Landscapes around the world have experienced dramatic transformations in recent decades. Global supply chains link smallholder palm oil farmers in Indonesia with major retailers, like Lidl, Carrefour and Tesco, in Europe or cocoa growers in Ghana to chocolatiers in Belgium. The growing population of our globalised world has intensified pressure on land, soils, water and forests. Ensuring the health of these ecosystems is essential to address climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation to achieve sustainable development.
The challenge is to balance increasing, and often conflicting, demands on land – whether that be in promoting agricultural commodity production in an area to increase farmer income or preserve forests to ensure drinking water is available. Land-use planning is at the core of this balancing exercise. But how can we ensure that planning efforts are effectively implemented on the ground – and do not end up as a plan collecting dust on a shelf?
Trying to allocate land and natural resources to meet development objectives is complex, technical and often very political. And historically, land-use planning has been done in a top-down way that has excluded the people most affected by this process. There is growing recognition now that inclusive processes – which bring stakeholders and their unique insights about a landscape to discuss and inform planning decisions – lead to greater ownership of better outcomes and higher compliance with rules.
A free and easy-to-use tool to support participatory land-use planning
The EU REDD Facility’s Land-use Planner is a free, interactive tool designed to support participatory land-use planning processes using a data-informed approach. It can play a key role in addressing land use challenges and promoting sustainable, thriving and resilient landscapes that meet current needs without compromising the ability to satisfy future ones.
Recently, the Facility organised a training on the Land-use Planner, which brought together 26 participants from seven organisations to learn more about the Facility’s inclusive approach to land-use planning. During the four-week training, we provided step-by-step guidance on how to use the Land-use Planner, using participants’ real planning cases. Participants compiled data on key land uses, developed future land-use scenarios for their case studies, and explored the economic, environmental and social impacts of their various planning options. They are now equipped with a tool to help them facilitate land-use planning projects.
The Land-use Planner is agile and easy-to use. It is intended to respond to the unique needs of a planning process and can be applied to a range of contexts. Participants from this training utilised the tool to inform land-use planning issues in a range of geographies, including Indonesia, Laos and Vietnam. Previous trainings have included participants and cases from Latin America, Africa and the Pacific Islands. In the training, we saw the Land-use Planner used to support many types of planning initiatives.
Exploring forest management options in Indonesia
Participants from the Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM), a premier research university in Indonesia, manage the 10,987 hectare Getas-Ngandong forest as a ‘teaching forest’. The forest, situated at the border of the Central and East Java provinces, was previously a teak production forest managed by a state-owned enterprise. As the new manager of the Getas-Ngandong forest, UGM, through its Faculty of Forestry, is considering how to manage the forest to meet the needs and vision of those associated with the university (for research and teaching and to rehabilitate the forest) and the surrounding local community who uses the area to plant crops. For this group, the Land-use Planner was a useful resource in understanding potential management options and their effects on the Getas-Ngandong forest and the people that use it.
Testing virtual scenarios to maximise support on the ground
Participants came not only from different geographical contexts but also from various points in the planning process. This meant that participants did not always have the ideal land-use data to input into the Land-use Planner. Those without could draw on secondary sources and our Land-use Planner database of information provided by other users. Participants from GIZ and RECOFTC worked together during the training to explore alternatives to shifting agriculture to improve land management in northern Laos. Both organisations are active in this region in support of village forest management and conservation. Rather than supporting an active process, the team used the Land-use Planner to better understand the context in which they are working and how their land-use planning support can be of best use. The initial results from the Land-use Planner can serve as an entry point for discussions with government officials, farmers and other stakeholders on land-use planning, what issues are at stake, and what data is needed to conduct further analysis of land-use options.
Understanding long-term impacts of different land-use planning decisions
The Land-use Planner can be used as part of an inclusive planning process that brings all key stakeholders to the table to discuss a shared vision for the future of the landscape and understand the environmental, economic and social impacts of different land-use decisions. The Mekong Development Research Institute (MDRI) and IDH utilised the Land-use Planner as part of their efforts to support stakeholders engaged in subnational land-use planning in Di Linh District, Lam Dong Province. This district is in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, one of the world’s top producers of robusta coffee. Stakeholders are concerned about unsustainable land use and poor smallholder conditions over the 160,000 ha mountainous area, where forests and coffee agricultural systems are the dominant land uses. The region also faces a high deforestation rate (8% between 2000 and 2010), soil degradation, biodiversity loss and water pollution. With the Land-use Planner, MDRI and IDH better understood the potential impacts of different land-use planning decisions, such as improving coffee production or prioritising reductions in deforestation, over a 30-year planning horizon. MDRI is now training local facilitators on how to use the Land-use Planner to conduct cost-benefit analysis of management options and how it can advance the land-use planning processes in the Central Highlands.
Supporting participatory land-use planning with the Land-use Planner
The Land-use Planner can help stakeholders better respond to increasingly complex land-use challenges. Robust and straightforward approaches are even more essential now as global supply chains and increasingly stringent requirements to access international markets are adding greater pressure on landscapes and land managers. During the training, participants learnt how to use the Land-use Planner to support inclusive, data-informed land-use planning processes in a multitude of contexts where various land-use issues are at stake. With the tool, they calculated the costs and benefits of different land uses and simulated the effects of land-use planning decisions into the future. They compared alternative scenarios and identified key trade-offs, all elements that may serve as a basis for continued engagement with stakeholders to support sustainable land management. These scenarios also help them prepare solutions that support local development and environmental sustainability.
To learn more about our free and interactive Land-use Planner and future trainings, check out landuseplanner.org.