Improving life for some of the world’s poorest farmers and herders: Informing international policy and on-the-ground practice

Some of the world’s most vulnerable people and ecosystems exist in dryland regions. At the same time, widespread declines in the benefits that the land provides to society are contributing to poverty, food insecurity, reduced access to clean drinking water and the loss of options available to dryland communities to cope with the effects of climate change.

Nearly two-fifths of the world’s people live in drylands and are frequently among the poorest, with many subsisting on less than US$1 per day.

Sustainable land management, however, when carried out effectively, can reduce land degradation, prevent the process of desertification, and mitigate the effects of drought. CCCEP’s Professor Andy Dougill and Professor Lindsay Stringer have been studying opportunities for improvement which have led to national and international policy changes.

The work by Prof Dougill and Prof Stringer centres on environmental degradation and the policy shifts needed to progress sustainable land management in the drylands of southern Africa.

There, national and international policymakers have rarely taken local knowledge of dryland management into account, favouring expert scientific evidence instead. For example, in the Kalahari rangelands of Botswana, national policy statements focussed on wind erosion and land privatisation, rather than directly addressing the more pervasive problem of thorny bush encroachment onto grazing lands which research showed posed more problems to local people.

Through their research in Botswana and Swaziland, Professors Dougill and Stringer have developed new ways to increase community involvement in environmental monitoring and land management decision-making.

They identified locally-relevant degradation indicators, and produced sustainable land management guides as tools for management decisions.

Prof Dougill used his findings to produce a set of environmental assessment manuals, which were distributed to agricultural extension workers in 12 villages across three sub-districts of Botswana (SW Kgalagadi, S Kgalagadi and mid-Boteti). The manuals, translated into Afrikaans and Setswana, were designed for communal rangeland areas and so helped to broaden national policy out from the previous narrow focus on private ranches.

The guides outlined practical and cost-effective options for local land management committees, and were also used in national training programmes for agricultural extension staff run by the Botswana College of Agriculture and Government Department of Agricultural Research.

This research has been extended in collaboration with the University of Botswana as a national case study for the Economics of Land Degradation Initiative, led by Prof Stringer (  It involves developing new management options and economic appraisals of land use, involving policymakers in the research through a national policy workshop.

At international level, Prof Stringer’s work has highlighted the lack of suitable channels for research to feed into the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).  Previously, the UNCCD relied on evidence given by a politically-determined Roster of Experts. Appraisals by Prof Stringer contributed to the decision to establish UNCCD Scientific Conferences, allowing wider scientific input for decision-making. New topics (knowledge management, the economics of land degradation and the science-policy interface) have been introduced to the UNCCD agenda.

Profs Stringer and Dougill were also authors on a White Paper which was recognised in UNCCD Decision 19.COP.9.

Professor Stringer was invited to the First UNCCD Scientific Conference held in Argentina in 2009, and was asked to undertake a series of scientific reviews which were presented to the UNCCD Conference of the Parties (COP10) held in South Korea in 2010.  She successfully argued that scientific input into the UNCCD needed to be restructured to include evidence from grass roots communities and local knowledge systems.

Prof Stringer also reviewed the analysis of an e-survey, the results of which were adopted in the decision CST/L.9/COP.10. This called for the establishment of an ad hoc Working Group on Scientific Advice to the UNCCD to determine the best structure of the science-policy interface for land degradation issues. As a result of the ad hoc Working Group’s efforts, this new interface has now been formalised.

The research by Profs Stringer and Dougill has informed several international projects in which they are involved, including the European Commission’s EUFP6 DESIRE and EUFP7 CASCADE projects.