July 28, 2016

Four lessons for private sector engagement from the Sustainable Landscapes Partnership

Simon Badcock, Conservation International Catherine Rothacker, EcoAgriculture Partners

In North Sumatra, Indonesia, a complex mosaic of land uses, values and challenges, Conservation International (CI) is working with USAID and the Walton Family Foundation on the Sustainable Landscapes Partnership.

This article is the second in a series of stories about landscape partnerships that effectively include private sector actors that were showcased at the Business for Sustainable Landscapes Workshop, organized by EcoAgriculture Partners, SAI Platform, IUCN, and Sustainable Food Lab at the Rockefeller Bellagio Center May 31-June 2 2016. You can find the other stories, along with key messages from the meeting and more information on the Business for Sustainable Landscapes Challenge Program, here.

In North Sumatra, orangutans, tigers, tapirs, and other tropical forest species live alongside local communities that cultivate oil palm, rubber, rice, coffee and cinnamon. Although rich in wildlife and agricultural production activities, residents face challenges finding sustainable livelihood opportunities, building resilience to flooding and landslides, and conserving natural capital, including the region’s carbon-rich tropical forests and peatlands. The Sustainable Landscapes Partnership (SLP), which partners with Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry, local district and provincial governments, private sector companies and corporations, and local communities, supports good governance, natural capital, sustainable production, and sustainable finance to improve livelihood opportunities and reduce deforestation.

Collaboration with companies and corporations

Strong private sector collaboration with government and civil society partners was critical to beginning the journey to achieve SLP’s landscape-level goals. SLP has had ongoing engagement with various private sector companies.

Initially, SLP worked to identify companies that were linked, either directly or indirectly, with supply chains in the target landscapes. Following these preliminary assessments, SLP was able to assess constraints to productivity and quality as well as opportunities to support positive environmental and conservation outcomes for the private sector stakeholders in the landscape. Drawing on these analyses, SLP approached private sector companies, and for most, the core goals and objectives of SLP were well-aligned with their business models and sustainability commitments as well as the interests of their customers.

SLP company and corporate partners provided improved transparency, offered market incentives for sustainability through their sourcing efforts, and key insights into private sector land use planning and trends. In turn, companies working with SLP were able to better consider natural capital in decision-making processes, manage environmental and social risks in their sourcing landscape, and identify opportunities for beneficial collaboration with landscape partners.

Aek Mais River flows down from the Batang Gadis watershed in Mandailing Natal, North Sumatra.

Aek Mais River flows down from Batang Gadis watershed in Mandailing Natal District, North Sumatra Province. Photo Credit: © Conservation International, photo by Tory Read.

Partnership activities

One of SLP’s initial interventions was to complete Sustainable Investment Action Plans (SIAPs) through collaboration among CI consultants and partners. Multi-stakeholder forums convened governments, companies, and communities to discuss proposed value chain interventions and encourage broader consultation and feedback.

SLP also provided training to smallholders to improve their yields, increase quality, and understand the importance of conservation and improved market access to companies. These efforts benefitted companies by directly linking them to more reliable and sustainable suppliers in local communities. The process both enhances a green supply chain and serves to reduce opaque trading practices by middlemen.

Additionally, SLP provided support for the development of Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) mandated by Indonesia Government as a critical element of spatial planning. Various analyses that were conducted for the SIAPs were also particularly useful in supporting this work, which sought to increase environmental and conservation awareness. Both district and provincial governments have utilized the documents to determine policies, planning, programs, as well as suitable spatial plans. Local government and companies also benefited from this training and capacity building to inform their discussions of land use, development, and conversion.

Lessons for effective private sector engagement

Key lessons have emerged from SLP activities as especially important for successfully incorporating the private sector into landscape partnerships. These include but are not restricted too:

  1. Promote the Value of Natural Capital: Making the case for nature as an integral part of business operations and supply chains has been a significant part of SLP’s success. “Education on the importance of natural capital [is a priority]….It is not enough just to focus on best practice adoption,” explains John Buchanan, Senior Director and Interim Senior Vice President, Center for Environmental Leadership in Business at CI.
  1. Engage with a Broad Range of Companies: CI and its partners have also looked beyond existing private sector engagement efforts to identify promising opportunities. “We’re working with small and medium-sized palm oil companies, not those involved with RSPO or other international processes,” in order to amplify project impacts and reach companies that may be new to sustainable sourcing efforts, says Buchanan.
  1. Develop Creative Financing Opportunities: Securing sustainable finance for landscape efforts has emerged as a key issue for further exploration. CI will collaborate with the private sector to create innovative financing models that value ecosystem services and natural capital. CI’s report, Ecosystem Finance: Innovative Solutions for Lasting Conservation, was developed to advance the dialogue around this key issue with financial institutions and other partners.
  1. Measure Your Impact: Finally, monitoring progress and engaging in adaptive management has also been important to SLP success. CI and its partners have been tracking trends and progress in North Sumatra using a Landscape Accounting Framework, which supports transparent, information-driven decision-making. SEAs have been completed for three districts, which has further informed spatial planning. SLP’s efforts have already begun to produce measurable results on the ground. Local government leaders have set aside more than 30,000 hectares of ecosystems under some kind of protected status. Technical assistance has been provided to more than 5,500 farmers, helping them generate >25% yield increases to support rural development and reduce the demand for new land and associated ecosystem conversion. Seventeen additional palm oil companies have made commitments to adhere to sustainable palm oil production practices.

Moving forward, SLP will expand its work into West Papua, Indonesia as well as regions in Brazil, Liberia, and Peru. As the SLP model grows, the private sector, from local companies to international corporations, will continue to be a critical partner for making integrated landscape management a reality on a larger scale.

Simon Badcock is the Senior Terrestrial Program Advisor at Conservation International. He previously served as CI’s Chief-of-Party for the Sustainable Landscapes Partnership.

Catherine Rothacker is a Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, where she is focusing on the intersection of corporate sustainability, conservation biology, food production, forest governance, and sustainable development.

For more information, please visit the North Sumatra SLP Landscape Profile.

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