The challenges described earlier are unlikely to be met by the solutions of industrial agriculture, the original green revolution, sustainable agriculture and natural resource management (with its primary focus on sustaining the resources underpinning production), or even the ecotechnology approach of Swaminathan (1994)
with its focus on the farmer's field, although all of these have major elements to contribute. Approaches to biodiversity conservation also need to move beyond the wild biodiversity focus of strictly protected areas and the modest goals of integrated conservation and development projects. We argue that ecoagriculture—a fully integrated approach to agriculture, conservation and rural livelihoods, within a landscape or ecosystem context—is needed in many regions.
(a) Ecoagriculture landscapes
Ecoagriculture explicitly recognizes the economic and ecological relationships and mutual interdependence among agriculture, biodiversity and ecosystem services (). Ecoagriculture landscapes are mosaics of areas in natural/native habitat and areas under agricultural production. Effective ecoagriculture systems rely on maximizing the ecological, economic and social synergies among them, and minimizing the conflicts.
Figure 1 Ecosystem services are a key to the synergies between conservation, sustainable agricultural production and sustainable livelihoods (after Buck et al. 2004).
The term ‘landscape’ itself is functionally defined, depending upon the spatial units needed or actually managed by the group of stakeholders working together to achieve biodiversity, production and livelihood goals. Ecoagriculture landscapes are land use mosaics with:
- ‘natural’ areas (with high habitat quality and niches to ensure critical elements for habitat or ecosystem services that cannot be provided in areas under production), which are also managed to benefit agricultural livelihoods either through positive synergies with production or other livelihood benefits,
- agricultural production areas (productive, profitable and meeting food security, market and livelihood needs), which are also configured and managed to provide a ‘matrix’ with benign or positive ecological qualities for wild biodiversity and ecosystem services, and
- institutional mechanisms to coordinate initiatives to achieve production, conservation and livelihood objectives at landscape, farm and community scales, by exploiting synergies and managing trade-offs among them.
The concept of ecoagriculture further recognizes that agriculture-dependent rural communities are critical (and sometimes the principal) stewards of biodiversity and ecosystem services. While protected natural areas are essential in ecoagriculture landscapes to ensure critical habitat for vulnerable species, maintain water sources and provide cultural resource, these resources often may be owned or managed by local communities and farmers.
(b) Biodiversity and ecosystem services in ecoagriculture landscapes
Conservation of biodiversity in ecoagriculture landscapes embraces all three elements of agricultural biodiversity defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity: genetic diversity of domesticated crops, animals, fish and trees; diversity of wild species on which agricultural production depends (such as wild pollinators, soil micro-organisms and predators of agricultural pests); and diversity of wild species and ecological communities that use agricultural landscapes as their habitat (Convention on Biological Diversity 2002
Although wild biodiversity and ecosystem services are closely linked, they are not synonymous. A landscape with relatively intact wild biodiversity is likely to provide a full complement of ecosystem services. However, many ecosystem services can also be provided by non-native species, or by combinations of native and non-native species in heavily managed settings such as permanent farms. The implication is that even where wild biodiversity has been significantly reduced to make way for food and fibre production, high levels of ecosystem services can often still be provided through intentional land management practices. On the other hand, managing an ecoagriculture landscape for ecosystem services does not automatically ensure that wild biodiversity will be protected adequately. Thus, wild biodiversity and ecosystem services both require explicit consideration in ecoagriculture systems.
(c) Ecoagriculture approaches
Broadly, ecoagriculture landscapes rely on six basic strategies of resource management, three focused on the agricultural part of the landscape and three on the surrounding matrix.
In production areas, farmers sustainably increase agricultural output and reduce costs in ways that enhance the habitat quality and ecosystem services:
- minimize agricultural wastes and pollution,
- manage resources in ways that conserve water, soils, and wild flora and fauna, and
- use crop, grass and tree combinations to mimic the ecological structure and function of natural habitats.
Farmers or other conservation managers protect and expand natural areas in ways that also provide benefits for adjacent farmers and communities:
- minimize or reverse conversion of natural areas,
- protect and expand larger patches of high-quality natural habitat, and
- develop effective ecological networks and corridors (McNeely & Scherr 2003).
The relative area and spatial configuration of agricultural and natural components (and other elements, such as physical infrastructure and human settlements) are key landscape design issues (Forman 1995
). The conservation of wild species that are highly sensitive to habitat disturbance—as are some of those most endangered or rare globally—requires large well-connected patches of natural habitat. But many wild species, including many that are threatened and endangered, can coexist in compatibly managed agricultural landscapes, even in high-yielding systems.
