In the Central Valley of California, the land is sinking.
You can see it clearly if you look at the concrete well pads in the corner of most of the agricultural fields in the valley: the pads are supported not by the ground, but by the iron pipes that pump the water that helps grow more than half of the United States’ fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts. So much water is being pumped up that the sinking is buckling roads, sinking bridges, and collapsing levees. The Valley ecosystem, which was once home to one of the most diverse, productive and unique grasslands in temperate North America, has been largely degraded.
- Conventional policy approaches that assumed land can have one primary objective while “trading-off” others are no longer viable around the world.
- Fortunately, a variety of innovative policy approaches are emerging around the world, and a new study by EcoAgriculture Partners captures, classifies and categorizes these interventions into eight broad groups.
- Drawing on more than a decade of their own research and that of others evaluating programs and policies for green growth, ecosystem service provision, biological corridors, sustainable cities and more, the study provides multiple examples of these policy innovations and lays out simple steps forward.
The Central Valley is just one very prominent example of a clear global trend: conventional policy approaches that assume land can have one priority objective while ‘trading-off’ other objectives are no longer viable in a world of 7 billion people and a warming climate. To build and maintain sustainable landscapes will require new approaches.
Fortunately, models for these policy approaches are already emerging. In a paper published in January, our team at EcoAgriculture Partners looked back on a decade of our own and others’ research on programs and policies for green growth, ecosystem service provision, biological corridors and protected areas, city-region food systems, and more. We identified a variety of ways that governments are successful in stimulating the transition to sustainable landscapes and supporting long-term integrated landscape initiatives that deliver on food, ecosystem services, and livelihoods objectives. Our paper characterizes these innovations into eight categories.
1. Incorporate sustainable landscape vision into strategies and policies.
Traditional conflicts between economic growth and conservation interests are often the primary political impediment to sustainable landscapes. A high-level vision can help to mediate this conflict. After being put on a national blacklist due to high deforestation, the Sao Felix Do Xingu Municipality in Brazil adopted a Pact for the End of Illegal Deforestation in 2011, as part of a state-wide ‘Green Municipalities’ program. Adopting the Pact helped the municipal government promote the registration of private land in the rural registry, the adoption of more sustainable cattle production practices, the implementation of improved environmental management plans by indigenous communities, and the production of shade grown coffee and cocoa, all of which which contributed to a dramatic drop in deforestation.
2. Harmonize sectoral plans to incorporate multiple goals of sustainable landscapes
The process of policy harmonization can eliminate the unintended negative interactions that arise when multiple sectoral plans (e.g. agricultural development, biodiversity conservation, economic development) are implemented independently of each other, and it helps policymakers recognize potential synergies at a landscape scale. Governments can take steps to improve this harmonization by aligning objectives, budgets and capacities across agencies responsible for different sectors and facilitating and rewarding inter-agency coordination and collaboration. This type of harmonization can even occur across national boundaries. In the Kailash Sacred Landscape, the governments of China, India and Nepal came together with local communities and developed several frameworks and strategies to guide long-term cooperation. The collaborative planning process led to agreement on five overarching objectives, which have now been linked to national plans in each country.
3. Empower civil society in building landscape partnerships.
Integrated landscape management needs multi-stakeholder platforms that serve as locally-legitimate bodies for negotiating and implementing management plans. A central challenge to developing and sustaining these platforms is the ability of relevant stakeholders, particularly the less powerful ones, to have an effective voice within them. The government of Thailand has established and empowered more than 8,000 Tambon Administrative Organizations (TAOs) to improve decentralized natural resource management at the watershed level. TAOs can raise local revenues, issue local regulations, and formulate and carry out development planning and implementation. While they have faced resource constraints, they have managed to improve upstream-downstream linkages within the watersheds when working in partnership with civil society organizations. The Thai government is also currently developing a new national framework to better link these local watershed organizations to national policy and planning processes.
