Let’s take this further: Advancing the conversation on the private sector and landscapes

Kenya's Mau Forest and tea plantations. Strategic partnerships in East Africa have led to the rise of local incomes and improved landscape sustainability. Patrick Shepherd, CIFOR
17 October 2018

An upcoming Digital Summit hosted by the Global Landscapes Forum will bring together new voices from across Africa to discuss how to engage the private sector in integrated landscape management (ILM).

The summit builds on an engaging discussion forum on the topic at the Global Landscapes Forum in Nairobi in August this year. Sharing cases from new geographies, and from both private sector and the landscape partnership convener perspectives, it aims to further explore the benefits – and identify and address some of the challenges – of working across sectors to build sustainable solutions at the landscape scale.

One key observation in the Nairobi discussion forum – organized by the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative, with support from the Government of the Netherlands – was that value chain approaches are not sufficient to address sustainability issues, and integrated landscape approaches are required. Julius Rono of the Solidaridad Network shared about his organization’s work helping translate the economic benefits of ILM to people in the private sector. Solidaridad used to work mainly on certification processes within supply chains, but soon realized that a whole-landscape approach made much more sense.

For Mao Amis, who runs the South Africa-based think tank African Centre for a Green Economy and is a panelist in the upcoming summit, the idea resonates. “If we’re to protect natural capital, we have to balance the various competing demands on the landscape,” he says. “So we need to take a systems approach.”

Another point from the Nairobi discussion was that landscape management can be a de-risking strategy for financing development. “A number of multinationals have already had to close plants in some areas because of water scarcity,” said Caroline van Leenders of the Dutch Enterprise Agency. “And if you’re an investor and have your money in those kinds of projects, then you have a problem. So it makes sense for these institutions to start investing in solutions.”

Amis notes that these risks for businesses and investors may also be reputational, and cites the example of flower farming in Kenya: “When consumers in Europe started asking questions about where their flowers are coming from,” he says, “all of a sudden companies were under scrutiny about their labor practices and relationship with natural resources.”

He says that framing landscape-level challenges in terms of ‘shared risks’ is a useful way of bringing governments, civil society and the private sector together to address complementary goals. Strong partnerships between these different entities are required for successful ILM, he adds, because “the solutions are not just about signing a check. There’s no one sector that can fix everything by itself.”

The panelists in Nairobi also agreed that private sector players and financial institutions are showing increasing interest in investing in landscapes, as long as a good business case can be made for doing so. According to Disikalala Gaseitsiwe, Deputy Executive Secretary for the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa, dialogues with African banks about putting money into ILM initiatives have so far been fruitful.

However, much of the private sector is not yet fluent in the ‘language of landscape,’ said Van Leenders. “They’re mostly interested in short-term direct returns,” she said, “and for a landscape approach, you need long-term and you need to be able to value multiple kinds of returns.”

As such, Amis urges landscape partnership conveners to work hard to “understand where business is coming from, and speak a language that makes sense to them, that connects to the turnovers and the shareholders’ interests. We need to find middle ground.”

In the Summit, Amis is keen to hear from other panelists about successful – and potentially replicable – models for developing bankable landscape initiatives. He hopes to explore the question of how to build the sustainable businesses of the future. “If we say that our current economic system is what brought us to our current situation, we need to promote new economic models that promote sustainability,” he states. “At the end of the day, we need to make a business case for why our landscapes are worth conserving.”

To learn more about this issue, register now for the GLF Digital Summit Engaging the Private Sector in Integrated Landscape Approaches: Cases from the African Landscapes Action Plan on Thursday 24 October at 13:00 – 14:30 CET. 

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