Integrated landscape management

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Integrated landscape management is a way of managing a landscape that brings together multiple stakeholders, who collaborate to integrate policy and practice for their different land use objectives, with the purpose of achieving sustainable landscapes.[1][2]

Integrated landscape management is one approach to addressing the major global challenges of poverty, food security, climate change, water scarcity, deforestation and loss of biodiversity at the local level. Proponents of integrated landscape management argue that as these challenges are interconnected, coordinated approaches are needed to address them, in order for landscapes (heterogenous geographic areas) to generate multiple benefits. For example, one river basin can supply water for towns and agriculture, timber and food crops for smallholders and industry, and habitat for biodiversity; the way in which each one of these sectors pursues its goals can have impacts on the others.[1][3][4] The integrated approach goes beyond traditional sector-based practices that manage these different land uses independently of each other, even where they depend on the same resource base.[1] The intention is to manage landscapes in a joined-up way, so that society's needs can be met in the short term, and in the long term.[5]

Integrated landscape management is increasingly recognised and taken up by intergovernmental bodies,[6] government initiatives,[7][8] research institutes,[9] and some of the world's largest conservation NGOs,[1] resulting in an increase in the number of examples of the approach in practice. However, barriers to uptake include difficulties in monitoring integrated landscape management and the proliferation of definitions and terms relating to it.[3]

Development and uptake of the approach[edit]

Efforts to develop and implement concepts that integrate social and economic development, and biodiversity conservation are not new. Integrated landscape management has evolved through multiple iterations and alongside other concepts[2][3][10][11] – from watershed management to landscape ecology[12] and from landscape-scale conservation to indigenous biocultural territorial development.[13] It has much in common with the concept of the water-energy-food nexus,[14] and draws on the ecosystem approach (the primary framework for action under the Convention on Biological Diversity[15]). There are particular parallels with ‘climate-smart agriculture', which also aims for landscapes to provide multiple benefits in terms of food security, rural livelihoods, and climate change adaptation and mitigation.[16]

The interest in landscape approaches has increased in recognition of the connections between the global challenges of poverty, food security, climate change, water scarcity, deforestation and loss of biodiversity. For example, lifting people out of poverty can increase consumption and drive climate change;[17] increasing agricultural production can exacerbate water scarcity and drive habitat loss.[18][19]

Integrated landscape management has been adopted at the intergovernmental level by the UN Environment Programme, which states that "UNEP champions the landscape approach de facto as it embodies the main elements of integrated ecosystem management"; UNEP puts the approach into practice through a multinational project of Ecosystem Management of Productive Landscapes.[20] The Convention on Biological Diversity also recognises the approach: its scientific committee has compiled information on improving sustainable use of biodiversity in a landscape perspective, and stated that "As sustainability can only be achieved at an appropriate spatial and temporal context, the landscape level is arguably the most important spatial scale to improve and assess the sustainable management of agricultural and forest ecosystems.".[6]

Landscape approaches are also being taken up by national governments (for example, to inform international cooperation for the Greater Mekong Subregion,[7][21] and as a foundational principle of Indonesia's climate change commitments[8]); by international research bodies (for example, the Center for International Forestry Research,[9] which convenes the Global Landscapes Forum[22]); and conservation NGOs (for example, the Worldwide Fund for Nature, Global Canopy Programme, The Nature Conservancy, IDH - The Sustainable Trade Initiative, and EcoAgriculture Partners, which collaborated on a book on integrated landscape management[1]).


A plethora of overlapping ideas and definitions have emerged,[2][23] defining landscapes, landscape management, and landscape approaches from the perspectives of different fields (see alternative definitions under landscape ecology, for example). Despite differences in definitions, many terms can be seen as entry points for landscape approaches.[3][11] One set of definitions (developed by a consortium of research groups and NGOs[1]) that aims to create a stepwise progression through landscapes, sustainable landscapes, integrated landscape management and landscape approaches is as follows:

"A landscape is a socio-ecological system that consists of natural and/or human-modified ecosystems, and which is influenced by distinct ecological, historical, economic and socio-cultural processes and activities."[1]

"A sustainable landscape helps to meet the principles of sustainable development as defined in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. These are landscapes that can meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."[1]

"Integrated landscape management is a way of managing the landscape that involves collaboration among multiple stakeholders, with the purpose of achieving sustainable landscapes."