4. Recognize land and resource rights and responsibilities negotiated at the landscape scale.
The optimal form of ownership, access, use and other rights, may vary considerably depending on the landscape context. Most land, water and forest resources involve a ‘bundle’ of rights, by which different people may have different rights regarding ownership, management, sale, land use change, access, and harvest. The form of land and natural resource rights and the security of those rights, which provides the assurance that those rights can be upheld, are critical in landscape-scale planning and management. Mechanisms can be put in place to ensure access to resources by landless people, as was done in Tigray, Ethiopia watershed restoration programs where landless people who were helped in restoration activities were given rights to graze their livestock in restored areas.
5. Develop a regulatory framework that enables collaborative landscape action.
The regulatory framework not only needs to be supportive of sustainable land use broadly, it should also be enforceable and well-coordinated at the landscape-scale. To accomplish this, governments can work to ensure land use zoning and planning reflects agreed landscape goals. Performance-based regulations that focus on landscape-scale goals rather than standardized practices on individual properties are one effective approach. For example, recent modifications to Brazil’s Forest Code allow farmers to pool required forest set-asides into larger conservation areas, reducing habitat fragmentation and agricultural inefficiencies at the same time.
6. Participate directly in landscape partnerships.
While integrated landscape management can occasionally arise with minimal participation by government agencies, in most cases they play a variety of important roles in such partnerships. They may be conveners or facilitators of these partnership platforms: the USDA NRCS plays this role in the successful Sage Grouse Initiative, convening state fish and wildlife agencies, scientific institutions, non-profits, and businesses to conserve sagebrush landscapes across 11 states in the Western U.S. Even if the government does not take on such a catalytic role, they often have other important parts to play, such as hosting stakeholder meetings, helping identify and engage key stakeholders, bridging inputs from public agencies, advising on policy options, using their outreach mechanisms to raise public awareness, and legitimizing and strengthening support for the multi-stakeholder platform.
7. Incentivize integrated landscape investments through policy and public finance.
Landscape initiatives, even in areas where conservation or rural development is a funding priority, often face difficulty attracting and coordinating finance. The importance, and cost, of the multi-stakeholder platform and governance work is often overlooked by donors and investors. Government actors can help to overcome these challenges through a wide variety of mechanisms, from tax incentives, investment screening criteria and procurement policies that favor investments in and products from sustainable landscapes to direct financial support for investment coordination, financial management training, and management planning. The Millennium Challenge Account, Indonesia requires that grant recipients of their Green Prosperity Project apply a “Landscape-Lifescape” analysis that ensures the project fits with other plans, actions and stakeholder concerns in the landscape.
8. Build the knowledge and technical capacity to implement integrated landscape management.
Planning and managing at a landscape scale requires a unique body of knowledge and technical capacity. Governments are responsible for producing and disseminating the spatial information, basic biophysical and agronomic data, and legal and technical information that supports sustainable production systems. Additionally, governments have traditionally played a critical role in building the capacity of local stakeholders for natural resource management, through basic and technical education, agricultural extension, and professional development training for civil servants and local officials. In the Philippines, for instance, the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board partnered with the German Development Corporation (GIZ) and other organizations to develop the training tools, guidebooks and measurement instruments for a process called enhanced Comprehensive Land Use Planning (eCLUP) that allowed it to be widely taught and adopted at the local level. More than 100 municipalities across the country have since applied the approach.
Get started! Work with partners to identify creative solutions
To better support integrated landscape management, we recommend government agencies and their non-governmental partners start by working together to determine the right types of policy action for their specific context. In our experience, facilitating open multi-stakeholder policy dialogue processes framed with landscape thinking can help to identify creative policy solutions to seemingly intractable resource conflicts. Concrete steps to start this process include:
- Forming a multi-stakeholder learning and advocacy working group, and include government and non-government actors;
- Reviewing the existing policy framework and enabling environment for ILM using these 8 guidelines as a guide;
- Convening a landscape policy dialogue or public consultation to identify key actions.
These actions can create a strong foundation for policy that creates the conditions for landscapes to effectively serve the wide range of interlinked economic and ecological roles for which we rely on them.