Taking the bull by the horns

Can Integrated Landscape Management contribute to sustainable cattle ranching? And vice versa?

In the realm of Integrated Landscape Management (ILM), one pressing challenge often takes centre stage: deforestation. As we delve deeper into this complex problem, a compelling truth comes to light: cattle ranching is typically a significant driver of this activity.

In recent years, strategies to promote sustainable alternatives to conventional ranching have emerged, aiming to mitigate and adapt to climate change, reduce deforestation, preserve vulnerable ecosystems, and mitigate the impacts of cattle production. Achieving these objectives often involves endorsing enhanced practices, implementing robust monitoring systems, and fostering collaboration among various stakeholders. ILM could be conducive to sustainable cattle ranching and enable pathways to achieving impact at scale.

Under the EU-supported Landscapes For Our Future programme, there are several ILM projects in Latin America that have begun addressing deforestation related to cattle production by experimenting with sustainable approaches to cattle ranching. These projects include Mi Biósfera in Honduras, Cerrado Resiliente (CERES) in Brazil/Paraguay, Paisajes Resilientes in Bolivia, Paisajes Sostenibles in Colombia and Paisajes Andinos in Ecuador. Of these, the first three are the furthest advanced, and ready to offer lessons to our programme.

Towards more sustainable cattle ranching in Landscapes For Our Future projects

Over the last decade, sustainable cattle ranching has attracted greater visibility and importance. It is also becoming a more frequent requirement in global beef markets due to new regulations supporting the transition towards sustainable agriculture and forestry. For instance, last month the European Union passed the EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR), seeking to reduce the EU market’s impact on deforestation and forest degradation globally. The EUDR requires the operators and traders of key commodities – such as cocoa, coffee, cattle, timber and palm oil – to be ‘deforestation-free’. This transition will also enable countries to comply with climate change mitigation and conservation commitments. Moreover, even if cattle farmers are not seeking to position their products in European or other export markets, sustainable ranching can support ranchers in multiple other ways.

The Mi Biósfera project being implemented in the south-western flank of Honduras’ Río Plátano Biosphere buffer zone is actively spearheading the adoption of promising technologies aimed at driving the transition towards sustainable cattle ranching. A collaborative effort between Honduras’ Forest Conservation Institute, the Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School and the Mi Biósfera Consortium, which comprises FUNDER, the National Agricultural University, and the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SERNA), Mi Biósfera is providing training on sustainable practices to approximately 1,000 cattle ranchers through field schools and facilitating access to advanced technologies via sustainable finance programmes.

For example, Redin Valecillo’s involvement in Mi Biósfera has shown economic and environmental benefits at his farm, Los Mangos. The project introduced a more sustainable rotational grazing system, allowing his soils to recover and the quality of pasture to improve, thus enhancing its nutritional value for his cattle. More sustainable ranching has resulted in weight gain and increased milk production for his cows, while also reducing production costs over time. Notably, the use of solar panels and electric fencing has further lowered expenses.  The system’s efficiency has reduced labour requirements, and the return of riparian forest cover has improved water management. Decreased pesticide usage has led to increased biodiversity on the farm, and Mr. Vallecillo’s farm — one of the 20 farms in the pilot programme— is transitioning towards reduced carbon emissions.

The path to collective sustainability

ILM acknowledges the intricate interconnections among distinct stakeholders and their land use systems within landscapes, such as forests, pastures and water bodies. Adopting an ILM approach requires recognizing the importance of coordination and collaboration among interest groups. By convening farmers, local communities, government agencies and environmental organizations, among others, ILM facilitates collaborative efforts to address complex challenges such as deforestation, water management or land tenure, while unlocking numerous benefits for the social and economic development of farmers and their communities.

The CERES project in Paraguay illustrates how collaborative processes can provide a common platform for stakeholders to share knowledge, align goals and develop coordinated strategies to prioritize forest preservation while meeting the needs of producers, such as cattle farmers. By working together, stakeholders can pool resources, leverage expertise and ensure effective monitoring and enforcement of zero-deforestation commitments. By encouraging open dialogue and fostering a deeper understanding of different stakeholders’ perspectives and concerns, ILM serves as a catalyst for stakeholder coordination, enabling a unified and concerted effort towards achieving more sustainable cattle ranching practices.

WWF Paraguay, responsible for implementing the CERES project in the Alto Paraguay landscape, has successfully engaged small, medium and large-sized ranchers through a multistakeholder platform that highlights shared interests among stakeholders. WWF Paraguay’s efforts have resulted in significant collaboration among diverse stakeholder groups, focusing on the Bahía Negra district’s land use management plan, known as POUT (Plan De Ordenamiento Urbano y Territorial).

The POUT Roundtable was established as a multi-stakeholder platform to support the POUT process. It facilitated dialogue and feedback from various entities in the landscape, including national government agencies, the Bahía Negra municipality, local and regional cattle ranching associations and other producer associations, environmental and social organizations, indigenous groups and NGOs like WWF. Their participation was driven by the desire to have their interests represented in the final territorial planning process.

