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A landscape approach to ensure functioning ecosystems

28 February 2019

Natural ecosystems provide habitat for wildlife species as well as important services for people, such as water supply and climate resilience. In the last decades, unsustainable production and the effects of climate change are putting increasing pressure on these ecosystems (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). To keep these natural ecosystems functioning, we need to strike a balance between economic, environmental and social interests in a specific spatial setting. In our program ‘Shared Resources Joint Solutions’ we aim for an integrated landscape approach to strengthen ecosystem governance in 26 landscapes in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Healthy ecosystems serve all kinds of stakeholders. “For instance,  water provisioning and fertile soil for food production are of paramount importance to local communities, while ecosystem services like CO2 sequestration are valued at the global level,” says Lucia Helsloot, Program Manager at WWF Netherlands. “A core challenge is to identify ways to balance the interests of (and within) local communities with local and national economies, and the global environment.”

Aligning interests with an integrated landscape approach 

Businesses, government bodies and residents each have a stake in a landscape. “While from a long-term perspective most stakeholders involved in a landscape need healthy and well-managed ecosystems that deliver fresh water, food security, and climate resilience, the short-term interests in the landscape often conflict,” says Sander van Andel, senior expert Nature Conservation and program manager at IUCN NL.

To keep ecosystems healthy, we need to strike a balance between economic, environmental and social values. In a strategic partnership with the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, IUCN NL and WWF Netherlands, therefore support their partners to collaborate and bring various stakeholders together in 26 landscapes in Asia, Africa and Latin America to take joint responsibility over sustainable, social and economic development. This way we aim to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.

These landscapes cover a total surface area of more than half million km2. “That is almost 16 times the surface area of the Netherlands,” says Sander van Andel. The landscapes comprehend 9 large transboundary river basins and 19 vital, large-size rivers that discharge on average the same amount of water as 70 times the river Rhine. “Apart from the important ecosystem services they deliver, they are also home to almost 400 threatened species,” Van Andel adds. “But infrastructure development, agricultural expansion and extractive activities are putting pressure on these landscapes and the communities that depend on them” says Helsloot. “That is why the SRJS program partners aim to influence these large scale developments, which are often driven by big economic interests.”

Managing landscapes functions in their entirety

“For sustainable landscape development, the different landscape functions should be managed in a holistic way,” Helsloot adds. “Joint actions by stakeholders are needed to achieve effective, equitable and balanced landscape development. The formation of local multi-stakeholder partnerships, that include not only the public and private sector, but also civil society representatives, is therefore essential.”

Yet, in many countries around the world, civil society organizations, who voice the interests of local communities and nature, are insufficiently involved in decision-making on developments in their landscape. IUCN NL and WWF NL therefore support them to gain more influence in the processes around natural resource management.

“We contribute to an integrated approach in these landscapes by aligning the interests of the various stakeholders with the carrying capacity of nature,” Sander van Andel explains. “With partners we decide which combination of aspects of the approach need the most attention,” This can be 1) improving multi-stakeholder dialogues, 2) providing information for decision making, 3) joint planning, 4) implementation of policies and governance structures and 5) monitoring agreements and commitments.  

Competing claims on natural resources

“At landscape level competing land uses, related to different interests, need to be balanced. This requires negotiation and it needs to be a (gender) inclusive process,” says Lucia Helsloot. “In Aceh for example, unsustainable forest management, illegal logging and land clearing threaten the mangroves that are important fish nurseries and help protect shorelines from rising sea levels, storms and floods. Thanks to a gender equality approach, women now play an active role in conserving the mangroves and at the same time contribute to improved livelihoods.”

“By looking at the landscape in an integrated way, we support local and national actors to improve landscape governance,” Van Andel states. In Paraguay, for example, we support various stakeholders to jointly develop a future-proof management plan for the Bahia Negra district. The plans aims to balance cattle production with sufficient space for nature to fulfill its important role as climate buffer.

Additionally, the program makes use of Strategic Environmental Assessment processes to bring stakeholders together to align interests at landscape level, e.g. to get a stable water supply, like for example in Tanzania.

“We also bring new information into the debate to inform various stakeholders in a certain landscape,” Van Andel continues. “In the Philippines, for example, together with Wetlands International, we funded a study lead by Senior Ecologist and Associate Expert Arne Jensen on the international importance of Manila Bay for water birds.”

More information on the landscape approach?

For more information about the landscape approach, we recommend the following resources:

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