Back in “my” landscape, with a big motivation boost

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Photo courtesy Pieter Van de Sype

It’s been two weeks since I’ve got back from Paris. I’m in a large room with all of my colleagues, working on our programme’s planning for 2016. We’re in San Ramon, in the Chanchamayo province, commonly referred to as the central jungle of Peru. The moist tropical heat makes it difficult to concentrate on the powerpoints and to think about how many meetings, workshops and field trips I will be having over the next twelve months, let alone how much they’re going to cost.

San Ramon lies in a river valley on the eastern side of the Andes, the last hillslopes before the Amazon plain. The view from my hotel room is a patchwork of different shades of green – darker where primary forest is still intact – and rusty red, where erosion or landslides have exposed the infertile soil.

Chanchamayo is the oldest coffee-growing area of Peru, and its economy is still centered on the green gold. Occasionally the roaring sound of military helicopters – 40 years old Russian Mi-17 –  lifting off from the airfield close by forces us to pause presentations or discussions for half a minute. They are headed to the VRAEM zone, the only no-go area in Peru, notorious for its production of base paste for cocaine, another kind of gold.

Paris already seems very far away. After arriving in Lima, I was immersed in my daily routine, without having much time to process everything I’d experienced during the YIL Initiative. Twelve thousand kilometers is a long way, airplane speed can’t change that. Latin America and Europe are different worlds, and when you spend a long time working far from home, it actually feels like living on different planets. Both realities become disconnected, and the switch between Peruvian and Belgian mode goes very quick.  

But this time it was different. I came back with a big motivation boost that’s still there. Last year when I attended the GLF in Lima, it felt a bit similar. So many people and high-level institutions, authorities and even the private sector, convinced of importance of the landscape approach. I had been working on it and struggling in landscapes and sustainable development at the local level, where progress is very slow and difficult.

This year, it got even better, as I got to spend a week together with enthusiastic, young people with very interesting, but also very different – complementary – profiles, actively working on landscapes issues.  I was a bit older than most of the other youth innovators and didn’t have direct experience on what my challenge was about (REDD+ safeguards), but I think I may have contributed with how I knew things worked on the ground.

Connecting the local with the national and global level in my opinion still is one of the most critical challenges sustainable development faces, and this issue was very prominent in developing the solution we had to come up with.  Apart from learning a lot, both professionally and personally, from my group members and from other challenge groups, I got the satisfaction of being able to work on something of such importance and relevance, charging my motivational batteries.

So now, back in the landscape where deforestation is still not slowing down, right here were the major share of the work needs to be done to meet the COP21 commitments and the SDGs, thanks to this experience I will be able to keep contributing in a better way, with a strengthened drive.

This is all thanks to the Steering Committee and others involved who helped to make the Youth in Landscapes Initiative happen, all the inspiring youth innovators and last but not least, the people who sponsored my crowdfunding campaign to attend this event. A very warm thank you to all of you. I hope youth involvement in landscapes gets bigger every year. It has to.  

Pieter Van de Sype is one of the 10 young champions who worked on the “ Rights and Tenure” Landscape challenge with Youth program’s partner: CIFOR. 

Learn more about the Global Landscapes Forum Youth program, meet our 50 youth champions, discover the 5 Landscapes challenges they took up and the solutions they developed and pitched at the Dragon’s Den on 6th December 2015, in Paris.