The POUT Roundtable, initially established with one specific goal, has evolved into an entry point for multi-stakeholder dialogue on a range of issues that was previously lacking in the territory

Valentina Bedoya, WWF Paraguay’s Sustainable Landscapes Officer

The POUT Roundtable has proven to be a successful mechanism for participatory decision-making and consensus building regarding land use in the territory, a sensitive topic because it touches on peoples’ livelihoods. However, an important lesson learned, as expressed by Patricia Roche, WWF Paraguay’s Project Specialist, is the need to empower governmental authorities to effectively lead these spaces. As highlighted by Roche, “it is crucial for these platforms to be led and convened by local or national authorities, as certain interest groups may view international NGOs as outsiders with conservation biases that could influence the outcomes.”

In addition to its involvement in the POUT Roundtable, WWF Paraguay, through the Alliance for Sustainable Development, offers technical assistance to cattle producers and establishes connections with a sustainable cattle market. CERES also provides them with assistance in the field to support nurseries for native tree species for use in silvopastoral systems. Moreover, CERES conducts fire management activities in which different landscape stakeholders — including the cattle sector — are involved. As a result, better management practices are being implemented in the territory.

In Bolivia’s dry Chiquitano forests, the Paisajes Resilientes project, led by GIZ, has been working with small and medium-scale cattle producers to help ranchers mitigate and adapt to the adverse effects of the droughts impacting the area. Photo by GIZ/Paisajes Resilientes.

In Bolivia, another effort at multi-stakeholder coordination is attempting to support a transition towards sustainable cattle farming practices to adapt to climate change effects such as water scarcity. In Bolivia’s dry Chiquitano forests, the Paisajes Resilientes project, led by GIZ, has been working with small and medium-scale cattle producers. In this region, sustainable farming initiatives, especially by reducing deforestation and improving water management practices, are being promoted as alternatives that could help ranchers mitigate and adapt to the adverse effects of the droughts impacting the area.

Taking the bull by the horns: balancing tradeoffs and defining shared goals

An important barrier to the adoption of sustainable practices is that producers need to see a clear benefit to transitioning from conventional ranching practices. Recognizing future benefits can also involve balancing tradeoffs between different interest groups and defining shared goals that might be difficult to achieve individually – such as the management of wildfires that the CERES project is addressing. By showcasing compelling examples of sustainable cattle ranching, such as Mi Biósfera’s model farms, other farmers might be inspired to harness greater positive economic, social and environmental outcomes themselves. In fact, farmers within Mi Biósfera’s intervention area have already attracted other farmers to adopt similar sustainable and climate-smart farming approaches.

From Ridge to Reef

On the island of Mauritius, home to some of the world's most diverse and ecologically important forests and ecosystems, the Ridge to Reef (R2R) project is restoring and increasing native forest cover. In early 2023, members of our Central Component visited on a learning mission.
Tamarin Bay, District of Black River, Mauritius with a view of Rempart Mountain. Photo by Khalil Walji.

Mauritius is famed for its crystal-clear waters and white sandy beaches. This beautiful island is also characterised by a high number of endemic species found nowhere else in the world.

One of the most critical landscapes, and key to the Mauritius from Ridge to Reef (R2R) project, is the Black River Gorges National Park. Covering an area of around 6,500 hectares, the park is home to many of the island’s rarest species, including the Mauritius kestrel, the pink pigeon, and the echo parakeet. In a broader context, Mauritius forms part of the Southwest Indian Ocean Biodiversity Hotspot, in what is known as the Mascarene Archipelago, globally admired for its large numbers of endemic plant and animal species.

Many of these ecosystems are, however, being degraded by deforestation, land-use change, and invasive species, which have seen native forest areas diminish significantly since 1835. At present, they cover only 2% of their previous range, and 89% of endemic flora are considered threatened with extinction.

Who’s who

The responsibility to conserve and expand these globally relevant ecosystems is placed on the shoulders of the team from the National Parks Conservation Services (NPCS), which was established in 1994 to manage the native terrestrial biodiversity of Mauritius and to retain its genetic diversity for future generations.

About R2R

The Mauritius from Ridge to Reef project works in various national parks around the island, including the Black River Gorges National Park (BRNP), Bras D’eau, and Ile Ambre where the project is principally focused on restoring and increasing native forest cover. Here the R2R will focus on the removal of invasive species, the replanting of indigenous and endemic species, and the reforestation of non-forested areas outside the national parks, in the catchment area around the BRNP where state-owned agricultural land is leased to farming communities. These areas are targeted for the expansion of indigenous forest cover through “steppingstones” or connectivity corridors and will require the engagement of farming communities. The project is also targeting mangrove areas immediately surrounding the shores of the island to improve mangrove health to act as a protective shield and buffer against sea-level rise. Healthy mangroves further support the creation of fish nurseries and improve the availability of animal protein and food security for the local population.

