Old wine in new bottles?

Are Integrated Landscape Approaches just another development fad? Or are they a feasible solution to landscape scale development and climate challenges?

We celebrated Science Week 2022 at CIFOR – Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry, joined by 500+ scientists on campus between Nairobi, Kenya and Bogor, Indonesia in June. It was the first opportunity to meet (almost) all our Landscapes For Our Future team to discuss the future of Integrated Landscape Approaches and ask “Are they old wine in new bottles? Another development fad? Or are they a feasible solution to landscape scale development and climate challenges?”

View the full Future of ILM session on YouTube. Or see below for links to the individual keynotes, lightning talks and provocation-lead discussions.

The discussion that ensued was both fascinating and challenging.

I do love old wine, and I also like fancy new bottles. An approach that has been in existence for a few hundred years and has proven to be good, but  needs to be revamped and contextualized. And I think ,as compared to the past, local conditions have improved a lot. In most countries there is decentralization, there is a great empowerment, there are educated landscape actors… So the more that a local development proceeds, the more likely that landscape approaches were valid, are valid, and will be valid even more

Dr Cora van Oosten, project leader at Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation

The reason why it’s bottled in a different way is because nobody learns from it. And it’s “faddish” because, again, you know it has been there but nobody was really very serious about it

– Dr Delia Catacutan, Landscapes For Our Future focal point for Timor Leste, Cambodia and Vietnam

The fact is that landscape approaches will be a fad. There’s no doubt, because all of these concepts ultimately end that way. But I think the important thing is to acknowledge that they help move us towards integration, which  is necessary because we know from the problems we’re still facing from sectoral approaches that integration is absolutely necessary. It’s important that we retain the lessons learned from integrated landscape approaches for whatever the next fad might be.

– Dr James Reed, Consultant Researcher, CIFOR

A few reflections and takeaways and reflections from over a decade of research and implementation of ILAs are worth noting:

🗣 Integrated Landscape Approaches propose innovative aspects of social inclusion, co-creation and adaptive landscapes governance which make them unique. However, these are often in name only, and too often implemented without a genuine multi-stakeholder process. 

There are new and innovative aspects to the landscape approaches compared to the integrated rural development (IRD) and national resource management (NRM). Issues of social inclusion, participation, co-creation, multi stakeholder planning, participatory adaptive governance… These are concepts which have emerged and been integrated into the landscape approach, which I do think is distinct.

The practice, however is really rebranding the old. I think a lot of development stakeholders are opportunistic because, by branding it as landscape approaches, they can get funding but often lack the understanding and capacity to implement them effectively. So, a lot of the approaches are not multi-sectoral in nature or do not really involve genuine multi-stakeholder planning processes, and have completely obscure sequencing. So, I think there’s a lot wrong with how many such projects are being implemented.

Dr George Schoneveld, Landscapes For Our Future senior management and coordination support, focal point for Ghana

💵 The donor community must recognise they are investing in setting up long term processes and should have modest expectations of outcomes given the complexity during a normal funding windows. 

If there is a group of stakeholders that want to implement the planned approach and we’re talking about a typical funding window of say three years, we need to manage expectations in relation to  typical donor metrics. The focus here is very much on the core building blocks. And the way we’re seeing it is a landscape project that tries to establish itself and really stay true to the approach should spend a lot of time establishing and socializing a common vision for the landscape – a common vision that is inclusive of beneficiaries.

A project like that should try to establish a multi-stakeholder planning and implementation structure, which is both equitable and provides equal voice.

They should aim to co-develop a theory of change and implementation strategy to achieve that common vision while at the same time also leveraging local knowledge, the resources and capabilities available to the stakeholders in the landscape and above all else not close their eyes to complementary initiatives, of which there are usually many.

In order for those strategies to be viable and actionable, they really need to be informed by evidence. Too often those multi-stakeholder planning processes are informed by subjectivities, personal biases and also vested interests.

Donors must realize that that a process like this is time consuming and complicated. It demands years of what many in the discipline call ‘muddling through.

Dr George Schoneveld, Landscapes For Our Future senior management and coordination support

🍃 We need to make a stronger business case for landscapes approaches to be viable and productive, and to ensure they are not merely contributing to creating ‘green poverty’. 

Let’s not dream that donor funding alone is going to make landscapes successful. If we cannot bring business cases and make landscapes viable from a business perspective, we will encourage situations where landscapes are largely successful from the conservation perspective, with people that are poor – what I call green poverty. If we don’t have the business case, forget it.

– Dr Peter Minang, Principal Scientist and Director for Africa, CIFOR-ICRAF

📝 Attempts to establish and support multi-stakeholder platforms need to be institutionalised into existing, government process, so they last the test of time, and do not dry up as soon as donor funding does.

Solutions don’t lie with the communities alone. I think there’s both a lack of capacity and a lack of rights. These communities are increasingly confronted with external forces and globalization and large private sector organizations. I think they do need support or some kind of structure in place that enables the integrated landscape approach to continue.

What our experience has shown in Zambia is that they’ve had a whole history of projects coming and going and there’s a huge fanfare in the project rise and then everyone just disappears and there’s nothing said at the end of the project. I think it’s naive to think that communities can just manage these challenges themselves.

– Dr James Reed, Consultant Researcher, CIFOR

There is a lot more capacity on the ground for some of these development concepts that have been around for a very long time. We are seeing a lot more peers to work with in the field. But why is it still so complicated and difficult to implement and it still looks the same?

It’s because the structures and institutions haven’t changed. Bureaucracies are still institutionalized into silos, and multi-stakeholder approaches have to work across the silos. There are no budgets to do that without external donor funding so that’s why it always does look like the outside coming in to grease the wheels and make things move. Because the structures still don’t allow for it.

– Dr Emily Gallagher, Rural Development Specialist, CIFOR-ICRAF

🧩 Successful ILM is dependent on strong stakeholder coordination and management, and a combination of skill sets including negotiation, convening and facilitation.

What we were really thinking of here is that in some respects there has to be a shift in focus away from more contemporary skill sets to some of these kinds when it comes to effective ILM.

– Dr Kim Geheb, Central Component coordinator, Landscapes For our Future

In summary, there was much discussion and debate on the role of external stakeholders versus the role of the community, but a clear consensus that Integrated Landscape Approaches offer tremendous potential to maximize benefits and address trade-offs at a time when communities are increasingly confronted with external forces and globalisation. More centurion approaches have lead to fragmented policies and unsuccessful outcomes, thus it is critical we push for further integration. 

Watch the presentations yourself and come to your own conclusions

Lightning Talks

What do you think?