Human rights-based land governance on the African continent is the best way to rehabilitate land and prevent its degradation.This according to a number of groups presenting at the COP15 Desertification and Land Rights conference in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire.
Take the example of the nomadic pastoralists in Kenya, a group of various ethnic communities, often marginalized as they move their cattle around to graze.
The rangelands they move around in have been badly degraded because of climate change and overuse.
To start the process of improving land those who are most impacted should be involved in decision-making about that land, says Audace Kubwimana, Africa regional coordinator of International Land Coalition (ILC), a global alliance of civil society and farmers' organizations, NGOs and United Nation's agencies.
In East Africa, the Pastoralists' Rangelands Management Project is a member of ILC. It is a multi-year project which has been in place since December 2017 in Kenya and Tanzania. The project is funded by the European Union through ILC.
This project enabled pastoralists in those countries to map the resources available across the rangelands.
One they had done this, they were able to call on governments to provide a Certificate of Customary Occupancy. This officially gives the pastoralists the right to graze their cattle graze on the land.
“For those communities, they feel stable, and they feel that it's theirs and they can take care of it,” says Kubwimana on the sidelines of the conference.
They also lead the process and feel included. As a result, they are likely to continue participating in this project and even get involved in others.
“That is proof that when you provide space to pastoralists, to local communities, they can themselves achieve what is needed,” Kubwimana tells RFI.
“People's organizations drive the strategy and that's exactly what we're doing with pastoralists.”
Limiting land degradation
In the case of Malawi, the degradation is the result of local communities overusing the land to make a living.
“In Malawi, most of the resources are depleted and the land belongs to the government. That means that the communities surrounding these areas do not have a sense of ownership,” says Teddie Kamoto, Malawi's deputy director of forestry.
He says the government needs to begin to recognize the needs of the communities, because nothing can be done to improve the land if they are not involved.
Kamoto adds that the co-management policy that has been put in place offers management of the land by the people that use it in partnership with the government. However, this is still in its early stages.
“We should begin to engage with the communities, try to understand the tenured arrangements that are there, the barriers that are there, so that we begin to address those,” says Kamoto.
“We need to start listening to the people, the communities themselves, and stop being academic. Because if we are to have the areas restored, it is not the people in office who will restore the land, or the people with degrees. It is the people in the village.”
Kamoto also spoke at a COP 15 side-panel on strengthening human rights-based land governance hosted by TMG Research Thinktank for Sustainability , a German thinktank.
Based on the earlier COP14 decision on land tenure, the group offers a country-level view of Madagascar, Malawi, Kenya and Benin to see how land tenure is working.
Created 10 years ago by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), voluntary guidelines for land tenure rights provide the basis for discussion on the issue.
However, Jes Weigelt, head of programmes for the TMG think-tank says that these guidelines are still only being defined and have yet to be adapted in several countries.
“When we say from our point of view - and it is really an eagle-eyed perspective - that these communities that we work with have legitimate land tenure rights, it is because they have occupied these lands for between 10 and 30 years. They use these lands to generate their livelihoods,” says Weigelt.
“This is our basis to [arguing for an] acknowledgment that these rights are legitimate. In all cases, they are not officially recognized,” he adds.
Pan-African pastoralist activism
Meanwhile, a pan-African pastoralist movement is being created by Rangelands Initiative Africa with support from the ILC.
Those in East Africa have already been mobilized and are speaking to pastoralists in Central and West Africa this week to create a pan-African rangelands strategy.
All the regional groups will be meeting in Jordan on 23 May to create the movement officially and agree on a plan forward.
ILC is offering technical support as well as some seed funding to help them access bigger donors.
“We'll supply them with resources that can take them to donors and explain to donors what they want to do in terms of rangeland management, in terms of making pastoralism professional at a grassroots level,” says Kubwimana.