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Using the Environmental Livelihoods Security (ELS) framework for developing climate-smart landscapes: a preliminary investigation for informing agricultural policy in the South Pacific


Across the Pacific islands, community isolation has resulted in high human-environment dependency, with climate intrinsically impacting the viability of agricultural systems. However, the resilience of coupled human-environment systems is threatened by long- term stresses and short-term shocks resultant from changes in global climate; with the potential for exceeding a system coping capacity having an adverse impact on people’s livelihood security. Rural Fijian communities and ecosystems are facing frontline impacts of a changing climate, as illustrated by Tropical Cyclone Winston in 2016. Exactly how the impacts of climate change will unfold remain uncertain, partly due to uncertainty in climate model projections, but also because the impacts of climate change are jointly determined by the sensitivity of at-risk communities to climate events. Societies and economies in Fiji are changing rapidly which makes it difficult to forecast the sensitivity of future populations to future climate stressors.

In this research we used the Environmental Livelihood Security (ELS) framework (Biggs et al. 2015) to guide an evaluation of how a multifunctional agricultural landscape approach could be managed to optimise sustainable and climate-resilient livelihood outcomes. In particular, research focused on identifying opportunities and constraints to the use of participatory geospatial approaches to inform landscape management in data-poor, geographically heterogeneous regions, with field research undertaken in the Ba River catchment of northwest Viti Levu, Fiji. Field research findings identified five key criteria for operationalising a landscape approach in Fiji, which were (i) a certain level of socio- economic development is assistive, (ii) managing landscape diversity is challenging, (iii) traditional knowledge is a key asset, (iv) communities are key landscape managers, and (v) cross-level communication facilitates landscape management. Several factors emerged for promoting or limiting the success of agricultural geographic information initiatives, which included a need for improved geographical targeting, better understanding of information requirements, more rigourous evaluation processes and greater assessment as to how farmers can benefit.

The research findings demonstrate significant potential impacts for advancing science, building social capacity of multi-level stakeholders and enhancing the climate resilience of small-scale farmers in the Fiji. Despite the growing momentum to adopt landscape approaches in response to climate challenges, our research provides one of the first studies to specifically assess the feasibility of adopting a landscape approach within an applied context. Key recommendations are to further investigate agricultural geographic information potential for facilitating a landscape approach to build climate resilience and enhance ELS in Fiji, Tonga and the South Pacific more broadly.