Nestled deep within the heart of Colombia’s coffee belt, west of the bustling capital of Bogota, the Risaralda landscape hosts an impressive diversity of ecosystems, cultures and economies. The region encompasses cities, rural farmland,indigenous communities and the Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena biodiversity hotspot. For the last 15 years, government, academy, private sector, regional and local leaders have joined forces under the banner of the Risaralda Model Forest, a partnership that works to manage the landscape’s ecosystems and resources holistically to benefit the area’s biodiversity and communities.
The partnership is part of the Latin America Model Forest Network, which has worked since 2002 to promote participatory landscape management and governance in forested landscapes across the region. The network is itself part of a global body called the International Model Forest Network. The Risaralda Model Forest joined both networks as a regional partner in 2008 and quickly strengthened the coordinated action between farmers, community organizations and local government in preserving the area’s rich biodiversity, including the unique Guadua bamboo forest.
Despite having made significant strides in building the region’s partnerships, barriers to effective collaboration remain. These challenges take many forms – from access to technology and funding to antiquated or inequitable on-the-ground training, knowledge sharing and development. Given the complexity of landscape-level initiatives, co-creation and implementation of innovative solutions to these challenges is vital to the success of these partnerships.
Identifying regional barriers and opportunities was at the heart of the Latin American Model Forest Network’s 2022 board meeting last November. Members from more than 35 model forests convened in the city of Pereira to reflect on the year’s accomplishments and explore future collaboration and growth. The group included representatives from 15 countries, including members from supporting institutions such as CATIE (Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center), CUSO International, the International Model Forest Network (based in Canada) and the World Resource Institute (WRI).
What’s working, what’s not and how to fix it: An exercise in sourcing solutions
The 1000 Landscapes for 1 Billion People initiative (1000L), one of the network’s most recent partners, facilitated an interactive workshop to source solutions to many of the model forests’ most complex challenges. We led the group in exploring how model forest leaders could adapt 1000L tools to address their barriers to success.
The workshop focused on three critical areas for integrated landscape management (ILM): Technology use, capacity-building and financing landscape-level transformation. Within each of these categories, participants identified successes and persistent challenges they face in forging a future path for their respective landscapes.
The first session focused on issues surrounding technology access and uptake as well as the barriers and opportunities of adopting new digital tools to support landscapes. Several attendees emphasized the difficulty many land users had encountered in purchasing and adapting sometimes expensive technologies to the needs and context of rural communities. Many of these communities often do not have the capacity or infrastructure to collect, store and disseminate data effectively. This challenge can reduce data accuracy and ultimately impact its use in policy and decision-making.
To combat some of these issues, several model forests cited their use of citizen science methods as a work-around for more sophisticated data collection. Citizen science is a way of collaboratively generating knowledge with the integration of the scientific community and direct participation of citizens, allowing users themselves to develop technological solutions that respond directly to their needs. Participants highlighted two successful examples, including Bolivia’s Chiquitanía Sustainable Forest and a cell phone-based bird-monitoring initiative in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. From these case studies, participants uncovered an opportunity to engage youth in ILM.
Knowledge seekers and knowledge keepers: Making knowledge management more equitable and accessible
Acquiring, managing and sharing information in the field of ILM is a continuous process that involves a complex series of steps: research and knowledge generation, critical reflection, dissemination and communication of information and key messages, and capacity building. During the workshop, participants highlighted the frequent “top-down” approach to research and capacity building implemented by government and development agencies, which often excludes essential local and community voices. These processes, they pointed out, should instead be based on the context, knowledge and actions of those who live and work in each landscape, with recognition of the human capital that already exists there. In this sense, it’s crucial to integrate scientific and traditional knowledge at the territorial level that is responsive to each locality’s cultural and historical context.
Communication and information-sharing systems also emerged as an important factor in the success of knowledge management and sharing throughout the region’s partnerships. Aligning different institutional agendas and priorities, overcoming language barriers between actors, overcoming isolated working approaches between ministries and sectors, and influencing national and sub-national policy (e.g., concerning climate change) are all aspects that demand attention for inclusive and effective knowledge management in model forests.
Participants also noted that the timely use of information for decision-making by stakeholders at the territorial level still needs to be improved in the region. The group explored a few strategies that can contribute to addressing it. For example, they pointed out the importance of planning and implementing technical assistance with a long-term vision that integrates knowledge management as a cyclical and continuous process. In this regard, the in-depth analysis, segmentation and prioritization of key actors could help make capacity-building processes more effective and more straightforward.
Redirecting financial flows: How the right funding with the right infrastructure can help landscapes flourish
The workshop closed with a session on exploring landscape finance and the role of financial institutions in supporting activities on the ground. Participants said that identifying financing and deciding what activities to prioritize across a landscape are ongoing challenges.Many acknowledged that finding funding for landscape-scale activities requires a complex analysis of legal and regulatory factors as well as understanding of how money flows to and from each territory. They said such work is beyond the reach of many landscapes.This analysis often requires collaborative efforts across sectors. Attendees agreed that this kind of endeavor is both difficult and fundamental to building relationships, as it ensures continuity in the processes for accessing funding and maintaining knowledge about the landscape over generations.
An additional challenge is the lack of consistency in how project funds are managed between and among different funders. This makes it difficult for landscape leaders to collect, organize and store financial data across activities and funding institutions. This challenge is exacerbated by the amount of financial data required for investment proposals, which model forests don’t typically collect.
Many participants also said intermediaries like development agencies and civil society organizations often prove to be obstacles to attaining funding due to the high indirect and overhead costs that often consume a significant amount of the funds before they reach stakeholders on the ground. This ultimately can diminish the ability to build solid projects and conduct associated analysis that inform a landscape’s potential to be financed in a portfolio. This risk is greatest with complex tools that have stringent investment requirements, such as carbon or biodiversity bonds and credits, which require significant time and financial investments.
Despite these barriers to financing, participants highlighted their positive experiences from developing payment-for-ecosystem-services instruments, such as carbon credits, water-user fees and conservation trusts, in their territories. Many highlighted these types of results-based payment systems as an exciting structure through which the public sector could channel investment more effectively. Further, attendees voiced a strong interest in engaging with the private and public financial sectors on climate, biodiversity and sustainability investments.
While challenges for these model forests undoubtedly remain, the attendees of the LAMFN meeting made it clear that landscape approaches coupled with improved technology, capacity-building and landscape-scale finance mean the potential for their success has never been greater.