The central focus of this network meeting revolved around determining the requirements essential for shaping the sustainability transformation of agricultural and food systems, along with exploring ways to support African partner countries in this major undertaking. As the Sector Project Rural Development, we seized the opportunity to share our perspectives on various topics and enrich our understanding through diverse viewpoints.
Initiating the discussions, expert inputs and conversations with colleagues affirmed that the management of land, land ecosystems, and resources remains a highly relevant subject, particularly in light of global crises such as food and nutrition insecurity, climate change, and biodiversity loss. Land-use issues are increasingly recognized as key levers for addressing urgent sustainability and equity problems. Agriculture and rural development, being interlinked and interconnected sectors, possess substantial influence over the transition toward sustainable development.
Overall, our impression was that there is a considerable demand for insights into the ecological dimension of the sustainability transformation of agricultural and food systems. We were gratified by the outstanding participation in our training courses on biodiversity and agriculture, as well as agroecology (« Ecosystem services and transformation of agri-food systems: Introduction to concepts, methods and policy instruments » and « Towards sustainable food systems – Introducing agroecology »). Discussions revealed a strong interest, coupled with reservations or doubts about operationalization in partner countries. What is evident is that the interplay between land use and the natural ecosystems form landscapes — and agriculture and the production of food is the major factor shaping the world’s landscapes.
Participants’ concerns highlighted that partner organizations are increasingly grappling with conflicting demands on land for climate change mitigation, food security, and the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. Suitable solutions may lie in combinations of conservation and diverse uses of land and other land-based ecosystems in the landscape, generating multiple benefits to societies and overcoming competition. This presents untapped potential for joint learning processes, improved communication, and mainstreaming.
The parallel session on ‘Transformation of agricultural and food systems‘ illustrated how local perspectives, governance models, and global discourses on agroecology can converge in practice. The significance of the business case for agroecology as a lever for social-ecological transformation was emphasized, with Kenya and Uganda currently spearheading growth-oriented Agroecological Enterprises supported by capacity, capital, and connections.
Another important entry point and ingredient to balancing competing demands on land use and tenure is responsible land governance and land rights. The mini-workshop ‘Integrated Solutions for Rural Development – Leveraging Impact with Responsible Land Governance’ produced promising starting points, including for cooperation with the new global project.
Our idea is that long-term visions for rural development and agriculture aim at resilient agrarian landscapes that provide multiple benefits aligned with people’s needs and values. A territorial spatial perspective brings many benefits in this regard: It helps to ensure that food security, energy needs, land tenure, gender equality, access to clean water, and biodiversity are considered and meaningfully addressed together. Due to different socio-economic, ecological and political settings, there might be no universal solution. However advocating for greater cross-disciplinary collaboration, systematic engagement with stakeholders and policymakers and pursuing systems thinking should be part of any solution.