Land-use intensification in forest-agriculture frontier landscapes: effects on ecosystem services and poverty alleviation (ESPA-Frontiers)

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: International Development

Abstract

Agricultural intensification refers to interventions to increase the outputs per hectare of crops or livestock. Whilst intensification can occur through local demand for innovation, it is increasingly imposed through policy interventions in forest-agriculture frontiers. 'Sustainable intensification' and 'land sparing' are examples of popular policy narratives that respond to concerns over future food security and planetary boundaries. Agricultural intensification also features in global development goals and strategies, such as the Sustainable Development Goals and efforts to accelerate a Green Revolution for Africa.

Some of the most rapid change is taking place in forest-agriculture frontier, often characterized by mosaic landscapes in transition from subsistence to cash-cropping economics, from longer to shorter fallows, and from lower to higher levels of purchased inputs. These rapidly changing social-ecological systems are also places where poverty alleviation and environmental conservation are priority objectives. However, previous reviews of such transitional landscapes finds that intensification generates more income but also leads to negative outcomes including loss of human and social capital, deforestation, and biodiversity loss (van Vliet et al. 2012). At present we know very little about the trends and patterns of such outcomes, the contexts in which they take shape, or how to improve policy.

This knowledge gap about sustainable agriculture and landscapes is well suited to being addressed through an ESPA synthesis, firstly because concerns for sustainable agriculture have been central to the ESPA empirical portfolio (Mace 2014) and secondly because ESPA conceptual approaches provide insightful ways to interrogate the wider body of empirical cases. Thus we draw on ESPA studies but also draw on ESPA framings of ecosystem services, human wellbeing and trade-offs to guide our synthesis of the wider empirical evidence. We propose to synthesise an interdisciplinary body of refereed and grey literatures, primarily through a narrative synthesis approach, with potential to also use statistical meta-analysis or Qualitative Comparative Analysis as a secondary approach. The synthesis will ask how agricultural intensification shapes the changing trade-offs between land use, ecosystem services and poverty alleviation. One particularly novel point of departure is the emerging findings about how land use change, and in particular agricultural intensification, changes how ecosystems are valued by different stakeholders, such that ecosystem services valued under traditional agricultural systems may become less valued (or even become perceived as disservices) under intensified and commodified systems.

We propose to work with an interdisciplinary working group of experts with strong engagement with key policymakers and practitioners in organisations working on agriculture, conservation and development. Engagement will ultimately lead to knowledge exchange activities that are intended to bring about uptake of research findings and benefits to the wellbeing of the poor. We propose to do this through co-produced knowledge products (including a policy brief and a short film), workshops, dissemination at global events and interaction with global science-policy platforms such as IPBES. Regarding the latter activity, the project working group has partly been selected for a wide spread of contributions to these platforms and therefore direct opportunities to be part of wider processes of communicating science to policy.

Planned Impact

The proposed research seeks to have an impact on academic work through conceptual advancement and an impact on poverty alleviation for people living in forest-agriculture frontier landscapes in low-income countries. This includes potentially hundreds of millions of people engaged in shifting cultivation in often remote and challenging landscapes characterized by a mosaic of forest and agriculture.

The conceptual advancement will flow from an expanded and more sophisticated understanding of the outcomes of agricultural intensification (in terms of ecosystems, wellbeing and trade-offs). In doing so we will generate new understanding of agricultural sustainability and outline the possible pathways for better managing trade-offs between land use change, ecosystem services and wellbeing.

We identify three main pathways by which this new academic knowledge will be taken up by policymakers and practitioners. Firstly, knowledge products, including the policy brief will be co-produced through engagement of select end users in a workshop. Secondly, members of the working group will opportunistically attend key global meetings and events to present the knowledge products. Thirdly, the working group members have in part been selected for their own ongoing involvement in important expert groups or engagement processes. For example Corbera (IPCC), Dawson (SDG2), Franks (CBD, Protected Area equity), Pascual (IPBES), Martin (Global Forest Expert Panel), Mertz (Global Land Project). Fourthly, the PIs will work with the ESPA directorate to contribute to programme-wide impact strategies.

