6 Aug 2018

A recipe for a more sustainable world

Farming doesn’t have to be in conflict with nature. Around the world, we’re working with projects that prove it’s possible to grow food in a way that benefits both wildlife and livelihoods. Here's a tasty selection for starters...

By Jessica Law

Food production takes up more than a third of the earth's land surface - so a lot of birds are affected by it. In fact, our recent report has shown that industrial agriculture is the biggest threat to birds - but it doesn't have to be that way. If done right, farming can create an environment where both wildlife and food can flourish side by side. Here are just a few of the projects we're supporting in communities across the globe. Tuck in...

First, add some Ibis Rice


The White-shouldered Ibis benefits from wildlife-friendly practices in Cambodia © Jonathan C Eames


That’s right: buying rice really can help Critically Endangered ibises. In Cambodia, the Western Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary shelters 25% of the world’s Giant Ibis Thaumatibis gigantea and 50% of its White-shouldered Ibis Pseudibis davisoni. But how best to protect this area from logging, hunting and encroaching farmland? The answer is simple: if local people have better food security with the rice they grow, they will not need to resort to these measures. And so BirdLife’s Cambodia Programme and WCS brought the already highly successful IBIS Rice scheme to this prime new location.

IBIS Rice works by offering farmers a premium price for their rice. In return, farmers agree to respect the wildlife sanctuary’s laws. “I am happy to be a member of IBIS Rice,” said Mr Thun Kork, a villager of Khes Svay, Stung Treng Province. “IBIS Rice encourages me and other villagers to protect endangered wildlife... it helps improve our local livelihoods.”



Prepare a side of Grassland-friendly beef


Farmers are returning to traditional ranching to avoid destroying the Pampas grassland © A. Parera


Eating less meat (especially beef) helps to combat climate change, but if you do enjoy a steak from time to time, it’s important to make sure it’s as environmentally-sensitive as possible.

The image of horse-mounted ranchers galloping across the Pampas is deeply ingrained in South America’s cultural identity. But the incredibly species-rich grasslands that unite Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina are being worn away. The cattle that once roamed the plains are now confined to indoor feedlots, and pastures replaced by intensively grown arable crops. The Southern Cone Grassland Alliance aims to change this. BirdLife Partners across the region have united to support organic, sustainable beef ranching that preserves native grassland and the wildlife it hosts. Its packaging bears the emblem of the Saffron-cowled Blackbird Xanthopsar flavus, one of 12 globally threatened species that benefit from the initiative.



Add traditional chutney to taste


Communal protected areas in Lebanon hark back to an age-old tradition © UNDP


In Lebanon, something really special is happening. SPNL (BirdLife in Lebanon) is helping communities to revive a tradition dating back to at least the sixth century. Known as the Hima system, it originated to help people to survive in the harsh conditions of the Arabian Peninsula. Literally meaning “protected place”, it consisted of an area of wild land that was put aside for shared use by the community, to preserve resources crucial to everyone’s survival. “In Lebanon, the word Hima resonates more positively in people’s ears than the word mahmiyah, which is used to describe the conventional protected area,” says Assad Serhal, General Director of SPNL.

In Kfar Zabad marshlands, the Hima zone protects birds such as the Syrian Serin Serinus syriacus (Vulnerable), while providing employment through tourism, Bed and Breakfasts and the sale of local produce such as jams and chutneys.


Throw in a handful of olives


The Olives Alive project is welcoming birds back into Spain's olive groves © JLMR


Spain’s olive groves have all the makings of an excellent bird habitat. The trees are descended from a native species that has been weaving relationships with others in the environment for thousands of years. They provide permanent forest cover, offering cool shade and acting as corridors between wild sites. So if this is the case, why aren’t more of them thriving bird havens? The problem came with intensification: towards the end of the 20th century, high-productivity approaches and technical developments encouraged Spanish farmers to use artificial pesticides, and to get rid of any wild pockets of land they had on their farms. But this way is no longer delivering, and that's why Castillo de Canena olive groves are part of the Olives Alive LIFE project with our Spanish Partner SEO / BirdLife. With the help of native shrubs and herbs, ponds and nest boxes, they are welcoming wildlife back into the groves.


Best served with bird-friendly wine


One South African vineyard uses ducks as natural pest control © Heribert Bechen / Flickr


Vineyards across South Africa have united to protect the Cape Floral region, one of the most biologically significant areas in the world. They’re serving biodiversity by the bottle with the Biodiversity and Wine initiative, which helps wine producers embed environmental practices into their business. One vineyard in the region has taken a unique approach – Vergenoegd Wine Estate introduced a herd of 800 Indian Runner Ducks to act as biological pest control, devouring the snails and insects that would otherwise need to be eradicated by pesticides. These daily “duck parades” help to attract hordes of visitors to the vineyard every year. But Vergenoegd also cares about the region’s native waterbirds: with the assistance of BirdLife South Africa, they are inspiring farms across the region to restore wetlands by installing floating islands on their dams, made from indigenous plant species.



Cap it off with a shade-grown Yerba Mate


The Vinaceous-breasted Amazon thrives in Paraguay's rainforest plantations © Vagmak


What do you see when you think of plantations? Rows of uniform trees stretching as far as the eye can see? It doesn’t have to be like that. Paraguay’s shade-grown, organic yerba mate plantations resonate with frog and bird calls as rain drips from rainforest branches above. Yerba Mate is a South American tree related to European Holly. Shade-grown yerba producer, Guayaki, proudly proclaims that it “combines the strength of coffee with the health benefits of tea and the euphoria of chocolate”. It is usually grown in full sun, but BirdLife Partner Guyra Paraguay, with the help of the Darwin Initiative, has set up a new model in the San Rafael Nature Reserve. Here, they work with the indigenous Mbya Guarani people to provide sustainable livelihoods that also benefit Endangered birds such as the Vinaceous-breasted Amazon Amazona vinacea.