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Sustaining Modern Agricultural Landscapes: Prudent Socio-Ecological Approaches

Dec 09, 2017

By : Kumaraswamy- Prof. & Head, Faculty of Agriculture, Sri Sri University

To achieve food security and meet the demands of the ever-growing human populations, farming systems have assumed unsustainable practices to produce more from a finite land area. This has been cause for concern mainly due to the often-irreversible damage done to the otherwise productive agricultural landscapes. Agro-ecology is proclaimed to be deteriorating due to eroding integrity of connected ecological mosaics and vulnerability to climate change. This has contributed to declining species diversity, loss of buffer vegetation, fragmentation of habitats, and loss of natural pollinators or predators, which eventually leads to decline in ecosystem services. Currently, a hierarchy of conservation initiatives is being considered to restore ecological integrity of agricultural landscapes. However, the challenge of identifying a suitable conservation strategy is a daunting task in view of socio-ecological factors that may constrain the choice of available strategies. One way to mitigate this situation and integrate biodiversity with agricultural landscapes is to implement offset mechanisms, which are compensatory and balancing approaches to restore the ecological health and function of an ecosystem. This needs to be tailored to the history of location specific agricultural practices, and the social, ecological and environmental conditions. The offset mechanisms can complement other initiatives through which farmers are insured against landscape-level risks such as droughts, fire and floods. For countries in the developing world with significant biodiversity and extensive agriculture, we should promote a comprehensive model of sustainable agricultural landscapes and ecosystem services, replicable at landscape to regional scales. Arguably, the model can be a potential option to sustain the integrity of biodiversity mosaic in agricultural landscapes.

What it means to realize that all the ecosystem services have assumed alarmingly declining trend in agricultural landscapes? It is invisibly-visible phenomenon happening at accelerated phase and scale across the agricultural landscapes. The buffer biodiversity which contributed immensely to maintain the integrity of ecosystem functions has vanished from the agricultural landscapes. Soil and water resources productivity has deteriorated due to modern agriculture management practices. Under such scenarios, the skillful integration of concepts and management practices would help restore the ecosystem functions of agricultural landscape. A holistic approach to achieve sustenance of productivity of agricultural landscapes through the participatory action research has immense potential.

A conceptual model of ‘Sustainable Agricultural Landscapes and Ecosystem Services’ (SALES). This links offset mechanisms to infuse responsible conservation of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes to increase plant species diversity and improve ecosystem services. The model is replicable in agricultural landscapes with various levels of degradation of biodiversity mosaic/induce multiple cropping systems/restore ecosystem services to benefit the contiguous farms; Bio-banks: conserved repositories of plant diversity hotspots in a landscape; Co-evolution: Bilateral sharing of ingenuity to derive mutual benefits from a community activity and/or conservation initiative; Network reciprocity: Mutually agreeable equity-based participation of farming community irrespective of socio-economic status; Offset mechanism: compensatory and counterbalance approaches to restore the original status of an ecosystem; Participatory action research (PAR): a collective research inquiry, voluntary participation and action of collaborative nature with mutual benefits to the stakeholders (researcher and the beneficiary).












The major challenge in the modern agricultural landscapes is to meet the ever-growing demand for agricultural products while simultaneously conserving biodiversity, providing critical ecosystem services and maintaining rural livelihoods. The concept of incentive based offset mechanisms has tremendous potential and it opens up opportunities to restore the diversity of keystone species, build connectivity and develop hotspots of biodiversity repositories to sustain ecosystem services. Offset mechanisms can also be used to bridge the link between complementary conservation initiatives to design local to region-specific and conservation-oriented farming systems. Further, economic and physical environments characteristic of the stakeholders are critical in building consensus-based local or region specific conservation initiatives. However, the development of offset mechanisms linked to economic benefits requires robust quantitative and qualitative data on agro-biodiversity. Generation of such data will facilitate policy reforms to incentivize conservation efforts and suitably amend the crop insurance policy. This can help promote the conservation of biodiversity at all trophic levels and eventually build resilient and productive agricultural landscapes.