Using a 'landscape approach' is another favourite that has infiltrated the world of agricultural research in the last few years. A landscape approach means moving beyond the farm scale, bringing together stakeholders from different sectors to work towards multiple goals such as sustainable agriculture, biodiversity conservation and improved livelihoods for rural communities.
But who is actually using this approach and to what extent is it working? A recent paper by Bioversity International and Ecoagriculture Partners through the 'Landscapes for People, Food and Nature' initiative, attempts to give a snapshot of the situation in Latin America and the Caribbean.
We interviewed Bioversity International scientist Natalia Estrada-Carmona, to share some insights on the exercise.
Tell us a bit about the motivations behind the Latin America and the Caribbean Review.
We are increasingly finding that individual efforts to improve conservation, food production or livelihoods are not achieving the results we want. There is a need to embrace complexity, and using an integrated landscape approach is a promising strategy. But we don't have a clear idea of how many initiatives are using a landscape approach, or what the main constraints are when implemented in the field. So the 'Landscapes for People, Food and Nature' initiative decided to launch a Global Review of integrated landscape initiatives, and we led the Latin America and the Caribbean component.
Could you explain briefly what you mean by an integrated landscape initiative?
An integrated landscape initiative is one that explicitly seeks to improve food production, biodiversity or ecosystem conservation and rural livelihoods at the same time. It works at a landscape scale, with deliberate planning, policy support and coordination between different sectors. But it's not just about one person making decisions. 'Integrated' means a 'participatory' process where different stakeholders are both affecting and being affected by the management of the landscape.
How did you find and analyze the initiatives for the review?
First we scoured the Internet like crazy! Then we looked further into the organizations involved in initiatives, and also used project databases such as the 'Equator Initiative', EcoIndex and so on. We also made a call through to our partners to help find any we might have missed. In the end, we found 382 initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean and invited them to respond to an online survey. From that, we used 104 initiatives from 21 countries to do the analysis. We also interviewed three to five stakeholders from 23 of the initiatives.
Did you find any common features amongst the initiatives?
We found that many initiatives have strong local leaders who invested a lot in human capital and education, particularly in coordination and landscape planning. This is interesting, because many development projects focus on implementing specific activities rather than building institutional capacity.
We also found that many of the initiatives – 43 per cent – evolved from short-term projects, mostly conservation-motivated, to long-term initiatives with multiple objectives. On average, at least four sectors were involved, mostly natural resources and conservation, followed by agriculture.
Were there particular aspects in these initiatives that repeatedly led to success?
Conservation was by far the strongest motivator across the initiatives we found. But those working in conservation also realize that they need to take into account other uses and stakeholders in the landscape. Those who invested more in other areas, such as agriculture, livelihoods and so on, were also the initiatives that perceived higher outcomes across the landscape. Perhaps when more stakeholders are involved and more problems are highlighted, you can deal with them more effectively.
How about aspects that led to failure?
This is a long-term process, and we are used to 2-year or 4-year projects. The average age of the initiatives we surveyed is 11 years, some even go back to the 70s and 80s. This is a big challenge because you need to engage people over time and across the landscape. Government involvement can fluctuate a lot depending on who is in office at the time.
There can also be unsupportive or even counter-productive policies. For example, there were cases where farmers’ groups trying to use organic agriculture could not receive much help from government extension officers, who are only trained in high-input agrochemical techniques. So those who are interested in agroecological techniques have to invest out of their own pocket.
Engaging the private sector and improving coordination between sectors is also a huge challenge. Often ministries and local communities have set aside protected areas or protocols that come into conflict with mining, logging or other companies that use those same natural resources.
What happens next with this information?
We will translate and circulate this information to those who helped with the survey and we also hope to publish it in a Latin American journal. The policy group from Ecoagriculture Partners will also be working to get this information in the right format to the right policymakers.
Read the open-access review here
Reference: Estrada-Carmona, N., Hart, A. K., DeClerck, F. A. J., Harvey, C. A. and Milder, J. C. (2014) Integrated landscape management for agriculture, rural livelihoods, and ecosystem conservation: An assessment of experience from Latin America and the Caribbean. Landscape and Urban Planning 129: 1–11