|Environment, Biodiversity and Agricultural Change in West Africa (UNU, 1997, 141 pages)|
|2: People, land management and environmental change: Conceptual background, with focus on Africa|
PLEC emphasizes the complex human-environment interrelationship within managed agroecosystems, and the impacts of increased population and production pressure on the management of land and biological resources. PLEC is a relatively new effort, but it builds upon the work carried out by the UNU in the past. The issue of sustainable land management has been central to numerous UNU research efforts (Manshard and Uitto 1993; Uitto 1995).
PLEC is a field-based international collaborative project established with the aim of fostering South-South cooperation. Six research clusters have been established in the tropical and subtropical areas of Asia, Latin America and Africa, with the aim of undertaking targeted, action-oriented research. The project also places emphasis on capacity building in the participating institutions and countries. It is intended to strengthen national abilities to manage biodiversity and environmental degradation, and it also seeks to enhance the sustainability of natural resources and ecosystem use (Brookfield 1995). A comparative perspective across the clusters is achieved through a regular two way feedback process, cross-cluster meetings, and interactive review of project design, methodologies and results.
The concepts central to PLEC are production pressure and agrodiversity and the effects on the sustainability of the world's food production. The project is concerned with the ecological changes caused by and affecting small- and mediumscale farming operating under conditions of rapid population growth, socioeconomic change, and environmental stress. "Agrodiversity" is defined as consisting of the crop biodiversity used by farmers in their cultivation activities, and the number of wild or semi-domesticated species used for food and other economic products, as well as the entire complex of farmers' management practices (Brookfield and Padoch 1994).
A major part of the problem of biodiversity conservation is located outside of the protected areas, in managed agroecosystems where population growth, commercialization, land degradation and deforestation put severe pressures on sustainability. These areas are far larger in size than protected areas ever can be. Farmers have managed these lands for long periods of time, producing food and other necessities for their families. A common fallacy is to assume that change is a recent phenomenon; change has always been present and sometimes it has been very rapid. Yet, the traditional farming systems have frequently been able to respond successfully to the changing conditions, applying indigenously developed techniques and knowledge. This knowledge is, however, ignored more often than not by modern science and agricultural research and extension systems.
A central objective of PLEC is to bring this knowledge to the forefront in order to find sustainable solutions to the management and conservation of land and agrodiversity. The project is inherently participatory in approach, placing emphasis on working together with the farmers, local officials, NGOs, and other stakeholders to design conservation systems that are also socially, financially and culturally sustainable. These systems should make use of an ecosystemmanagement approach which allows the integration of scientific knowledge of ecological relationships with that of socio-political conditions and values to achieve biodiversity protection and sustainable land management.