Finding Harmony With Agriculture and the Environment: An Interview with Tony Juniper, the Prince of Wales Foundation

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By Amanda Strickler

Tony Juniper is the Special Advisor to the Prince’s Charities International Sustainability Unit (ISU) based in London. He works directly with Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales who through his self-established Prince’s Charities has become an international leader in humanitarian and environmental issues. Tony Juniper is also Editor of National Geographic Green Magazine, co-author of Harmony, a book published in 2010 with the Prince of Wales and Ian Skelly, and author of Saving Planet Earth, the book to accompany the world-famous BBC series Planet Earth.

What can be done to ensure conservation and promote harmony between earth’s ecosystems and agriculture?

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Tony Juniper is the Special Advisor to the Prince’s International Sustainability Unit in the UK. He is also a world-renowned author and environmentalist. (Photo credit: tonyjuniper.com)

The modern environmental debate and the challenge of sustainable development have been about mixtures of technologies and policies to create different outcomes.  My thinking over the years has altered somewhat to see this not only as a question of technology and policy—it’s also one of philosophy. If we want to have a different relationship with nature, we have to change our attitudes. We’re seeing nature as a source of natural resources and a place to dump waste rather than as an essential partner to be respected and nurtured. That idea is the basis of the book Harmony that the Prince of Wales published last year with Ian Skelley and me. [The book] looks at this world view where we have dominion over nature and the relationship between people and the rest of creation- it’s not harmonious at the moment.

In addition to your past work in environmental efforts and wildlife conservation, what has led you to become a major part of the ISU?

I’ve spent 25 years now working on these subjects and I spent much of it working with Friends of the Earth. As well as being Vice-Chair of Friends of the Earth International, I was Director for Friends of the Earth for this country [UK] for quite a few years and I reached the point where I thought I needed to have a change. At that time the Princes of Wales asked me to come to work on the Prince’s Rainforest Project [PRP] and I thought it was a fantastic idea. I’d known him for quite some time as one of the leading figures on these kinds of questions-one of the people, who was really beginning to make some impact.

So agricultural initiatives are part of the ISU’s vision?

One of the things that emerged from there [the PRP] was the pivotal role of agriculture in the future of sustainable development outcomes. It became very clear that agriculture was one of the critical drivers if you’re going to slow down deforestation and other environmental problems. We came to the PRP very much with a momentum derived from climate change, but the more we got into that, the more we realized that it was an agricultural challenge.

Has dedication of the Prince of Wales to sustainable agriculture here in the UK prompted any ideas for initiatives in agricultural development overseas? And if so, what would be the ISU’s priorities?

Yes, he has. Prince Charles has emerged as an iconic figure on sustainable development, environmental issues— and also agriculture. The organic approach he’s taken with his farm in Gloucestershire [Duchy] has inspired lots of other farms— certainly farmers in this country, but he’s also helped to stimulate discussions overseas.  He’s great friends with Vandana Shiva, one of the great Indian activists [who is] very energetic in the organic movement in India. The priority is to find ways in which agriculture can be evaluated from a broader sustainability perspective, rather than simply looking at the trade-offs between food security and production,  and then environmental damage

As we go forward into the next few years these issues are going to intensify—people are going to be confronted with these apparently irreconcilable objectives. The thing we’re really struggling with is ways to find the economic value of biodiversity in different farm systems. And I know people at The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) and at the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment have done great work on providing us with some of the tools. But judging the economic impacts on biodiversity in farming environments is actually quite hard. Is a broad base of agricultural diversity under the control of smallholders more resilient than large-scale monocultures dependent on inputs and global supply chains? This resilience theme, I think, will start playing a big part in how we look at these questions, especially the extent to which we retain our ability and capacity to adapt.

The PRP held meetings on agribusiness responsibility and rainforest conservation in Malaysia, Ghana, Brazil and Indonesia in 2010. How are these countries different, or similar, in some of their proposed solutions for protecting the rainforest and helping smallholder farmers?

We stimulated discussion among agribusiness companies [in these countries]-including those involved in the palm oil, soybean, and beef sectors-about this dilemma of deforestation while also increasing commodity outputs for reasons of food security and economic growth. And they said they could increase agricultural output while slowing down forest loss through three broad headings: the restoration of degraded land, increasing output from smallholder operations through extension and through better crops, and in Africa in particular, decreasing wastage from the agricultural system as a result of poor infrastructure, poor storage, or processing facilities. This was very encouraging, so we [the ISU] started working on this upcoming piece on agricultural sustainability.

What can the contributions of the private sector, NGOs and government be in rainforest conservation and promoting environmentally and socially ethical business practices in rainforest areas?

The Prince of Wales wanted to create an unprecedented partnership between the private and NGO sectors so that there could be a commonly-agreed approach. I think we succeeded with that in the sense of having a lot of buy-in to our proposals. Implementation is always more complicated. Economic growth, governance, accountability—different sectors are better at those things than others. Bringing them all together for a society-wide response is what is needed in all sustainability questions. And that-through the convening power of the Prince of Wales-is one of the unique roles that the ISU can play.

Amanda Strickler is a Research Intern with Nourishing the Planet

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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