African Landscapes Dialogue: The Art of Improving Africa’s Future

(By Gemechu Bekele)

Why are many development projects in Africa disjointed and lacking the vision of being part of a bigger system? This was a question that lingered in the minds of more than 130 community leaders, policymakers, researchers, and farmers that took part in the African Landscape Dialogue (ALD) from 7th to 10th March 2017 at the HoA-REC&N Headquarters in Addis Ababa. All participants had a common interest: to realize integrated landscape management in Africa

“Overexploitation and extraction are what characterize landscapes in Africa,” said Dr. Gete Zeleke, Director of Water and Land Resources Centre (Addis Ababa University). He presented the status of integrated landscape management (ILM) in Africa at the dialogue. Subsistence agriculture and poor land management practices dominate African landscapes. Dr. Gete Zeleke stressed that the ever increasing population is exacerbating poor land management practices.

African Landscape Dialogue participants at HoA-REC&N’s headquarters
African Landscape Dialogue participants at HoA-REC&N’s headquarters

With overexploitation and other landscape challenges, Africa’s landscapes can no longer depend on piecemeal projects for a sustainable future. We must transition to integrated and long-term landscape development initiatives. For Dr. Sara Scherr, President of EcoAgricuture Partners, that is where integrated landscape management comes in. According to Dr. Scherr, landscape management is not a mere project, “but a long-term multigenerational process of transforming and sustaining landscapes through the collaboration of all different stakeholders interested in the landscape.”

Africa has many practical reasons for adopting integrated landscape management in its large and diverse landscapes. The lives of millions of Africans have already been affected by environmental perils, like deforestation, climate change, watershed problems, and desertification. At the same time, countries in Africa are committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to overcome these challenges and to work for a brighter future of the continent. Dr. Scherr views that this as a good opportunity because “all SDGs can fit into the concept of integrated landscape management.”

African Landscapes Dialogue and ALAP

In 2014, about 200 landscape management experts, practitioners, and policymakers came together in Kenya to exchange research results and working experiences in integrated landscape management. Their aspirations were to realize food security, to conserve and protect biodiversity, and to mitigate the effect of climate change in Africa. At the end of the meeting, they came up with the African Landscapes Action Plan (ALAP). The goal of the action plan was to devise a strategy for widespread implementation of the integrated landscape management approach.

This year’s ALD entertained new ideas, built networks, and shared lessons and experiences among those who implement landscape initiatives. It followed up on many of the implementation activities of the ALAP.

H.E. Dr. Gemedo Dale, Minister, Ethiopian Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, was among the guests of honour at the dialogue. For him, the ALD was an opportunity to reflect on progress made towards the SDGs by implementing the ALAP. “Once more, we can learn from each other and reflect on challenges, achievements, and struggles, and yet get renewed energy for collaborative actions,” said H.E. Dr. Gemedo Dale during his speech.

Prof. Negussie Retta (PhD), HoA-REC&N Executive Director (left), H.E. Dr.Gemedo Dale, Minister, Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (middle), and Dr. Sara Scherr (right)
Prof. Negussie Retta (PhD), HoA-REC&N Executive Director (left), H.E. Dr.Gemedo Dale, Minister, Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (middle), and Dr. Sara Scherr (right)

During the dialogue, participants came up with decisions and outcomes that will inform their commitment to integrated landscapes in the coming years. The outcomes gave focus to themes such as policy, business, finance, research, and capacity building. Dr. Scherr was glad that the diversity of themes suited the varied interest areas of the participants. “One of the things that I think was very nice about the design of [the African Landscapes Dialogue] was that it has something for everyone,” said Dr. Scherr.

ALD and Policy: Policy Influencing Practice and Vice Versa

“We discussed a lot about how policy can influence practice and how practice can also influence policy,” said Dr. Gete Zeleke, when asked about what moved him the most from the dialogue. Influencing policy could hardly be achieved without providing concrete examples that have changed people’s lives. According to the ALAP document, much of the resistance to integrated landscape management is due to ignorance of its benefits and the ways in which policy change could help. To this effect, Dr. Gete conveyed that where policies and lack of political will hamper efforts, fruitful practices with compelling evidence should be presented to policymakers to overstep resistance.

ALD Business and Finance

Discussing the theme of business, ALD participants had a consensus to create evidence on various business possibilities and relationship in their respective landscapes, including farmers’ engagement. The framework of a good ILM plan should guide agriculture and other economic activities, especially with regard to the use and extraction of natural resources. According to the ALAP, “effective landscapes action requires engagement with the private sector,” ranging from smallholder farmers to multinational agribusiness and extractive firms.

ALD Participants at HoA-REC&N HQs
ALD Participants at HoA-REC&N HQs

In most ILM practices so far, most of these stakeholders have been absent due to various reasons, one of them being antipathy between local communities and corporate entities. This is what motivated many of the participants to actively engage in the African Landscapes Dialogue. One participant, Mr. Justus Lavi Mwololo of the Kenya Small Scale Farmers Forum argued, “landscaping and development of land can only be done through the support of small-scale farmers.”

ALD and Research

“Research has been going on for decades in Africa; it is not new,” said Dr. Chimere Diaw, Executive Director of African Model Forest Network (AMFN), ”but it is not on-the-ground.” One reason Dr. Diaw was discussing landscape research was to encourage research-based initiatives on-the-ground.

The dialogue encouraged and inspired the participating landscape stakeholders to identify landscape related problems and find solutions through research. Dr. Diaw and others believe that this will result in presenting compelling evidence that can help compare ILM with other previous interventions. The ALAP suggests establishing a network of landscape stakeholders, researchers, and consortia that can support on-the-ground ILM initiatives.

ALD and Capacity Development

Mr. Abdirrashid Ali Farah of the Barwaako Voluntary Organization at ALD
Mr. Abdirrashid Ali Farah of the Barwaako Voluntary Organization
at ALD

Participants at the African Landscapes Dialogue arrived at a consensus that local knowledge should be given due attention in ILM strategies, while the promotion of “cross-landscape learning and community ownership and leadership” should be strengthened. As a landscape leader, Mr. Abdirrashid Ali Farah of the Barwaako Voluntary Organization (BVO) in Hargeisa believes that the ALD has increased his knowledge of ILM. The transfer of new ideas from other landscape leaders was what Mr. Farah valued the most.

Capacity development includes not only knowledge transfer among landscape leaders like Mr. Farah, but also gaining and transferring practical skills and attitudes required to shape and influence ILM, coordinate stakeholders, build trust, and reduce conflict. To this regard, a session of the African Landscapes Dialogue was dedicated to learning how to use and apply the Land-Potential Knowledge System (LANDPKS) – a mobile application that delivers tools and knowledge to better manage land to be productive, resilient, and healthy.

The Future of ALD and ILM

Dr. Scherr believes that the ALD is an event that will continue to serve as a platform to help people learn from landscape leaders in different parts of Africa. EcoAgriculture has committed itself to hold an annual meeting in different parts of Africa at least for the next two years.

“No landscape in Africa is useless,” says Dr. Sherr. In one way or another, “it is useful for food production, or for wildlife, or for culture, or it falls in one or more categories of goals identified by SDGs.” She is convinced that integrated landscape management will be a major mechanism for implementing the SDGs in Africa, as people become champions of their landscapes.

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