Realising society in harmony with nature through the Taiwan Partnership for the Satoyama Initiative

Written by Polina G. Karimova and Kuang-Chung Lee.

Image credit: TPSI-South Regional Workshop in 2017 by NDHU, courtesy of the authors.

Society versus nature: in search for a solution

When Portuguese sailors sighted Taiwan in 1542 they called it Ilha Formosa, the ‘Beautiful Island’. Four centuries later in the mid-1960s Taiwan became known to the world as one of the Four Asian Tigers, as the rise of the hi-tech sector and export-oriented industries made the country one of the leading economies in Asia. Economic prosperity, though, always comes with a price.

Industrialisation led to urbanisation and lifestyle changes, making Taiwan not only the 17th most densely populated country in the world, but also a highly urbanised one – 80% of the population today lives in the cities (13% of Taiwan’s total land). Not surprisingly, rural areas (29% of the territory) suffer the consequences with rural depopulation and aging, under-use and deterioration of production landscapes, prevalence of monocropping and conventional agriculture, economic depression, loss of traditional ethics and culture, and the disintegration of rural communities.

Since the 1980s concerns of humans’ “destructive force” have prompted active conservation efforts and the establishment of protected natural areas in Taiwan. However there has long been a failure to recognise the role of man-managed agricultural landscapes in biodiversity conservation and environmental protection. In other words, connections between forests, rivers, human settlements, and seas in natural and rural areas of Taiwan require integrated approaches to conservation, revitalisation and sustainability.

Society and Nature: The Satoyama Initiative in a Nutshell

The Satoyama Initiative and the International Partnership for the Satoyama Initiative (IPSI) were jointly launched by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment and the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) in 2010 at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The Initiative’s main goal is to realise societies in harmony with nature.

The Japanese term satoyama (sato meaning “settlement” and yama meaning “uplands”, “mountains”) refers to mosaic landscapes of woodlands, paddy fields, grasslands, irrigation canals, and human settlements, which have traditionally been sustainably managed by their inhabitants. As these satoyama-like landscapes exist in different parts of the world and represent diverse eco-systems, they are often referred to as socio-ecological production landscapes and seascapes (SEPLS). The human-nature interaction in traditional SEPLS is based on mutual benefits: while nature provides goods and services to support human well-being (firewood, food and daily commodities), people treat nature with respect and use its resources in a balanced and sustainable manner.

As in Taiwan, SEPLS in many areas of the world are diminishing or disappearing due to direct and indirect drivers of change. The Satoyama Initiative proposed a three-fold approach to revitalise SEPLS (Fig. 1) that focuses on a stable supply of ecosystem services, integration of traditional knowledge with modern science, and exploring of new forms of co-management systems.

Fig 1
Fig. 1 A three-fold appoach of the Satoyama Initiative

The Satoyama Initiative’s introduction to Taiwan in late 2010 became a timely and much anticipated solution to the revival of Taiwan’s SEPLS. The Initiative’s social-ecological systems thinking was similar to that of local and indigenous communities and it benefited from Taiwan and Japan’s shared historical and cultural bonds, as well as Taiwan’s comparable socio-ecological threats and agricultural patterns. The Satoyama Initiative was widely welcomed by both by Taiwan’s government and the general public and has grown into a robust national network with collaborative efforts from government, academia and NGOs/NPOs known as the Taiwan Partnership for the Satoyama Initiative (TPSI).

Revitalisation through Harmony: Taiwan Partnership for the Satoyama Initiative (TPSI)

The idea of creating TPSI as a national multi-stakeholder partnership network striving collaboratively for conservation, revitalisation and sustainability of Taiwan’s SEPLS was proposed by National Dong Hwa University in 2014 and adopted by the Forestry Bureau, Taiwan Council of Agriculture in 2015. There were four urgent needs for the nation-wide promotion of the Satoyama Initiative in Taiwan: comprehensive policy and strategic planning, knowledge enhancement and academic studies, capacity building mechanisms, and good practices in line with the three-fold approach of the Satoyama Initiative.

These challenges were addressed in the TPSI Strategic Framework under the categories “think global”, “adapt national” and “act local.” This unique “global-national-local” character of TPSI learned from the international concepts of IPSI to adapt the Satoyama Initiative to national policy, build capacities of local practitioners, implement on-the-ground activities, and share successful case studies with the international community.

Act Local

Fig 2
Fig. 2 TPSI Regional Networks

TPSI has four networks for regional capacity building and nation-wide exchange of on-the-ground experiences among the practitioners (Fig. 2). Each regional network arranges annual workshops to visit various SEPLS and showcase successful case studies for discussion of common challenges. TSPI has grown to bring together partners totalling 102 organisations and 173 participants in 2018, increased from 42 and 63 in 2016. This growing network enables TPSI to tackle challenges such as biodiversity-based livelihoods, organic and environmentally-friendly agriculture, forest economy, sustainable fisheries, eco-tourism, transfer of indigenous and local knowledge, return of the youth to rural areas, etc.



Adapt National

The Satoyama Initiative in Taiwan joined the Forest Bureau’s Taiwan Ecological Network project in 2017. The Network marked a shift from the traditional protected areas conservation approach towards recognising rural areas as a link for restoring the balance between natural and urban systems. Its action strategy interlinks with TPSI efforts on a number of levels as it, among others, includes an inventory of ecological survey data, promotes organic and environmentally friendly production within biodiversity hotspots, establishes eco-corridors for endangered wildlife, encourages public participation and environmental education. The Satoyama Animal Train launched in two consecutive years as a part of the Network’s efforts to disseminate knowledge about satoyama animals and ecosystems and was very successful.

Think Global

As of May 2019, of the 253 IPSI members there are as many as 14 TPSI members, which makes Taiwan one of the most active participants in IPSI knowledge sharing and collaborative activities and one of the most generous contributors of on-the-ground case study reports. By sharing its local and national efforts with the rest of the world as well as learning from its international partners, the Beautiful Island, true to its name, is striving to reconcile a harmonious relationship between society and nature.

Are We There Yet? Looking Ahead

Has the Satoyama Initiative in Taiwan reached its goal? Have the connections between forests, rivers, human settlements, and seas in natural and rural areas of Taiwan been secured? Here we await the 2020 decennial anniversary of the Satoyama Initiative’s analysis. The Satoyama Initiative put an “and” instead of “vs” into the biodiversity conservation and human well-being discourse in Taiwan. It spurred a multi-disciplinary, cross-knowledge and multi-stakeholder dialogue that previously did not exist, and revealed systemic weaknesses and existing challenges yet to be addressed.

The TPSI journey is far from over; but the course is set, the crew is on board, the engine is running, and there is only one way to go – forward!

Polina G. Karimova is a PhD researcher at National Dong Hwa University, Taiwan, with research interests including sustainable local livelihoods, circular resource use and co-management of SEPLS.

Kuang-Chung Lee is an Associate Professor at National Dong Hwa University, Taiwan. His research focuses on community participation, natural and cultural heritage conservation, collaborative governance of protected areas and SEPLS. This article is part of the special issue on Taiwan’s environmental issues.

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