The African Landscapes Dialogue highlights the central role of Local Landscape Champions

This blog around the thematic discussion of Landscape Convening and Governance is the first one in a series addressing the different thematic discussions that took place during the African Landscapes Dialogue (ALD) in Arusha, Tanzania, last 9-12 November 2019.

Imagine a small area of around 10 square kilometers. Now imagine all that lives, grows and moves on this area: people, forest, livestock, wild animals, agricultural products, perhaps a small town with a market. Now imagine an adjacent piece of land, this could be a city. And the next piece could be a protected natural area. And they all have unique interactions, ecologically, economically, socially.

Thus no landscape is exactly the same. Ever. Thus there can be no ´one approach´ to Integrated Landscape Management. Every landscape deserves its own approach, taking into account the needs and priorities of the stakeholders of this area while designing the strategy. ‘Local landscape champions’ are the ones who make this happen.

What will, and what will not work in our place?

Such ‘local champions’ were highly visible in the African Landscapes Dialogue (ALD) recently held in Arusha, Tanzania. Participants from the grassroots level, as well as the NGO and policy-maker levels, concurred that without a thorough understanding of what is expected and needed from the bottom up, through full inclusion of local communities, high-level policies and programs are doomed to fail. Understanding what will, and what will not work in the local context is vital.

What role for external actors?

In one session of the ALD, members from different local landscape initiatives used the phrase ´we want to work wíth you, not fór you´. Local champions and stakeholders are the ones who can give the local context to landscape initiatives. When external organizations, investors, donors and/or governments come to our area, we wonder will you do what you promise us you will do. Will it be sustainable? How long will you stay? 

´How do you move your people?´

The key is to bring all stakeholders in a local landscape initiative together, and discuss what the real problems are, not just what outsiders imagine them to be. David Kuria, the founder and leader of the Kijabe Environment Volunteers (KENVO) from Kenya noted “Sometimes it happens that those who come to the field, think for us, but those at the grassroots levels, they knów what their own problems are, they just need someone to understand them. After all, if there is no local champion, whatever it is you want to do in the field, chances are big it will not happen.” 

This makes ´how to involve the local champions´ not just a question, but life issue, as mentioned by participants of the Dialogue. ´How do you move your people?´, is the main challenge for governance and needs to be understood, to shape a successful approach to sustainable and inclusive landscape development