During the last two decades, multinational business and international NGOs from the North have initiated global roundtables, standards and certification programs to promote sustainable cropping in the South. In recent years, new programs and projects have emerged to promote sustainable landscapes, such under different names: sustainable landscape initiatives, area-based approaches, public-private, community-company initiatives, and jurisdictional approaches. The main aim of this paper is provide a critical reflection of the emergence of these new programs and projects in the context of a plurality of regulatory authorities and standards directed at sustainable cropping. Our two main questions are: To what extent do these programs and projects reflect a paradigm shift in sustainability governance? Are sustainable landscape initiatives meant to replace, compete with, or complement “vertical” governance of supply chains?
To address these questions, we take the following steps. First, we provide an overview of programs and projects all over the world, offering a general classification of sustainable landscape initiatives. Second, we question why these programs and projects have been initiated and launched. Specifically, we ask whether sustainable landscape initiatives aim to address shortcomings of “vertical” governance of supply chains through global roundtables, standards and certification. Third, we examine the ways in which initiators and supporters have framed problems, solutions and the projects themselves.
Our first main finding is that many sustainable landscape initiatives are presented as new technologies, rather than new forms of governance. Our second main finding is that sustainable landscape initiatives are considered as both complementary to and a next generation to global roundtables, standards and certification programs. Our conclusion is that the emergence of sustainable landscape initiatives launched by international development organisations and funded by governments from the North, do not reflect a paradigm shift in sustainability governance. They rather reproduce top-down, technological and procedural approaches characteristic of vertical chain governance. We close by discussing the implications of the lack of attention by sustainable landscape initiatives to their contribution towards increased plurality of state and non-state rights to land and resources, creating confusion and new rivalries in sustainability governance.