An inside look into how IDH convenes stakeholders for sustainable landscapes

A recent study has revealed a number of issues in the field of integrated landscape approaches. The researchers found that insufficient attention is paid to power relations in cross-sectorial engagement, and that there is a gap between policy, research and practice. The study highlighted IDH’s Production, Protection & Inclusion approach (PPI), which is underway in 11 countries, as a unique example of successful use of theory-based evaluation methods and of private sector involvement.

We interviewed IDH Program manager, Guilherme do Couto Justo of IDH Brazil, Tran Quynh Chi, IDH Regional Director Asia Landscape, and Gita Syahrani, Executive Director of LTKL, Indonesia, an association of district governments in Indonesia and partner of IDH Indonesia, to learn how this multi-faceted approach works in practice.

Challenges to overcome

In Indonesia, media attention for peatland fires in the world-renowned Leuser ecosystem, including districts of Aceh Tamiang and Aceh Timur, was a catalyst for a PPI compact proposal. However, to ensure that the compact implementation would have multi-stakeholder support, the IDH team convening this PPI compact had to be sensitive in building up trust between local and external partners. Land users in a region often depend upon the same land, water, and natural resources, and may have conflicting visions for how land should be used.

In implementation you have to be as accommodating as possible with regional specificity.

Gita Syahrani

Tran Quynh Chi found that the private sector is often interested in practical results that are achieved fast, whereas the public sector may have lengthy formal administrative procedures, for instance, in their investment decisions. Tran Quynh Chi and her team create cohesion between diverse partners with diverse working styles by involving partners who can focus on common interests and facilitate constructive dialogue, such as provincial authorities, IDH technical staff and local partners.

The need for a common goal

Tran Quynh Chi revealed that once they had pinpointed the common goal of improving the livelihood of farmers in Vietnam, the rest followed. This goal served both business interests and political motivation, which drove the program forward. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) can formalize commitment to these common goals:

The MoU signing is significant, as before this, all the companies are working on their own, and the public sector is separate. The signing allows for transparency between the curricula of both private and public sector.

Tran Quynh Chi

© IDH Copyright
Convener meeting for the Landscape Program in Vietnam to reach consensus on a consistent national action plan that tackles the issue of Glyphosate residues in coffee products, August 2020.

Guilherme do Couto Justo described the first signing of a PPI Compact in Brazil in 2018 as a “breakthrough moment” as it was shortly followed by three more compact signings in the same year. This is no coincidence: the program is designed with scale and replicability in mind.

Strategic selection of landscapes

The landscapes involved in IDH’s Landscapes program are chosen as they are crucial places in which meaningful change has the potential to result in significant positive societal and environmental impact. This potential is often related to production and environmental aspects. For example, in Vietnam’s apparel sector, PPI can contribute towards better living wage by reducing energy and water consumption. Prominent regional environmental issues such as drought or deforestation can also drive political will for improved sustainable practice (in both the public and private sector), which is necessary for the success of PPI.

Guilherme do Couto Justo revealed that Compact areas in Brazil were also selected because major companies were already sourcing commodities from these areas. Approaching a company with a plan to boost the sustainability of a region where they are already working makes it a convenient and logical choice for the corporation.

Empower local champions

In Aceh Tamiang (Indonesia), stakeholders created an umbrella governance system called the “Center of Agriculture Excellence”, run by locals from government, civil society, private sector and youth.

It was an eye-opener for us to see that by leveraging local engagement and enabling local champions, the process of setting up and maintaining a PPI Compact is much more efficient. Now the team is proactively reaching out to organizations to build ownership from the ground up.

Gita Syahrani

Local engagement and ownership are an essential element of pushing a PPI Compact forward and for speeding up the process. While the research study found that frequently landscape approach implementation around the world is “typically dominated by agriculture and conservation sector stakeholders,” the IDH teams would recommend investing time and resources in inclusive governance, such as the multi-sectoral governance body in Aceh Tamiang.

Keeping engagement up

After the MoU signing, the vision must be translated into real actionable targets. Both Tran Quynh Chi and Guilherme do Couto Justo spoke of the struggle to maintain stakeholders’ engagement post the initial excitement of the MoU:

After you’ve signed the PPI compact, you have to discuss how the compact is workable and impactful, then we have to talk with middleman, local farmers, companies and the public sector on how they can align their resources to work on one PPI compact. Therefore, the alignment goes into a deeper role, we must sit with them and decide how it will work and why it is worth investing in. Then a lot of resources will be invested into this. We really need the role of the convener to pull all of these resources into one target.

Tran Quynh Chi

To maintain stakeholder engagement, Guilherme do Couto Justo highlighted the need to balance long-term progress with some short-term “low-hanging fruits”. IDH’s Brazil Landscapes team achieves this by designing co-funding projects in parallel with the compact building process to deliver fast results from investment. They also found that frequent check-in points are essential to connect performance with motivation.

© 2F_imagens
Official signing of Memorandum of Understanding between SEMA and IDH Brazil in September, 2017

Make process a goal

To ensure the success of PPI in future years, Gita Syahrani stressed the need to recognize process as a goal. The convening process is neither an easy nor quick-fix option. It takes time to forge and maintain partnerships into crystalized long-term and collective actions, and to connect interventions across a landscape for a thorough and replicable strategy that boosts the sustainability of an entire region.

The landing of a PPI Compact is carried out in five key steps:

  1. Scope and convene local parties in the selected area.
  2. Build a coalition of stakeholders across public, private, and civil-society sectors to define a sustainable vision for the territory.
  3. Translate this vision into quantifiable targets and goals formalized through the signing of an MoU.
  4. Develop a joint implementation roadmap based on targets and goals, fleshing out each of the stakeholders’ roles and contribution, including integration into policy.
  5. Monitor and evaluate based on the agreed means of verification through a post-compact agenda. This builds an investment pipeline, assesses the status of the compact, and strengthens local governance.

Once this is achieved, IDH prepares to exit, leaving the PPI Compact in the capable hands of the landscape’s stakeholders.

In the Central Highlands (Vietnam), the PPI Compact took three months to develop, but behind this, five years of background work had already been in place to build relationships.

If the aim is to create impact throughout a ten-year period, then through each year we need to connect performance with tangible incentives as motivation. The process is also intrinsically linked to the performance.

Gita Syahrani

Although process may not be traditionally recognized as the most glamorous indicator of success, it is vital to effectively convene stakeholders for large-scale sustainable production of mainstream products across entire landscapes. This is evident in the growth of the Vietnam Landscape program from an initial 3,000 hectares to 30,000 hectares only half a year later. Now, the province has asked to expand to a further 90,000 hectares: half of the production area of the entire province.

© IDH Copyright
IDH Vietnam Team celebrate progress through their team day, August 2020.

The future vision for PPI

When asked how PPI could look in the future, Guilherme do Couto Justo described the advancements of PPI through its eventual integration into other strategies in the Landscapes Program, for example with the Verified Sourcing Areas (VSA) platform: “A digital platform where we will be able to upload all of the information around a compact, where the private sector will be able to see the most valid supply chains across the globe and to discover other opportunities in new regions.” Regions can be showcased to investors and buyers, translating targets into the investment needs around production, protection, and inclusion.

The PPI approach may come with many challenges, such as the extreme variability between regions, diverse ways of working amongst stakeholders, and the struggle to keep up engagement over time. However, its strengths lie in its long-term vision to scale-up sustainable production by convening across sectors to agree and implement common sustainability goals.