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This article is brought to you by the Food Systems, Land Use and Restoration (FOLUR) Impact Program.
If smallholder farmers are to play a part in restoring landscapes and building sustainable food systems, they will need access to financial incentives that support their livelihoods.
That was the key takeaway from an expert session on Day 2 of GLF Nairobi 2023: A New Vision for Earth hosted by the Food Systems, Land Use and Restoration (FOLUR) Impact Program, titled “How land restoration can heal the planet.”
Rather than linking restoration with conservation goals, it’s essential to ensure that restoration efforts improve the livelihoods of smallholders, said Duncan Okowa, a research associate with the Restoration Policy Accelerator, part of the Forest Program Global Restoration Initiative at the World Resources Institute.
“Part of the reason we see smallholders failing to embrace restoration is because it’s expensive for them in the short-term,” said Okowa.
“But if they see they can actually [improve] their livelihoods, increase their incomes through practices and technologies that make restoration productive and beneficial to the smallholder in the short term – increasing food production or income – then local communities will be able to embrace restoration, rather than just seeing it as a government-driven agenda for conservation.”
Other key issues in land restoration include innovative financing, building a business case for restoration, and creating an integrated approach across value chains to reduce damage to food systems, said moderator Peter Umunay, a senior environmental specialist and manager of FOLUR and Food Systems integrated programs at the Global Environment Facility.
“We really need to achieve healthy and resilient ecosystems through restoration, and also to secure livelihoods,” Umunay said in his summary of discussions. “And on food systems, we need to take an integrated approach across the whole value chain.”
This is to ensure that smallholder farmers get the best possible price for their products, thus encouraging them to continue with sustainable practices that will help them reach global markets.
Policymakers can support such actions by adopting policies and offering incentives to help farmers make the necessary shifts, said Okowa. This will in turn attract both public and private investments in food production.
“This can occur through access to credit for farmers and initiatives around sustaining value chains – all the incentives that allow farmers to invest in sustainable food production,” he explained.
The good news is that there are already numerous incentives for smallholder farmers, Okowa said in response to a question from the audience. The bad news is that they aren’t reaching smallholders who need them.
“We must bridge the gap between policies that are already there and their implementation – that is, how do policies reach smallholder farmers?”
Okowa also urged greater investment in adopting Indigenous crops, many of which have fallen out of favor, to further boost production, as many of these crops are resilient in the face of drought and other climate crises that producers must increasingly deal with. These would also offer nutritional benefits by providing a more diverse diet.
Women are often the keepers of Indigenous knowledge, which must be combined with science-based solutions to provide sustainable answers for restoration and sustainable livelihoods, said Mary Perpetua Kwakuyi, executive director of Goshen Global Vision.
That will in turn contribute to ensuring the sustainable production of nutritious food – a key concern for women, who bear much of the responsibility for feeding their families regardless of the climate conditions they face, she added.
“Women, as a group, are most affected by climate change and have better Indigenous knowledge and understanding of what needs to be done to adapt to changing environmental conditions, to protect the environment and come up with practical solutions to problems introduced by climate change,” said Kwakuyi.
“Women are key guardians and suppliers of natural resources and rely on them for their sustenance and livelihoods.”
Her organization has led the planting of almost 430,000 trees in Ghana’s Western Region, along with the restoration of almost 19,000 ha. Kwakuyi says this has benefited over 23,000 cocoa-farming families, of which 82 percent are women and 78 percent young people.
It’s critically important to engage youth in the restoration agenda and the provision of healthy, sustainable food systems, the panelists agreed.
“They’ll be the ones to disproportionately suffer the consequences to the environment of current harmful activities,” said Kwakuyi. “But youth will also have the expertise and knowledge to deal with habitat loss and achieving sustainability goals and adaptation methods.”
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