Digital Summit: Searching for common ground on the landscape approach

Uncertainty must be embraced to advance landscapes agenda

BONN, Germany (Landscape News) — Reaching workable definitions, embracing uncertainty, and generating successful case study examples to push the landscape approach forward. These are some of the takeaway messages from a digital summit held ahead of the Global Landscape Forum (GLF) in Bonn, Germany, on December 19 and 20 aimed at defining an approach to land and ecosystem management intended to balance environmental and development objectives.

Speakers at the summit included landscape experts from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the French International Center for Research and Agronomy for Development (CIRAD) as well as the universities of Amsterdam, Leuphana and Wageningen.

The landscape approach is considered by some to be too fuzzy, said CIFOR researcher James Reed, stressing the need to agree on a workable definition. “Perhaps we need two definitions: one for the scientific community and another for the general public and policymakers,” he said.

Reed recently led a review of integrated landscape approaches in the tropics by CIFOR and partners, a project that charts the development of  landscape approach theory and identifies where and how effective examples of such initiatives have been.

However, uncertainty is “an inherent characteristic of the landscape approach,” pointed out Mirjam Ros-Tonen, associate professor at the Department of Geography, Planning and International Development Studies of the University of Amsterdam. “This is due to the dynamics of landscape change and interactions,” she said.

Human geographer Ros-Tonen also pointed out knowledge gaps connected to the growth of urban landscapes and its effects on rural ones.

“When we talk about landscape approaches, we usually refer to rural environments, but 70 per cent of the global population will live in cities by 2050”, she noted. For Ros-Tonen, the impact this will have on food production and rural landscapes “really is a blind spot.”

Researcher Claude Garcia from the French International Center of Research and Agronomy for Development (CIRAD) also touched on the need to embrace uncertainty —including occasional failure— to advance the landscape approach agenda. “We do not need to agree on everything,” said the tropical ecologist, who leads the Forest Management and Development team  of ETH Zurich, Switzerland.

“I think there are huge amounts of things that we do know and agree on” in connection to landscape approach, added Joern Fischer, professor at the Faculty of Sustainability at Luphana University in Lüneburg in Germany. “Arguably, this is enough for us to move forward in a constructive way.”

Cora van Oosten, senior project leader at the Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation in the Netherlands, stressed that the landscape approach is at a critical point: “It is on the map now, although it is still considered complex; all of us have to make a clever use of this momentum, because it is now or never,” she said.

“Let’s get the landscape approach operationalized in as many places as possible, so that we can prove that it works and that it is here to stay,” van Oosten said.

Research paper: Ten principles for a landscape approach

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Summit bios:

Cora van Oosten

Cora van Oosten is a human geographer with over 25 years of international experience in landscape approaches, governance, and participatory planning. She has worked as senior adviser, project manager and team leader, usually on long term assignment in Africa (Kenya, Burkina Faso, Ghana), Latin America (Bolivia) and Asia (Cambodia). At present, Cora is employed as senior project leader at Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation  and Wageningen University in the Netherlands, where she is in charge of a project portfolio related to landscape approaches, landscape restoration, and landscape governance. All her activities have a strong component of capacity development. To this end, Cora and her team have developed a “landscape capability framework,” which, together with public and private partners, they apply to enhance landscape capabilities worldwide, with the aim of managing, governing and restoring landscapes in an economically viable and socially acceptable manner.

James Reed

James Reed is a researcher at CIFOR. James has a background in ecology with a particular interest in ecosystem service provision. His current research is primarily concerned with strategies to reconcile social and environmental issues within tropical landscapes. He recently led a review by CIFOR and partners on integrated landscape approaches in the tropics that charts the development of landscape approach theory and identifies where, and how effectively, such initiatives have been implemented.

Claude Garcia

Claude Garcia is a tropical ecologist working for CIRAD, in the Research Unit “Forest and Societies.” Since 2012, he has led the Forest Management and Development Team, in the Department of Earth System Sciences of ETH Zürich, in Switzerland. His research aims to understand tropical landscapes under change. He develops approaches to address (i) ecosystem and their processes, (ii) stakeholders and their strategies and (iii) the norms and institutions the latter establish to regulate access to the former. With his team, he analyzes the drivers and strategies involved in decision-making processes of stakeholders, with tools such as companion modeling. His goal is to let people explore alternative futures, and help them turn them into reality. Claude has 12 years experience working in South and Southeast Asia. He has also worked in the Congo Basin, and more recently in Colombia. He is fluent in French, Spanish and English.

Joern Fischer

Joern Fischer is a Professor at the Faculty of Sustainability at Leuphana University in Lueneburg, Germany. His core research interest is the sustainable development of social-ecological systems. To this end, he has worked on landscapes in Australia, Romania and Ethiopia. His research team has worked on a wide range of topics, ranging from conservation biology to questions of governance and justice. He sees the landscape approach as a promising boundary object to bring together scientists from different disciplines, as well as research actors and local stakeholders.

Mirjam Ros-Tonen

Mirjam Ros-Tonen is a human geographer with a Ph.D. in policy sciences, working in transdiciplinary contexts. She is associate professor at the Department of Geography, Planning and International Development Studies at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and affiliated with the Amsterdam Institute of Social Science Research and the Centre for Sustainable Development Studies at UvA. Her research interests include tropical forest governance, landscape governance, integrated landscape approaches, urban-rural linkages, and knowledge co-creation for sustainable landscapes. She coordinates the Inclusive Value Chain Collaboration project funded under the Netherlands Research for Global Development (WOTRO) Global Challenges Programme in Ghana and South Africa, and the “Putting heads together” project on knowledge co-creation for food security, and is Dutch co-applicant of the Treefarms project carried out with the Forestry Commission and University of Energy and Natural Resources in Ghana, which explores the potential for food and income security of introducing shade-tolerant species in reforestation schemes. She is associated editor with Environmental Management (Springer).

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