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Reconciling food security and biodiversity conservation: participatory scenario planning in southwestern Ethiopia

Tolera S. Jiren, Faculty of Sustainability, Leuphana University Lueneburg, Lueneburg, Germany
Jan Hanspach, Faculty of Sustainability, Leuphana University Lueneburg, Lueneburg, Germany
Jannik Schultner, Faculty of Sustainability, Leuphana University Lueneburg, Lueneburg, Germany
Joern Fischer, Faculty of Sustainability, Leuphana University Lueneburg, Lueneburg, Germany
Arvid Bergsten, Faculty of Sustainability, Leuphana University Lueneburg, Lueneburg, Germany
Feyera Senbeta, Center for Environment and Development Studies, College of Development Studies, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Kristoffer Hylander, Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
Ine Dorresteijn, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands


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Social-ecological systems are complex and involve uncertainties emerging from interactions between biophysical and social system components. In the face of growing complexity and uncertainty, stakeholder engagement with the future is important to proactively manoeuvre toward desirable outcomes. Focusing on the interrelated challenges of food security and biodiversity conservation, we conducted a participatory scenario planning exercise in a rural landscape in southwestern Ethiopia. We involved 35 stakeholder organizations in multiple workshops to construct causal loop diagrams, elicit critical uncertainties, and draft scenario narratives. Jointly, we developed four plausible future scenarios for the studied landscape: (1) gain over grain: local cash crops; (2) mining green gold: coffee investors; (3) coffee and conservation: a biosphere reserve; and (4) food first: intensive farming and forest protection. These scenarios differ with respect to their main social-economic dynamics as well as their food security and biodiversity outcomes. Importantly, three of the four scenarios, i.e., all except “coffee and conservation: a biosphere reserve,” focused on increasing efficiency in agricultural production through intensification, specialization, and market integration. In contrast, “coffee and conservation: a biosphere reserve” was driven by agroecological production methods that support diversified livelihoods, a multifunctional landscape, maintenance of natural capital, a governance system that supports local people, and social-ecological resilience. Similar agroecological trajectories have been advocated as desirable for sustainable development in numerous other smallholder farming systems worldwide. Given fewer trade-offs and better equity outcomes, it appears that an agroecological development pathway stands a good chance of generating synergies between food security and biodiversity conservation. Pathways prioritizing agricultural efficiency, in contrast, are more likely to degrade natural capital and cause social inequity.

Key words

agroecology; drivers of change; future scenarios; intensification; rural landscapes; social-ecological system; stakeholder participation

Copyright © 2020 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087