Sentinel landscapes

A transition forest area is seen from above in Bokito, Cameroon. Photo by M. Edliadi/CIFOR

One of the most innovative approaches of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry is the establishment of a set of ‘sentinel landscapes’. This approach responds to a key recommendation from the 2009 Stripe Review of Social Sciences in the CGIAR, commissioned by the CGIAR Science Council.

Sentinel landscapes

What are sentinel landscapes?

A sentinel landscape is a geographic area or set of areas bound by a common issue, in which a broad range of biophysical, social, economic and political data are monitored, collected with consistent methods and interpreted over the long term.

This long-term data is essential for addressing development, resource sustainability and scientific challenges, such as linking biophysical processes to human reactions and understanding the impacts of those reactions on ecosystems.

However, the major justification for sentinel landscapes is the need for a common observation ground where reliable data from the biophysical and social sciences can be tracked simultaneously and over time so that long-term trends can be detected, and society can make mitigation, adaptation and best-bet choices.

At the global scale, the data generated will fit into a global analysis of networks including other (humid) sentinel landscapes while providing a ‘dry-land ecosystem’ perspective to understand issues and processes that could be relevant to managing similar ecosystems worldwide.

Research methods

The sentinel landscape framework has been developed to collect baseline data on people’s livelihoods, cropping systems and utilization of tree and forest resources for monitoring purposes using a set of standardized variables – both socio-economic as well as biophysical – to assess the relationship between livelihoods and land health in forested landscapes, which have been exposed to various forms of land-use change. Several types of research instruments have been prototyped based on existing survey instruments including, IFRI, stages of progress methodology and the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework:

Sentinel Landscapes Baseline – Methodological Overview
Sentinel Landscape Household Module
IFRI form A, F, R and S short instrument
Land Degradation Surveillance Field Guide
Stages of Poverty Survey
Cross Regional Household Survey on Oil Palm

Regional sentinel landscapes

West Africa sentinel landscape

Vegetation in the Sahel region, Africa, is mainly composed of stunted and scattered trees,shrubs, bushes and grasses. Photo by D. Tiveau/CIFOR

The West Africa sentinel landscape is found within a transect that spans the northeast of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Northern Togo. This transect also includes the Niger Basin and the Volta.

Research seeks to generate data on landscape performance over time, to permit identification and interpretation of these thresholds with respect to potential impacts on poverty, food security, human nutrition and sustainable natural resource management.Read More

Central Africa Humid Tropics Transect sentinel landscape

The Nyon River in Cameroon, which used to produce many fish, has experienced drying up and silting since surrounding communities reoriented toward agriculture. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR

The Central Africa Humid Tropics sentinel landscape (CAFHUT) represents a dynamic socio-ecological gradient of forest and land use in the Congo Basin.

Focused on Cameroon, the sites demonstrate a gradient where forest and tree-based livelihoods are and will become prevalent means of poverty alleviation.Read More

Borneo-Sumatra sentinel landscape

An oil palm plantation and forest area sit side by side in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by N. Sujana/CIFOR

Western Borneo sentinel landscape: The three regencies covered by this sentinel landscape are Kapuas Hulu, Sintang and Ketapang.

These regencies represent a gradient of forest degradation balanced by traditional agroforestry systems, which are impacted by the development of monoculture plantations, mainly oil palm. The potential impact of the growth of oil palm plantations remains unclear and presents a major challenge to these regencies.

Sumatra sentinel landscape: This transect includes large parts of Sumatra’s National Parks and protected areas alongside globally significant biodiversity, where local use of very rich flora and fauna is extensive.

Hilly and lowland areas are mosaics of dynamic land use by smallholder farmers.Read More

Mekong sentinel landscape

Researchers walk through a ‘learning landscape’ in Vietnam. Photo by A. Saray Perez/ICRAF

In the last two decades, Mekong economies have grown much faster than usual.

Large infrastructure development has caused, and will continue to cause, dramatic changes in forest cover, land-use patterns and regional ecosystem services in the Mekong sentinel landscape.Read More

Western Ghats sentinel landscape (India)

A complex agroforestry mosaic is seen in Kodago, Western Ghats. Photo by GM Devagiri/ICRAF

Agroforestry systems (coffee, tea, rubber, pepper, arecanut and cardamom) shape much of the Western Ghats in India.

Commercial agriculture in this area has existed for centuries. Now, these commercial crops have reached the margins of protected areas. In many cases, the only forests left are small sections which are either community-managed (i.e. sacred forests) or privately owned.Read More

Nicaragua-Honduras sentinel landscape

Coffee grows under a canopy of shade in the highlands of Nicaragua. Photo by ICRAF

The Nicaragua Honduras sentinel landscape is characterized by a variety of land uses.

Tree cover is therefore diverse, competition for land is high, and speculation and renting land are common, but these arrangements drive deforestation, hinder long-term investments and exacerbate land degradation.Read More

Western Amazon sentinel landscape

Floating islands are visible on Lake Titicaca, Peru. Photo by A. Camacho/Bioversity International

The Iniciativa de Monitoreo Socio-ecológico de la Amazonía Occidental (IMSAO) sentinel landscape covers the tri-national frontier region of Madre de Dios and Ucayali (Peru), Acre (Brazil), and Pando (Bolivia).

A broad range of development conditions can be found within this landscape. Acre is situated further along the economic development x-axis (higher economic development) and further down the forest cover y-axis (smaller area of forest cover) of the forest transition curve than the other three locations.Read More

Nile-Congo sentinel landscape

A village in Tigray, Ethiopia, begins the initial stages of adopting agroforestry practices. Photo by B. Cika/ICRAF

Located in the Eastern Africa Afromontane vegetation zone, the Nile-Congo sentinel landscape comprises 4 sentinel sites cutting across 4 countries.

These are: Mt Elgon (Uganda) and the South-West Mau Forest (Kenya), Lake Kivu (Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo) and Gishwati (Rwanda).

It represents forest and tree cover transitions along the socio-ecological degradation gradient, from protected forest margins to purely agricultural landscapes.Read More

Cross-regional sentinel landscapes

Oil palm: landscapes, market chains and investment flows

A man examines oil palm fruit at a research site in Indonesia. Photo by D. Ramsay/CIFOR

Over the past decades, palm oil has become the first source of vegetable oil in the world.

The growth of palm oil production and use is mainly due to two Southeast Asian countries – Indonesia and Malaysia – followed by others. The tremendous growth of palm oil was driven by an increasing demand for vegetable oil due to global population growth, an increase of fat consumption and better living conditions.Read More

Tropical-managed Forests Observatory

An example of rock art in Napo province, Ecuador, shows that indigenous groups have lived in Amazon forests for thousands of years, often relying on forests and rivers for their livelihoods. Photo by T. Munita/CIFOR

The Tropical-managed Forests Observatory (TmFO) assesses the impact of logging on managed-forest dynamics, carbon storage and tree species composition at a regional level in the Amazon Basin, the Congo Basin and Southeast Asia.Read More

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