"The governance structure, size and scope, and number and type of stakeholders involved (private sector, civil society, government) can vary. The level of cooperation also varies, from information sharing and consultation, to more formal models with shared decision-making and joint implementation."[1]

"A landscape approach is a conceptual framework whereby stakeholders in a landscape aim to reconcile competing social, economic and environmental objectives. It seeks to move away from the often-unsustainable sectoral approach to land management. A landscape approach aims to ensure the realisation of local level needs and action (i.e. the interests of different stakeholders within the landscape), while also considering goals and outcomes important to stakeholders outside the landscape, such as national governments or the international community."[1]

Relevance to international commitments[edit]

Proponents of integrated landscape management argued that it is well-suited to address complex global challenges, such as those that are the focus of the Sustainable Development Goals and policies for Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).[1][3][5][24]

In terms of the Sustainable Development Goals, researchers have drawn parallels between the interdependent nature of these Goals, and the perceived potential for integrated landscape management to maximise collaboration in planning, policy development and action across multiple sectors at the landscape scale.[5] Many of the Sustainable Development Goals have potential synergies and trade-offs (conflicts): proponents therefore argue that a sectoral approach may not be effective, whereas landscape approaches provide a potential framework to manage these interlinked challenges. To give more specific examples, increased areas of irrigated agricultural land to meet Goal 2 (ending hunger) could have adverse impacts on Goal 15 (terrestrial ecosystems) or on Goal 6 (sustainable water management).[25] Landscape approaches are intended to systematically consider and include diverse stakeholders and sectors, and thus create a mechanism to achieve the multiple objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals – for example, working across the catchment area of a river to enhance agricultural productivity, flood defence, biodiversity and carbon storage, while also strengthened institutions for rural communities.[1]

In terms of climate change and REDD+, unlike other sectors that emit greenhouse gases, the land use sector (including agriculture and forestry) has the potential to mitigate climate change by actively removing greenhouse gases, in addition to simply reducing emissions, especially through reforestation and landscape restoration. This sector accounts for around 24% of anthropogenic emissions - and a much greater proportion of emissions in many developing countries, where land use represents the largest potential for climate change mitigation.[26] There are many interactions between climate change and agriculture[27] so the case for integrated landscape management is again based on the need for landscape managers to consider multiple issues and achieve multiple objectives simultaneously (i.e. production of food and climate mitigation).[28] Advocates of integrated landscape management argue that 'climate-smart agriculture' and implementation of the Cancun REDD+ safeguards can draw on integrated landscape management; for instance, multi-stakeholder planning, appropriate landscape governance and resource tenure, investment in the landscape, and monitoring social and climate goals at different scales.[28]

Principles and elements[edit]

Many ways of implementing integrated landscape management have been identified. Two long-term processes by two coalitions of researchers and NGOs developed ten principles for integrated landscape management,[29] and five elements of integrated landscape management.[1]

The Ten Principles of Landscape Approach include the need for continual learning and adaptive management, which incorporates participatory monitoring; the expectation that actions take place at multiple scales and that landscapes are multifunctional (e.g. supplying both goods, such as timber and food, and services, such as water and biodiversity protection); and although there will be multiple stakeholders, they nonetheless have a common concern about the landscape, negotiate change with each other in a transparent way, and their rights and responsibilities are clear or become clear through the process.[29]

The Five Elements of Integrated Landscape Management describe the implementation cycle of a landscape approach, namely that: "interested stakeholders in the landscape come together for cooperative dialogue and action in a multi-stakeholder platform (1); they undertake a systematic process to exchange information and discuss perspectives to achieve a shared understanding of the landscape conditions, challenges and opportunities (2); this enables collaborative planning to develop an agreed action plan (3); stakeholders then implement the plan, with attention to maintaining collaborative commitments (4); and finally, monitoring for adaptive management and accountability feeds into subsequent rounds of dialogue and the design of new collaborative action (5)".[1] These five elements can be presented graphically in a circle, similar to the project management cycle.

Risks and barriers[edit]

Despite many examples of implementation, and the interest of many public and private sector organisations (see for example participation at global fora on landscapes[30][31]), there are various barriers and risks around landscape approaches. An extensive literature review[3] identified five main barriers.

