A “landscape approach” to rural development is gaining in traction in international policy and now a new set of guidelines published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences sheds light on the practicalities of implementing resource management plans across whole landscapes.
The idea behind the landscape approach is that multiple benefits from and pressures on an area can be balanced. Resource extraction, agriculture, conservation, and activities contributing to local livelihoods are all considered in an integrated manner. For each landscape there are multiple users and uses, each of which impact on each other. For example, chemicals used on agricultural land may run off into waterways, impacting the habitats of aquatic species and fish catch. As Terry Sunderland, a principal scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research and co-author of the paper published in PNAS, states, “People do not live in sectors or in departments, they live holistically. It is important that we collectively visualize how a landscape will look, for whom it needs to work and how it needs to function”.
The approach is yet to be ingrained in development activities perhaps because of the various definitions of what a landscape is. Often considered in physical terms, the paper in PNAS authored by Sayer et al, defines a landscape as, “an arena in which entities, including humans, interact according to rules (physical, biological, and social) that determine their relationships”. People are at the heart of this definition and the idea of multi-functional landscapes has been embraced in environmental management.
Jean-Christophe Castella, a scientist with the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, has since 2010 interacted with villagers in rural Laos to play a role playing game (named participatory land use planning or “PLUP Fiction”) that allows residents to become land planners, acting out different stakeholder roles on a scale 3D map of their land area in order to better understand and manage the often competing functions of their landscape.
The 10-point code of practice outlined in the paper, aims to guide institutions, policymakers and other actors in using a landscape approach to planning. The approach will be discussed at the inaugural Global Landscapes Forum at the UN Climate Change conference in Warsaw in November. In particular the guidelines talk of the need for patience, for engaging and involving numerous partners and stakeholders, for building trust, identifying and understanding trade-offs, investigating different scenarios and being open minded to unexpected outcomes. Ultimately the “10 principles of the landscape approach are an innovation that should help address the challenge of increasing agricultural production while minimizing negative impacts on the environment.”