From Project to Process: Pitfalls and Potential of Implementing Long-term Integrated Landscape Approaches

COLANDS Session at the GLF Climate 2021 in Glasgow 6 November 2021
Session wrap-up by Mirjam Ros-Tonen, University of Amsterdam (UvA)

This morning, I posted a message on social media, arguing that we need a holistic approach to create climate-resilient, food secure and sustainable landscapes. Integrated landscape approaches (ILA) are such an approach. However, this is not a new message, so I also promised that this session would go beyond the rhetoric of the need to bring stakeholders together and negotiate trade-offs between competing land uses and go a step further to discuss not only the opportunities but also the challenges and requirements. The speakers did an excellent job in doing so, showing that implementing landscape approaches can be a bumpy road. Collectively, they showed that implementing landscape approaches is more than ticking the boxes of the ten principles for ILAs published eight years ago by Jeffrey Sayer and co-authors.

Yes, implementing ILAs creates opportunities, but also challenges and they require enabling conditions. As Terry Sunderland (University of British Columbia, UBC) argued this morning, the CIFOR-led COLANDS initiative – Collaborating to Operationalize Landscape Approaches for Nature, Development, and Sustainability – aims to learn by doing and not shy away from the challenges, but embrace and learn from them.
Let us emphasize in the first place that ILAs indeed create opportunities. Eric Bayala and Freddie Siangulube (PhD candidates at the UvA) showed that in Ghana and Zambia, they bring stakeholders together and create platforms for negotiations and conflict management, while building capacity and creating awareness of landscape principles. The same is happening in Indonesia, not presented today but also part of the COLANDS initiative. Rachel Carmenta (Tyndall Centre, University of East Anglia) even showed that integrated approaches have more and more positive impacts on the multiple dimensions of human well-being than single-sector projects.

But there are challenges, too. In this respect, Samuel Adeyanju (PhD candidate UBC) made clear that we can learn from past experiences such as community-based natural resource management projects in Ghana and Zambia. An important challenge that is not specific to landscape approaches and remains a one-million question: how to sustain multi-stakeholder platforms when donor funding comes to an end? We do not have an answer to this question, but it underscores once again the importance of finding locally embedded entry points for the implementation of landscape approaches that are less dependent on donor funding. This means building on existing platforms, rather than creating shadow institutions, and defining clear exit strategies where initiatives depend on external funding.

Second, Siangulube showed the importance of analyzing power positions and actor networks before implementing a landscape approach. Implementing landscape approaches implies bringing together stakeholders with diverging interests and different powers. These disparities include gender, as Natalia Estrada Carmona (Bioveristy International) has shown; and ethnicity, as Bayala has shown for northern Ghana, where Fulani herders and local farmers live in a tense relationship. Getting prior insights into such differences is an important prerequisite to navigate and address them and to be sure that landscape approaches are inclusive and transformative by giving the most marginalized actors a say in landscape decision-making.

That brings us to the third challenge, the inclusivity challenges brought to the table by Estrada Carmona. It was shocking to see that 64% of peer-reviewed articles on restoration in Ethiopia are gender-blind and that many restoration projects can generate unequal benefits for women – while forested landscapes are so crucial to women’s livelihoods. And thanks to Estrada Carmona for drawing our attention to the special issue of Environmental Management that came online last week, which I guest edited with Louise (Wieteke) Willemen of Twente University. In that special issue, we argue that participatory mapping, scenario building, and other spatial tools can help unravel stakeholder perspectives of landscape dynamics and their desired landscapes, as well as ways to get there. However, we also argued that there are pitfalls here, too, with respect to what is and what is not put on a map, and how, and who decides on that.
Fourth, James Reed (CIFOR) emphasized once again how important it is to monitor and evaluate the implementation of landscape approaches and not only count what can be measured but also to measure what counts in the specific contexts where they are implemented. Among these, as Rachel Carmenta argued, is subjective and relational human wellbeing – often overlooked and (made) invisible in monitoring and evaluation. Challenging the dominance of material metrics and giving voice to values that matter is central to decolonializing agendas and co-creating approaches to sustainable futures.

In conclusion, yes, we need integrated approaches. But:

  • they should be long-term processes, rather than projects of limited duration;
  • they should involve a broad range of stakeholders, including marginalized and highly influential actors;
  • they need to build on prior power and network analysis, and be gender and ethnically sensitive to ensure inclusivity;
  • they need to be monitored, not only for their impacts on landscapes and biodiversity, but also for their impact on human well-being – material, subjective and relational;
  • they should be locally embedded and less dependent from donor funding to ensure sustainable platforms.

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