June 16, 2014

Landscape Governance in Africa: Navigating Power Imbalances to Foster Cooperation

Louise Buck, EcoAgriculture Partners , Cornell University Raffaela Kozar, EcoAgriculture Partners Constance Neely, World Agroforestry Centre

Editor’s note: This July, the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative is hosting a conference to bring together leading minds from African government, research, civil society and the private sector in Nairobi. The goal? To generate an ambitious agenda to enhance and scale effective integrated landscape management in Africa. By sharing the best in landscape research and lessons from years of local and national initiatives on the continent, meeting invitees will generate a powerful set of policy and program recommendations for national, regional and international action. Leading up to this event, the LPFN Blog is covering the main themes of the conference: landscape governance, business and markets, biophysical and socio-ecological research, capacity building, finance and national policies for supporting integrated landscape management in Africa. Today’s post, from Louise Buck (EcoAgriculture Partners and Cornell University), Raffaela Kozar (EcoAgriculture Partners) and Constance Neely (World Agroforestry Centre), covers the issue of landscape governance in Africa.

‘Landscape’ is a concept that helps us manage areas shaped by interactions between humans and nature and host a variety a land uses. Putting this concept into practice prompts several important questions. What area constitutes the landscape? Who manages it? How are decisions made? What goals should actors pursue? Who enforces the rules? Depending on which stakeholder you ask, the answers may be very different. Landscape governance must include processes that reconcile the needs of a variety of actors connected to a landscape and build an equitable system of decision-making among them. As environmental problems become more complex, bringing people together is critical for creating significant change. Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done.

Participants in a landscape governance training session. Photo by Raffaela Kozar, EcoAgriculture Partners.

Photo by Seth Shames, EcoAgriculture Partners.

For example, power imbalances between stakeholders pose a serious threat to effective governance systems. Power comes in all forms: access to resources including information, veto power, influence among others. Private sector, higher level government and international NGO actors might have a greater scope to dominate the decision making process because they have one or more greater forms of power than local land users. Even when those who live on the land and directly depend upon and manage the natural resource base are present in policy-making processes, they are often overshadowed by institutions operating at larger scales. While a corporation could easily affect the lived realities on the ground, it is very unlikely that an individual fisherperson will have any say about that corporation’s quarterly budget or investment plan. At the same time, because of this relative power, governments, NGOs, companies and other stakeholders are far more capable of setting plans into motion than a local herder. Thus, governance must take into account the desired outcomes of different stakeholders and their specific roles, contributions and benefits in achieving those outcomes.

An interesting example for navigating this tension comes out of Uganda, where the local Landcare program serves as a platform for smallholder groups to manage natural resources in the foothills of Mt. Elgon. Though the local government enables the initiative, several projects (specifically, the African Highlands Initiative and the Kapchorwa District Landcare Chapter) have come together to ensure that anyone who has a stake in the landscape can participate in its management. They aim for every stakeholder – from youth, women and the disabled to religious leaders, NGOs and the private sector – to collectively pursue sustainability and better livelihoods. By creating these opportunities, the Landcare program addresses some of the potential power imbalances and ensures that different kinds of groups contribute to governance. The district government is strongly represented in decision-making processes, but it is also present to ensure that smallholders can take ownership of Landcare’s activities. Collaborative processes are an important way to ensure that larger players don’t exploit resources and people and that multiple knowledge systems are recognized and valued.

Some other strategies for reconciling power imbalances include creating legal frameworks for protecting the rights of smaller groups, or establishing “bridging organizations” to mediate and monitor the capacities of different actors and to help honor location-specific or traditional forms of decision-making. This is not to imply that there’s any silver bullet to ensuring equity in any governance system, but striving for new forms of collaboration that recognize multiple stakeholders is vital to the success of integrated land management. For more information on what makes effective landscape governance systems work, read the full report: “Toward Viable Landscape Governance Systems: What Works?

What are other examples of landscape governance systems that are working to navigate power imbalances? Get the dialogue started before the conference by sharing your comments below.

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  • Linked from The Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative | Landscape Capacity Building in Africa: How to Ensure Ownership, Equality and Change   October 1 10:45pm

    […] 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. […]