A policy brief and video (alongside a more detailed working paper and journal publications) will be the key, co-produced knowledge products for supporting knowledge dissemination and uptake. These will outline the threats and opportunities of agricultural intensification in forest-agriculture frontiers, outline our conceptual framing of the effects of intensification and the synthesised observation of effects that flows from this, and provide recommendations for sustainable agriculture and landscapes that accounts for 1) a multi-dimensional approach to wellbeing and 2) a highly dynamic context in which the values attached to different ecosystem services, by different groups of stakeholders, are also undergoing significant change. The film will include coverage of some exemplary cases from the ESPA portfolio, with PI interviews.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Overall, our results show that:
• A gricultural intensification seldom leads to sustainable development: negative ecosystem service and wellbeing outcomes are reported at least as frequently as positive ones.
• Negative outcomes for both ecosystem services and wellbeing are particularly found in cases where agricultural intensification involves a change to monocultures, especially associated with coffee, shrimp, maize, and other cash crops, or where it involves reduced length of fallow periods.
• Vulnerable population groups are most often on the losing end as they often lack the necessary resources to fully benefit from intensification and they are often more vulnerable to the effects of ensuing environmental degradation.
• These key findings were largely corroborated by expert experience, with similar distribution of cases on a win-win, losewin, lose-lose axis (Figure 2).

Our findings also show that while agricultural intensification interventions may achieve win
Key messages 1. Sustainable intensification of agriculture is seen by many as a flagship strategy for helping to achieve global food security whilst avoiding further environmental impacts. However, the expected 'winwin' outcomes, benefitting both human wellbeing and ecosystems, are poorly documented. We therefore analysed how agricultural intensification affects both ecosystem services and human wellbeing in low and middle-income countries. 2. Current forms of agricultural intensification typically increase food production, but seldom improve other facets of wellbeing and tend to have negative impacts on important ecosystem services regulating water, soil or climate cycles. 3. Intensification efforts tend to favour better-off farmers at the expense of poorer ones, especially when it involves a change in crops and a transition to monoculture farming. 4. Hence, there is an urgent need for research that examines the complex tradeoffs associated with increasing agricultural production and that provides recommendations for how agricultural intensification strategies can become genuinely sustainable.
Figure 1. The agricultural intensification process and its possible outcomes. From Martin et al. (2018).
win outcomes, particularly through interventions with increased inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides, this tends to occur mainly when a narrow range of impacts are studied, typically food production and income-generation. In many win-lose or lose-lose cases, a wider range of impacts are considered. Further, only a few of the reviewed cases provide evidence that they are contributing holistically to meeting SDG2 and SDG15. By beginning to identify the conditions associated with negative and positive outcomes, we can point to research and policy agendas that can support more sustainable agricultural intensification. Importantly, in cases where intensification leads to ecosystem service benefits beyond short-term food production or to wellbeing benefits beyond income, a combination of landscape scale intensification with reforestation and diversification of agronomic practices is typically achieved
Exploitation Route We expect these findings to stimulate efforts to better define and advance agricultural sustainability, thus contributing to long-term livelihoods and wellbeing.It is too early to see any impact. What we can say is that the scientific findings are in place to support our impact plans.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

URL https://www.uea.ac.uk/global-environmental-justice/research/-/asset_publisher/rM7vJGEeuNAf/content/land-use-intensification-in-forest-agriculture-frontier-landscap-1?inheritRedirect=false&redirect=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.uea.ac.uk%2Fglobal-environmental-justice%2Fresearch%3Fp_p_id%3D101_INSTANCE_rM7vJGEeuNAf%26p_p_lifecycle%3D0%26p_p_state%3Dnormal%26p_p_mode%3Dview%26p_p_col_id%3Dcolumn-4%26p_p_col_pos%3D1%26p_p_col_count%3D2%26p_r_p_564233524_resetCur%3Dtrue%26p_r_p_564233524_categoryId%3D25911877
 
Description ESPA Science conference, January 2018, Edinburgh 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Presentation of research findings by Adrian Martin
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description FLARE conference October 2018, Copenhagen 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Conference paper on results of study, presented by Ole Mertz
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Future Earth blog - interview with Unai Pascual 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Blog written by journalists based n
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://futureearth.org/blog/2018-aug-2/social-ecological-outcomes-agricultural-intensification-rarel...
 
Description Global Landscapes forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Filmed ted-style talk at Global Landscape Forum in Bonn
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6urLjo0LReE
 
Description POLLEN conference, Oslo, June 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Presentation of study results by Brendan Coolsaet
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Policy Brief 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Policy Brief on 'Sustainable Agricultural Intensification'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.uea.ac.uk/documents/18634712/20350354/Sustainable_Intensification-Policy-Brief-2018-fina...
 
Description Press Release and media interviews and articles 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We released a Press Release to coincide with publication of an article in Nature Sustainability. This led to a number of interviews for team members including with CBC and other international media outlets.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018