Uniting People And Ecosystem Resilience For Food Security In Latin America on Earth Day

Sara Scherr and Abby Hart

This week’s Katoomba Meeting in Lima aims to complement year-end climate talks there by focusing on how climate policy fits into the larger “landscape approach” that incorporates people, farming, forests, and water. EcoAgriculture Partners looked at more than 100 initiatives in Latin America to find out what works and what doesn’t, with surprising results.

This week’s Katoomba Meeting in Lima aims to complement year-end climate talks there by focusing on how climate policy fits into the larger “landscape approach” that incorporates people, farming, forests, and water. EcoAgriculture Partners looked at more than 100 initiatives in Latin America to find out what works and what doesn’t, with surprising results.

22 April 2014 | Our global food systems pursue economic efficiency in production   at the cost of environmental resilience, but our production landscapes rely on highly-interconnected ecosystems, and the local communities and other users who manage those resources need a wide range of products and ecosystem services. Focusing on only one objective from the land ignores this reality, and has been a problem even for ecosystem service markets that developed to incorporate the value of nature back into our economy; these often still pay separately for water, carbon, and habitat stewardship rather than for ecosystem functioning overall.

But the days of narrowly defining sectoral objectives for land and resource management will soon be gone, replaced by an “integrated landscape approach” that recognizes both the holistic nature of living ecosystems and the reality of rural economies. Latin America is leading this transition, including Peru, where this week’s Katoomba Meeting is taking place.

Over the past 2 ½ years, EcoAgriculture examined more than 100 integrated landscape initiatives (ILI’s) across the continent, together with our partners CATIE, Bioversity International, Conservation International and the University of Idaho. We found a surprising degree of community engagement and collaboration among stakeholders from agriculture, health, biodiversity, water to protect and restore their landscapes from threats of degradation and climate change.


One example can be found in eastern Bolivia, where the Chiquitano Model Forest is attempting to conserve the largest remaining area of dry tropical forest in the rain shadow of the Andes while improving livelihoods – many of which are dependent on the large and expanding livestock sector.

Another example can be found in rainy and humid El Salvador. Here, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources has initiated the National Program for Ecosystem and Landscape Restoration (PREP), which aims to restore a staggering 50% of the country’s land, degraded by deforestation, intensive agriculture and extreme weather events.

Though different in their approaches, both are integrated landscape initiatives that recognize an urgent reality: agricultural lands must be managed in ways that also protect biodiversity and healthy watersheds; natural habitats must be managed to sustain water sources for irrigation and crop pollinators; communities need diverse landscapes to fulfill their various needs. This is the essence of the new “landscape approach”.

While most policy, finance, education and planning institutions remain structured and separated by sector, local demand for multi-functional landscapes has motivated widespread innovation. Nowhere is more advanced than in Latin America.

Integrated Landscape Management in Latin America

In 2011, we helped launch the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative (LPFN), which is a collaborative partnership of leading environmental and agricultural NGOs, research centers, UN agencies, and governments. At the time, integrated landscape management was poorly documented, with little empirical evidence of where, why and how such approaches were being implemented. To fill this gap, we began to assess the experiences of Integrated Landscape Initiatives through a series of continental reviews around the world.

The review of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) included a survey of 104 ILIs seeking to improve outcomes for food production, ecosystem conservation, and rural livelihoods by harmonizing activities across multiple sectors and stakeholders at a landscape scale. The survey was followed by a series of interviews in 23 of the surveyed landscapes. Despite the relatively long history of integrated management in LAC, this was the first comprehensive study of the contexts, motivations, design, participation and outcomes of ILIs in the region.

A Working Definition of ‘Integrated Landscape Management’

The LPFN identified five common components of integrated landscape management: (1) shared or agreed management for multiple objectives; (2) field practices that provide multiple benefits; 3) ecological, social, and economic interactions   managed to reduce negative trade-offs and optimize synergies; 4) collaborative, community-engaged processes for dialogue, planning, negotiating and monitoring decisions are in place; and 5) markets and public policies are being shaped to achieve the diverse set of landscape objectives and institutional requirements.

The Chiquitano Model Forest

To see the components in action, we return to the Chiquitano Model Forest in Bolivia. The Model Forest has served as a platform for a diverse set of stakeholders to collaborate and generate new ideas for maintaining forest connectivity while tapping into new markets for non-timber forest products, organic coffee and sesame, and sustainable range management.

