An oxymoron is born

What participants at the XIV World Forestry Congress had to say about landscape approaches.
Plowing rice fields in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. CIFOR.

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I have just left the final session at the XIV World Forestry Congress, where participants discussed the challenges and opportunities of the landscape approach.

These were inspiring discussions that echoed many of the themes I heard throughout the week at other sessions concerned with integrating land use at landscape scales. I am told there were more than 20 such “landscape” sessions at the Congress, and while I can’t claim to have attended them all, I have seen (and heard) enough to recognize that momentum is building and landscape approaches are in the ascendency.

There definitely appeared to be a sense that we are moving toward some sort of consensus: many of the presenters and attendees seemed happy to promote the value of the landscape approach, be it social, economic or environmental. And despite some lingering concerns over definitions and terminology, it appeared that, for the most part, we were speaking the same language.

So what did all these forestry people have to say about the landscape approach?

A few, very consistent messages reverberated through the many meeting rooms of Durban’s convention center, which, when summarized, show that significant challenges remain – but that there is also considerable opportunity ahead.

Members of The Forests Dialogue explained that, despite the growing emphasis on landscape approaches, examples of successful implementation remain scarce. We were advised that now is the time for urgency, that we must address this implementation gap and capitalize on the growing political will.

Words of warning were also voiced. CIFOR’s Director General Peter Holmgren noted that, while now might be the time for urgent action, it is also a time for patience: these initiatives are not going to yield quick returns and we must have the foresight to realize that big wins will ensue only by playing the long game.

Similarly, Peter Besseau, Executive Director of the International Model Forest Network Secretariat, succinctly stated that landscape approaches must be “a process, not a project”.

Research clearly has a fundamental role in supporting these processes, and several research gaps were identified. Some felt that we still lack practical guidelines for operationalizing a landscape approach, whereas many others pointed out the need for effective monitoring systems – preferably low cost, high value. What is clear is that research needs to build the evidence base. For all of our greater understanding, landscapes remain complex, and scientists need to continue to elucidate the linkages between forestry, agriculture and other competing land uses.

What is clear is that research needs to build the evidence base. For all of our greater understanding, landscapes remain complex.

James Reed

And in another word of warning, Michael Kleine, Deputy Director of IUFRO, stressed that while research must seek positive synergies, we should not forget to identify those who lose out: by identifying trade-offs, we can begin to understand how to provide appropriate assistance or alternatives.

So what happens when we address these challenges in practice? Is that it? Or have we missed something?

A practical example from Rwanda illustrated that even when you have social mobilization, political support, enabling conditions, and public–private partnerships in place, challenges remain – financial ones. Rwanda is trying to restore 2 million hectares by 2030 through restoration of degraded forest (primarily eucalyptus) and transformation of traditional agricultural systems to agroforestry systems. However, at a cost of over $1,500 per hectare, the available finance will only stretch to restoring 46,000 hectares per year, meaning the target will not be achieved until somewhere close to 2060.

However, we also heard during the Congress that there is significant scope to close the current public/private sector investment gap. Suggestions from Camille Rebelo of EcoPlanet Bamboo included delivering coherent reports in more accessible language, creating enabling environments to make projects investor-ready, and for governments to work toward providing affordable risk guarantees. If such conditions are in place, there is potential for every million-dollar public sector investment to be matched 15 times over by private sector investments.

To summarize, what more should we be doing?

Well, not a lot, actually, according to Peter Besseau. We are already doing many things right. We need to keep the energy levels high, and keep landscape approaches in the spotlight without overselling them. The last thing we need is to fall into the trap of claiming that landscape approaches are any kind of panacea. We need to continue to integrate and we mustn’t create a new landscape silo.

Which brings me to the oxymoron referenced in the title of this blog: we need to act urgently, and with patience. Urgently patient or patiently urgent?

This work forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

For more information on this topic, please contact James Reed at
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Topic(s) :   Community forestry Landscapes