Integrated planning for sustainable development gets more complicated as you move toward population centers, but it also gets more critical.
Last year at the 12th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and Degradation, I heard a number of examples, especially during a series of side events held in the Rio Conventions Pavilion, of successful indigenous and locally-driven landscape restoration and management projects in Africa. All of these initiatives spoke specifically about community-based, multi-stakeholder decision-making to achieve multiple objectives, including biodiversity conservation, forest and landscape restoration, and livelihood enhancement.
But in the case of communities facing disruptive change from population growth, urbanization, or industrialization, these governance models are difficult to achieve and maintain. How can we ensure that restoration efforts don’t bypass these places, where ecosystems, and livelihoods, are often most threatened or degraded?
The “simple” example: community management in the Maasai rangelands
In the central Kenyan county of Laikipia in the northwest shadow of Mount Kenya, 260km north of Nairobi, the Maasai-owned Il Ngwesi Group Ranch is a test case of the economic development power of community-based resource management and landscape restoration. ‘Il Ngwesi’ means “people of wildlife” in Laikipiak Maasai. A council of elders governs the community trust, managing livestock and wildlife, including Grevy’s zebras, elephants, and African wild dogs, together in the same rangelands. The council of elders distributes the proceeds from eco-tourism licenses and “wildlife-friendly” beef to support community development projects like schools and health centers.
As a member of the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), Il Ngwesi ranch benefits from market access programs, management training and support, and partnerships that continue to strengthen the community’s economic position while helping restore the ecosystem. NRT reports “Bunched herding of cattle and designated grazing blocks are proving to help rehabilitate the rangeland, benefiting both the livestock and the wildlife that graze the same plains.”
Growing complexity: From 2 to 10,000 acres, governance challenges vary widely
Il Ngwesi group ranch is just one of many thousands of agricultural operations in Laikipia county. According to the 2013-2017 County Integrated Development Plan (PDF), community trusts are some of the largest landholders, with trusts in the north including Il Ngwesi holding an average of 10,000 acres each, or about 23 acres per member household. Most of this land is deemed “non-arable” by government survey, and so ranching income is supplemented significantly by tourism revenues.
Meanwhile, the “arable land,” concentrated in the southern part of the county, is divided among thousands of smallholder farm families, with farms averaging only 2 acres per household. Tourism largely bypasses these regions, as the charismatic megafauna that attract Northern tourists are missing there. While population pressure grows throughout Kenya, finding ways for agriculture to survive and thrive as the county changes will be a key to solving the economic development, food security, and social justice issues it, and the rest of Kenya, faces.
Natural resource governance and economic development decision-making in southern Laikipia is more complex than in Il Ngwesi. Establishing adequate representation for thousands of smallholders in multi-stakeholder governance platforms is difficult and benefit sharing is complicated and politically wrought. Additionally, each new restoration or agriculture or environment intervention needs to be implemented by hundreds of people to be effective. How these interventions are shaped and planned is therefore critical to improving the lives of the majority of Laikipians.
Understanding food flows for natural resource planning in densely-populated areas
In addition to agriculture, wildlife, and tourism, dozens of other social and economic activities affect the environmental quality and the people of Laikipia. To understand where landscape restoration efforts will have the highest impact on livelihood and nutrition outcomes, and how to plan them in densely populated areas, we must understand how food, energy, people, and ecosystem services move throughout the county.
As part of a research project supported by the Carasso Foundation, in conjunction with the World Agroforestry Centre, EcoAgriculture Partners is working with local people to map these “food flows” from farms to local stomachs, or to markets in Nairobi and in Europe. By combining these food flow maps with maps of the flows of ecosystem services and bio-energy (like charcoal), also key parts of the research, we aim to help Laikipia’s communities and government make better decisions about what kind of interventions are needed where, and how to design them so they benefit the most people.
Research that creates change
The cliché “Think globally, act locally” is in action on the ground in our work in Laikipia. While we are focused on generating knowledge that will help nations around the world achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and meet climate commitments, our research at the landscape scale in Laikipia is specifically designed to improve local restoration and resource management decision-making, creating positive change for the people of the county.