March 3, 2017

The power of good policy to scale sustainable landscapes

Sara ScherrEcoAgriculture Partners

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.

A summary of the eight categories of public policy action that can advance integrated landscape management to support achieving the SDGs.

A summary of the eight public policy guidelines for integrated landscape management.

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1 Comment

  • J.J. (Hans) Groenendijk
    March 7, 2017 at 1:10pm

    In october 2014 I wrote the following sketch with some relevance to this subject.

    “Sketch of an integrated development vision”
    New paradigms for rural (and urban) development


    In more than 25 years as a tropical forester, as urban green and parks manager and as forestry and horticulture consultant, integrated approaches of development always were an integral part of my NRM logic. As a reaction to the doom scenarios of desertification, famine, draught and climate change, some years ago these concepts emerged as surprisingly new, opening new perspectives for a greener world. So after having completed some evaluation and fact finding missions in Rwanda in 2012 and 2013 I wrote this sketch and presented it to the Royal Dutch Embassy in Rwanda.
    Core of the argument is not that we should integrate different disciplines in rural and urban development; essence is the notion that all scientific and technical disciplines deal with the same object: the integrated landscape ; be it forest or farmland; be it rural or urban.

    The challenge

    Developments based on integration as leading principle instead of development by sectorial approaches will be more successful and sustainable.

    Most development programs and projects have been designed as a result of identification of specific material or immaterial needs in an often well-defined geographical or administrative region or locality. Of course in solving the problem of satisfying those needs the entire economic, social, cultural and ecological context is taken into account but this is centred in most cases around a sectorial approach. This often causes development projects to behave like the buttons of a ventilator. Push in one and another pops out. You solve a problem and other problems arise.

    Although in general projects fit perfectly in overall rural development policies the absence of explicit cross references with existent, past and planned programs and projects is striking.
    Collaboration between projects, departments etc. are hardly existent. This is well known and often recognised but has seldom led to feasible and satisfactory solutions.
    Many projects to become opportunistic and complex and less focused on development objectives. M&E and follow up consistent with these become an illusion. Problems arising will be considered to have the same status and priority and thus are solved as soon as they appear instead of viewing them as integral parts of a contextual development cycle.

    Projects seem to lead a life of their own and there seems to be an equal tendency to funnel
    towards specific objectives without seeking connections and synchronisation with parallel developments in other disciplines. So rural development programs rarely address related urban development, agriculture rarely addresses (local) industry or infrastructure development, and natural resource management (NRM) and forestry seldom touches on production of wood for construction or furniture production, to name but a few examples.
    This lack of complementarity and coherence provokes inconsistencies and contradictions of different approaches and is cause for many projects to be less effective and efficient and often to fail altogether. What is missing in these projects is associative thinking in terms of integrated development. The creative and conceptive force applied to resolve problems of technical, procedural and e.g. logistic nature is rather limited.

    This triggers the question how to realise a true integrated development model in which the above issues will all be addressed at their appropriate time and place in the development cycle. Projects offering solutions for specific sectorial problems are often presented as solutions for rural and/or urban society as a whole. However coherent approaches and consistent development objectives of projects and programs are rare.


    In international cooperation long term development policies and programs in different sectors and disciplines have been distributed over different departments and their different donors. This is not in favour of integrated approaches. Solutions can be found in defining development and formulating programs based on integration concepts with different projects and phases equipped with the necessary “plugs” and “sockets” that can be connected or disconnected earlier or later in time dependant on situation and/or necessity of the entire development cycle.
    These kinds of developments can take place, not necessarily simultaneously but within the same planning and programming cycle and dynamic and integrated development models become possible with great flexibility and well defined phases.

    African subsistence farming is already integrated in its concept. It offers land use models that work and use to help to buffer the climatic change risks.
    Integrated concepts are in existence already since the Middle Ages where e.g. in China apple blood lice where killed by ants facilitated by putting bamboo sticks into trees to serve as “access ladders”.
    A lot of these techniques have been forgotten because of modern technologies e.g. chemical pesticides that replaced more ecological (mechanical and other) techniques that were used before.

    What is needed is a paradigm shift toward these kinds of integrated development concepts and techniques. Governments should be encouraged to exercise their sovereign responsibility to improve their coordinating role e.g. by supporting existing or new coordinating bodies that would receive financial and technical assistance to facilitate integrated approaches of rural development.

    By Hans Groenendijk
    TISE Consultancy BV

    The Hague, 19 October 2014

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