With fourteen participating municipalities, finding an approach to governance that would work for the Model Forest has been a challenge. Engaging large agricultural producers has been an ongoing problem, and they are still absent from most of the Model Forest’s discussions and activities. In contrast, many local governments have been very supportive in engaging their municipalities in activities to reduce tradeoffs between land uses at smaller scales.

Hermes Justiniano remarks, “It’s not easy…the municipalities have a lot of optimism, strength and dedication, but other actors not as much.”

Together the municipalities coordinate within a mancomunidad to address challenges across the entire territory. The leaders of Chiquitano Model Forest agree that a landscape approach is challenging.

“[Chiquitano] still does not have a fully-developed model for active and participatory governance,” says Hermes, but it has helped stakeholders in the region establish a common, long-term vision and plan for their landscape.

Piloting in El Salvador

Another case is one of El Salvador’s PREP pilot landscapes. The landscape includes the municipality of Cinquera, where several local organizations along with the municipal government have developed a wide range of programs to engage the local communities across the landscape in creating a forest reserve, promoting agroecological farming practices, strengthening opportunities for cultural and eco-tourism, and establishing public spaces and art to commemorate the area’s history.

Pedro Ramon Fuentes, of Cinquera’s Municipal Reconstruction and Development Association, and Pablo Alvarenga, a local historian and farmer, are among the community leaders at the forefront of these efforts, bringing Cinquera’s rich history of collaboration on reconstruction to bear on new efforts to restore El Salvador’s landscapes.

“Because of these locally initiated processes,” says Herman Rosa, El Salvador’s former Minister or Environment, “we have healthier soils, and healthier soils have the potential to absorb more carbon, but even more importantly, healthy soils produce better crops, more food, and strengthen food security.”

Cooperation occurs at the local level between farmers and organizations and at the landscape level between municipalities and upstream-downstream water users, but Rosa recognizes that more is needed. “If we want to reduce the impacts of climate change,” says Rosa, “we must strengthen local efforts to restore degraded landscapes. But we cannot stop there. It has to be taken to the national level.”

Building on Experience to Mainstream ILM

We found in our study that Latin America has been a center of innovation for ILM. Nearly all initiatives are taking place in mosaic landscapes characterized by multiple land uses including forestry, agriculture, grassland and urban areas. Many of these landscapes in the past were engaged in single-sector conservation or agricultural development projects. Over time, they developed into more integrated programs, as the diverse objectives of stakeholder groups in the landscapes were recognized as critical for reducing tradeoffs. Underlying this transition has been advances in thinking, policy and action from Latin American organizations and institutions, many of which are partners of the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative.

For example, the Ibero-American Model Forest Network has helped lead the integration of landscape approaches with territorial development as a framework for policy and investment. CATIE has worked to usher landscape approaches into the REDD strategies, establish biological corridors through densely populated agricultural areas, and evaluate diverse experiences with payments for ecosystem services to farmers and farming communities. IICA and PRISMA are extending integrated watershed management to meet broader stakeholder objectives, and mobilizing initiatives on climate-smart territories/landscapes. EcoLogic Development Fund is helping pioneer new approaches to link smallholder sustainable supply chains with landscape management, and Ecadert is working closely with partners to build institutional capacity for territorial and landscape management. Changes in governance at the local and national levels have allowed the rise of indigenous territorial rights to enable ILM.

Motivations and Challenges

To help landscape approaches get to scale in Latin America, it is critical to understand their motivations and challenges. Respondents in our study identified, on average, six factors as “very important” for motivating the formation of their initiatives. Natural resource conservation and improving human livelihoods were most frequently reported by respondents overall. Seventy-five percent of ILIs invested in activities across all four key domains of landscape functionality covered by the survey: agriculture, ecosystem conservation, livelihoods, and supporting institutions. Those initiatives with multiple objectives and greater numbers of participating stakeholder groups reported a greater number of outcomes, suggesting that a multi-objective, multi-stakeholder approaches can and do achieve a broader range of outcomes than less integrated approaches. Dubí¡n Antonio Garcí­a, who works with ASOCORREDOR in the Serraní­a de los Paraguas-Tatamí¡ Corredor, remarked, ¨because we are working across all of the dimensions of the landscape (environmental, cultural, social), we are able to take on and solve problems with an integrated approach.

Many landscape leaders we interviewed note their efforts are undermined by limited funding opportunities and unsupportive policies in their landscapes. For example, several ILIs from Brazil are struggling to achieve integrate management in the face of uncertainty regarding the implementation of Brazil ´s Forest Code. In Bolivia, forest laws and agrarian reform policies present conflicting incentives for stakeholders within the Chiquitano Model Forest.

