COP22 Special: What does the landscape approach look like in practice?

With landscapes integral to achieving global climate and development goals, action points to operationalize the landscape approach are needed

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What are integrated landscape approaches and how do we put them in practice on the ground?

These questions – important when considering sustainable land-use management amid competing demands – will be discussed at the upcoming CIFOR and partner-hosted PEFC stakeholder dialogue in Bali and the Global Landscapes Forum in Marrakesh.

Integrated landscape approaches have received a groundswell of support from across sectors in recent years as a means to more sustainably manage land use within tropical landscapes. There is a growing body of theoretical knowledge conceptualizing how a landscape approach framework might best be applied in a practical sense. However, there is a suggestion that, as yet, this knowledge is not widely being translated into evidence of the effectiveness of the approach in practice.

Amongst other factors, this could be a result of the approach either not being widely implemented, or that practitioners simply lack capacity or incentives to evaluate and report progress where the approach has been applied.

In order to provide background to these assumptions, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and its partners recently completed reviews of both the theory and implementation of landscape approaches in the tropics. Our findings suggest there is support for both assumptions – we found only 24 examples of landscape approaches reported within peer-reviewed scientific publications, but a further 150 within the grey (or unpublished) literature.

However, despite this limited evidence base, we discovered some interesting and encouraging patterns when comparing the findings of the theory review with those of the implementation review.

By overlapping some of the findings of the two reviews, we can illustrate where congruence exists between the recommendations of conceptualists and the experience of practitioners. Our review of the theory literature revealed that multiple authors found consensus around a few key points that they considered to be fundamental for effectively implementing a landscape approach.

Our findings from case study examples of landscape approaches in the tropics found that community engagement, institutional support and principles of good governance were considered to be the three most significant factors contributing to effective landscape approaches.

James Reed & Terry Sunderland

Our findings from case study examples of landscape approaches in the tropics found that community engagement, institutional support and principles of good governance were considered to be the three most significant factors contributing to effective landscape approaches. This is consistent with many of the recommendations below – what we have identified from the theory literature as the five key aspects for an effective landscape approach.

1) Evaluate progress: Without metrics, feedback loops fail and adaptive management is unachievable. The design of metrics must be specific to the landscape context, but ideally should encompass evaluation of social, environmental, production and governance variables. Monitoring processes should aim to balance participatory engagement and scientific rigor.

2) Establish effective and transparent governance: Optimal governance will vary between landscapes. But identifying what structure works best in which landscape, and then evaluating these structures over time, is the key to landscape sustainability.

3) Evolve from panacea solutions: It is important to acknowledge that a landscape approach is not a silver bullet. The approach will not be the most effective strategy all of the time, and what works in one landscape may not be appropriate in another. The need for contextualization is thus fundamental to success.

4) Engage multiple stakeholders: Ongoing inclusive, participatory negotiation processes will enable stakeholders to identify objectives, develop synergies, account for trade-offs and better align local socio-cultural and global environmental concerns.

5) Embrace dynamic processes: The individual components of a landscape do not remain static. As such, a landscape approach as a framework needs to be dynamic to increase resilience to stochastic, counter-intuitive or unpredictable changes. Landscape approaches take time: moving from project to process seems the optimum way forward.

Where possible, we also examined the governance structure in place in each of the case study sites. In almost 60 percent of cases, a multilevel structure was preferred. Such structures are increasingly supported and adopted as they marry top-down authoritarian systems with more democratic bottom-up processes. The perceived advantage of such structures is that they provide a voice to previously marginalized stakeholders at the decision-making table, and also maintain a good level of institutional and bureaucratic capacity.

These findings reinforce the perception that in order to effectively implement and achieve ongoing commitments to landscape approaches, a clear focus on context and stakeholder engagement are necessary from the outset. Furthermore, institutions should be in place to maintain regular and ongoing processes of discussion and negotiation.

As countries continue to develop strategies for achieving their commitments to global climate and development goals, a landscape approach offers a potential implementing framework.

However, in order to stimulate more coordinated policy development, research and practitioner communities need to provide further recommendations on how to make the transition from theory to practice.

This will be the challenge for participants in both upcoming events. Each will present the experiences of actors operating in various sectors and scales with representation from the water, forest, agriculture and private sectors, and policymakers and practitioners, among others. These experiences will then be integrated to help contribute to bridging the knowledge-implementation gap. A knowledge-sharing platform will then be established following the two events that all participants will be encouraged to engage with – the objective to further establishing action points and refined frameworks for implementation based on practical experiences.

For more information on this topic, please contact James Reed at or Terry Sunderland at
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