Managing land sustainably

The Radisson Blu Hotel in Dakar was a hive of activity on July 8th-9th for the launch of a ground-breaking project – Improving Sustainable Land Management (SLM) and United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Policy and Practice Interaction in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) through Civil Society Capacity Building.

Masego Madzwamuse's picture

Team Leader: Economic and Social Justice Cluster

August 7th, 2013

The Radisson Blu Hotel in Dakar was a hive of activity on July 8th-9th for the launch of a ground-breaking project – Improving Sustainable Land Management (SLM) and United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Policy and Practice Interaction in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) through Civil Society Capacity Building.

Supported by the (UNDP) with co-financing from (GEF), the project is being managed by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) and kicked off with a packed inception workshop – bringing together over 50 delegates from 10 African countries.

Illustrating the importance of the project, the opening session was attended by high level representatives from the Senegalese government, including the Cabinet Director, Ismaila Diop, who was representing the Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, Sounkarou Adiaye, who is the UNCCD National Focal Point and was representing the Director of Water and Forestry, and Dr Assize Toure, who is the Director of the National Centre for Ecological Monitoring. The workshop was also attended by senior staff from the Open Society Foundations, including Abdul Tejan-Cole, Executive Director of the Open Society Initiative for Western Africa (OSIWA) and OSISA’s Deputy Director, Deprose Muchena.

OSISA’s Economic Justice Programme Manager, Masego Madzwamuse, set the scene by outlining the expected objectives of both the project and the inception workshop. The regional project was recognised as providing a unique opportunity to remove barriers to the effectiveness of civil society organisations (CSOs) by providing mechanisms to facilitate more inter-community learning, greater participation in international policy processes and broader dissemination of SLM technologies. All of which will help the project to achieve its overall goal – to improve the socio-economic development and livelihoods of rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa through improved SLM.

As Madzwamuse explained, the project is expected to establish a strong coalition between governments, CSOs, key stakeholders and the communities directly affected by land degradation in sub-Saharan Africa and will involve three key components:

Component 1: Increasing the technical capacity of CSOs to support on-the-ground SLM initiatives and knowledge based advocacy;

Component 2: Establishing partnerships for effective CSO coordination and knowledge transfer; and

Component 3: Up-scaling community knowledge and experiences to effectively inform international SLM dialogue and policy processes.

The three-year project will run from 2013-15 with a budget of US$1.74 million and will be implemented by three core partners across the continent – the (SARW), a programme OSISA based in South Africa, will be responsible for component 1; the (ENDA) based in Senegal will be in charge of component 2; and the / (UNOPS) based in America will oversee component 3.

Speaking on behalf of the Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, Ismaila Diop expressed the gratitude of the President of Senegal, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, and the Senegalese people for choosing Dakar to host the project’s critical inception workshop. He mentioned that the phenomenon of land degradation is a burning issue in sub-Saharan Africa with direct economic costs estimated at US$9 billion a year due to the loss of vital nutrients and topsoil. Since communities are directly impacted by these phenomena, their participation is vital for large-scale sustainable land management. He also pointed out that climate change would affect land management and that it was the duty of all to take leadership in the UNCCCD’s efforts to address desertification. In conclusion, Diop gave his assurance that Senegal’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development was committed to supporting the project so that it achieved its critical objectives.

Delivering some remarks on behalf of the UNDP Resident Representative in Namibia, which plays the role of GEF implementing agency, Feven Fassil challenged everyone to proactively undertake actions to promote change and transformation, which would lead to more empowered people and more resilient nations. She encouraged everyone to aim to for a ‘land degradation neutral world’ as per the agreement made by world leaders at the Rio+20 summit in June, 2012.

Touching upon the potential impact of the project, OSIWA's Executive Director emphasised the importance of embracing CSOs in relation to SLM practices, which would have a positive impact on land management practices, modes of production, issues of ownership and sustainability. He added that the project would help to scale up efforts to achieve real impact at the regional level so that countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa would develop more forward-looking land policies that would better protect the environment, respond to the needs of their people, and promote and protect the rights of women, youth and the rural poor.

As a background to the new project, there were exciting presentations on lessons learnt from the TerrAfrica Initiative and the (CAADP), which highlighted some successes and challenges. This was important to illustrate the pitfalls that the new initiative would need to avoid if it hoped to facilitate effective CSO-led responses to SLM.  At the same time, the secretariat of the UNCCD Regional Coordination Unit for also provided the key elements of its 10 year strategic plan, which the SLM initiative is aligned to.

In order to take advantage of the presence of experts and practitioners and share experiences on a critical issue, a panel discussion was held on ‘Land Rights not Land Grabs: Towards inclusive, sustainable land management’. Moderated by Deprose Muchena, the high-level panel brought together Marene Sow, Chairperson of ENDA, Landing Badji, Legal Adviser of Consumer, Citizenship and Development in Africa, and Yussuf Nsengiyumva, Africa Coordinator for the .

The panellists noted that the definition of land grabs varies depending on who is defining it. For local communities, some land use – such as leasing land without consultations at grass-root level – may be referred to as land grabbing, while investors say it is land investment. The panel argued that we have to come to terms with the reality that land grabs are real and that arguing over the labels attached to it is meaningless. Emphasising this point, Marene Sow said that the “reality of land grabs is that local communities are losing their livelihoods, and these so-called land investments are theft and we should all understand that!”

In unpacking who is behind the land grabs, participants were informed by Yussuf Nsengiyumva that land grabbers come from all over the world, including Africa. For instance, Nigerian companies are involved in land grabs in Senegal and there is an increasing number of similar examples. Given the increase in land grabs, an overarching question was how can the law be used to protect communities from land grabs. Muchena wrapped up the debate by emphasising that “it is our duty to stand up and protect the rights of future generations from land grabs – individuals, CSOs, and other stakeholders have no right to give up!”

Having successfully launched the project, partners agreed on a number of key activities in the short-term with a major priority being effective CSO participation in the upcoming COP 11 in Namibia from the 16th-27th of September 2013. The project will also host a series of roundtable discussions with key stakeholders and policy makers on mining and environmental accountability since the extractive sector is one of the main drivers of land degradation. In addition, the project will showcase and publicise best practices in terms of community SLM innovations as well as convene a consultative meeting with CSOs on the establishment of a coordination mechanism.

It was a hectic couple of days in Dakar but by the end of the workshop it was clear that this regional project is hugely exciting and innovative and could play a major role in developing CSO capacity around SLM initiatives. However, it was also clear that a successful inception workshop does not guarantee overall success – and that the effective implementation of the project relies on the strong commitment and coordination of both the implementing partners and all concerned stakeholders.

However, if the passion and commitment shown at the workshop is anything to go by, then the project has a great chance of achieving all of its objectives and contributing to the socio-economic development of rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa through improved SLM.

About the author(s)

Masego is the Team Leader for the Economic and Social Justice Cluster. Prior to joining OSISA she was a freelance consultant working in the area of environment and development. Before then she was a Programme Manager for the UNDP TerrAfrica initiative, which was aimed as mobilizing civil society engagement in processes aimed at up-scaling sustainable land management in Sub-Saharan Africa. Before working for UNDP Masego was a Country Programme Coordinator for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Botswana and later Regional Programmes Development Officer for the IUCN Regional Office of Southern Africa in Pretoria. She holds a Masters Degree in Environmental Sciences and a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and Environmental Science.

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