Understanding the relationship between Forests and Agriculture: the need for a landscape approach


The agriculture sector sustains the livelihoods of millions of smallholder families and is at the center of national policies to alleviate rural poverty. However, this need for land for agriculture is also the main driver of deforestation and land degradation.

A major challenge is how to encourage pro-poor agricultural development while mitigating deforestation and associated greenhouse gas emissions. There continues to be a lack of depth of understanding of the relationship between the forest and agriculture sectors, which can and has led to erroneous or partial solutions.

As a response SNV, under the REDD+ Energy and Agriculture Programme, produced the report: ‘Finding the right balance: exploring forest and agriculture landscapes’. It provides insights into the relationship and helps decision makers identify and introduce appropriate interventions that can balance objectives in the forestry and agriculture sectors. Stronger regulation and planning at a landscape level are critical ingredients in order to achieve this.

Agricultural intensification and forest protection

One commonly cited option to reconcile agricultural development and forest protection, which has garnered much support, is through agricultural intensification; the basic idea is that if we can increase agricultural yields per area in order to meet growing global food demand this will reduce the need for more land and hence avoid further encroachment into forested areas. Agricultural intensification provides huge benefits and can help increase the income of many poor farmers, but it also poses serious risks to forests, primarily by increasing the returns from agriculture and thus increasing incentives for expansion. While this hypothesis likely holds at the global level, at the local level a number of factors will condition what impact agricultural intensification will have on forested areas. What is clear is that this relationship can only be properly understood on a case by case basis. In most cases, agricultural intensification strategies need to be combined with stronger regulation and enforcement mechanisms and/or efforts to increase forest rents in order to effectively reduce deforestation. Addressing this challenge will also require innovative, integrated solutions, while optimizing the land allocation for conservation and agriculture. This highlights the critical need for a landscape approach.

Read the full story at peoplefoodandnature.org.