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A move from Land ‘Sparing’ to ‘Sharing’ will Balance the Forest - Agriculture Equation

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A key challenge to an effective strategy to Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) is striking the delicate balancing act between avoiding deforestation while ensuring that those who depend on land uses that cause deforestation are assured of a means of livelihood. When it comes to addressing agriculture as a main driver of deforestation, one way in which this balance can be achieved is through farming and land management practices that allow for food production while at the same time conserving forests.

Agricultural intensification- (increasing yields per unit area of land thereby stopping expansion of farm areas and sparing more forest lands for conservation) also known as the Borlaug hypothesis has long been widely held as the solution to agriculture related deforestation. 

This theory was the subject of discussion at an ASB hosted learning event during Forest day 4 in Cancún. The ASB panel challenged the practicality of Borlaug’s hypothesis in our time using some evidence from ASB work across the tropics in the last decade.  Speakers included Lini Wollenberg of the Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security Program of the CGIAR and Ravi Prabhu, of UN-REDD, UNEP.

Two main conclusions emerged. First that that while this theory may have worked in some places, there is evidence that it may now counteract and even cause more deforestation. “The concept worked in the 1980’s when demand for agricultural products was lower than the yields, but now the world is more commercialized and demand for food products is high, so farmers will naturally clear more land for agricultural intensification to meet the high demand,”- one of the speakers said… , calling for new thinking and a fresh approach to meeting the challenge. . Secondly, that intensification was a necessary but not sufficient condition for reducing deforestation and a wider policy package is needed.

There was a strong call for a change in approach. “Instead of ‘sparing’, the current world situation calls for a shift towards a ‘sharing’ approach that allows for integration of trees on farms,” Dr Minang urged, adding that through sharing, we will find a viable pathway for intensification, REDD and reducing poverty. Such an approach will include sharing the land between various ecosystem service functions enabling greater benefits and overall added value to forest conservation. Further analysis and experimentation of the”sharing” hypothesis  landscape based approaches is thus necessary.

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Extpub | by Dr. Radut