Resilient landscapes need the involvement of local people

Communities hold a crucial piece of the resilient-landscapes puzzle, say experts.


Community members have much to offer in the design of resilient landscapes. Photo by Sammy Carsan/ICRAF

Speaking on 17 November at a discussion session titled ‘Building resilient landscapes for food security and sustainable livelihoods,’ Tony Simons, Director-General of World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), advocated for an approach that includes, involves and learns from the custodians of landscapes—the local communities living in them. He said we need to better “understand the needs, resources needed, and opportunity costs of natural resource management,” for resilient, climate smart landscapes.

Simons also discussed carbon markets, which put a price on a tonne of  carbon dioxide (CO2) captured (see Africa’s Biocarbon Experience [PDF]). “Carbon is the most variably priced commodity on earth, from $50 per tonne as firewood, to $100 million per tonne as diamond. We need to move beyond putting a price on carbon, and consider instead the value of trees in the landscape, as providers of essential ecosystem services,” he stated.


ICRAF Director General Tony Simons. Photo courtesy of IISD,

Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy Director General, Natural Resources, at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), called the landscape approach “a people-centered approach.”

“Most governments criminalize certain landscape approaches to farming, such as the age-old shifting cultivation practiced by many indigenous people.” Attempts to make farms stay as farms and forests as forests, are among the issues that go against these practices, she said.

She added that the dynamism of certain land use systems make it doubly difficult to understand and measure carbon. Despite this, she encouraged researchers to work with these systems and not against them.

“Semado said there is a need to re-evaluate the definition of the smallholder farmer. “In parts of the Amazon, 92% of the population is urban but these people are also farmers. So they are not quite urban nor are they rural. And they have complex social networks.”

“All knowledge does not have to come from our projects. We must tap into the rich knowledge held in social networks,” she said.

Eduardo Durand, General Director of Climate Change, Desertification and Water Resources in the Ministry of Environment, Peru, illustrated the importance of local grounding of approaches, even within a country.

Maria Helena Semado of FAO. Photo courtesy of IISD,

Maria Helena Semado of FAO. Photo courtesy of IISD,

“Peru has 70% of all the climates and soils in the world; a true mosaic,” he said. This means that an approach that works in one part of the country may fail in another.

A primary consideration for landscape approaches to natural resources management should be “to eliminate economic poverty first,” he said. Better financial instruments, like insurance cover that responds flexibly to the realities faced by people, are some of the factors that would allow better application of landscape approaches, added Durand.

In addition, “various types of data—geophysical, hydrological, soil data, and so forth—are essential for planning,” said Jeffrey Campbell, manager of the Forest and Farm Facility, a partnership between FAO, IIED and IUCN. Campbell said beyond informing planning, these types of data would powerfully demonstrate the value of trees in landscapes.

“The real value of trees in landscapes can be better recognized in the services they provide, such as nutrition, ecosystem services, and soil erosion control,” said Campbell. “This value goes way beyond carbon.”

Livingstone Sindayigaya spoke on behalf of the African Union Commission, and said rural development stakeholders have to work across sectors and with communities.

The session, with vibrant participation from the audience, brought home the importance of involving local communities in designing resilient landscapes, in which the interactions of water, vegetation and land use systems across a wide area are optimized. Such landscapes play a role in mitigating and adapting to a changing climate, while meeting our livelihood needs into future.

The discussion session was part of the Global landscapes Forum, held  side by side with the UNFCC climate change conference in Warsaw, November 2013. It was facilitated by Sara Scherr, President, EcoAgriculture Partners.

See session description: Building resilient landscapes for food security and sustainable livelihoods

See more photos from the event at

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Daisy Ouya

Daisy Ouya is a science writer and communications specialist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Over the past 15 years she has been packaging and disseminating scientific knowledge in the fields of entomology, agriculture, health, HIV/AIDS research, and marine science. Daisy is a Board-certified Editor in the Life Sciences ( and has a Masters’ degree in chemistry from the University of Connecticut, USA. Her BSc is from the University of Nairobi in her native Kenya. She has worked as a journal editor, science writer, publisher, and communications strategist with various organizations. She joined ICRAF in July 2012. Twitter: @daisyouya

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