Numerous approaches to agriculture, conservation and rural development contribute components, management practices and planning frameworks that can be applied in ecoagriculture landscapes. The outcomes of planning and negotiations among the multiple stakeholders in any particular landscape will take diverse forms depending on the context of local cultures and philosophies of land management.
Ecoagriculture landscapes with documented joint benefits for agricultural production, biodiversity conservation and rural livelihoods include these three examples.
(i) Kalinga Province, The Philippines
For centuries, the Kalinga indigenous people of The Philippines have supported local livelihoods and conserved mountain biodiversity through integrated landscape management. Communities manage their watersheds to ensure a continual supply of water to communal irrigation systems, and in recent years over 150
ha of integrated rice terraces (including fish and vegetable production) have been rehabilitated. Indigenous forests are managed for sustainable harvest of wild animals for protein, leading to an 81% rate of intact forest in Kalinga Province (Gillis & Southey 2005
(ii) Transboundary co-management in Costa Rica and Panama
The Gandoca–Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast connects with Panama's San Pondsak National Wildlife Refuge. This 10
ha refuge is co-managed by local communities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government agencies. Small farm agro-ecosystems are integral to regional biodiversity conservation. Over 300 farmers hold secure land titles in the refuge's buffer zone. A regional small farmers’ cooperative (Smallholder Association of Talamanca, APPTA) supports over 1500 small farmers to become Central America's largest volume organic producer and exporter, generating 15–60% increases in small-farmer revenue. Conservation-based carbon offset schemes are being developed to provide additional revenue for stewardship-focused farming.
(iii) Community dryland restoration in Rajasthan, India
For most of the past century, drought and environmental degradation severely impaired the livelihood security of local communities within Rajasthan's Arvari Basin. Twenty years ago, the Tarun Bharat Sangh, a voluntary organization based in Jaipur, India, initiated a community-led watershed restoration programme. The programme reinstated ‘johads’, a traditional indigenous technology for water harvesting. Johads are simple concave mud barriers, built across small, uphill river tributaries to collect water. As the water drains through the catchment area, johads encourage groundwater recharge and improve hillside forest growth, while providing water for irrigation, wildlife, livestock and domestic use. Over 5000 johads now serve over 1000 villages in the region, and are coordinated by village councils. Landscape changes include restoration of the Avari River, which had not flowed since the 1940s, and the return of native bird populations (Narain et al. 2005
(d) Where ecoagriculture approaches are needed
Ecoagriculture approaches may be relevant to some extent in all agricultural landscapes, in light of their focus on improving landscape performance vis-á-vis three goals (agricultural production, biodiversity conservation and livelihoods). Synergies may be most apparent, and trade-offs least difficult, in areas with less productive agricultural lands (so that the opportunity costs of protecting or restoring habitats are lower), and in heterogeneous areas where farms are already interspersed with hills, forests and abandoned farms (Jackson & Jackson 2002
). Nonetheless, the need to reconcile increased agricultural productivity and livelihoods with effective conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services may be most critical in agriculture-dominated landscapes. Ecoagriculture approaches offer opportunities for integrated action, at a lower overall cost, to achieve Millennium Development Goals for poverty, hunger, water, and sanitation and environmental sustainability (Scherr & Rhodes 2005
). Ecoagriculture also provides a strategy for implementing national commitments to multilateral environmental conventions, including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Framework Convention on Climate Change, Ramsar and the Convention to Combat Desertification.
But it is important to consider the situations under which integrated versus segregated land use is likely to be especially advantageous, and the scale at which integration is desirable (Balmford et al. 2001
; Green et al. 2005
). For example, where most biodiversity is likely to be lost in the transition from pristine to extensive systems or if key species are very sensitive to fragmentation, then segregated systems might be indicated at a coarser grain. But where the transition from extensive to intensive agriculture will result in greater biodiversity loss, then integrated low-intensity agriculture finely interspersed with natural areas may be most desirable.
Real costs are associated with the cross-sectoral planning and coordination and technical innovations needed to achieve impacts at a landscape scale. These must be considered in prioritizing private, public and civic ecoagriculture investments. Top priorities would be:
- agricultural landscapes located in or around critical habitat areas for wild species of local, national or international importance (e.g. landscapes in the highly threatened habitats of the Atlantic Forest of Brazil, now dominated by farming),
- degraded agricultural landscapes where restored ecosystem services will be essential to achieve both agricultural and biodiversity benefits (such as the dryland farming and pastoral regions of West Africa),
- agricultural landscapes that must also function to provide critical ecosystem services (such as the densely populated landscapes of Europe and Java), and
- peri-urban agricultural systems, where careful management is required to protect ecological, wildlife and human health.
No assessment has been done of the geographical scale and location of such priority areas for ecoagriculture development strategies (as distinct from agriculture- or conservation-led development), but undertaking such analyses is a critical step to guide policy action.