Global Landscapes Forum Africa 2021 (#GLFAfrica) being the first-ever digital conference focusing wholly on African drylands was a successful mission full of lessons learnt from action-based restoration discussions, shared scientific evidence to the adoption of indigenous knowledge systems.
The conference was timely because Africa’s landscapes are massively degraded, putting the lives of more than 1.2 billion people in sub-Saharan Africa at risk. It is timely because degraded ecosystems not only complicate human lives but hinder pastoralism, agricultural operations and cause biodiversity loss.
While ecosystem restoration is taking center stage on local and international environment and climate discussions and meetings, Africa’s drylands certainly trigger a lot of attention, as demonstrated by the highly charged engagements at the #GLFAfrica conference which was interactive with a fully packed agenda.
The opening the session on Framing the UN Decade: An African Perspective on Ecosystem Restoration led by Ibrahim Thiaw, the Executive Secretary, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), emphasized that Africa’s drylands are fragile while calling for action from within. “Dryland ecosystems are fragile. Change is homemade, not imported, it is time to reset and reset Africa’s development,” Thiaw said.
Inger Andersen, the Under-Secretary-General, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), demonstrated that drylands are crucial as they host half of the globe’s livestock; thus, there is a need to promote healthy drylands so that they serve their primary purpose.
Despite the vitality of drylands, it is evident that they are not safe from anthropogenic activities. Wanjira Mathai, Vice President and Regional Director for Africa- World Resources Institute (WRI), affirmed this issue and the need to intensify restoration efforts to save them. “Africa’s drylands are under attack. When ecosystems are harmed, climate suffers. We need to double and triple our efforts to restore ecosystems,” Mathai said.
Similarly, John Kamanga ,Director of South Rift Association of Land Owners (SORALO) explained how Africa’s rangelands and drylands are under a lot of pressure.It emerged from several sessions that rangelands in some parts globally are highly degraded, yet they are neglected. Encouraging awareness on conservation of the general environment was considered an essential part of building knowledge of most people using rangelands for their day-to-day activities.
From the discussions, it was noted that it is easier to develop rangelands than it is to secure them. Unsustainable developments occasion degradation, which directly affects pastoralism. Secured rangelands increase soil fertility, vegetation, and fodder to support more livestock.
Africa’s rangelands are shrinking at a faster rate due to the increase in demands for ecological services and goods. On the other hand, rangelands in other parts of the world are lost to croplands, as stated by Martina Fleckenstein of the World Wide Fund (WWF). Such changes in land use limit mobility and access to resources such as water and fodder for animals.
Integration of science, action, and policy in ecosystem restoration is integral in promoting sustainable practices. However, the effectiveness of policies in the restoration of degraded environments should be specific such that it incorporates the social, cultural, economic and political dynamics of a community.
According to Hon. Adjany Costa, advisor of environmental affairs to the president of the Republic of Angola, for a policy to be effective and well-implemented should be applicable. Nonetheless, policies are weakened by the reluctance of some governments to hand over land rights and by powerful people that are after economic benefits over restoration.
The conference highlighted how research and development are crucial in developing realistic and specific approaches to restore dryland ecosystems. Thus, establishing a collaborative approach between the academia and research institutions was highly recommended as opposed to “a copy and pasting” of strategies as bad practice. This included redefining the education curriculum used on the African continent that limits students from becoming experts in land management and restoration.
Steve Makungwa, a Senior Lecturer at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, recommended a need to change the approach in which the higher education curriculum is designed and implemented to develop students with more profound knowledge in environmental degradation and restoration programmes.
Community-based landscape restoration was echoed across the board. Speakers concurred that transforming Africa’s landscapes should start with the local communities as they know the problems affecting their ecosystem, the magnitude of the impact of their activities, and possess the solutions. Thus, involving them from the planning stages through the decision-making process to implement actions is essential.
Charles Karangwa, the Regional Lead- Forests, Landscapes, and Livelihoods Programme; Country Representative for Rwanda–(IUCN) said that community-led restoration is sustainable and it is important and necessary to invite them to the planning table. The ultimate step to take is to sharpen the skills of the local communities and provide an enabling environment for them to spearhead and discharge their restoration operation.
According to Tony Rinaudo, the Principal Natural Resources Advisor- World Vision Australia, “Empowerment means training, awareness creation, providing policy and practical support to help communities protect, restore, maintain and benefit from landscapes.”
Fundamentally, ecosystem restoration is every person’s responsibility, and a collaborative and integrative approach is necessary. A loner cannot drive the restoration wheel alone. In a nutshell, restoration is life and we have to make it part of our daily lives.
This article was published as part of a special series on drylands for the GLF Africa Digital Conference: Restoring Africa’s Drylands from 2-3 June 2021.