More and more experts see the necessity to solve land-use problems with landscape approaches. Photo: Diego Dourojeanni for GLF 2014 photo competition

Why climate change researchers are so excited about landscapes

By Kate Langford, originally published at World Agroforestry Centre

If it’s a heterogeneous, multifunctional landscape in a smallholder context then there’s a pretty good chance climate change researchers are interested in it. If the landscape is contributing to greater food security, storing carbon and helping farmers cope with changes in climate, then all the better.

In the second chapter of the book, Climate-Smart Landscapes: Multifunctionality in Practice, Emmanuel Torquebiau, senior scientist with CIRAD, the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development, asks “what is it that makes the ‘landscape approach’ so unique? And why has it become a catchphrase of the climate change research community?”

In answering this question, Torquebiau attempts to compile the characteristics of a desired landscape or what the requirements are for a landscape approach. He looks at landscapes in terms of their structure (components) and their function (interactions between those components).

Also read

Climate-smart landscapes make business sense to the private sector , by Elizabeth Kahurani for ASB, Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins

Landscape approach: bridging the climate agenda with the Sustainable Development Goals, by Susan Onyango for Agroforestry World Blog

The landscape approach for meeting the climate challenge: Examples from Africa, by Daisy Ouya for Agroforestry World Blog

At the Global Landscapes Forum 2014, the World Agroforestry Centre is hosting the session

Using climate-smart technologies to scale up climate-smart agriculture practices, Sunday 7 December 2014

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Landscapes are not comprised of a single structure or land use. In essence, they are mosaics that incorporate a mixture of land uses, such as agricultural lands, forests and water bodies. Landscapes are made up of dissimilar parts; they have structural heterogeneity.

A range of different land uses means landscapes provide different functions; they are multifunctional. Landscapes produce commodities and they provide economic, social and environmental services that include carbon sequestration, water conservation and soil erosion control, all of which contribute to improved livelihoods for those who inhabit them.

It is structural heterogeneity and multifunctionality in a landscape that holds tremendous promise for both climate change mitigation and adaptation; and the reason behind the popularity of a landscape approach amongst climate change researchers. Heterogeneity in a landscape leads to improved resilience and innovation directly leading to enhanced adaption to climate change. Heterogeneity is a clear attribute for output diversification and the spreading of risks in space and time.

The landscape approach has arisen from the need to address several different objectives simultaneously amid growing competition for land from an ever increasing population and the looming threat of climate change.

Landscape approaches are seen as a pathway towards sustainable development, that is, development which avoids further environmental damage, repairs existing damage and increases the quality of life for people. Minang and colleagues – in the first chapter of the book – describe a landscape approach as a journey moving towards a desired state. In many cases that desired state is a sustainable multifunctional landscape.

Taking a landscape approach involves studying the linkages and interactions between the various components in the hope that better decisions can be made about land use. There may be positive interactions such as trees planted alongside annual crops to facilitate pollination. A negative interaction would be erosion-prone tree plantations on the top of a slope.

The objective of the landscape approach should be to maximize positive interactions and minimize negative ones through the best possible arrangement of patches, says Torquebiau.

When it comes to addressing climate change, Torquebiau argues that climate-smartness (which requires combining adaptation to and mitigation of climate change while maintaining production objectives) is easier to reach at the landscape scale than at the farm or plot scale.

Minang explains how climate-smart landscapes seek to integrate climate change mitigation and adaptation alongside multiple social, economic and environmental objectives. Landscapes are considered to be climate-smart when they contribute to increasing food security, and improve climate adaptation and mitigation in a sustainable way.

A climate-smart landscape may include a watershed where upper parts are kept for forest protection (focusing on mitigation), middle parts for perennial crops (focusing on mitigation and adaptation) and lower lands for annual crops or livestock (focusing on adaptation).

Torquebiau outlines how a landscape approach can be used to design land management principles which combine land units for mitigation and for adaptation. These principles can also complement systems where mitigation and adaptation are pursued on the same patch, such as with agroforestry systems.

So there is good reason behind increasing interest in a landscape approach that can help to preserve heterogeneity and multifunctionality which could enhance both livelihoods and environmental objectives in the face of climate change.

This article is taken from chapters 1 and 2 in the following book:

Minang PA, van Noordwijk M, Freeman OE, Mbow C, de Leeuw J, Catacutan D (2015). Climate-Smart Landscapes: Multifunctionality in Practice. Nairobi, Kenya: World Agroforestry Centre.

The book was launched at the Global Landscape Forum, a side event of the UN climate conference, on 6 December.

See full program at

The book:

  • Brings together for the first time a range of original research and case studies on landscape approaches with a focus on climate change
  • Specifically looks at the pathways, methods and tools needed for achieving synergy between various stakeholders, sectors and institutions at the landscape to meet multiple objectives
  • Presents new ways to bring together science, policy and practice as well as identifying specific opportunities for private sector involvement in landscape approaches.

The book will be available online at after its launch.



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