A Whitbread/ICRISAT

Global Landscapes Forum Africa: Restoring Africa’s drylands needs a localized, integrated approach, say experts at the conference

Originally published in the ICRISAT Happenings Newsletter

At the recent GLF Africa: Restoring Africa's Drylands Conference, thousands of restoration practitioners, scientists, activists, policymakers and others discussed ideas to provide evidence and guidance for restoring the drylands as a precursor to the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021 to 2030).

Africa's drylands, which form almost 50% of the continent, are home to over 525 million people, most of whom are smallholder farmers relying on rainfed agriculture and livestock rearing for their livelihoods. Climate change is worsening the land degradation in this region and it is imperative to find ways to halt and reverse the degradation through sustainable, integrated approaches. At the conference, experts from ICRISAT presented insights from their work and shared their thoughts during panel discussions.

Presenting international perspectives on the limited investment being made into long-term research to improve restoration protocols, Dr Anthony Whitbread, Research Program Director, Innovation Systems for the Drylands at ICRISAT, said reduced focus and investment in R&D for land restoration is among the numerous challenges in Africa. He suggested the following measures:

  • Increase funding (and longer funding cycles) for integrative systems sciences, recognizing the multidisciplinary nature of the restoration agenda
  • Attract and influence governments and investments by setting up long-term learning sites to demonstrate the impacts of land restoration connected to livelihoods
  • Direct funds to support national R&D and find more funding opportunities for post-PhD support.

"Livelihoods are often not connected to the restoration agenda, so the process of restoration needs to be supported by the a) social side – considering issues like the social dilemmas around common property resources, tenure, etc. and b) the livelihood-generation side – by increasing agricultural production, diversification and intensification connected to markets and creation of agricultural entrepreneurship," said Dr Whitbread.

Dr Birhanu Zemadim, Senior Scientist and Project Leader, ICRISAT, shared his experience on 'Enhancing community resilience through improved land and water management practices in the degraded landscapes of Mali and Niger', which has been supported by USAID and the CGIAR Research Program Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE). He highlighted solutions devised by ICRISAT and its partners to improve crop productivity, erosion control and socioeconomic benefits, and promote participatory watershed management practices to scale up proven technologies in different agro-ecologies. He recounted the benefits of ICRISAT's mandate crops as smart foods that were nutritionally rich and also climate-resilient and environmentally friendly.

Based on ICRISAT's work in Niger and Mali, he said that integrated land and water management practices led to better nutrition security and higher productivity gains (35-55%) and economic benefits (20%). It also reduced environmental degradation by 40% by limiting rainwater runoff and soil loss and by regenerating natural vegetation.

Commenting on the knowledge and financial barriers to land restoration in West and Central Africa, Dr Kalifa Traore, Scientific Director, Institut d'Economie Rurale (IER), said, "Researchers and development institutions have to demonstrate to and convince policymakers that investing in landscape restoration will avoid the serious negative social and economic impacts on rural populations." He made several recommendations for governments, NGOs, private companies and research agencies to work together for better awareness and action to prevent land degradation.

The Global Landscapes Forum Africa Conference was held virtually on 2-3 June 2021 and the session reported here, 'Restoration of degraded landscapes in Africa: Lessons for the future', was organized by the CRP Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE).

For more on ICRISAT's work in stopping land degradation, click here: https://www.icrisat.org/preventing-environmental-degradation/