News / 16 August 2019

Opinion: "Sustainable land use needs radical policy change"

Today, an op-ed by Nathalie van Haren and Stefan Schüller was published in the Dutch national newspaper De Volkskrant about the IPCC's latest report "Climate Change and Land". Below you find the English translation.

Read the Dutch version on the website of De Volkskrant

The IPCC's latest report, which was published last Thursday, is dealing with the current dominant model of land use. The Dutch media have managed to quickly simplify the solutions proposed by the report to "We consumers must eat less meat." The IPCC report, however, proposes a range of fundamental solutions that go far beyond eating or not eating meat, and specifies how we should proceed to speed up the transition to sustainable land use.

The report confirms that around the world, there are sustainable land use methods in place that show that food can be grown while taking climate change and healthy soils into account. These production methods are successful because local land users have a central role, so that the methods fit within the social and ecological context. This leads to a diverse range of sustainable, locally-driven initiatives such as agroforestry in Costa Rica, the harvesting of non-timber forest products in India and small-scale rooibos tea from South Africa. Closer to home there are food forests such as Ketelbroek near Groesbeek, about which de Volkskrant recently wrote.

Regreening the Sahel

A strong example of sustainable land use that responds to the challenges of climate change is the regreening of the Sahel. Farmers (f / m) and nomadic livestock farmers in Niger, Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso have shown that by protecting trees and bushes, that spontaneously sprout from the soil, against dangers such as grazing cattle and desert winds, desertification can be turned around and the soil recovers. This way food can be grown again in the dry Sahel. Not only do the trees bear fruit for the farmers' own use or for the market, they also provide shade help manage the groundwater levels, which is good for the yield of the fields between the trees, helps livestock survive and prevents further land degradation.

The core message of the IPCC is that sustainable forms of agriculture focus on local land users. Local support and land rights are crucial. After all, if people have control and certainty over their land use and see that what they do is bearing fruit, they will invest more time and energy in trees and soil fertility.

Negative impacts of Dutch policies

Governments, international companies, banks and investment funds should therefore support these local initiatives instead of investing in large-scale solutions designed and imposed from a head office. And that offers a challenge for the Netherlands, far beyond the simple recommendation to eat less meat. Our agricultural and foreign trade and investment policies currently have a major negative impact on people and the environment around the world. The Netherlands is one of the largest importers of soy (for animal feed) and palm oil (for food, cosmetics and cleaning products) in the world. Its production leads to large-scale deforestation, land degradation and water pollution in countries such as Brazil and Indonesia, and puts great pressure on local communities that manage their land sustainably. In the light of this IPCC report, Dutch diplomatic support for the "soy corridor" in Jair Bolsonaro's Brazil is an incomprehensible choice.

Local land users worldwide, with their various methods of sustainable land use, show us how things can be done differently. With the IPCC report at hand, policymakers inside and outside the Netherlands can feel supported to realise a true transition to fair and sustainable land use, which will keep the earth livable, now and in the future.

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