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Christy van Beek, Niek van Duivenbooden, Rudi Hessel and Paul Römkens
Alterra, Wageningen University and Research Centre
The Netherlands, 11-03-2015

Sustainable use of natural resources is a prerequisite for inclusive development

Inclusive development and private sector engagement are emerging concepts to tackle some of modern times’ large societal issues like fighting hunger. In discussions on inclusive development and private sector engagement in development projects, one key element seems to be overlooked: One tends to talk about marginalised people, whereas in many cases one should be talking about marginalised environments.

Often, the ones who are marginalised are those living in marginal or degraded environments with insufficient access to or knowledge of natural resources to ensure a sustainable biomass production for home consumption and/or trade. This has resulted in a vicious circle where environmental degradation leads to further marginalisation. Paradoxically, at global level land use intensity is increasing whilst land degradation is still ongoing. Annually about 12 million hectare of productive land are prone to degradation. Yet, most development initiatives target less degraded environments to maximize chances of success. Such less degraded environments, especially when close to markets, are more responsive to interventions and have a faster return on investment, the latter being of great concern to (potential) donors. Results of e.g. the CASCAPE project in Ethiopia show that a focus on less degraded areas can be a motor for agricultural development and hence is essential to break out of the poverty cycle (, but at the same time initiatives in degraded environments are required to prevent further degradation and loss of productive land.

Concepts developed and applied to halt or reverse land degradation can be distinguished in essentially 3 different strategies, focusing on i) increased access to inputs (e.g. market reforms for fertilizers), ii) demonstration of improved practices to farmers (e.g. water harvesting techniques) and iii) introduction of innovations that increase the efficiency of natural resources (e.g. intercropping with leguminous crops). So far, the majority of these strategies have been implemented in isolation and often without true stakeholder involvement,  which are probably some of the key reasons why they have not been able to halt, or better, reverse land degradation.

In her letter to the Parliament of January 2015 the Dutch Minister for Agriculture emphasised the necessity to include improved land management strategies in development programmes. To reach the most marginalised and underprivileged groups improved access to, and sustainable management of, natural resources is paramount. At present, resource use efficiencies in developing countries are far below those in developed countries. In marginalised areas crop responses to external inputs are lower because of ‘reparation costs’, i.e. the costs related to required investments in the environmental systems to rebuild its proper functioning. Insecure land rights, fragmentation of land, availability of the proper inputs and climate change further aggravate the complexity and consequently slow down the desired development. Experiences in the DESIRE project ( show that inclusive development can be achieved only when bio-physical, socio-economic and political aspects are taken into account in an integrated and transdisciplinary way. This requires true stakeholder involvement as well as long-term commitments of government and donors in terms of human and financial resources.

According to the UNCCD a global partnership is needed to “reverse and prevent desertification/land degradation and to mitigate the effects of drought in affected areas in order to support poverty reduction and environmental sustainability”. To really achieve inclusive development, we (the Food Security programme of Alterra, Wageningen University and Research Centre) and specifically the Fertile Grounds Initiative ( take this a step further and urge partners to integrate the different strategies as mentioned by applying a multi-scale and multi-actor approach. A step-wise strategy on how this could be implemented is developed and can be found on


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Promoting inclusiveness in the Dutch policy agenda on trade and international cooperation

This contribution is part of a consultation for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs on how to promote inclusiveness in the Dutch policy agenda on trade and international cooperation.
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