Desertification causes and further increases food insecurity as well as political and economic instability: Why land restoration plays a vital role in achieving sustainable development – and where it is already successful. Read WFC expert Ina Neuberger Wilkie’s recent article in The Impakter.
by Oliver Balch – Drylands in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, home to more than 4.3 million people, are being restored on a massive scale. Villagers volunteer for 20 days each year to help make it happen.
by Ina Neuberger Wilkie – Tigray’s land management has been done by local communities, a back breaking work of more than 30 years. What does it take to motivate such participation?
by Jakob von Uexkull – Desertification threatens the water and food security, livelihoods and health of hundreds of millions of people. Jakob von Uexkull about one of the most serious environmental challenges of our time.
by Luc Gnacadja – Communities and governments alike will become more resilient to drought if they are better prepared for it. Restoring degraded land increases security and gives hope to vulnerable communities.
How can communities thrive in challenging environments?
Desertification and land degradation are among the greatest environmental challenges of our time and a threat to the food security, livelihoods and health of hundreds of millions of people. Desertification is “a silent, invisible crisis that is destabilizing communities on a global scale”. (UNCCD)
Securing healthy and productive land is the key to allowing communities everywhere to not just survive but thrive. Across the world, there are policies that build a peaceful, just and sustainable future for people in drylands and help achieve SDG 15.3. It is important to learn from them. Meet our Champions, and find out more about the solutions made in Africa.
Every year, the World Future Council awards the best future-just and sustainable policies with the Future Policies – also known as the “Oscar for best policies”. It celebrates policies that create better living conditions for current and future generations.
Each year, we identify one topic on which policy progress is particularly urgent. The 2017 Future Policy Award was dedicated to policies that effectively address land and soil degradation, and the related risks to food security and livelihoods, and help secure a sustainable and just future for people living in the world’s drylands. But why is desertification one of the greatest challenges of humankind?
“Drylands cover close to 40% of the Earth’s land surface. Hundreds of millions of people are directly threatened by land degradation and climate change is only going to intensify the problem. So far, this underestimated environmental disaster has received far too little attention. The Future Policy Award 2017 is turning the spotlight on the looming environmental challenge and effective responses. The seven Future Policy Awardees are all from affected countries, and demonstrate great environmental and political determination.”
says Monique Barbut, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
Successful land restoration needs to go beyond the plot level. Measures need to be designed and implemented on a landscape level. The evaluation for the Future Policy Award is based on the “Seven Principles for Future Just Lawmaking”. Principle 1, the “duty to ensure sustainable use of natural resources”, guides us to select policies that tackle desertification and land degradation using overarching, integrated approaches at the landscape level.
We also found that the “principle of integration and interrelationship”, which links the policies to overall government vision and benefits for society as a whole, is a good indicator for a landscape level approach.
The “principle of equity” requires that policies address poverty issues, improve social justice, gender equity and indigenous rights, and recognize the needs of future generations.
Restoring land is hard work and often requires manual labour. Our “principle of public participation” guides us to rate policies higher if they not only include local people as labourers and beneficiaries, but engage communities early on in the process of policy design.
In a nutshell, policies score highly in the Future Policy Award evaluation not only by advancing the sustainable use of resources but also by addressing equity, the eradication of poverty, community participation, and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.
The 7 Principles of Future-Just Lawmaking are applied to all nominated policies. They are derived from the seven principles for sustainable development law, presented at the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development. We amended some details on the advice of its Expert Commission on Future Justice and use the principles actively in our policy evaluation.
This is especially true for countries with a high proportion of small holder farmers. Tigray in northern Ethiopia is home to more than 6 million people of which 80 per cent are small holder farmers. The people and the government of Tigray have transformed their landscape on a massive scale. They systematically managed hillsides and mountains, thereby recharging groundwater levels and significantly decreasing erosion.
The development strategy of the Ethiopian Government is called Agricultural Development-Led Industrialization (ADLI). The focus of ADLI is not the same in all states. Tigray added “conservation-based” to the strategy and emphasizes public participation as one of the underlying principles for agricultural development. Small holder farmers are at the core of Tigray’s ADLI.
It is this strategy that won the 2017 Future Policy award, together with Tigray’s Youth Responsive Land Policy and its Mass Mobilisation Campaigns.
Ethiopia’s Youth Responsive Land Policy gives young people a chance to set up cooperatives and earn a living. The central mechanism is to give legal landholding certificates and extension support to landless young people from the age of 18 to 35. In exchange, they restore degraded and marginal lands.
Groups form local cooperatives based on cooperative law and they develop their own bylaws. They elect a board, require a business plan, and are subject to regular auditing. A research team that covered the policy concluded that these youth groups are effective environmental custodians. They restore land and manage it sustainably.
The youth group model is a promising approach for landless and unemployed youth to engage in productive activities and build a livelihood. The model could and should be implemented in other parts of the world.
Mass mobilisation in Tigray is a rather unique collective action strategy. People are expected to contribute at least 20 days per year of voluntary labour towards building public infrastructure or management of watersheds such as the construction of terraces or irrigation projects.
Although the work is not paid it has been provided for the past three decades by roughly 1.3 million people, 30 to 40 per cent of the population. In many regions there are actually two campaigns per year – 20 days of soil and water works in February and 20 days of plantation in August.
One success factor of this strategy is that decision making, land-use planning and the development of specific projects are truly local. By-laws and social sanctions are drawn up by the community. Discussions go up and down and in the end, the village decides.
Two to three weeks before the intervention period, communities discuss which areas will be worked on, what projects will be implemented and who will do it. People form development groups for discussion and decision making which involve 30 households. They organize in working groups. For the valley of Merere this added up to be 110 development groups (with 30 households per group) and 175 working groups (with 15 people per group).
During the intervention period, the groups work on their assigned tasks; activities are evaluated daily and improvements undertaken if necessary. At the end of the intervention, in a series of meetings, the work is evaluated and lessons learned discussed.
The government understands itself as the facilitator of the land management activities and provides technical supervision and knowledge. To be able to truly interact at local level, decentralisation is key. The Tigray Bureau of Agriculture deploys extension officers who have been trained in agriculture, livestock management or natural resource management respectively. Every Kebele (ca 6,000 to 10,000 people) has a team of at least three dedicated extension officers. They connect with local people, offer advice and bring in up-to-date knowledge. During communal work, they support the group leaders in organizing people and tasks. “However, after 30 years of land management”, a farmer in Merere points out, “we are now all experts and can develop new techniques together with the extension officers”.
Ina Neuberger Wilkie
Senior Project Manager
Read up on all the policies in our full brochure, which is also available in French.