How to approach a landscape

A ‘landscape approach’ to agriculture, forestry and other land uses never reaches its destination, says Peter Minang


‘We use a landscape approach because there are complex problems facing the management of natural resources’, said Peter Minang, the global coordinator of the ASB Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins at a seminar in Hanoi, Viet Nam, on 22 May 2014.

Peter Minang, landscape approach

Peter Minang explains landscape approaches, Hanoi, 22 May 2014. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson

According to Dr Minang, there are multiple connections between deforestation, agriculture, climate change, poverty and policies and a growing world population that puts increasing pressure on land. He argues that we cannot let classical economics drive decisions about how to use the limited land we have available for producing food and also ensuring the health and long-term sustainability of our global environment.

‘We already have seen the “tragedy of the commons”’, said Dr Minang, referring to the loss of public rights over the use of land and the concomitant marginalization and impoverishment of communities around the world.

‘If classical economics continues to dominate, the commons will be destroyed entirely and the planet along with them’.

A ‘landscape approach’ is a way of managing an area of land in a way that takes into account all the multiple issues and claims over use to harmonize them through trade-offs to achieve sustainability.

‘“Approach” suggests you are coming from outside but never reaching it’, said Dr Minang. ‘Usually, people employing a landscape approach are outsiders to a landscape and their ideas might not be the same as those people living in the landscape. There are different starting points for approaching a landscape. For example, there might be a development priority around a pressing problem, such as in a dry landscape where water is a priority or on the coast where sea-level rise and inundation of agricultural land is the problem. Another group of people might be coming from the perspective of integrated watershed management while another might be concerned with spatial planning for local and district governments.

‘A more specific example might be the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and agriculture, which might not be considered as an important issue by local people—who might be more interested in ensuring good income—but as very important for national governments that are concerned about the effects of climate change.

‘Immediately, we can see there is the potential for conflict in that landscape because of the different objectives of the different people involved. It is very important that everyone understands the different objectives. A landscape approach is a set of concepts, methods and tools for managing and reconciling multiple objectives in landscapes’.

Soojin Kim, environmental and resources management specialist with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, supported Dr Minang’s arguments, presenting examples of various approaches to forestry and agriculture throughout Southeast Asia.

A discussion followed, with panelists Dr Vu Tan Phuong of the Vietnamese Academy of Forest Sciences, Dr Vu Thi Que Anh of the Netherlands Development Organization and Dr Aziz Karimov of the International Livestock Research Institute joining the two presenters to wrestle with the complexities facing the planet to achieve sustainability while reducing poverty, increasing food supply and maintaining environmental services.

The seminar was the first of a series planned in Hanoi to open discussions with government and the development sector about the land-use challenges facing Viet Nam.

For more information about the seminar series, please contact


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The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry is a supporter of the World Agroforestry Centre’s Viet Nam program.


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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