A decade ago, few national or even local governments anywhere in the world had a coherent set of public policies supporting multi-stakeholder initiatives for sustainable landscapes.
In fact, landscape leaders often highlighted problematic policies as a major constraint. A study, Steps Toward Green, that EcoAgriculture organized with the World Bank in 2015 in east and southeast Asia, found that most public policies to reduce the environmental footprint of commodity agriculture were reactive, rather than proactive. Policies lacked coherence, and were not aligned with overall agriculture, environment or rural development policy. Perverse regulations and financial incentives undermined sustainability or collective action, and weakened the voices of key stakeholders.
But policymakers are starting to get their act together, and much has been learned about what helps, what gets in the way, and how to design public policies that make integrated landscape management (ILM) easier to initiate, implement and scale. There is no one-size-fits all set of solutions, and different national and local governments get there differently, but some principles are clearly emerging.
In consultation with partners, Seth Shames, Krista Heiner and I pulled this experience together into a new Public Policy Guidelines for Integrated Landscape Management. The eight guidelines are relevant for any level of government, and for multi-jurisdictional policy action. You can see the overview below, skim the executive summary, or better yet read the whole report.
A shared vision guides action
Here I want to highlight the first guideline: incorporating a sustainable landscape vision into government strategies and policies. Governments, working with leaders from key sectors, collaboratively develop a high-level vision and commitment to meet the multiple goals of sustainable landscapes, and embed that vision into policies and programs. This vision motivates and guides action on the other policy guidelines.
Transforming tea production in Yunnan, China
For example, Pu’er locality in Yunnan Province has been a center of high-quality tea production in China for 1800 years; 35% of local income derives from tea. Pu’er faced challenges of environmental degradation from production of various agricultural commodities, consumer demand for high health standards for tea, and declining quality. In response, the local government of Pu’er developed an economic development strategy grounded in its rich environmental and cultural history which focused on the expansion of ‘ecological’ tea production.
This vision has guided public policy and investment in several sectors. A successful combination of training and subsidies has decreased the density of tea trees on farms, reduced agro-chemical use, better integrated tea with mixed agro-forestry, and improved biodiversity on managed areas. Comprehensive quality standards determine which tea is allowed to carry the Pu’er name and earn a high price. A well-equipped local tea testing laboratory helps to ensure a high quality and safe product from Pu’er City farms and plantations. Forest conservation and reforestation are protecting watersheds. To reinforce this vision, Pu’er City successfully applied for its 187,000 hectare Tea Garden and Tea Culture area to be recognized as a “Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Site.” (For more, read the case study brief).
Diverse paths toward sustainable landscapes
Pu’er locality is not alone. It is inspiring to see diverse sustainable landscape visions begin to infuse government policy in diverse places and in locally-meaningful ways–from integrated policy planning in Laikipia County in Kenya, to the national ‘border-to-border’ policies for landscape restoration in El Salvador and Rwanda. With new motivations for integrated landscape policy coming from the Sustainable Development Goals (how else can so many Goals for all be achieved in a cost-effective way?), the Nationally Determined Climate action commitments, and business pledges on sustainable sourcing, expect to see more government leaders envision and strive for sustainable landscapes.