Landscapes and ecosystem services through forests, trees and agroforestry

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The landscape management theme of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry deals with the challenge of reconciling the different needs of land users. The key question is: How can ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation be balanced with people’s needs to secure their livelihoods, to provide food security and to overcome poverty. The goal is to provide solutions for the best management of multifunctional landscapes, balancing ecosystem services with market functions and social inclusiveness. In this blog, Meine van Noordwijk, Leader of the Landscape management for environmental services, biodiversity conservation and livelihoods flagship of FTA and Chief Science Adviser of the World Agroforestry Centre, reflects on achievements and challenges ahead.

meine_0Central to the Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) research program of the CGIAR is that economic development is often achieved by converting natural forests to other forms of land use. However, trees that are of direct use to people come back into the landscapes. Researchers call this the forest transition curve, with deforestation and reforestation/agroforestation as two sides of a coin. FTA has used this view on transitions both as a way of describing the geography and of understanding change and the way it can be influenced. An important scale at which this all plays out is the landscape. The term has become popular, but its meaning varies with situation and speaker.

The goal of the so-called action research in FTA is to support stakeholders to negotiate solutions for the management of multifunctional landscapes, based on a shared understanding of landscape conditions, trends, drivers and consequences of change. Six key questions help build a coherent of how a landscape functions as a socio-ecological system, with important feedbacks and a need to strengthen the weak ones:

Who? The social and cultural diversity of the landscape in historical context.

What? The main land uses, both in and outside of wooded areas.

Where? The way the landscape is arranged, including climate, vegetation and terrain, but also who uses what and where.

So what? The effects of land use on all types of ecosystem services.

Who cares? The stakeholders and what their interests are.

Changing the why? Where, how and with what kinds of policy instruments (“carrots, sticks and sermons”) can change in “drivers of change” be brought about.

Nepalese countryside: FTA research looks at people in the landscape. Photo: Adrian Albano/CIFOR
Nepalese countryside: FTA research looks at people in the landscape. Photo: Adrian Albano/CIFOR

The recently published Climate-Smart Landscapes: Multifunctionality in Practice offers an overview of what has been learned in this regard. Downloaded on average once an hour since it was launched at the 2014 Global Landscapes Forum in Lima, the book’s popularity shows there is a global thirst for knowledge in the landscape arena.

The landscapes work of the FTA is already active in a number of international networks.

The recent meeting of the Ecosystem Services Partnership (ESP) in South Africa brought together 380 scientists on themes ranging from environmental valuation to spatial information and incentive mechanisms. ESP was started by two of the world’s leading environmental economists: Bob Costanza and Dolf de Groot. They continue to offer leadership in the partnership, which has broadened from valuation work to applied ecosystem management. FTA colleagues are in charge of regional nodes for Asia and Africa, and have helped ground academic debates in the reality of the landscapes where we work.

Through FTA research, among others, the concept of payments for ecosystem services (PES) is now evolving from a market framework of buyers and sellers toward a more socially constructed paradigm of co-investment in environmental stewardship. The well-lauded “working for water” effort in South Africa has mobilized public funds and created jobs in the removal of invasive species from water catchments. This effort to reduce losses of water to the atmosphere and increase river flow is indeed best described as a co-investment effort, rather than as classical PES.

On the last day of the meeting, keynote speaker Lorenzo Fioramonti dissected the Gross Domestic Problem that persists where governments continue to use GDP growth as the yardstick of economic success. While more comprehensive, well-thought-out metrics of economic performance exist – decoupling growth from the loss natural and social capital – these have not yet entered wider public discourse.

A multidisciplinary Landscape Assesment (MLA) looked at local perceptions regarding the Phong Dien protection area, and what role local people can have in conservation, Khe Tran Village, Thua Thien Hue province, Vietnam. Photo: Imam Basuki/CIFOR
A multidisciplinary Landscape Assesment (MLA) looked at local perceptions regarding the Phong Dien protection area, and what role local people can have in conservation, Khe Tran Village, Thua Thien Hue province, Vietnam. Photo: Imam Basuki/CIFOR

If we continue to measure success using a biased metric, we cannot expect a really green economy to emerge. While the criticism of what is wrong in the brown economy is eloquent, the hard work to catalyse real change must be rooted in landscapes, understood as socio-ecological systems with feedbacks across different scales.

In the same week, FTA was asked to summarize its Phase-II plans as part of the further efforts to make the CGIAR portfolio more coherent. For a future flagship on Landscape dynamics, productivity and resilience (proposal p. 108) we framed the discussion around the following research questions:

  1. How do current patterns and intensities of change (negative and positive) in tree cover (“forest”) relate to agricultural intensification, growing demands, demography, development corridors and land policies?
  2. Does the answer to question 1 matter for ecosystem function, biodiversity, and supporting and regulatory ecosystem services at local, national and global scales?
  3. How does landscape diversity contribute to human well-being and healthy diets?
  4. How can efficient and fair landscape governance negotiate and adjust change to protect resource base for sustainable development.

Our target here are healthier, multifunctional landscapes for the around 100 million people living in the FTA Sentinel Landscapes. In this interim phase, FTA promised to show to donors that national governments weave the results and approaches of FTA research partnerships into their submissions to international conventions, such as CBD, UNCCD and UNFCCC.

That we are making progress on this became clearer at the 24th Global Steering Group meeting of the ASB Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins. Here, national representatives from Indonesia, Cameroon, Brazil, Vietnam and the Philippines sit at the table with international research centers to together decide on the direction of the partnership. The partnership has, in recent years, focused on ways to transform REDD+ into a landscape-based approach that combines adaptation and mitigation efforts. For the coming years’ plans, the partnership will broaden to include learning landscapes, as defined in the FTA Phase II proposal.

FTA now has the concepts, partners, questions, tested tools and a portfolio of case-study landscapes (see FTA Sentinel Landscape newsletter) needed to make substantial progress in our agenda, which is at the heart of many of the Sustainable Development Goals.

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