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Landscape Approaches in Sustainable Development

Meeting international goals for food security and inclusive green growth requires better integrating the management of land, forests, and water resources. Doing so will help to maximize productivity, improve livelihoods, and reduce negative impacts on the environment.

Loess Landscape

Landscape terraced

China’s Loess Plateau before and after an integrated landscape approach.
Photo Credits: Till Niermann, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0), Erick Fernandes/World Bank.
One of the greatest challenges our world is facing is that we will need to find food for more than nine billion people by 2050. In practice this means that agricultural production must increase by 70 percent. Yet, there is little increase in available land and water, while agriculture already accounts for about 70 percent of the world’s freshwater use. Whereas forests help to maintain the fertility of the soil and protect watersheds, deforestation is often driven by agricultural expansion for food, fiber and fuel.
It's all connected

Community-driven landscape adaptation in Rwanda.
Photo Credit: Erick Fernandes/World Bank.

Agriculture, water, forests, and food security are all connected. As the challenges these sectors face are linked, it becomes clear that we need to work across sectors to find integrated solutions at the scale of entire landscapes. It is not possible to achieve global food security without preserving the ecosystem services that our forests provide, and we cannot sustain forests without thinking of how to feed a growing population. And it is not possible to grow food without enough water. This is why the World Bank Group is increasingly employing landscape approaches to implement strategies that integrate management of land, water, and living resources, and that promote sustainable use and conservation in an equitable manner.

To feed our growing population we need to intensify agricultural production.  We need to produce more on less land, and we need to make agriculture more sustainable.  At the same time, we must become less dependent on resources like water and forests.  We must learn how to cultivate ecosystem services such as water purification, water retention, soil fertility, carbon sequestration, and coastal protection, and farm in ways that will have reduced environmental impact.


Landscape approaches

A “landscape approach” means taking both a geographical and socio-economic approach to managing the land, water and forest resources that form the foundation – the natural capital – for meeting our goals of food security and inclusive green growth.

By taking into account the inter-actions between these core elements of natural capital and the ecosystem services they produce, rather than considering them in isolation from one another, we are better able to maximize productivity, improve livelihoods, and reduce negative environmental impacts. 

Put more simply:  we can “use natural capital without using it up.”

What you do depends on where you are

The idea behind a landscape approach is to take the particular geographical context into account; what you actually do depends on where you are. There is no universal recipe for applying a landscape approach.  For example, a different mix of landscape restoration measures will often be required for the upper and lower parts of a watershed.  And different strategies should be adopted depending on rainfall, topography, and water abundance.

Silvo-pastoral system in Colombia: Integrating livestock, trees and crops. Photo Credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT).

  • In Ethiopia’s Great Rift Valley, the landscape approach has included establishing forest cooperatives that sustainably manage and reforest the surrounding land using Farmer-Managed Natural Forest Regeneration technique, thus addressing deforestation that threatens groundwater reserves that provide 65,000 people with potable water.
  • Loess Plateau Watershed rehabilitation project in China has returned the devastated Loess Plateau to sustainable agricultural production, improving the livelihoods of 2.5 million people and securing food supplies in an area where food was scarce in the past. The associated television documentaries demonstrate the impact that an integrated approach can have.
  • On Colombian hillsides, the landscape approach has been integrating livestock, trees and a range of crops, depending on the slope of the land and the direction of the streams, to increase incomes while conserving the landscape.  
  • In Rwanda, a landscape approach included providing infrastructure for land husbandry (e.g. terracing, downstream reservoir protection), water harvesting (e.g. valley dams and reservoirs) and hillside irrigation (e.g. water distributions piping, fittings and field application for basin and furrow irrigation). In addition, the project provides training for farmers, supports farmer organizations and enhances marketing and financing activities.
  • And in the lower Amu Darya river basin in Uzbekistan the approach has included improving water management for drainage and salinity control and wetland restoration, increasing productivity of irrigated agriculture and restoring grazing lands. 

How is the World Bank helping?

The World Bank is helping to promote landscape approaches through lending and non-lending instruments, as in the examples provided above, through advocating climate-smart agriculture and agricultural development within a broader inclusive green growth framework, and through scaling up support to agriculture generally. 

The World Bank is building partnerships both globally and through country-specific programs to promote integrated landscape solutions to agriculture, rural development and broader ecosystems management challenges.  For example, the Program on Forests (PROFOR), a multi-donor partnership housed at the Bank, is working to mobilize additional investment in trees and landscape restoration in Africa, among many other projects. 

The World Bank is also expanding use of a range of trust fund instruments to promote both innovation and wider application of the concept, including those supported by the climate funds and the GASFP (Global Agriculture and Food Security Program).

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