The interviews also illuminated the contexts in which ILIs are taking place, providing more details on primary livelihood opportunities, tenure arrangements, agricultural markets and important changes to the landscape and its residents over the past 25 years. Across Meso-America, severe weather events and the impacts of climate change have had lasting impacts. In other parts of Latin America, enormous political changes accompanied by policies to   intensify agriculture and extraction of natural resources have been followed by agrarian reform, impacting land pressures, livelihoods and social organization in the landscapes where these ILIs work.

These findings provide a starting point for offering empirically-rooted guidance for governments, civil society organization and donors to support and promote the development of integrated landscape approaches.

An Integrated Landscape Target

The time is ripe for more systematic efforts to support integrated landscape initiatives and mainstream ILM across Latin America and around the world. The post-2015 sustainable development agenda should reflect what we have learned about successful landscape management, and the possibilities and challenges of integrated approaches. More research from LPFN partners as part of our Global Review provide further guidance for how investment, policy, agribusiness, agricultural research and others can benefit from embracing this approach. Findings, illustrated with case experience from Latin America and elsewhere, offers concrete lessons on topics such as how to engage business in multi-stakeholder initiatives, how to finance integrated landscape investments, designing market mechanisms that provide financial incentives for ILI’s, landscape governance and policy frameworks, designing climate-smart landscapes, and managing agrobiodiversity at landscape scale.

We know what must be done, and have seen it working throughout Latin America. It is now critical to press for the resources and the will to make it happen at a global scale. That’s why the Landscapes for People Food and Nature Initiative has issued a position statement urging the Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals to consider an integrated landscape target as one of a dashboard of targets to support better integration of the Goals. The position statement is available online here and open for public signature. Please consider signing it today. This new cross-sectoral thinking and action will support and catalyze efforts in Latin America and globally.


Sara J Scherr is President and CEO, EcoAgriculture Partners. She is an agricultural and natural resource economist specializing in land and forest management policy in tropical developing countries, and she can be reached at [email protected]

Abby Hart is an Extension Support Specialist with Ecoagriculture Working Group in the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University.. She can be reached at [email protected]

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About this Series

This is the eleventh in an ongoing series of articles developed in support of this year’s two Katoomba Meetings, both of which are taking place in Latin America. The first meeting took place on March 19 and 20 in Brazil, under the banner “Scaling Up Sustainable Commodity Supply Chains”.

The second meeting will take place in Lima, Peru, over four days – from Monday, April 22, which is Earth Day, through Friday, April 25 – and its working motto is “Climate, Forests, Water, and People: A Vision for Alignment in Tropical America”.

Part One: Latin American Katoomba Meetings Aim To Turbocharge Climate Talks, provides an overview of the two Katoomba Meetings.

Part Two: Amazon States In Brazil Push For Benefit-Sharing On National REDD+ Strategy, takes a look at how Brazil’s Amazon states are gearing up for REDD.

Part Three: Your Donut Is Killing Our Forests, Here’s How To Make It Stop, examines the role of consumers in driving change in the palm oil sector – a lesson that may be applied to soy across the Amazon.

Part Four: How To Unlock Agricultural Finance To Save Forests And Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions On Farms, explores financing possibilities for sustainable forest-conserving production.

Part Five Commodity Roundtables: Katoomba 19 Sheds Light On Role Of Consumer examines the somewhat limited success of roundtables on growing sustainable crop production, factoring in the consumer’s role in mobilizing change.

Part Six REDD Bonds For Brazil-And The World examines ways of borrowing against pay-for-performance mechanisms to promote climate-safe agriculture in the here and now.

Part Seven Brazil Sees Promise, But Need For New Funding Source For REDD examines efforts to cultivate domestic demand for environmental finance.

Part Eight Biodiversity Boom Bolsters Peruvian Forests (And REDD) examines the interplay between healthy forests, biodiversity, and carbon finance.

Part Nine Peruvian Ecosystem Services Law In Limbo On Eve Of Katoomba 20 In Lima examines a comprehensive piece of legislation awaiting debate before the Peruvian National Congress.

Part Ten Peru Marks Earth Day With Katoomba 20 In Lima offers a late-stage guide to the Katoomba Meeting in Peru and how to access it.

Part Eleven Uniting People And Ecosystem Resilience For Food Security In Latin America examines a survey of more than 100 Latin American landscapes management initiatives.