Landscape approaches as sustainable model for agro-food businesses

Currently, the world is facing a number of complex and interrelated problems such as rising food prices, economic downturn, loss of biodiversity, climate change, and increased competition on the use of natural resources.

Biophysical potential with socio-economic abilities

As a result, people around the globe, especially in areas where agricultural practices are intensifying, are increasingly demanding high-quality landscapes from which all desired services can be derived. This implies that landscapes are expected to fulfil many functions at the same time (Termorshuizen & Opdam, 2009). A landscape’s ecosystem provides a landscape’s natural capital, and enables inhabitants to produce food, shelter, medicines, climate stability, pleasure, insights and leisure, and other goods and services. The importance of maintaining this constant flow of services forms the basic entry point for landscape approaches, which have been developed to combine a landscape’s biophysical potential with its socio-economic abilities to produce sound agro-food systems which are resilient to last environmental change.

However, over the past decennia, the balance between landscapes’ biophysical potentials and its services delivered has been lost, and many landscapes have been seriously damaged and degraded. Sustainable sourcing is an upcoming principle, but existing business models for sustainable sourcing hardly ever take into account the cost of landscape restoration or ecosystem return. They assume that with proper investment landscape’s service levels can be maintained, but in reality, reduced service levels (degradation) have to be restored through additional investment. This landscape restoration, or ‘ecosystem return’ must be accounted for, in order to assure sustenance of productive landscapes.

Appropriate governance arrangements at landscape level

During 2013, we explored a range of existing governance arrangements at landscape level, and assessed their effectiveness and inclusiveness. Series of expert meetings were organised, during which the potentials for sustainable sourcing through application of a landscape approach were assessed. Results were presented at several international events, and relations with both the academic as well as the business communities have been enhanced.

One of the major conclusions is that landscape approaches are very useful to assess a landscape’s services, and design appropriate governance arrangements at landscape level to engage stakeholders in sustainable production models. However, it was also realised that many landscapes throughout the globe have been affected by serious degradation, and that it is necessary for businesses to take into account the costs of damage done. This landscape restoration or ecosystem return is a challenging action, which offers an opportunity for businesses and landscape inhabitants to restore and reshape landscapes, and construct more sustainable productive landscapes. Landscape restoration is not only about restoring the ecological integrity of landscapes, but also its productive functions, its livelihood functions, and its cultural functions. There are many examples in the world where landscape restoration is done through multi-stakeholder engagement, and public-private arrangements, with strong involvement of the private sector.

Restoring damaged landscapes

The year 2013 was used to explore the large variety of landscape approaches and their respective suitability to approach agro-food systems from a spatial perspective. In 2014, we want to shift our focus to the applicability of landscape approaches for the development of a sustainable business model for agro-food businesses, based on the principles of restoring damaged landscapes or ‘ecosystem return’.

The two objectives for 2014 are therefore:

  1. Develop a business model for companies to mitigate negative social, economic and ecological impacts in their sourcing areas, and optimise positive spatial impacts through landscape restoration and ‘ecosystem return’;
  2. Enhance the capacity of public and private landscape actors to actively engage in innovative public-private governance arrangements at landscape level, to assure economic development, food security, restoration of damaged landscapes and ‘ecosystem return’.