The future of land restoration is community-led, says WLE/ICRISAT at Tropentag

Advancing the agenda of land restoration in Africa’s Sahel region, let alone globally, is no small feat. But it is essential to underpinning fragile livelihoods and achieving the SDG’s.

In a special session at the Tropentag Conference, scientists and policy makers discussed this enormous challenge, bringing together perspectives from local action to global frameworks.

Grazed Millet Fields Dosso Region. ICRISAT

Grazed Millet Fields Dosso Region. ICRISAT

“The challenge is to bring to scale land restoration from pilot programs supported by development agencies and governments to self-sustaining, community led approaches to sustainable landscape management,” said Dr Anthony Whitbread, of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and co-lead of the Land and Water Solutions research flagship of CGIAR Research Program, Water Land and Ecosystems (WLE).

Dr Whitbread’s statement came as the introduction to the special session focused on ‘Land Degradation and Livelihoods for the Sahel,’ organised by ICRISAT and WLE.

At the session, Lead Scientist with the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNFCC) Prof. Barron Orr, spoke on the Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) convention, which has been signed by 119 countries and represents the new paradigm for avoiding, reducing and reversing land degradation in an integrated way. LDN is an important component of the means to attain the Rio+20 aspiration for a land degradation-neutral world.

Panel of speakers: Prof. Anthony Whitbread ICRISAT, Prof. Barron Orr, Mr. EMMANUEL OLATUNBOSUN BENJAMIN Technische Universität München (TUM), Dr. Tobias Feldt University of Kassel, Dr. Dougbedji Fatondji ICRISAT

Panel of speakers: Prof. Anthony Whitbread ICRISAT, Prof. Barron Orr, Mr. EMMANUEL OLATUNBOSUN BENJAMIN Technische Universität München (TUM), Dr. Tobias Feldt University of Kassel, Dr. Dougbedji Fatondji ICRISAT.

LDN has been designed as a multi-dimensional approach for monitoring and assessing where countries are in terms of landscape management – it incorporates many perspectives from governance planning, socioeconomic and biophysical impacts and recognizes that livelihoods and production are fundamental for sustained action.

Speakers also highlighted the importance of ground level actions. Researchers presented projects for development efforts to pilot at scale community-led efforts for land restoration.  These efforts underpin livelihood opportunities for smallholder farmers.

Dr. Fatondji Dougbedji from ICRISAT Niger and supported by CRS USAID reported on work which has empowered women to produce cash crops and nutritious food from communal wasteland areas – the ‘Bioreclamation of Degraded Land’ or BDL has been tested in 171 villages across Niger with over 10.000 women being introduced to the concept over the past 5 years.

Speakers also pointed out that national extension agencies are critical to supporting productive farmers. Without functional government bodies that regulate, monitor and promote sustainable land management practices, stated researchers, the aim for LDN cannot be achieved.

Farmers discussing FMNR in Dosso Region ICRISAT

Farmers discussing FMNR in Dosso Region ICRISAT

The sustainable management of common property resources is key to the LDN agenda, added panelists. Governance and functional community dialogue remains crucial to maintain harmonious societies. A team from the University of Kassel exemplified the importance of this dialogue – with more pressure on land resources from higher human and animal populations, there are rising incidents of conflict between livestock keepers and famers in the region.

Researchers explained that bringing land restoration to scale often relies on interventions where the benefits to the farmer may not be immediate and often require collective action for intervening and managing common property resources.

In the highly constrained smallholder systems, concluded panelists, the imperative of achieving food security and basic livelihood needs, as well as the typically ‘risk adverse’ behaviour of smallholder farmers, are major barriers to achieving land restoration. While approaches which use farmer and community engagement to co-design interventions have proved successful, scaling beyond pilots requires substantial new public and private investment.

The annual Tropentag conference organized by the University of Ghent, Belgium, ran from September 17-19 with the theme “Global food security and food safety.”

About the author

Dr Anthony Whitbread
Research Program Director – Innovation Systems for the Drylands

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