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Landscape governance: beyond natural boundaries to embrace complexities

Landscapes are complex assemblages of land uses, people and conflicting interests. All need to be involved in sustainably managing natural resources 


By Joan U. Ureta


One of the main challenges of natural resource management is resolving the conflicting interests of different stakeholders. Despite a number of scientific findings about sustainably managing resources, there are still uncertainties whether recommendations will be implemented or not. This is evident not just at the community level but even at the global scale as we see with actions to mitigate climate change. Because of the difference in interests it is often difficult to agree on a common objective and strategy for managing resources and whole landscapes.

landscape, Lantapan, Bukidnon, Philippines, World Agroforestry Centre, Robert Coombs

A landscape in Lantapan, Bukidnon, the Philippines. It is not only farmers who invest in the management of this landscape but also the business sector, government and consumers. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Coombs

The number of scientific studies on the subject is continually increasing but few of them are embraced by the public. Hence, I often think that there is a missing link between scientific results and social appreciation. The science is there but the acceptance of the people is lacking. Perhaps it is not just the technicalities that matter but the interests of the people, which are driven by their needs and feelings.

Landscape governance looks at the landscape beyond natural boundaries by also considering the social networks. It offers a new approach in bringing all relevant stakeholders to an institutional space for co-management of landscapes. By using a rights-based approach, it assumes that there is ‘no good and no bad guys’ within a landscape, rather, it is just a matter of capturing the various rights and duties of these stakeholders and helping them to arrive at a common language to sustainably manage their landscapes.

Hence, landscape governance highlights the value of negotiation. Most of the time, stakeholders see their landscapes differently and this results in varied appreciation and interests. While it might be impossible to have a common language instantly, a series of negotiations to fully understand the interests of each stakeholder can be a good start.

Instead of the typical style of competitive negotiation, landscape governance promotes cooperative and principled negotiations by ‘separating the people from the problem’, focusing on interests rather than positions, generating a variety of options before making decisions, and insisting that agreements should be based on objective criteria. Landscape governance also argues that ‘win win’ solutions might not exist in the real world, hence, it embraces the concept of ‘win more, lose less’. At some point, some stakeholders will lose in the negotiation but they should lose less instead of losing everything.

Landscape governance sees the value of public-private partnerships. Markets influence the shaping of a landscape, therefore, the business sector has a role to play in its management. Instead of looking at the business sector as purely profit-driven, landscape governance encourages the use of the ‘four returns’ model. This does not look at financial returns alone but also considers the environmental, social and inspirational returns, suggesting that the private sector also has an interest in giving hope and positive futures to people. Also by engaging the private sector in the management process, they might be motivated to go beyond what is expected and move from the typical ‘do no harm’ to ‘do good’.

Landscape governance aims to break the ‘silos’ within a landscape and to start working together. For natural resource managers, it challenges us to look beyond what our eyes can see. It encourages us to move from the typical simple approach that says that the things that cannot be measured do not matter at all. We should not be afraid to embrace complexities. Lastly, it challenges us to critically and holistically engage with the landscape in which we are working instead of just using our tightly focused telescopes from afar.






About the author

Ms Joan U. Ureta, ICRAF Philippines researcher, was a student in a course, Governance of Landscapes, Forests and People, held in Bogor, Indonesia, 15–26 September 2014. The course was a collaboration between the Centre for Development Innovation of Wageningen University, the Netherlands, Center for International Forestry Research and ICRAF.







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This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry





Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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