June 14, 2016

Uncovering unspoken assumptions about businesses in landscape partnerships

Sara ScherrEcoAgriculture Partners

Landscape resources and management are profoundly influenced by actors in agricultural supply chains.

Yet surveys of integrated landscape initiatives around the world indicate that only about a fifth of them include private business stakeholders. On May 31-June 2, EcoAgriculture, with the SAI Platform, IUCN and Sustainable Food Lab, convened a workshop at the Rockefeller Foundation’s beautiful Bellagio Center in Italy to explore why this would be, and how business can partner effectively in landscape initiatives to address natural resource challenges that cannot be addressed by a single actor or sector.

The dialogue joined leaders from international agribusiness and the food industry whose companies are already active in such partnerships with landscape leaders from NGOs and governments who are eager to engage more businesses constructively in their initiatives. Case experiences were drawn from Latin America, North America, Africa, Southeast Asia and Europe. The group generated an important Action Agenda.

Bellagio Header

Gathering at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center allowed leaders to uncover unspoken assumptions about business engagement in landscape initiatives.

Nuance in business engagement

But most impactful for me personally were our in-depth conversations and reflections about the different perspectives of business towards integrated landscape management (ILM). Our work at EcoAgriculture on business engagement over the last few years has focused mainly on the potential of ILM to reduce important business risks. But in fact, we heard that far more nuance is in play. Different kinds of businesses have different interests in the landscape. Those with the greatest stake have fixed assets in the area, or must secure a critical supply of ingredients that cannot be sourced elsewhere. Businesses may also appreciate the opportunity for sharing costs and joint resource mobilization, cost savings, or market differentiation. They may be accountable for company sustainability commitments, perceive benefits for local market development or seek to strengthen local relationships. Businesses that merely buy commodities do not necessarily have a long-term commitment to specific suppliers or places.

But beyond identifying these practical motivations, the perspectives expressed and debated among the Bellagio group reflected a more profound discourse about economic transformation towards sustainability and inclusion in our societies. Individuals’ views about business participation in multi-stakeholder landscape partnerships were shaped by their broader assumptions about the direction of the economy, the roles and responsibilities of business within society, as well as the values and long-term strategies of businesses’ Boards of Directors. Their views about landscape partnerships were shaped in part by underlying expectations about who in society should hold responsibility for resource stewardship—national governments, local governments, land and resource owners, resource users, or civil society.

Differing philosophies do not preclude collaboration

Thus, for some, landscape partnerships are justified mainly by practical considerations of business costs and benefits. For others, they reflect an evolution in responsibilities of businesses to the broader society. And for yet others, they represent an evolving governance system for natural resources for a new paradigm of inclusive green economic growth.

Such sub-texts, often unconscious, influence the commitment organizations can and will make to landscape goals and processes, and the governance models they will encourage. It is alright—and expected—for groups with different philosophies to still collaborate in landscape initiatives. But it is also worthwhile to deepen our dialogues around some of these critical connections. I am certainly still digesting all the ideas generated by this one.

Read More

Key Messages from the Convening at Bellagio, May 31-June 2, 2016
The Landscape Approach for Sustainability in African Agribusiness
Reducing Risk: Landscape Approaches to Sustainable Sourcing

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