. Given this scenario and bearing in mind that ecoagriculture has many goals what stands out in the ecoagriculture strategy is the need to empower stakeholders at all levels, the need for correct diagnosis of supporting goods and services targeting ecoagriculture practices, believing in the capacity of local people to address and lead rehabilitation and restoration efforts. Such characteristic features constitute what ecoagriculture offers to the development arena. They reaffirm that even though agriculture and biodiversity are viewed as separate entities a focus on the synergies brings hope in feeding the world and saving biodiversity. This hope further entails the lasting and sustainable solutions from the ecoagriculture strategy.
What are the gaps?
The ecoagriculture strategy has succeeded in proving that agriculture must be transformed however it faces a daunting task as limited case studies exist. This presents a problem when advocating for scaling up of the strategy as there are trade-offs. The challenge is to determine the level and position at which scaling up should be done, who should lead in the efforts and what additional resources they need in achieving this goal. Furthermore, the strategy itself seems a highly ambitious goal. It is important to note that ecoagriculture is singled out for its potential and uniqueness in diversifying agricultural systems, the entire mosaics of land use that also encompass forests, human settlements, coastal zones, and waterways. However, this recognition lacks the legal framework and supporting legislation to catapult the strategy into action.
To become effective ecoagriculture strategy should attract investment. It is an equally competitive project with positive returns. Policy makers should facilitate through enabling policies to promote this strategy. In addition, there is an absence of the critical mass of farmers, scientists and policy makers to propel the enthusiasm and drive generated by innovation practices, a characteristic of the ecoagriculture strategy. This leads to the conclusion that even though the ecoagriculture ‘voice’ is heard this is often misplaced by lobby groups and organizations. As a consequence it is ignored, rejected and overshadowed in favour of opportunistic priorities.
The ecoagriculture strategy unifies agricultural systems and biodiversity goals. It presents a leap into the future reassuring interest groups and global citizens that feeding the world and saving biodiversity is not an abstract idea. Whilst highly ambitious and setting the pace for all agricultural and biodiversity issues the ecoagriculture strategy faces scaling up and replication challenges. Without enabling policies the strategy will achieve minimal impact. Through enabling policy and legislation frameworks this can ensure that the ecoagriculture strategy facilitates the empowerment of interest groups, mutual respect, and the promotion of social, economic and political cohesiveness among stakeholders.
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