Global Livelihood and Landscape Recovery Platform initiative


Bhushan H. Sethi

Good Will Ambassador & Conservation Catalyst – Govt. of Rajasthan, under India’s Project Tiger

Conservation Catalyst & Member, Network for Conserving Central India

Founder, MAI Consulting Services, USA

Validation Partners : EcoAgriculture


This was the message I used as a screen display back in the early ’90s while learning computer programming. Over the years and decades with each new experience and chapter in life, the message remains very relevant. More so now than any other time in our living memory.

COVID-19 has been prevalent so far since 2020. Time now seems to be slipping by quickly with many of us pondering on the how, why, and what next for our world as we’ve known it. To look at happenings in a positive spirit should be the way to go but the price paid by communities across the world is not easy to fathom in terms of life itself and hardships endured. We stand in solidarity with all our global brethren and wish for an end to the pandemic.

On the flip side we have had the time now to ask ourselves, what could each of us do better? Most importantly what can we do to ensure that this and other calamities of climate change, reducing the quality of life do not fall on our children and future generations. The reality and realization look scary so much so that it’s not easy to dwell on it too much longer. However, given the indomitable human spirit that blesses our species, we will prevail and try to Build Back Better!

We have been blessed to have a multi-disciplinary education system and wide exposure to arts and the natural world. The connection with the latter keeps us grounded, we surrender to it in times of stress as the supreme connection between us and the creator. The time has come to stop, think, introspect, and give back to nature by helping restore what we have drawn over the decades. As our global populations head to 10 billion by 2050, it’s getting ever more important to use resources need fully and help the earth heal.

Personally to me, it’s been a natural progression after spending nearly 3 decades in wildlife via interactions with the National Geographic Society and traveling in the field across continents. Starting professionally in the corporate world at the age of 21 has afforded exposure to some of the best practices across engineering, management, and global standards. This has naturally inculcated a concept of sustainability to everything I do. With good exposure to non-professional work areas like Policy Reform at Capitol Hill and the White House during the Clinton presidency years, then the last decade as a Good Will Ambassador to India’s Project Tiger have all fueled a wish to help the sustainability of livelihoods and recovery of the natural world via influencing global policy. What better than help collaborate to restore wellness in the landscapes. That’s where it all began anyway! There is a need to form a good baseline of understanding livelihood and landscape recovery and sustainability to help governments build sound policy. It’s very much possible, we need to build a rigor, share, and then implement judiciously.

This Platform Initiative is our endeavor as we work with esteemed colleagues across areas of academia, government, non-government organizations, global partners, and institutions to help scale and implement this strategy across landscapes the world over. Finally, as we close 2020 and look to the UN’s 2030 Agenda there is a definite need to bring a big multiplier effect to the whole process of helping SDGs via livelihood enhancement and large-scale landscape recovery / NDCs. Given our work in Central India, we attempt to work and document a Global Strategy for local approaches. It can then be used at other locations as well via other implementing agencies. We look forward to collaborating and help heal the world’s landscapes to sustain healthy populations & biodiversity – a goal shared across all three UN conventions.


Everyone on this planet lives in a landscape, eats food grown in the soil, and drinks water cycled from the sky to the Earth and back. Healthy landscapes mean healthy people, whether you live in a city or a village. We need to take care of this basic infrastructure so it can take care of us. The time is now. The place is anywhere with landscapes that could provide its residents with more prosperity and a better future for their children while nature heals. The approach is bold and a break from the status quo.

The greatest honor of my life is the warmth and welcome from family, friends, and colleagues in my journey to learn about the people, ecology, and seemingly intractable problems in central India. The rich beauty and the depth of history and knowledge mean the journey will always remain unfinished. But mere learning is not enough.  With a collective effort, learning can lead to action and action can lead to healthier landscapes and better opportunities for the incredible people and wondrous nature of this special part of the world.  The world is full of special places and landscapes that can heal and provide if we give them the chance.

