June 23, 2014

Landscape Capacity Building in Africa: How to Ensure Ownership, Equality and Change

Cora van Oosten, Wageningen-UR Louise Buck, EcoAgriculture Partners , Cornell University

Working from a landscape perspective means to be able to “see the bigger picture.” Besides having technical know-how, one needs to understand spatial processes, work in teams to make landscape decisions, balance the needs of many stakeholders, and be sensitive to local circumstances. Without a doubt, it is difficult to live up to these aspects of landscape management, and capacity building is a crucial component for making sure that those connected to a single landscape can work together, foster sustainable change and give smaller stakeholders a voice.

Many integrated landscape initiatives invest in capacity development, usually through training, education and knowledge sharing activities in the field of land management practices. Improving infrastructure, enhancing social development and social equity and the development of new policies and governance structure are also good strategies. The most successful results have been achieved in the field of conservation of soil, water and biodiversity, as well as participatory decision-making. And perhaps more importantly, improved awareness, attitudes and mind-sets are major successes.

Photo by Seth Shames, EcoAgriculture Partners

A good example of success is the Namibian Coast Conservation and Management Project (NACOMA), which undertook a large scale capacity development program when it adopted an integrated coastal management (ICM) strategy. Since ICM was new to the NACOMA leaders and stakeholders in the landscape, their capacity development program involved raising awareness on the influence of each stakeholder group on coastal management; educating stakeholders on the basic principles ICM; establishing a neutral platform where stakeholder could meet; developing coordination skills and building rapport. Building capacity for coordination was especially important for generating greater buy-in for the policy recommendation.

Despite the recent popularity of landscape approaches and the growing number of integrated landscape initiatives across Africa, we still have a lot to learn. The knowledge on landscape processes is fragmented, often unreliable and spread widely across several academic fields and communities of practice. Where capacity development is less straightforward, certain issues require particular attention. These areas are related to coordinating stakeholders, building trust, reducing conflict and working within unsupportive policy frameworks. Also the issue of ‘upscaling’ remains challenging, as many initiatives are rather small and carried out under the limitations of market access, infrastructure, unsupportive institutions and low levels of private sector engagement.

For these reasons, there is a pronounced need for more investment in capacity development. Therefore, we should keep several questions in mind when moving forward on capacity building in Africa:

  1. What is needed to make knowledge sharing mechanisms and platforms effective and accessible to all those who need it?
  2. How can we build the capacities needed to bridge the gap between landscapes and administrative structures of states?
  3. How can capacity development contribute to more equitable power relations at landscape level and between landscapes and higher levels of scale?
  4. How can many local producers develop skills and gain access to information that will enable them to use ecologically sound production practices in landscapes?
  5. What sort of capacities need to be developed in order to bridge the gap between public and private sector and to contribute to economically valuable landscapes?

The study Integrated Landscape Initiatives for African Agriculture, Development, and Conservation: A Region-Wide Assessment, provides an overview of 87 integrated landscape initiatives in 33 African countries and discusses their capacity building potential. According to the paper, there is a growing recognition that integrated management of rural landscapes is the preferred way to ensure that human needs are met and conflict is mediated.

The Landscapes for People, Food and Nature in Africa Conference will explore the above questions more in depth and discuss other actions to unlock the potential of integrated landscape management in Africa. What are other approaches that may pave the way forward? Join the conversation in the comment section below.

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