A landscape (approach) portrait of Africa

A study of 87 integrated landscape initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa suggests investing in several forms of capacity development and involving women will increase the likelihood of achieving positive outcomes.

Interest in managing landscapes in Africa as a whole has increased considerably in the past 5 years, and a new analysis of such approaches indicates they may be able realize several different objectives at the same time. Some of these objectives, such as agriculture and conservation or livelihoods and conservation, were previously considered mutually incompatible.

Published in World Development, the study provides the first region-wide portrait of integrated landscape initiatives; what context they operate in, the challenges they seek to address, the activities they invest in, the stakeholders who participate and the extent to which they are achieving outcomes for food production, conservation, livelihoods and institutional capacity building.

Phil Dobie, Senior Fellow with the World Agroforestry Centre and co-author of the study, says there is a growing trend internationally to move away from a sectoral approach in conservation and development efforts towards a landscape approach.

“This trend has been driven by climate change, increased land and water scarcity, concerns about food security and energy production, interest in agricultural investment and increasingly sophisticated understandings of the role of ecosystems in human wellbeing,” explains Dobie.

Rural landscapes are viewed by many as the nexus where these interlinked challenges converge. This explains the recent increase in investments in integrated landscape initiatives which have multiple objectives, such as increasing agricultural productivity, sustaining natural resources and improving livelihoods.

While such ‘landscape thinking’ has begun to be incorporated into mainstream development practice and policy in Africa, it is still in its relatively early stages among national governments and local NGO programs.

“It’s a perfect time to take stock of landscape approaches across sub-Saharan Africa, analyze patterns and try to determine best practice and what lessons can be learnt,” says Dobie.

The study – carried out by researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre and EcoAgriculture Partners - surveyed leaders and managers of 87 integrated landscape initiatives (ILIs) in 33 African countries, yielding the following results.

In looking at the context for ILIs, the study found that initiatives are taking place in landscapes that range from tens of square kilometers to tens of thousands of square kilometers. Nine of the studied initiatives cover multiple countries, while others are dealing with landscapes delineated by an administrative boundary, river or lake basin, protected area, ecosystem type or the area covered by a specific project. The majority of initiatives are taking place in mosaic landscapes that incorporate agriculture, natural ecosystems, urban and industrial areas.

Although each ILI was motivated by more than 8 issues, 60 per cent of respondents reported that 1 or 2 issues are of primary importance. Biodiversity and natural resource conservation are by far the most common entry point, with improving agriculture and enhancing livelihoods less common.

On average, more than 9 stakeholder groups are actively involved in designing and/or implementing each initiative or its components. Governments, producer groups, the education sector and potentially marginalized groups all tend to be well-represented but participation from private sector actors is rare, and the health, energy and infrastructure sectors are less frequently involved.

The authors of the study note that while government bodies are usually involved as stakeholders they found little evidence of robust government support or leadership. They also advocate strongly for greater private sector involvement in order to address weak market linkages which are a common impediment to rural development in Africa.

The study assessed which of 4 domains the initiatives are investing in: agriculture, conservation, human livelihoods, and institutional planning and coordination. It found that the vast majority are investing in pursuit of multiple objectives but the greatest investment is in institutional planning and coordination. This tends to involve creating new landscape coordinating bodies or strengthening existing ones. Capacity building was reported by 97 per cent of respondents as a component of their initiatives. Livelihoods received the lowest number of investments.

To determine if these investments are paying off, the researchers developed an outcome index to measure performance in food production, livelihoods, ecosystem conservation and human and institutional capacity.

“Institutional planning, coordination and human capital were the most consistently cited outcomes,” explains Dobie. “More than three-quarters of respondents reported increased local capacity to sustainably manage landscapes and improved coordination and cooperation among stakeholders.”

“When initiatives invested in 2 or more forms of capacity building they had significantly higher numbers of outcomes.”

Interestingly, the study found that initiatives which explicitly identified women as a stakeholder group had significantly higher outcome scores. Unfortunately this was not the case for other marginalized groups such as indigenous or landless people.

The respondents in the study cited coordination of stakeholders, building trust, reducing conflict and assembling key actors as major challenges with ILIs. The difficulty in accessing continuous funding to carry out or scale-up initiatives was the most frequently mentioned challenge.

The researchers involved in the study provide some caveats to their results; firstly that the data they collected on the initiatives are based on the perceptions of those involved. Secondly, there may be some bias towards initiatives in which larger NGOs, donors or research organizations are involved because these were the initiatives the researchers could most readily identify.

Regardless of these possible limitations, the results of the study do provide a rich dataset that can be used to better understand ILIs in a more systematic way, and identify key areas for future research. The results also provide useful insights for those who are designing, implementing or supporting future landscape-level development initiatives.

The study of ILIs in sub-Saharan Africa is part of a broader set of ‘continental reviews’ aimed at supporting effective landscape approaches that integrate agriculture, conservation and livelihood objectives. It was led by the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature initiative and its strategic partner TerrAfrica.


Download the full study:

Milder JC, Hart AK, Dobie P, Minai J, Zaleski C. (2014). Integrated landscape initiatives for African agriculture, development, and conservation: a region-wide assessment. World Development 54: 68-80.

Related story on CIFOR Forests News: Unraveling the ‘landscape approach’: Are we on the right track?

Photo: The landscape of northwestern Rwanda by Neil Palmer (CIAT).