The Landscape View

We recently returned from Nicaragua, and one of the projects we reviewed focuses on coffee renovation—replacing disease susceptible varieties and old trees with new varieties while at the same time adding new shade and diversity to farms. This isn’t an uncommon practice and in fact, is a component of many sustainable programs. What’s unique about this particular project is it connects to a massive climate mitigation and economic development project in the country. Nicaragua is one of those countries for which changing weather patterns have already had a significant impact. Drought and near-drought conditions during historically wet periods have already strained the agricultural sector, a principle source of GDP. Climate predictions don’t bode well either, and the country is bracing for what could be a major threat to its economy. One strategy is to build up forests and trees, which serve to temper heat and attract precipitation. But to really have an effect, this initiative must extend beyond coffee. All major agricultural sectors have to participate and they are—cattle, timber and seeds are also collaborating to restore forests.

This is what is referred to as a landscape approach, which you can read more about in this report. As pointed out in the publication, “While sustainability initiatives in agribusiness and the food industry have grown dramatically…much of the work has focused on improving the environmental and social performance of specific farms…[and] true sustainability often requires a broader focus….” I’ve seen firsthand why it is important to broaden the focus and go beyond a specific farm. All too common is the tragedy of the commons, where one farmer is doing everything in her power to protect forests, waterways and soil but others aren’t and things like deforestation, polluted waterways and degraded soil health happen. And as we’re seeing through this project, actions of neighbors on completely opposite sides of the country are interrelated. Deforestation in the east can affect rainfall in the west. Protecting and building natural resources is an all-in commitment.

For our part, we plan to invest in the program in Nicaragua. We will continue to promote sustainable best practices on farms, and we recognize we must also continually widen and build perspective—taking a landscape view, collaborating more broadly, and scaling our approach and impact are leading themes for us. We’ll be writing more about all of that here but for now, I will end with this from Landscapes for People Food and Nature; “Landscape approaches work deliberately to support food production, ecosystem conservation, and rural livelihoods across entire landscapes.” That’s the view we need.

Learn more about S&D’s sustainability efforts at home and abroad, here.