Spotlight

The how and why of landscape considerations

1 December 2017

With the ever-increasing claims on land, the importance of ‘poldering’ has also been growing. This is a Dutch concept that means that people solve issues in a certain area through compromises and cooperation.

The term originated in the Middle Ages, when farmers, nobles, townspeople and other citizens had to work together to build dikes and keep the land dry. This was only possible by working together regardless of origin or status.

These days, ‘poldering’ is important in areas where farmers want to produce food, the townsman require good, cheap food, the business sector wants to deliver products, the state water organisation needs to supply clean drinking water, and tourists want to enjoy the beautiful landscape. On top of this, climate change is a key concern of our times, which requires sustainable energy and overflow areas around rivers. All these forms of land use are interconnected, which makes cooperation between all parties indispensable.

In cases where forms of land use are interconnected, cooperation is indispensable

Compartmentalisation

In practice, however, parties are too often only concerned with their own interests. Conflicts often arise through this compartmentalisation. “And the more people there are in the world and the greater the consumption demand is, the more claims are made on natural resources”, explains Cora van Oosten of the Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation. “While it ultimately has to do with the totality of functions and services that an area provides.” A good example of this is the concept of ‘nature-inclusive farming’ that is well known in the Netherlands and which revolves around an integrated approach to the landscape.

If land use in an area is not well coordinated, this will ultimately be detrimental to all the functions and services of the landscape. While multi-functional, well-attuned land use that takes multiple needs into account can yield more than the sum of its parts.

Landscape approach is about the full picture

‘Poldering’ for sustainable land use is all about an integrated approach and involves all stakeholders in the decision-making process. Academics call this the landscape approach. Integrated means that one does not look at a single sector or chain, but at the full picture. It also involves finding a shared vision. You do this through ensuring a dialogue between all the stakeholders regarding what to do with the landscape. It is also important to recognise the negative effects of certain choices and to weigh them up carefully. If there are losers, you must also acknowledge that and compensate them.

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Cora van Oosten explains the landscape approach and its importance in an animated mini lecture (12 minutes).

Such a process requires adaptability, flexibility and communication between participants, explains Van Oosten. It also means that there is no standard solution, but it is a way of working to achieve consensus. Van Oosten: “There are no clear guidelines on how such a process works in practice. But we have now formulated ten principles that are worth following.”

The term ‘gebiedsproces’ (area process) can be compared to the landscape approach and can be seen as the outcome of a landscape approach. Internationally, this concept is also known as a landscape approach.

Example: Horn of Africa

The Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation (CDI) is mainly active abroad. For example, Cora van Oosten and her team are involved in the development and implementation of the landscape approach in various parts of the world. “The more you involve all stakeholders in the process, the better the outcomes, and the fewer conflicts arise involving the use of space and natural resources”, explains Van Oosten. “Take our collaboration with the Horn of Africa Regional Environmental Centre, which coordinates a regional network of organisations in the Horn of Africa and is financed by the Dutch government. The network members target their efforts on combating climate change in the region, which is known for both the opportunities for higher agricultural production and the increasing threat of climate change, leading to unpredictable rainfall and a reduction in food security. As a result, local ecosystems have become vulnerable, and ecological disasters are threatening Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia; countries that already suffer from food insecurity, social problems, political upheavals and migration.”

“We are helping the Horn of Africa Regional Environmental Centre to increase the knowledge and capacities for applying a landscape approach in the region”, Van Oosten adds. “This is because a landscape approach works very well here. Because it brings stakeholders closer together, instead of driving them apart. Because it looks for win-win situations, without avoiding difficult choices. As the knowledge about the landscape increases, the cooperation between stakeholders improves and the quality of the landscape along with it. I see results thanks to our work, and see this as an example for other areas in the world that are battling problems of food security, climate change and conflict.”

“The landscape approach brings stakeholders closer together and looks for win-win situations, without avoiding difficult choices”

Cora van Oosten, Wageningen University & Research

Global Landscape Forum

Interest in a landscape approach is increasing all over the world. This is most visible during the Global Landscapes Forum, where supporters of sustainable land use, representatives of governments, companies, indigenous peoples and civil society organisations come together to share their experiences. This year the annual meeting will take place in Bonn, on 19 and 20 December. A delegation from WUR will also be present there. Van Oosten and her team will also teach a course on the landscape approach, in preparation for the Forum. Participants in the training course will learn what it is like to think in an integrated way, and how to deal with different interests in an area. ‘Poldering’ – a new style and new Dutch export product.

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Cora van Oosten

Cora van Oosten

Senior adviser on management of natural resources at the Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation. A social geographer from training, with more than twenty years of international experience in the management and maintenance of natural resources, landscape approaches and participatory spatial planning. She worked in Africa, Asia and Latin America for many years, and now works at WUR to develop and disseminate the landscape approach worldwide.

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