Story | 25 Oct, 2019

A landscape for everyone: interview with an author

Landscapes are complex and sometimes difficult to envision. They might include small farmers, miners, large businesses, community forests, indigenous lands, and a host of other land users with different rights and expectations. Ensuring that diverse people’s rights are included in decision-making on environmental matters in a landscape can be easily overlooked. A new publication helps to rectify this.

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Photo: IUCN / istock

woman with glasses and striped shirt in front of treePhoto: Gretchen Walters
We sat down with Professor Gretchen Walters from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland to ask her about a new publication she co-edited called "A landscape for everyone: Integrating rights-based and landscape governance approaches." Gretchen shared what went into this publication and why she thinks that integrating the two approaches is essential.  

What inspired you and your colleagues to write “A landscape for everyone”?

For many years, IUCN had been working on landscapes and rights-based approaches. It was the right time to consolidate the learning across several projects.

Explain the meaning and significance of two terms the publication is predicated upon? They are “landscape approach” and “rights-based” approach.”

The landscape approach is simply a way to get different types of actors to dialogue about issues that concern everyone, typically beyond their sites (whether this is a community forest, an oil palm plantation, or city), and at a landscape scale. A rights-based approach (RBA) assures that the rights of the stakeholders are known and respected and that rights holders know how to claim these rights.  In combining the two, we draw attention to the need to address rights at the landscape scale of a problem.  

You assert that it is a combination of rights-based and landscape scale approaches to conservation and natural resources management that leads to the best outcomes. What led your team to that conclusion?

RBAs can be implemented at multiple scales and contexts and are a way to promote inclusivity in conservation. This suggests that RBAs can have different implications and impact at different scales for rights holders and stakeholders.

When RBAs and landscape approaches are brought together into the idea of “landscape governance”, stakeholders and rights holders in a landscape are able to participate in decision-making and voice their concerns about natural resource issues.

RBAs in IUCN’s landscape-scale projects explored in this publication evolved and strengthened over project cycles of more than nine years. There has been a stronger engagement with institutions and commitments to help marginalised voices such as women to be heard in fora beyond the site level. Projects are now systematically screened in many organisations using a social safeguard process and new projects may have a stronger focus on RBAs. Increased attention to the landscape approach and the associated role for governance at the landscape level allows for greater space and attention to be given to critical issues around accountability or inclusive decision-making.

What was the most surprising discovery to emerge from your collaboration on this topic?

Although we had been working on RBAs and landscape approaches for a long time, it was nice to see how this work fit well with the emerging theme of landscape governance. In linking different processes across scales from local to regional to national, we also see the landscape as a place where actors from different levels can meet each other and discuss natural resource issues and influence other scales. This means that landscapes can become important places to bring people together to stimulate change from the site to the national and international contexts.

In your opinion, what are the most important take-aways from this publication?

Although RBAs and landscape approaches have been implemented for a long time, there is still room to grow. There are still few ways that we systemically recognise the influence of historical legacies and power dynamics of stakeholders and rights holders, even though landscape approaches talk about trade-offs all the time. Traditional knowledge is also still poorly recognised in these processes. And even though each practitioner and project learns a lot in the field, this is not often recorded. We can also start to assess our projects for governance outcomes using governance frameworks, such as the IUCN Natural Resource Governance Framework, in order to see where we can improve.

Who do you hope will pick up and read a copy of this publication? Why?

I hope anyone implementing landscape approaches or RBAs will read our work, and also contact us for more information or to talk about their work. Landscape approaches still remain poorly documented and so I hope that this work inspires others to write up their experiences, including challenges and opportunities. It is in this way that landscape governance will improve.

A landscape for everyone: Integrating rights-based and landscape governance approaches 

Gretchen Walters is a professor of conservation practice at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland.  She previously worked for IUCN and has been a practitioner, researcher and participant in landscape approaches for 15 years, largely in Africa. She is also a member of IUCN’s Natural Resource Governance Working Group.

Contributing authors to this publication include: Tom Blomley (co-editor), George Akwah, Chris Buss, Saadia Bobtoya, Jessica Campese, Mengina Gilli, Jennifer Kelleher, Polycarp Mwima, Dorcas Gyimah Owusu, Jenny Springer, and Yunus Yumte


This work and publication was supported by funding from Danida