Better land use, Better future for all

This booklet describes a major initiative to partner with civil society to enhance sustainable land management in Sub-Saharan Africa


September 17th, 2013

Land degradation is a serious problem in Sub-Sahara Africa, where up to two-thirds of the productive land area is reported to be degraded to some extent. The economic costs of poor land management have been estimated at US$9 billion per annum, while more than 3 percent of agricultural GDP is squandered each year as a direct result of soil and nutrient loss. Local communities suffer the most from the degradation of their land – and the subsequent reduction in food and energy production – and they are therefore fundamental to the widespread adoption of sustainable land management (SLM) techniques.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) work closely with communities and can provide an effective way of facilitating inter-community learning, international policy processes and dissemination of effective SLM technologies in the context of community engagement in the United Nations Convention Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Ten Year Strategy. Indeed, the UNCCD recognises the critical role of community participation in SLM and in combating desertification – and boasts over 430 accredited sub-Saharan Africa based CSOs.

The Ten Year Strategy has called for greater involvement of CSOs but many of them lack the capacity to develop programmes and mobilise resources, have weak governance and management structures, and tend to be viewed with suspicion by many governments, thereby undermining their effectiveness. Although the UNCCD formulation process made huge efforts to gather inputs from communities, there has not been any significant engagement with communities during implementation – and without real community participation, the UNCCD’s Ten Year Strategy is unlikely to succeed.

Rationale for the project

The project– Partnering with civil society to enhance sustainable land management in sub-Saharan Africa – was formulated in response to existing threats to sustainable land management practices, which are complex and require the active engagement of local communities and civil society organisations in crafting practical policy responses at national, regional and international level.

Previous attempts to halt land degradation have been hampered by traditional top-down planning processes in which land users were not actively involved in identifying the problems and finding solutions; sectoral based approaches to what is a multi-dimensional problem; a narrow focus on tackling the most direct causes, while overlooking the root causes; and conventional high input approaches to increase agricultural production.These approaches all failed to tackle land degradation from a social, economic and ecological perspective – and highlighted the need for a more interactive and inclusive approaches to SLM and development.

In light of this, the (UNDP), the (GEF) and the Open Society Institute of Southern Africa (OSISA) came together – along with other partners such as , the and the (SARW) – to develop a comprehensive approach that would build the capacity of civil society organisations so that they cansupport local communities to participate more effectively to the broader SLM processes, such as the TerrAfrica programme – and so help to reverse decades of soil degradation and end unsustainable land management techniques.

Goal and objectives

The goal of the project is to enhance the socio-economic development and livelihoods of rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa through better and more sustainable land management. The project will run from 2013-2016 and its key objective is to build the capacity of CSOs so that they can help to empower grassroots communities in the region to participate and influence the implementation of the Ten Year Strategy of the , TerrAfrica and other SLM processes, programmes and policies.

Key components

Component 1:

The project aims to strengthen the policy, practice and knowledge cycle in line with the Ten Year Strategy and therefore help to build the capacity of CSOs to work with local communities – and to facilitate community participation in national, regional and international SLM policy processes and programmes– so as to tackle land degradation, adapt to climate change, adopt more sustainable land use techniques and make better land investment decisions. Lessons will be drawn from previously successful initiatives, such as the UNDP-executed Small Grants Programme and the USAID-funded regional NGO capacity building programme for Southern Africa, which was implemented by the IUCN.

Component 2:

Many grassroots organisations have adopted a pro-active stance and constantly seek to dialogue with relevant ministries and national bodies in a bid to be part of both the policy development and implementation processes. However, they are usually unsuccessful because they lack the clout to command the attention of policy makers. Under this component, the project will work to assist communities to gain recognition through a series of high profile events.


Increased technical capacity of CSOs for SLM facilitation and knowledge-based policy advocacy:The projectaims to remove the barriers related to knowledge generation, management and transfer to enable CSOs to contribute to the science and technology objectives of the Ten Year Strategy. Therefore, the project will assist CSOs to continuously track critical issues such as emerging international finance mechanisms related to SLM, the impact of commercialisation of land for biofuel production, agri-business, mining, forestry etc. In particular, the project will assist with an assessment of the impacts of the commercialisation of land on land degradation and livelihoods in at least four countries.

The project will also assist CSOs to identify knowledge gaps and to collate existing knowledge, package it and disseminate widely. In addition, it will assist CSOs to develop evidence-based position papers to be disseminated widely, in particular at side events at regional and international conferences.

Improved coordination of African CSOs will enhance partnerships and ensure more effective coordination and knowledge transfer: The project will facilitate CSOs to design a coordination mechanism, which will address the challenges that weakened the Réseau International des Organisations Non-Gouvernemental Sur Désertification (RIOD). A new coordination mechanism will provide local communities with a partner that effectively links them to TerrAfrica’s Country SLM Investment Framework (CSIF) processes, NEPAD’s Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) and EAP programmes, the Ten Year Strategy of the UNCCD, and decision making processes relating to other land investment frameworks.

To overcome the problems experienced by previous processes, the project will facilitate a coordinating mechanism with a legal entity, with office bearers who develop and implement a CSO coordination and capacity building programme, in line with the requirements for implementing the TerrAfrica and UNCCD programmes of work. This will also reinforce CSO participation in the Strategic Investment Programme (SIP) portfolio and respond to the call of theTen year Strategy to provide CSO networks and strengthen CSO collaboration and participation in the strategic plan.

