NAIROBI ( Landscape News) – Degradation of natural resources reduces employment opportunities for at least 11 million young Africans entering the job market every year, and soil and nutrient depletion on croplands cost the continent 3 percent of its gross domestic product. Climate change magnifies the challenge.
In response, numerous countries and corporations are engaging in landscape restoration across the continent, while indigenous peoples and local communities are reasserting their role in preserving and recovering the natural capital to the benefit of society as a whole.
Delegates attending the recent Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Nairobi at UN Environment headquarters highlighted the importance of aligning policies to ensure sustainable land management. In parallel, they urged countries to secure the tenure rights of indigenous peoples as stewards of their ancestral lands.
“In Africa, indigenous peoples and local communities have customary rights to around 80 percent of the land, but they are only recognized for 16 percent of that territory,” explained Patrick Kipalu, Africa Program Coordinator at the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).
“Protecting the land rights of these populations is the most cost-effective way to preserve and restore landscapes, so we must put people at the center of land management and ensure effective accountability mechanisms,” said Kipalu.
Raymond Samndong who serves as monitoring, evaluation, learning and reporting manager with the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, called on countries to recognize customary rights to land, noting that increased tenure security reduces deforestation.
Milka Chepkorir, member of the Sengwer indigenous group in Kenya and representative of the Forest Peoples Programme agreed with Samndong, but shone a light on the gender issue. “Indigenous women’s rights cannot be separated from the rights of their communities,” she said. “Realizing the land rights of women is realizing the land rights of the community.”
Implementing a landscape approach means looking at territories as a whole to balance multiple, and sometimes competing, land uses.
This is why the policy research and advocacy non-governmental organization Reconcile is promoting multi-stakeholder platforms across Africa. “The aim is getting the various actors to jointly address land governance issues,” explained Executive Director Shadrack Omondi, who also chairs the International Land Coalition (ILC).
Mozambique is one country convening stakeholders to improve land governance.
“We have embraced the landscape approach to foster rural development, and brought together stakeholders in project areas through cross-sectoral platforms,” said Roberto Zolho, natural resources management specialist at the Ministry of Land and Environment.
Discussion forums at the GLF showed that challenges are significant, but so are opportunities. The African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) is a collaborative effort led by 26 African countries to restore 100 million hectares of land by 2030.
Nigeria, Burundi, Zambia and Burkina Faso are some of the countries that shared how and why they are embracing restoration to build more resilient landscapes and livelihoods.
“The government of Zambia is deploying a cross-sectoral approach to boost resilience to climate change across landscapes,” explained environmental and social inclusion specialist Carol Mwape Zulu. “We want make sure all our efforts respond to a holistic, integrated vision.”
Iretomiwa Olatunji, World Bank natural resources management specialist in Zambia, elaborated on Zulu’s words. “The government realized that to build resilience to climate change, it had to embrace a holistic approach to development; address challenges at the landscape level; and bring the private sector on board,” Olatunji said.
Burkina Faso, another country facilitating engagement of the private sector in restoration, cited chairman of AgriTech William Kwende as an example. As part of a consortium, the company, together with two other corporations, plans to invest up to $60 million over 10 years to produce shea butter in the country using renewable energies.
“Preventing and reversing land degradation is an integral part of our project, because its success depends on healthy soils and thriving shea nut trees,” Kwende said.
Delegates agreed that, ultimately, breathing new life into landscapes the most effective way of delivering benefits for the people and the planet in one shot.
“We are fostering forest landscape restoration to fight land degradation and poverty, and to ultimately improve the well-being of the entire population,” said Emmanuel Ndorimana, permanent secretary at the Burundi Ministry of Environment, Agriculture and Livestock.
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