From fields to landscapes: establishing the resilient productivity of Andhra Pradesh community-managed natural farming

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Building resilient landscapes in India is a participatory process with farmers, say scientists.

By Ann Wavinya, Sabrina Chesterman, Leigh Winowiecki and Sonia Sharma

Originally posted in World Agroforestry’s blog

World Agroforestry (ICRAF) with Rythu Sadhikara Samstha (RySS)/Farmer’s Empowerment Organisation) of the Government of the State of Andhra Pradesh, India are engaged in an ambitious, novel ‘landscape approach’ that addresses the loss of farming resilience and productivity owing to widespread land degradation in the State.

This complex development challenge presents an opportunity to establish ‘engagement landscapes’ as participatory living laboratories for agroecological transformation in Andhra Pradesh, based on the Community-Managed Natural Farming model. This novel approach, with continuous participatory engagement, aims to increase the scale of climate-resilient forms of agriculture that result in improved resilience, including enhanced soil health and greater water-use efficiency, while having a positive impact on rural livelihoods.

Why we need to build resilience in Andhra Pradesh

The work is a collaboration with ClimateWorks Foundation to build robust scientific evidence showing where and how climate and livelihoods’ resilience can be achieved.

Through such a partnership, the project team aims influence extensive uptake of climate-resilient, community-managed, natural farming in Andhra Pradesh through landscape scale work and learning.

To launch the project, a one-day virtual workshop was held on 25 March 2021, jointly facilitated by RySS and ICRAF and attended by 86 people from India, Africa, Europe, the UK and USA, representing multiple sectors and backgrounds, including research, government, non-governmental and community-based organisations.

The purpose of the workshop was to introduce the landscape approach, draw from others’ experience and share knowledge, to link with the many ongoing efforts and initiatives, and identify additional partners to co-develop an engagement action plan.

 

Facilitator Swati Renduchintala
Lead facilitator of the workshop, Swati Renduchintala (centre, small screen) from RySS, introducing participants

 

‘The current and future success of climate-resilient, community-managed, natural farming lies in its adoption by innovative farmers,’ said Vijay Kumar, executive vice-chairman of RySS. ‘The farmers who have adapted natural farming practices to their needs and contexts across the State are the ones that are and will thrive.’

The scientific rationale of the project builds on baseline studies conducted by ICRAF. One study, using the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework, showed alarmingly low levels of soil organic carbon, aboveground biomass and plant diversity. This was indicative of the biophysical constraints experienced by the then-current agricultural systems that adversely affected the resilience of ecosystems and the livelihoods of the individuals and communities who depended upon them.

During the workshop, Ravi Prabhu, director of Innovation, Investment and Impact at CIFOR-ICRAF, defined the scale of work at landscape scale, noting the importance of exemplar landscapes, which are smaller geographic areas within engagement landscapes where focused work can take place.

Engagement landscapes
Ravi Prabhu from CIFOR-ICRAF introduced the concept of engagement and exemplar landscapes. Source: Workshop Report

 

“Our focus is on assessing and strengthening the resilience of the system to climate and other shocks through taking a broader landscape scale and organisational frame for our work” – Vijay Kumar

Prabhu explained that in order to develop solutions, we need to consider the complexity of real life; that nothing exists in isolation. Through the landscape approach, we can observe the broader system in which villages exist. This broader approach seeks systemic, sustainable change by challenging us to think about where the problems and opportunities lie.

Leigh Ann Winowiecki, leader of ICRAF’s Land Health Decisions research group and project head, outlined the project’s objectives and expected outcomes.

‘There is an urgent need to rethink our approach to agriculture,’ reiterated Winowiecki. ‘This project aims to build a robust scientific evidence base showing where and how climate and livelihood resilience can be achieved, ensuring context-specific adaptation and innovation through co-learning with multiple stakeholders.’

The project team proposed three exemplar landscapes in Anantapur, West Godavari and Vishakhapatnam districts. Low biodiversity conservation, scarce rainfall, tribal land and high intensity farming are some of the factors that informed their proposal. The issues in each of these landscapes are different and related to other issues — such as social, health, livelihoods and migration — within these landscapes.

During the plenary and the break-out sessions, participants were given the opportunity to share what they would want to achieve from working at a landscape level. They discussed they key considerations, opportunities and challenges for developing exemplar landscapes, as well as increasing scale and measuring resilient productivity. The workshop introduced a proposed framework for establishing the exemplar landscapes.

 

Establishment process

Process for establishing the exemplar landscapes and key steps for working in them. Source: Workshop Report

 

The project team seeks to strengthen the existing natural farming ecosystem, as well as increase its scale from the current 600,000 farmers to over 1.5 million in the next two years.

‘We will engage at multiple levels of management, partnership and governance to support the scaling out of practices, innovations, technologies and policies across the State and beyond, giving meaning to the term “engagement landscape for natural farming,”’ concluded Winowiecki.

The project team are now actively working on training and recruitment of local facilitators and district workshop plans. Stay tuned for our next story on the district workshops.

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