The first is terminology confusion: the variety of definitions creates the potential for not only confusion, but also resistance to engage with an approach that has emerged, often somewhat independently, from different fields.[2][3] As stated by Scherr et al.: “People are talking about the same thing without realizing it. This can lead to fragmentation of knowledge, unnecessary re-invention of ideas and practices, and inability to mobilize action at scale. For policymakers, this rich diversity is often simply overwhelming: they receive confusing messages as to what an enabling policy environment to address the full set of landscape values would look like.”[10]

These risks are far from unique to landscape approaches: since the 1970s it has been recognised that the constant emergence of new terms and labels from efforts to improve and integrate policy and practice for rural areas of developing countries can be harmful if they obscure problems or promote rhetoric at the expense of action.[32] The fact that landscapes approaches develop from, and aim to integrate, a wide variety of concepts and sectors, makes it vulnerable to overlapping definitions and parallel conceptual development. Like other approaches to conservation, it could be seen as a fad.[33]

Further barriers to implementation have been identified. As has been the case with other integrated approaches, time lags result from the fact that substantial time and resources are invested both in developing concepts and planning projects, while resources are less adequate for implementation, and more limited still for monitoring the outcomes.[3][12] Difficulties in establishing objectives, operating norms and funding that effectively bridge different sectors can lead to operating silos(where each sector pursues its goals without giving consideration to the others), whether at the level of local actors and institutions within a landscape, national ministries, or donors.[3] Working across sectors at the landscape scale requires a range of skills, different from those traditionally used by conservation organisations.[12] Landscape approaches rely on the engagement of multiple stakeholders, which can lead to problems of Internal/external engagement,[1][2] if engagement is reduced to a box-ticking exercise or inaccessible to community participants,[3] or powerful players such as government agencies or large companies can be deterred by a perception that there is too much participatory discussion at the expense of efficient decision-making[1] The least developed area of landscape approaches is monitoring, to understand whether the ambitious, multiple objectives of the approach have been achieved.[3]


Examples of landscape approaches are collated and analysed globally[1][2][11][34] or regionally, for example from Africa[35] and Latin America.[36] International organisations have developed programmes that apply the approach to multiple locations worldwide (for example, the International Union for Conservation of Nature Livelihoods and Landscapes Strategies programme worked in 27 landscapes in 23 different countries[37]). Some specific examples of implementation in individual landscapes are as follows.

An example of an indigenous producer movement that is managing a multi-functional landscape is from the Potato Park in Pisac, Peru, which is an Indigenous Biocultural Heritage Territory, where indigenous communities protect the ecological and cultural diversity of the 12000ha landscape.[4]

An example of cooperation between very different actors is from the landscape of the Doi Mae Salong watershed in North-west Thailand, a designated Military Reserved Area under the control of the Royal Thai Armed Forces. Reforestation activities, to address degradation caused by unsustainable land uses, led to tension with local hill tribes. In response, a multi-stakeholder dialogue was used to reach agreement on land rights and use of different parts of the reserve.[38]

Landscape near the Doi Mae Salong mountain in 2014

The Mount Kailash region is of particular religious and ecological importance, as it is here that the Indus River, the Karnali River (a major tributary of the Ganges River), the Brahmaputra River and the Sutlej river systems originate. With assistance from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the three surrounding countries (China, India and Nepal) developed an integrated management approach to the different conservation and development issues within this landscape.[39]

In the Volta River basin, landscape modelling illustrates the cause and effect of alternative scenarios for the riparian buffer, and is used to inform land-use decisions. Six countries in West Africa are using the ‘Mapping Ecosystems Services to Human well-being’ (MESH) toolkit to assess strategies for conserving hydrological ecosystem services and meeting national SDG commitments.[40]

International conservation NGOs are applying the approach using REDD+ financing, for example Conservation International is using carbon financing from Disney in the 182,000-hectare Alto Mayo Protection Forest, in the San Martín region of Peru. Smallholders sign up to REDD+ agreements, which provide incentives for them to reduce the rate of local deforestation;[41] independent verification[42] reported improvements in living conditions, reduced deforestation, and positive impacts on biodiversity.

See also[edit]


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