How have domestic legal frameworks facilitated REDD+ preparation and implementation in Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania, and how might integrated sustainable landscapes approaches strengthen these efforts? Reviews of current regulatory and governance challenges of reducing deforestation and forest degradation in these countries, taking into account existing barriers to effective implementation of REDD+, demonstrate the importance of viewing REDD+ in context. By adopting a multi-sectorial "sustainable landscapes" approach, sub-Saharan African governments might transform governance systems and economic incentives for a broader array of land-based investments to achieve more sustainable and equitable outcomes. Such approaches may be crucial, given the limitations (and failures) of earlier techno-centric, sector-specific planning techniques, the need to move beyond "governance in silos" and the skills and understanding required to identify and harness the opportunities provided by legal and investment reforms. We argue that within such a sustainable landscapes framework, REDD+ initiatives may have a better chance to effectively improve social well-being and the livelihood opportunities of forest-dependent communities.