No single person or entity has the knowledge and capability to take on the complex goal of restoring landscapes alone. The effort embraces all who have a stake in the outcome, from the local farmer, the women who collect forest products, administrators, NGOs, governments, scientists to well-wishers. This document is one of many steps along the pathways towards a world full of vibrant landscapes that give nature the chance to provide everyone with food, water, solace, and peace.


Communities, NGOs, Governments could use systemic interventions and a structure to scale initiatives for achieving SDGs via improved policy, finance, institutional, and CSR reform. This is now a must to help large-scale landscape and biodiversity recovery if we are to ensure uniform human development, a standard of living, and natural resource availability for future generations. It needs to be achieved by providing creative livelihood options in the green economy with links to commerce. Only then can we achieve sustainable gains at scale for the masses while helping reverse current ground conditions and climate change!

Program DESIGN and Build Up

As a Conservation Catalyst, Goodwill Ambassador to India’s Project Tiger involved in decadal multi-million-dollar conservation – landscape transformation initiative, via voluntary village relocation program of forests people to civil society via Government funding. This benefitted over 1,600 families / 6,000 individuals in their development while affording precious insights in sustainable development and helping improve NDCs. It also provided positive realizations and experiences in their journey towards a better future. This was critical to helping natural recovery across vast areas of the national park’s 1300 sq. km. by making them inviolate. Subsequent ground interventions aided flora, fauna, and biodiversity restoration ultimately doubling the state’s tiger numbers due to an increase of habitat, its quality, and prey base. The program was structured and executed as a multi-stakeholder partnership across national and state governmental institutions, communities, and civil society, public/revenue, and forest departments. After implementing a structured governance, and control mechanism to provide grants, facilities, and infrastructure to these relocated families their development index has steadily improved over time.  Also as part of the Central India Landscape Symposium while discussing related issues, the wish to help influence policy and then involve private CSR has been an evolving focus. The outcome of work and related learnings so far is the intent to develop an initiative for  Livelihood and Landscape Recovery Platform by taking in further Global learnings – GALLOP. The initiative’s goal is to assimilate thinking and expand it into a larger pre-existing program to scale-up MSPs on SDGs and NDCs via standards, institutional design, policy briefs, systemic frameworks ultimately helping the Bonn Challenge and beyond. The intent is to generate bottom up models for policy and institutional design at multiple levels that can facilitate CSR inclusion at scale.

Way Forward

The DNA of the initiative itself is meant to be collaborative. As a first step, it will need best-practice evolution and validation within existing landscape programs via partner’s experiences. Then approach, and model adoption, review against their existing framework and plans. Thereafter these evolved practices can be presented to a consortium of land restoration NGO organizations and grant/funding foundations with project execution experience for detailed review/feedback. After deliberations and fine-tuning on all aspects, it can then be seeded as an ILM BEST PRACTICE to governments/NGOs/CSR for inclusion in policy. The final step will be formal ratification by international bodies like the WB, GEF, USAID, UNDP, and other UN organizations to make it effective as parallel processes. The involvement of these institutions all along is important. Over the coming decade as communities adopt these best practices, develop voluntary leadership, and manage their lands and commons better, will the real impact of the initiative be felt, and true gains realized. The key is a trinity of voluntary leadership developing within the communities at the ground level, support by local governments for the predefined KPIs and defined templates, then long-term support by the national governments via policy, finance, and other means. The GALLOP model illustrates subtleties to be evolved by MSPs into the final BEST PRACTICE.

The BEST PRACTICE could be rolled out across different layers of the program model to bring a uniform semblance in global activities while encouraging voluntary leadership at the community level allowing for in-situ solution customizations based on landscape, community competency, and climatic factors. Subsequent rollouts in the landscape can then bring in advanced techniques to the baselined in-situ processes for quality, control, gains, etc. The journey should involve reliance on best techniques, organic methods, systems backbone, and an institutionalizing pattern. Agri-tech can be used to network and create market supply chains to bring in fair economic gains to the communities. In time, when this sustains, landscapes recover to benefit communities and re-build their earthly relationships that were lost. Can GALLOP thinking and participative approach to policy and CSR be a way forward? Key approach is to advance the landscape agenda via Policy.

