Agriculture has shaped most of the world’s cultures, economies and landscapes. With about 40% of the world’s population – three billion people – classified as ‘small-scale farmers’, agriculture is vital to livelihoods, providing development opportunities for billions of people and food for virtually everyone on the planet.
Unsustainable agricultural practices undermine the very ecosystem services on which producers, rural populations, and ultimately all of us, depend, reducing water quality and quantity, increasing vulnerability to pests, diseases, floods and droughts, and adversely affecting pollination, soil formation and nutrient cycling.
If well managed and well planned, however, agriculture has real potential to help conserve biodiversity, use natural resources sustainably, improve livelihoods and increase food security.
Around the world Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has been successfully supporting sustainable farming initiatives, increasing productivity without compromising the long-term health of ecosystems, improving access to markets for smallholder farmers, safeguarding livelihoods, lifting marginalised rural communities out of poverty and working with some of the major players in the agricultural sector to minimise their environmental footprint.
We work both at a landscape level, seeking holistic land use for competing needs, and at the local level, supporting small-scale farmers who grow food staples and cash crops. Our aim is to link productive farming systems based on appropriate land-use planning with clear governance and land tenure, improve resilience to climate change, and maintain the ecosystem services on which we all depend.
Crucially, we collaborate with a variety of partners to achieve results, from national agricultural extension agencies to local agroforesty groups.
We work with numerous smallholder farming systems in every region where FFI operates, tailoring our approach to suit a range of different conditions.
Our local partner in Belize has become one of Central America’s most experienced Inga alley cropping agroforestry exponents, successfully supporting farmers to adopt this sustainable alternative to slash and burn. Inga alley cropping has proved to be a highly effective way of bringing exhausted soils back under production, thus reducing the need to clear forest. The government is now looking to roll out this revolutionary concept nationwide.
In Cambodia we have begun introducing communities to sustainable rice intensification systems that improve crop yields. We are also supporting diversification into lemongrass and other regional spices to produce essential oils for national markets.
In Liberia we are using the classic farm field school approach to experiment with locally appropriate conservation agriculture techniques and improving tree crop production in order to reduce deforestation and generate carbon credits. By 2020, one person from every household in the 13 towns where we are working will have participated in this intensive learning and knowledge-sharing exercise for farmers.
In 2011, FFI began piloting a climate adaptation planning tool for site-level application, in order to refine the approach within five complex agricultural landscapes. We have built stakeholder capacity at the local level to increase landscape resilience, maintain biodiversity and natural systems, and put in place appropriate mitigation measures.
At one such site on the freshwater island of Ometepe (a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Lake Nicaragua where we have worked for over a decade), farmers are being encouraged to harvest rainwater and experiment with crop diversification to enhances their resilience to increasingly unpredictable weather patterns.
This type of adaptation planning and the application of the principles of conservation agriculture within our projects are assuming greater importance as the effects of climate change take hold across the globe – not only as a means to improve food security but also as a way to protect important ecosystems.
Improving sustainable use of natural resources in Ometepe
Piloting the implementation of a REDD+ programme in Wonegizi Proposed Protected Area
Supporting the conservation of high nature value farmland in Transylvania
Supporting conservation in the Maya Golden Landscape
Conserving the Zarand landscape corridor
Supporting effective management of Ziama Man and Biosphere Reserve