Using land effectively requires joining up planning

Thursday, 4 June 2015 14:15 GMT

A man walks in the early morning to start his day picking tea leaves at a plantation in Nandi Hills, in Kenya's highlands region west of capital Nairobi, November 5, 2014. REUTERS/Noor Khamis

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In East Africa, creating policy that works will require bringing agriculture, water and other interests together and researching what works

Leaders from different landscapes in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania have observed that in order to successfully implement Integrated Landscape Management (ILM), countries must develop research-based policies, strengthen existing policies, and integrate them.

ILM refers to long-term collaboration among different groups of land managers and users to achieve a variety of things required from the landscape. These typically include agricultural production, provision of ecosystem services (such as regulation of water flow and quality and pollination), climate change mitigation and adaptation, cultural uses, protection of biodiversity, landscape beauty, recreation and local livelihoods, human health and well-being.

Ally-Said Matano, who works for the East African Community at the Lake Victoria Basin Commission as a principal programs officer responsible for projects and programs development told a team of experts meeting in Nairobi that existing policies are sectoral – most of them focusing on just one area.

“To succeed with ILM, policies must come from the people, be research-based, and must be integrated for easy implementation,” observed Matano.

In many African countries, agricultural policies, for example, are not integrated with environmental policies, or policies in the water sector. Yet, according to experts, such policies should be crosscutting for easy implementation.

“What happens in Lake Victoria, for example, is the same thing that is happening on the land,” said Matano. “Pollution from fertilizers on people’s farms, soil erosion, and even pollution from homesteads all affects the lake,” he said.

He pointed out that 70 percent of phosphoric contamination in the lake comes from the farms around the lake. That affects the fisheries sector, water sector, biodiversity, and the environment in general.

Yet, the agricultural sector will always insist on policies that promote use of farm inputs for higher output. “Before enacting such policies, there is need to invest in research to avoid such conflicts,” said Matano.

The conflicts are such that environmentalists are developing policies that ensure conservation of biodiversity, while the agricultural sector is developing policies that encourage more use of land for improved productivity.

But the experts observed that even with little land, use of research-based technologies and intensive farming techniques can still assure the agricultural sector of even higher productivity, thus conserving the ecosystem at the same time. A policy in that direction will therefore favor both the environment and agriculture sectors.

In Tanzania within the Serengeti area, for example, there is a policy that allows controlled harvesting of wild animals. But across the border, on the Kenyan side in the Mara, the policy completely prohibits poaching. Yet it is the same ecosystem, same landscape, with the same animals crossing the border. “Such policies in those two countries need to be harmonised,” said Matano.

Further, scientists noted that pests and diseases that affect wild animals also affect domestic animals. As a result, some policies in the wildlife sector should be harmonised with policies in the livestock sector.

However, Verrah Otiende, a research scientist at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) pointed out that sometimes policy makers create policies on subjects they do not understand well. “There is need to involve experts, but above all, work with communities around,” she said.

“Communities, as well, have unwritten policies that are always relevant to the prevailing conditions,” said Matano. “For example, they might not know much about climate change as it is described by scientists, but they will always have adaptation measures in place,” he said. “You will find them planting sweet potatoes or cassava because they understand that climatic conditions have changed, and that they need some food security crops on their farms.”

Such, says Matano, are policies that govern the farmers’ way of doing things. It also means that farmers know exactly what they want, and therefore, they should be consulted when drafting policies that affect them.

In the same vein, the experts observed that some of the research done is not demand driven, making it difficult to implement. “Many times, people research for their PhDs, and once they get the paper, that marks the end of the research,” noted Matano.

“We need demand-driven researches to inform policies,” he said.

So far, scientists, organisations and communities from different landscapes in the East African region are already working with various governments to develop informed policies that will promote ILM.

In Tanzania for example, the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) brings together government, business, donors and the farming community to pool resources and work together toward a common goal. The organisation is an agricultural partnership designed to improve agricultural productivity, food security and livelihoods in the country.

In Kenya, according to David Kuria, a founder and member of Kijabe Environment Volunteers (KENVO), and someone who works in the Lari-Kijabe Focal Landscape, the organisation is collaborating with the county government of Kiambu to develop policies that will promote ILM.

Above all, the scientists pointed out that all policies should be implemented within the law so as to give them a legal backing.

The Nairobi meeting brought together leaders from the learning landscapes in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania to exchange knowledge and experiences on ILM, and to learn about tools to enhance their implementation of ILM.

Isaiah Esipisu is a Nairobi based freelance journalist specializing in agriculture, environment and climate change reporting. esipisus@yahoo.com