Executive Summary

The 2011 Bonn Challenge was a historic decision for global landscape restoration. As a result, a lot of excellent initiatives have been underway to help restore millions of hectares of land. In the past decade, there has been some excellent work and the landscape collaborations now wish to scale efforts not on a linear scale but at multiples of ten to a hundred. This is an encouraging development.

An initiative of such complexity involves multiple stakeholders where each gets their core competencies to the table and after building suitable interfaces and collaborations the team can then make a difference to the landscape over time. Degradation of landscapes also reduces their ability to support communities and results in them migrating away to other areas in search of better living conditions. This creates double imbalances; in that, it removes the human ability to positively influence the landscape at the first location and creates an excess pressure at the second. The displaced communities and degraded landscapes face different kinds of challenges thereafter in quality of life and ability to regenerate, thereby reducing their SDGs.

If we can work on a combined solution in a way that communities can directly work to recover their landscapes and prosper, it sounds like a utopian dream. The good thing is a lot of it is happening in places the world over and if we can help converge both these in each landscape initiative that will be the best thing to support the Bonn Challenge.

This platform initiative is geared precisely to help achieve that – bring convergence and collaboration across stakeholders and then add scale to the overall operation. It’s a global initiative and the principles can be applied anywhere by factoring in the local conditions. Our initial proposal is, to begin with, central India. Given our combined leanings there, we are motivated to help bring true wellness in the landscapes everywhere by use of this strategy and approach. Thereby helping communities build their livelihoods via landscape restoration as an obvious choice as the true stakeholders. i.e. Achieve SDGs by working towards NDCs. Herein we propose the setup where the key is community empowerment to ensure sustainable landscape benefits towards their long-term well-being.

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The Traditional Operation Model (TOM)

As shown in the Traditional Operating Model (TOM) schematic, the process starts by first understanding and building an approach to bolster communities’ ability to help restore their landscape, then bring in various implementation partners to help it scale. The methodology works bottom-up by addressing challenges and constraints related to the landscape and village communities. Any support and assistance required that is outside their purview or ability funnels up to the appropriate stakeholder for suitable intervention. All this via systemic recommendations at each level finally ending in policy suggestions. This requires making the appropriate socio-political, economic, and business case decisions towards an SDG / NDC agenda. The key differentiation of the approach being 

  • working with the local governments for convergence of all existing schemes and capital outlays available for community and landscape benefits,
  • community empowerment via the above and add further scale in the landscapes,
  • bring in private CSR and implementing agency to liaison with all stakeholders to help the community run their landscape operation,
  • the above three ensure effective ROI and maximum returns to communities,
  • they can then involve other science and institutional partners to help address gaps towards a larger and long-term execution strategy,
  • essentially if all the above is left to the community only, chances of success are difficult given the challenges and the length of time such an effort takes to produce results,
  • if an initiative is done without private CSR or technical /scientific partner involvement the burden on the local government gets too huge. Then the applicability and scale of execution becomes difficult to achieve,
  • all this must be executed in a structured manner via access to a knowledgebase,
  • access to appropriate systems is required for spatial information that needs building,
All this may seem complex, but the KEY is to get started with mitigation, adaptation, and large-scale land restoration (and agriculture improvements) via local communities themselves for multiple benefits it offers to SDGs & NDCs. If this can be supported via government policy, CSR adaptation & funding, private enterprise, and civil society inclusion it will be a big step to help bring scale to Climate adaptation and land restoration directly helping SDGs. Once this is underway other facets of sustainable development and ILM can be undertaken for community benefit towards the 2030 agenda and 2050 goal.

Innovations in policy, institutions, and financing for all these will be important!!  

Covid-19 is affecting rural and marginal communities badly and that adds to our resolve to move forward quickly. As the sayings go – ‘All good things start small‘ & ‘All good things take time‘! The key is to come together, get all our best practices together and COLLABORATE! Outcome remains to be seen!