December 30, 2015

Moving Africa toward sustainable development through landscape partnerships

Mariteuw Chimère Diaw, African Model Forest Network

Over the next 15 years, The Sustainable Development Goals envision a world free of extreme poverty.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seek to eradicate the roots of extreme poverty. This ambitious goal requires development to take on a new, integrated model to finish what the Millennium Development Goals started. To handle issues that are as complex as extreme poverty, we need cross-cutting, people centric programs.

The current paradigm is characterized by sectoral-driven and top-down approaches to economic development. This approach is limited in that it excessively consumes natural resources, which leads to a warming atmosphere. Innovation in economic development is needed to reconcile extractive activities with the goals of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. In order to effectively work at the intersection of the SDGs and economic development, policymakers must escape silos and work at multiple levels — from the ground to the international arena.

A unique opportunity for sustainable development in Africa

For African countries, as for many of the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs), the SDGs represent a unique opportunity. A few interconnected factors make Africa well-poised to pursue a sustainable development pathway:

  • Despite Africa’s steady economic growth and ambition to “catch up” with the developed world, African nations are generally not yet locked in to carbon, resource-intensive systems.
  • There is a prevailing recognition of the persisting issues (and consequences) of environmental degradation, poverty, and inequality.
  • A repertoire of knowledge around inclusive development models, technologies, and innovations that effectively address these challenges is readily available for application in the African context of development.

Africa can address environmental and social issues by leveraging available research to “leapfrog” into low-carbon, socially-just modes of development. This turn toward sustainability must be steeped in the lived realities of Africans across the continent, with massive impact investments in smallholder farming, forestry, and natural resource value chains. A structural transformation is needed to create a collaborative, inclusive economy that works for communities at a local level, while meeting conservation and climate goals.

The landscape approach builds multi-stakeholder platforms that engage diverse groups of people to make land use decisions. This photo was taken by Krista Heiner of EcoAgriculture Partners.

Applying the landscape approach in Africa

It is easy to make a sweeping claim, but how can such an aspiration be rolled out? The landscape approach is an apt mechanism for meaningful social change. By emphasizing the inclusion of a diverse range of actors, the landscape approach reduces the trade-offs inherent to single-sector strategies for development.

There is growing interest in applying such an approach to support the inter-related objectives for climate resilience, agricultural production, ecosystem services, and rural livelihoods. New African businesses and social enterprises are stimulating alternative energy production, innovative rural banking, technologies for sustainability (such as smartphone applications), and agricultural products that contribute to ecological resilience. Furthermore, over 20 countries have expressed interest in establishing Model Forests, a form of the landscape approach, to sustainably manage natural resources and extractive industries.

According to the 2014 Africa Progress Report, Africa, as a whole, spends $35 billion a year on food imports. It is the only region in the world that does not generate a majority of its forest income from high value goods. African countries aspire to leverage integrated models, such as the landscape approach, to create the enabling environment for investments in agricultural and forest value chains.

There is wide regional support for the landscape approach — a power that turned up in force when over a hundred practitioners of the landscape approach participated in a conference hosted by the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative in 2014. The conversations held in this conference resulted in the creation of the African Landscapes Action Plan, now endorsed by the African Union. ALAP advocates for the use of multi-stakeholder governance at the landscape-scale, capacity building for managing institutional complexities, and learning networks that support the creation of collaborative management systems.

Over a hundred practitioners of the landscape approach convened in 2014 to discuss how the landscape approach advances social, environmental, and economic goals in African landscapes.

Nearly 200 practitioners of the landscape approach convened in 2014 to discuss how the landscape approach advances social, environmental, and economic goals in African landscapes.

Model Forests as a landscape approach for advancing Sustainable Development Goals

The application of landscape principles must be designed with the local context in mind. Lessons drawn from the several existing initiatives in Africa can help guide the direction of this new model.

Model Forests are a geographic entity defined by the bounds of a larger forest system, but also include the various land use activities that takes place within this area. The boundaries of a Model Forest are defined by humanity’s relationship to forest systems and connected watersheds.

The African Model Forest Network brings together different stakeholders to make decisions that can be applied throughout a landscape. This collaborative platform becomes the driver of social change, managed according to three underlying values:

  1. Partnerships within the platform are voluntarily;
  2. Partners have claim to their entitlements, including formal and informal rights and claims;
  3. The partnership is interest-based, and the partners implement a common vision through a joint program of work.

While Model Forests are not the only landscape approach, it has a proven track record in developing management systems that result in better social and economic outcomes.

Putting the landscape approach into action

The landscape approach is an ideal mechanism for the social transformation imagined by the Sustainable Development Goals. Through the development of multi-stakeholder partnerships, it builds resilient social infrastructure that can respond to needs and challenges that emerge within the landscape.

Through the multi-stakeholder platform, partners create solutions to challenges felt by the entire group. This creates a collective learning process where partners explore what works and doesn’t work in the landscape. This learning process builds rapport, encourages innovation, and gains transformational power as more actors are engaged.

But for a shift in management strategies to occur, support and investment are needed. Policy makers must recognise the benefits of landscape approaches, provide incentives, and facilitate collaboration between implicated actors. This sort of institutional support is needed to realise the potential of Model Forests and African landscape initiatives to engage local stakeholders, such as smallholder farmers. By working at multiple scales to enable the landscape approach, African nations can drive a new economic model based on sustainability and recognition of the value of natural resources.


The Cameroon pilot: Model Forests as a vehicle of sustainable development in Africa

African Model Forest Network Youtube channel

Chimere Diaw is the Director General of the African Model Forest Network and serves on the Board of Directors for EcoAgriculture Partners. He works closely with landscape practitioners in Cameroon as the facilitator of the Forest Governance Learning Group, coordinated by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

Top photo by Axel Rouvin on Flickr.

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Learn more about how the landscape approach can catalyze social transformations here.

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1 Comment

  • Gerhard Pretorius
    December 30, 2015 at 10:06am

    I am an environmental and sustainability practitioner in mostly the agricultural arena.
    I agree with the multi-stakeholder approach, but my comment relates more to the kind of language used in this blog. We really need to get away from all the jargon. I find the subject matter interesting enough but it’s a bit like reading Zuma’s speech. Landscape initiatives by definition needs to engage people at all levels, but this kind of language by definition cuts out everyone below the very top.