Realizing the potential of Africa’s rangelands

Bringing Rangelands into the Sustainable Landscapes Agenda panel. Global Landscapes Forum in Nairobi. GLF photo
Jack Durrell
11 September 2018

NAIROBI (Lansdcape News) — Rangelands cover some 43 percent of Africa’s land area – approximately 5.1 million square miles. These vast shrub and grass lands are an important source of income for local pastoral communities and play a critical role in climate change mitigation as carbon sinks.

However, they are being degraded at a rapid rate and are host to rising conflicts which pit pastoralists against agriculture, mining, and other extractive industries. The result: instability, increasing poverty and more degradation.

The solution is an integrated landscape approach to rangeland management that brings together multiple stakeholders to balance competing needs and interests and implement sustainable management strategies.

Implementing integrated approaches

But, awareness of integrated landscape approaches in Africa remains limited. How to reverse this was the subject of a side-event held at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) Nairobi 2018 – an initiative to connect, learn about, and share successful restoration stories in Africa in an effort to foster political and community commitments to land rehabilitation.

The event – “Bringing Rangelands into the Sustainable Landscapes Agenda” – shared successes from Africa and beyond to provide a framework and lessons learned that could inspire similar initiatives across the continent.

The examples offered informative insights into participatory approaches that placed local communities and pastoralists at the very center of decision-making and program design. “Participatory approaches enable pastoralists to become custodians of rangelands,” argued Stewart Maginnis of Nature-based Solutions at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “They recognize their rights, empower their agency, and strengthen their voice.”

Initiatives in Mongolia and Iran, for instance, involved pastoral communities in the definition of challenges, rangeland boundaries, and solutions. They also established local and national pastoralist institutions to support effective dialogues with government agencies and other stakeholders. In Kenya and Tanzania, pastoralists contributed to the development of zonal grazing systems, and in the latter, pastoralists also led the development of village-based land use plans.

Addressing knowledge gaps    

As African countries seek to learn from these initiatives, however, and shift from sectoral to multi-sectoral and integrated approaches, they will encounter a significant obstacle: the lack of reliable evidence to scale-up successes.

While there have been some recent efforts to raise the importance of rangelands and their restoration – most notably by Kenya and Uganda who have pushed for an International Year of Rangelands at the U.N. level – the challenges facing these marginal areas continue to be neglected in policy and research forums.

This was largely attributed to the fact that rangelands are home to mostly poor and marginalized populations, but it means that degradation will continue, and the economic and climate change mitigation potential of these vast lands will remain unrealized.

There continues to be insufficient information on the technical support and strategies needed to reverse degradation in rangeland areas. “What we have at the minute, generally around land use and particularly around rangeland management, is piecemeal information,” Maginnis complained. “And with piecemeal information we can only have disjointed solutions.”

However, there are encouraging moves to address this knowledge gap.

Abdelkader Bensader, programme management officer at UN Environment, spoke about an assessment near finalization, for instance, which will provide a more thorough and detailed knowledge base on rangelands. “We are trying to focus on what has already been done and what needs to be done to address knowledge gaps,” he said.

Again, it is pastoralist communities themselves who can play a decisive role in the collection and dissemination of new knowledge: “One of the options for closing knowledge gaps is the application of bottom-up planning processes which can draw on local and indigenous knowledge and then feed this knowledge upwards,” concluded Maginnis.

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