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Responsible Land Governance in Land Degradation Neutrality Programmes: Insights from Malawi

A case study of forest protection and conservation measures implemented in Malawi’s Ntchisi Forest Reserve, and the impact of these measures on the tenure rights of communities living adjacent to the forest.

by Washe Kazungu | 2023-08-03

The UNCCD’s Land Tenure Decision, adopted in 2019, calls upon parties to the convention to recognize legitimate tenure rights and apply the principles of responsible land governance contained in the VGGT in implementing activities to combat desertification/land degradation and drought, and achieve land degradation neutrality (LDN). The decision aims to ensure actions to restore landscapes are people-centered and do not introduce new challenges to communities’ household food security and subsistence.

TMG’s Global Soil Week project (2022 - 2024) set out to determine what the implementation of this decision at national level should entail, and to propose recommendations for integrating the principles of responsible land governance in national level LDN measures. Under this project, TMG is conducting research to identify the impacts of national measures to reduce and reverse land degradation on the tenure rights of communities living in or adjacent to areas targeted for these measures. This approach involves analysis of the national policy and legal framework on land and environmental governance, a household survey to establish the resources communities rely on for subsistence, and a community-led tenure mapping exercise.

In May 2022, TMG presented the findings from the Global Soil Week project case studies (Benin, Kenya, Madagascar and Malawi ) at a side event at the UNCCD’s 15 Conference of Parties (COP) in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. The side event was co-hosted by National Focal Points from the four countries who shared their insights from the parties’ experience in implementing LDN measures and adopting the land tenure decision. Findings from the upcoming case studies will inform future COP discussions.

The case study of Ntchisi Forest Reserve was the third case study under the project, and the first in Malawi. The study sought to analyze the impact of Malawi’s national LDN measures on the tenure rights of communities living adjacent to areas targeted for these measures (mainly forests). While communities living adjacent to Ntchisi Forest do not farm within the protected area, the forest is their main source of fuelwood for subsistence.

The findings of the study point to the need for strengthening the capacity of the different actors involved in forest protection and conservation at the local level. The effectiveness of landscape restoration efforts at the national level will depend on the capacity of both government and community actors to fulfil their respective roles relating to land and natural resource management. For government actors, this includes human resource capacity to oversee the implementation of national actions to achieve LDN at the local level, as well as the capacity to ensure that community-level actions adhere to legal provisions on equity, consultation and participation, fairness in dispute resolution, women’s participation, transparency and accountability.

In addition, community-level actors require the capacity to effectively participate in decision-making at the local level and in land and forest co-management. Investing in the institutional framework of LDN implementation not only presents an opportunity to enhance recognition of legitimate tenure rights but also ensures LDN is not achieved at the expense of communities’ livelihoods.

What’s next? TMG will continue to work with national, regional and global level partners to ensure discussions on integrating tenure rights in actions to reduce and reverse land degradation, and to address environmental challenges, are informed by the findings of the case studies. TMG is planning a side event at the upcoming Africa Climate Week (4 - 8 Sept. 2023, Nairobi) to further the agenda of applying the principles of responsible land governance in national level actions to protect biodiversity, reduce and reverse land degradation, and mitigate climate change. In the same period, TMG will host a National Focal Points’ seminar (UNCCD, UNCBD and UNFCCC) to highlight the need for integrating tenure rights in all actions responding to environmental issues, especially for rural lands in Africa. TMG will also convene National Focal Points of the three Rio conventions from TMG’s partner countries for a regional exchange on the progress of adopting the UNCCD Land Tenure Decision. This meeting will take place in Nairobi in November 2023. In addition, TMG plans to synthesize the findings from the ten case studies across the four countries and present these findings at COP16 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as part of our efforts to champion the inclusion of tenure rights in actions to reduce and reverse land degradation.

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