Protected areas are islands in a landscape dominated by agriculture. Agricultural management has a considerable impact on the structure, composition and quality of the landscape. Natural resources and wildlife conservation are managed by agencies distinct from those that address agriculture and rural development. Generally, community approaches to conservation touch on the periphery of agriculture activities. Exclusion of people and focusing only on ecological concepts has been an important source of difficulties for protected area managers. Increasing human needs, especially in biodiversity "hot-spots", impose an integrated approach to agricultural development and nature conservation.
In the last two decades, organic agriculture has demonstrated that alternative market opportunities could reward farmers for practicing stewardship of their natural resources. By cooperating with nature (rather than emancipating itself from nature), organic agriculture can perform an important connecting role between protected areas by increasing landscape heterogenity and refraining from synthetic chemical use. Organic agriculture also halts the advancement of the agriculture frontier. Additional sources of income for organic farmers derive from agro-ecotourism, which value increases in proportion to the level of biodiversity.
In forested areas, ecoforestry and sustainable forest management can facilitate effective management of protected areas by expanding opportunities for income generation and sustainable livelihood enhancement for local people. Potential sources of income from forests include artisanally logged timber and a wide range of non-wood forest products, as well as ecotourism and the services needed to sustain it.
Ecolabels, including organic foods and fibres, non-wood forest products, ecoforestry and eco-organic tourism provide market-based incentives that reward producers for environmentally sound practices. This, in turn, secures resources for the conservation of natural capital. Ecolabelling and certification programmes provide indicators to measure and evaluate the extent of adoption of biodiversity-friendly practices. The CBD Global Strategy for Plant Protection includes outcome-oriented targets which provide a framework for regional and national targets: Target 12 on "30 per cent of plant-based products derived from sources that are sustainable managed" mentions organic foods and certified timber as indicators of direct measures to monitor progress (Decision VI/9).
In protected areas, a paradigm shift that considers farming within the context of the entire ecological landscape in which it functions is of key importance. Agricultural lands falling under Categories V and VI of IUCN protected areas should be encouraged to convert to organic management, supplementing basic requirements with biodiversity enhancing structures and landscape planning. Particular attention should be paid to extensive agricultural systems with a high scenic and naturalistic value and in areas of high conservation priorities. Enhanced ecological knowledge and especially incentive measures and payments for ecosystem services are necessary to assist organic farmers restoring degraded areas and protecting biodiversity.
Collaborative protected area management between farm operators and protected area managers are models of effective biodiversity conservation and sustainable rural development. However, weak linkages between conservation policies and agriculture, coupled with reticence of government officials, remain a major constraint for adopting collaborative protected area management. Integrated agriculture, forestry, tourism and environmental policy and planning could offer a solution for sustainable food production, rural development and biodiversity conservation in protected area landscapes. Only together can farmers, foresters, conservationists and consumers cultivate a future in which farms are integrated in landscapes that support a full range of native species.
In accordance with the above findings, and given the urgency of the need to improve human livelihoods in and around protected areas, the capacity of organic agriculture, ecoforestry and sustainable forest management to deliver a range of benefits to people and to the environment should be recognized and systematically encouraged by protected area managers.
Recalling CBD recognition of organic agriculture among the farming practices that increase productivity while rehabilitating and enhancing biological diversity (Decision III/11, 15e) and of the role of integrated planning, ecolabelling and low-input agriculture in offering tourism opportunities in protected areas and buffer zones (Decisions V/25, 4g and 12e), there is a need for promoting concerted action on organic agriculture as a viable management tool in protected areas.
In this regard, an International Ecological Agriculture Initiative in Protected Areas and Buffer Zones is proposed to encourage Parties to the CBD and FAO Member Nations to promote collaborative actions between their respective nature conservation and agriculture and rural development institutions.
The main objectives of such an initiative could, inter alia:
The suggested initiative would focus on the following user groups: resource-poor farmers, small holders and indigenous people living in and around protected areas; policy-makers and practitioners of sustainable agriculture and nature conservation, including research, training and extension institutions, NGOs and international funding agencies.
FAO, UNEP, Unesco-Man and the Biosphere, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, the Rainforest Alliance, Conservation International, the Future Harvest Foundation, IUCN-World Commission on Protected Areas, World Wildlife Fund, the Smithonian Migratory Bird Centre, the Natural Resources Defence Council and bilateral organizations could work together to foster this initiative.