Learning how landscapes work for better livelihoods and ecosystems

The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry in collaboration with the World Agroforestry Centre and the RUPES project has been maintaining ‘learning landscapes’ for over a decade to discover ways of helping poor smallholders’ improve their livelihoods while conserving natural ecosystems and the services they provide to the planet


Researchers with the World Agroforestry Centre involved with the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) and the RUPES project in its two phases from 2002 to 2012 have been using specific landscapes throughout Asia to study the best ways of conserving ecosystems while also improving local communities’ livelihoods.

learning landscapes, Asia, RUPES

RUPES learning landscapes map. Source: World Agroforestry Centre

This long-term learning landscape network is focussed mainly on testing ‘ecosystem services’ schemes, that is, arrangements between local communities—particularly smallholding farmers in upland areas—who manage by default watersheds and the forests and agriculture in them and other people, typically downstream, such as hydropower companies, tourism operators, drinking and industrial water companies and governments of cities and other jurisdictions.

The landscapes cover a vast area and range of Asian geographies and populations, mostly in the highlands, and involve a large number of local partners. The table below lists most of the landscapes and people involved with RUPES, which was funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

list, learning landscapes, RUPES, Asia

Table of RUPES’ learning landscapes and partners in Asia. Source: World Agroforestry Centre

There were a lot of high-level outcomes from the research work, the impact of which is still unfolding today and will for many more years to come. For example, in Indonesia, the National Rewards for Environmental Services Protocol, as the operational document of Law 32/2009 on Environmental Management and Protection, included lessons from RUPES, which are included in the draft regulations implementing the law. In Viet Nam, RUPES contributed to the formulation of Decree No. 99/2010 and its guidelines. In China, the State Council and the Government of Xishuangbanna Prefecture adopted the lessons from a RES scheme for grasslands, which was initiated by RUPES, for designing ecological land-use plans. In India, RUPES’ partner, Wetlands International South Asia, provided three scenarios of wetlands’ management that balanced human needs with ecological requirements to the National Environment Policy on the role of economic incentives for environmental conservation. In the Philippines, RUPES helped draft the Philippine Climate Change Act of 2008 and conducted a final review of the Sustainable Forest Management Act in 2008. In Nepal, RUPES influenced a policy shift in recognition of rewards-for-ecosystem-services schemes among Hindu Kush Himalayan countries through its partner, the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development.

learning landscape, Philippines

A learning landscape in the Philippines. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre

RUPES further facilitated the engagement of international, national and local beneficiaries as investors in ecosystem services’ schemes, providing information for creating business cases—such as quantifying and identifying ecosystem services, informing smallholders of the feasibility of schemes to improve their livelihoods, and conducting participatory monitoring, particularly for water quality and carbon stock—and preparing local intermediaries to design and facilitate efficient and fair schemes. RUPES also supported local people by providing a series of methods, with accompanying knowledge-sharing sessions, for identifying environmental services as the basis for designing schemes. Local partners were also active in advocating policies at regional level and pioneering independent institutions as centres of ecosystem services’ initiatives. Good practices of RUPES have been published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Forest Trends, and The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity.

One important output of the collaborative work undertaken by the FTA and World Agroforestry Centre through the RUPES project has been recently embodied in a draft regulation of the Indonesian Ministry of the Environment and Forestry: the distinction between ‘compensation’, ‘reward’ and ‘payment’ for ecosystem services. These concepts have been tested in the Asian learning landscapes in specific schemes as different ways of encouraging the downstream ‘users’ of ecosystem services, such as water, to contribute to the maintenance of those services, typically provided by upstream communities. Now they are being used by the Indonesian Government to help define different mechanisms to be used under given conditions, one of the many examples of outcomes that change lives and landscapes.


Edited by Robert Finlayson


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This work is supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry





Beria Leimona

Dr Leimona is a an ecosystem services specialist who joined ICRAF in 2002. Originally from Indonesia, Dr Leimona contributes to action research and policy formulation of pro-poor rewards for environmental services initiatives in Asia and globally. She is a committee member of the Ecosystem Services Partnership and the Environment and Economics Programme for Southeast Asia network. She holds a PhD in Environmental Systems Analysis from Wageningen University, The Netherlands.

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