Community innovation in SLM is recognised, rewarded and upscaled:The project will hold annual competitions to recognise and reward outstanding community efforts to reduce poverty through sustainable land management. Annual themes will be selected from one of the six Thematic Programme Networks of the Regional Action Programme for implementing the UNCCD in Africa, namely:

  • Integrated management of international river, lake, and hydrogeological basins;
  • Agroforestry and soil conservation;
  • Rangelands use and fodder crops;
  • Ecological monitoring, natural resources mapping, remote sensing, and early warning systems;
  • New and renewable energy sources and technologies; and
  • Sustainable agricultural farming systems.

Achievements so far

The entire project management structure has been put in place, including the recruitment of the project coordinator, who began work on August 1st, 2013.

The inception workshop to launch the project was successfully held in Dakar, Senegal from 7-10 July, 2013. The workshop outlined the key components of the project and its staff to the main stakeholders, and reviewed the project’s workplans, budgets and risks. The workshop also provided an opportunity for the project steering committee to review its terms of reference, plan for COP11 in Namibia and approve the workplans and budgets for 2013.

ENDA organised an event to mark the World Day for Combatting Desertification on June 17, 2013 in Dakar. ENDA used the opportunity to introduce the project to stakeholders and the media. The event was attended by representatives of the Ministry of Environment, the Economic, Social and Environment Council, the Department of Water and Forests, foreign embassies, students and journalists.

There has also been substantial progress around the assessment of current practices and impacts of extractive industries on land degradation and local livelihoods in selected countries in the Southern Africa. Research reports have been drafted in relation to five SADC countries—Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe – looking at the existing institutional and legal frameworks that regulate extractive industries’ access to land in general and biodiversity-rich areas in particular. The five reports were reviewed at a workshop in Botswana and will be published at the end of October – along with detailed maps of major rivers basins in SADC highlighting the impact of mining on land, biodiversity and the livelihoods of communities.

Governance and Management Structure

The project has a robust structure in place to ensure that the project is implemented and the objectives attained. The structure includes a Project Steering Committee, the UNDP-Namibia Office, a Project Coordination Unit, Project Coordinator and Project officer.

The Project Steering Committee is responsible for providing overall guidance and direction to the project as well as for reporting progress and results to all the partner organisations. It will be responsible for making management decisions when requested by the project coordinator.

The UNDP Namibia Country Office is responsible for the project’s quality assurance on behalf of the Project Steering Committee whereas the Project Coordination Unit is responsible for the day-to-day running of the project and consists of a Project Coordinator, a Project Officer and a Project Assistant.

Implementing Partners


The Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) is the overall implementing partner for the project and is responsible for the entire programme management and coordination. OSISA works with the Southern Africa Resources Watch (SARW), which brings experience in providing researchers, policy makers and social justice activists with a platform to monitor and strengthen corporate and state accountability in land use, natural resource exploitation and sustainable development. OSISA is directly responsible for Outcome 1 as well as overall coordination.

Environmental Development Action in the Third World (ENDA) is one of the biggest networks that works directly with CSOs involved in land use, livelihoods and sustainable development in West Africa. They have previously been involved in similar initiatives under the Cotonou Agreement. ENDA is responsible for Outcome 2, which aims to result in improved coordination of African CSOs will enhance partnerships and ensure more effective coordination and knowledge transfer.

The Equator Initiative is a partnership that brings together the UN, governments, civil society, businesses and grassroots organisations to recognise and advance local sustainable development solutions for people, nature and resilient communities. The Equator Initiative has experience in recognising and rewarding the success of local communities and indigenous peoples’ initiatives, creating opportunities and platforms to share knowledge and good practice, informing policy to foster an enabling environment for sustainable development and developing capacity in order to scale up the impact of local communities and indigenous peoples. UNOPs/Equator Initiative is responsible for Outcome 3, which intends to result in recognition, reward and upscaling of Community innovation in SLM through organizing annual competitions in SSA.

Other partners and key stakeholders

UNDP partners with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis, and drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for everyone. On the ground in 177 countries and territories, it offers global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations. UNDP is a key stakeholder in the project through the Namibia Country office. It has allocated to the project resources worth US$ 1,500,000.

The GEF unites 183 countries in partnership with international institutions, civil society organizations (CSOs), and the private sector to address global environmental issues while supporting national sustainable development initiatives. GEF is the largest public funder of projects to improve the global environment. An independently operating financial organization, the GEF provides grants for projects related to biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, the ozone layer, and persistent organic pollutants. GEF is a key primary stakeholder in this project support with funding to the tune of US$ 1,740, 000.


The UNCCD is the anchor for the desertification convention and initiatives and will provide profound information and knowledge for the project and space for civil society voices to be heard and possibly influence policy at regional and international levels. UNCCD under one of the COPs developed the Ten Year Strategy Plan 2008-2018. The strategy strives to forge a global partnership to reverse and prevent desertification/land degradation and to mitigate the effects of drought in affected areas in order to support poverty reduction and environmental sustainability. It also calls for the strengthening of role CSO through better networks and balancing of attendance to the Convention events throughout the Convention’s Regions.


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