What we learned

One of the core activity areas of the Central Component is gathering the knowledge and lessons generated from the implementation of the 22 ILM projects in the programme. With this, we assess where we can support the LFF projects, and identify experiences that might be of use to other projects in the programme (what we call “cross-learning”). 

The NPCS is primarily focused on conservation and restoration within national park boundaries. The ambitions under the R2R project are an expansion of their mandate and intention to work with diverse actors across the island to enhance and to extend their goals. This will require the deployment of mediation, institutional flexibility, and convening capabilities to achieve ILM outcomes. Here is a sample of our findings about the project they lead, centred around the six ‘dimensions’ of ILM we have identified. 

Pictured: Khalil Walji (left) and Kim Geheb (right) give the bee-keeping outputs an earnest thumbs-up.

Stakeholder identification

The project collaborates with several key stakeholders across the landscape including partners in various government ministries, NGOs, and academia. The first event to engage stakeholders in the project was a workshop held during the visit of the Central Component (CC) which provided an overview of project objectives and worked to create a unified common vision for Mauritius. The project does not have a fully-fledged Theory of Change (ToC) to guide project implementation. ToCs are important, because they can help projects to theorise the strategies and approaches that they will use to generate outcomes. For the LFF, outcomes represent behavioural changes: stakeholders do things differently, to support the R2R project’s objectives, and to maximise the value that it brings. To achieve this, all projects need to have a good understanding of the stakeholder landscape, and the relationships between them.

The CC uses an approach called Net-Mapping to map out stakeholders and the dynamics amongst them to inform the creation of a Theory of Change.

Find out more here.

Multi-stakeholder fora (MSF)

An MSF has not been created for the R2R but is acknowledged as necessary for the success of the project, especially given the number of relevant government ministries and project partners. In lieu of creating a new forum, the potential to exploit existing spaces for dialogue is being explored. One promising option is a new Inter-ministerial Forum for Climate Change, which could act as a platform for integration.

A critical aspect of the successful function of an MSF is the skill sets needed to convene, mediate and engage stakeholders. The NPCS team does not at present have this in-house capacity but would seem very keen to bring in these skill sets, as well as look to the project partners, who may be best placed to co-convene and facilitate this forum.

Common vision 

The R2R project did not have a commonly-agreed-upon vision for its landscape. During a one-day workshop with 40+ participants, project stakeholders began to define a common vision for the R2R project. A co-created vision can be immensely powerful as a ‘north star’ behind which project stakeholders and activities can be organized.

Participants were asked to explore their vision for Mauritius 10 years into the future and to consider agricultural, economic, and environmental dimensions. Group discussions were held to further flesh out common challenges to achieve this vision and who needed to work together to arrive at this future state.

A circular blue and green economy in Mauritius that supports linking the environment with livelihoods through:

  • A sustainable and productive agricultural sector that enhances food security and self-sufficiency.
  • Environmental management across all land uses with less waste and more renewable energy.
  • A diversified economy that operates within biophysical boundaries and supports equity and better lives for all.
  • Harmonization of policies and legislation with better enforcement and supporting greater awareness, inclusion, and empowerment of people in decision-making for environmental outcomes.”

– The proposed vision for Mauritius, which emerged from the workshop.
(This vision was not endorsed and is presented as a working draft.)

👉 Explore the post ‘6 Ingredients to ILM’, which features the key aspects of defining a common vision.


The NPCS and R2R is well institutionalized into the Mauritian government, given their role as service under the Ministry of Agro-Industry and Food Security. Although they are well placed, the creation of an MSF should also be developed with sustainability in mind, to ensure it serves as a common space for dialogue for the R2R, but beyond it as well.

Iterative and adaptive management

It is early days for the project, but the NPCS team’s experience suggests that it has well-established systems to monitor project interventions and progress. How these systems are used in the iterative and adaptive management of the programme is less clear. The CC suggested these areas should be prioritized through annual technical and steering committee meetings, as well as prioritizing the monitoring and feedback to enable the team to course-correct where necessary.

Technical solutions and tools

The project’s knowledge of its biophysical and ecosystem conditions is high. Its in-house and project-based systems for monitoring these trends are well established, although they indicated the need for increased capacity, and systems that can be better used for adaptive and iterative management and to generate evidence to inform policy at higher levels.

Collaborative action mechanisms for forest positive agricultural commodities: impact of the Good Growth Partnership

Working simultaneously on production, demand, and finance, in Brazil, Paraguay, Indonesia and Liberia, the Good Growth Partnership (GGP) enables sustainable development in three global commodity supply chains: soy, beef, and palm oil. This Impact Brief covers the work of GGP in enabling national and subnational collaborative action mechanisms to reduce deforestation in Indonesia, Liberia, and Paraguay.
Published in evidensia