January 3, 2017

My New Year’s Resolution: Inspire and empower the next wave of Landscape Champions

Sara ScherrEcoAgriculture Partners

When I look back on 2016 from the lens of sustainable landscapes, I see a remarkable transition underway.

Big institutions in government, business, and finance have begun making serious efforts to grapple with the challenge of integrated landscape management at scale. They are recognizing the critical importance of addressing resource challenges—of degradation, conflict, access—in a more coordinated way, as a foundation for sustainable development.

But these institutions can only support integrated landscape management, not drive it. ILM is not a technocratic phenomenon at its heart. It doesn’t thrive with top-down public or corporate planning. These processes are necessary for scaling action in landscapes (and to limit unsustainable development), but cannot on their own overcome the centrifugal forces of competing stakeholders and sectoral policies.

That requires skilled and empathetic landscape champions, who can inspire trust, create safe spaces for open dialogue and innovation, and who are committed for the long-term to meeting ambitious landscape goals. To be a landscape champion takes vision, guts and perseverance. To be successful, landscape partnerships require leadership from a coalition of landscape champions from different stakeholder groups, who have a shared vision and have learned how to work together in new ways.

EcoAgriculture Partners started out in 2002—even before we were a registered NGO—by learning from, supporting and linking up landscape champions. With the burgeoning international interest in landscape partnerships over the last few years, we lost some of that focus. By trying to mobilize compelling evidence for policymakers and the food industry about integrated landscape management in a systematic and rigorous way, the role of the remarkable individuals involved has sometimes become invisible.

So while EcoAgriculture Partners will certainly aim in 2017 to consolidate our game-changing work with big national and international institutions around engaging business for sustainable landscapes, landscape finance, and landscape-supporting policy, my new year’s resolution is to connect more deeply and directly with landscape champions around the world.

Here are the five things I vow to do:

1. Spend more time in the field learning from landscape champions.

I will visit agricultural landscapes in Africa, China, Latin America and the United States this year, meet the leaders personally and listen firsthand to their stories of success and disappointment. I expect this will enrich my own understanding of this new way of working, help me learn more about what inspires them and what they need to be successful, identify important gaps in knowledge and support, and inform my inputs to EcoAg’s own analytical work, implementation activities, policy action and training.

2. Help them tell their story to inspire the next wave of landscape champions.

EcoAg’s outreach work will showcase their personal experiences—what motivates them, what steps they have taken to advance landscape partnerships, and what they have achieved. This is the kind of personal message that can inspire others to step forward to landscape leadership where they work. We will use social media, this blog, events and other creative avenues to tell these stories to wide variety of audiences.

3. Help them develop strong networks for learning and support.

When asked how we can help, the number one request from landscape champions is for opportunities to interact with other people facing similar challenges. Their questions are sometimes about technical solutions, but most often it is about how to handle leadership issues: conflicts among stakeholders, what governance rules work for landscape partnerships, how to advocate with policymakers. I will work hard with our African partners, including the Ethiopian national landscape learning network, to make the African Landscapes Dialogue in Addis Ababa in March a success, and take steps to organize a similar knowledge-sharing/learning event in Latin America. EcoAg will support leaders in the Kenya national landscape learning network to shape landscape policies for the SDGs, and work with the Equator Initiative to incorporate landscape issues in their community leaders’ network.

4. Strengthen farmer and community leaders’ capacities to negotiate and partner effectively in landscape initiatives.

I will re-double our efforts to involve farmer and community organization leaders in our multi-sector Landscape Leadership training courses, and develop modules specifically for them. Through the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative, I will work with farmer organization leaders to review their experience in landscape initiatives and lessons learned, and to disseminate those lessons both to farmer organizations around the world and to landscape champions from all sectors.

5. Make sure that experienced landscape champions help guide the design of new national and international landscape programs.

Every week, it seems there is a new public program, NGO project, business roundtable, investment fund or policy action to advance integrated landscape management. In 2017, I will work to make sure that all those that EcoAg helps to organize and advise include strong input from experienced landscape champions for setting priorities, rules, and engagement processes.

I welcome suggestions that any of you may have to help me carry out these vows, and your collaboration in doing so!

Happy 2017!



EcoAgriculture Partners relies on private donations to continue its work. If you would like to help us empower the next wave of landscape champions, please consider making a tax-deductible gift to support us.

More From Sara Scherr
More In in Sara Shares

1 Comment

  • David King
    January 4, 2017 at 11:12am

    Great post Sara! I hope that you get the resources to implement all these resolutions, which would really improve peoples lives and the health of the planet. Thanks for including resolution #4.
    David King, former Secretary General of IFAP

Leave a Comment