The Gambella region in western Ethiopia offers a culturally and ecologically unique landscape, which shares much of its characteristics with neighbouring South Sudan.
Largely unknown, it is one of the best-preserved, and relatively inaccessible, regions of Ethiopia. The swampy area and limited infrastructure make it ideal for impressive transboundary mammal migrations between Gambella National Park (NP) and Boma NP in South Sudan. The largest migration in Africa, undertaken by the White-eared kob, passes through this area. This movement is not limited to animals; refugees and oil entrepreneurs are moving into Gambella, introducing new interests and demands on a landscape where people of many different ethnic groups live. The Horn of Africa Regional Environment Centre and Network (HoA-REC&N), as a coordinator and facilitator between diverse stakeholders, is working to achieve an integrated landscape approach for the region.
Tremors from social, economic and environmental schisms in the basin
Gambella experiences considerable threats from competing land claims. International companies received concessions for vast tracts of land for large-scale agricultural investments. While this presents economic opportunities for one of the least developed regions of Ethiopia, it also causes large areas of valuable natural habitat to be lost.
Another high impact trend is the influx of refugees. The protracted and re-emerging conflict in neighbouring South Sudan is causing over 200,000 people to flee into Gambella, which is originally home to about 300,000 inhabitants. This migration is exacerbating tensions that exist between various ethnic groups, original inhabitants and immigrants from the Ethiopian highlands.
In the past decade, both foreign and local companies prospected in the basin near the Sudanese border in hopes of striking oil. The explorations have yet to secure access to the expected large reserves of crude oil and Ethiopia does not currently have the infrastructure to ship it out of the Gambella basin. However, the potential presence of the valuable resource could radically change the socioeconomic and environmental future of the landscape.
Turning a threat into an opportunity for multi-stakeholder collaboration
To address the threats that development opportunities pose on the integrity and richness of Gambella’s ecosystems, HoA-REC&N understood that multi-stakeholder collaboration was essential to realise integrated conservation and development. An exclusive focus on wildlife and wetland protection within the NP would be inadequate, in view of the trends that could be seen in the rest of the region.
The initiation of an Integrated Land Use and Development Master Plan (ILDP) for Gambella Regional State embodied HoA-REC&N’s perceived need for a holistic approach. The ILDP aims to not only ensure habitat protection within the gazetted National Park and other critical biodiversity-rich areas in Gambella, but it also guides the overall development of the region’s land and water-based resources in a careful, optimal and responsible way.
The plan identifies potential protected conservation areas, as well as areas to develop specific livelihood options for the population. In this way, the ILDP aims to effectively contribute to sustainable economic growth and continued social transformation of Gambella’s people. It seeks to correct the divergence between conservation and the utilisation of land and water-based resources, based on scientific parameters, reasoning, trade-off analysis and negotiation.
Building governance structures to institutionalize community buy-in, at multiple scales
In recognition of the need to reconcile competing land claims, HoA-REC&N facilitated the establishment of federal and regional Steering Committees to design and support the ILDP’s implementation. These are chaired by the state minister of the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources (MoANR) and Gambella Regional State’s vice-president, respectively. Furthermore, there are federal and regional Technical Committees, chaired by the Director of MoANR’s Land Administration and Use Directorate at the federal level, and the director of the Land Utilization and Environmental Protection Authority at the regional level.
“The involvement of smallholder communities, as well as large and small private sector investors present in the region, is key to success [of the ILDP].”
The preparation of the Plan is based on the genuine and active involvement of facilitators from federal, regional, zonal and district-level government institutions who take part in the Steering and Technical Committees. Furthermore, the involvement of smallholder communities, as well as large and small private sector investors, present in the region is key to its success.
Households in Gambella are clustered according to their major livelihood categories and take part in the Plan as Community Consultative Groups (CCGs). Among others, topics that are highlighted in the ILDP are Gambella’s hydrology, soils, climatology, wildlife habitat, agriculture, forestry, aquaculture, livestock management, land tenure, infrastructure and business. Strategic environmental assessment is also covered. As part of the ILDP, full-fledged economic development proposals are planned to be written for an identified 30+ livelihood sectors. This is to happen once a clear land use plan is developed and an enforcement support-system is established and approved by Parliament.
Horn of Africa Climate Change Programme, funded by the Dutch government
This post was written with contributions from HoA-REC&N’s ILDP, Gambella Branch Office and Climate Change Programme teams and CDI’s landscape governance team.
Toon De Bruyn is a consultant working with Wageningen UR, Center for Development Innovation and the Food and Agriculture Organization on capacity development for landscape approaches and on land rights.
Daniel Wiegant Crespo works as the Landscape Governance and Development Advisor for the Horn of Africa Regional Environment Centre & Network.
Dr. Minu Hemmati is an associate with CatalySD Sustainability | Communications, an independent advisor on sustainable development, participatory decision-making and multi-stakeholder processes (www.minuhemmati.net) and a former board member of EcoAgriculture Partners.
Herman Brouwer is a Senior Advisor in Multi-stakeholder Processes in Food Security with Wageningen UR, Center for Development Innovation.