The Sustainable Land Management Project II recently won the prestigious President’s Award for Innovation. One among the eight awardees, the project team was commended for `Improving land rights among landless youth in Ethiopian watersheds’. Inside Africa caught up with Stephen Danyo, the task team leader for the project to learn more about the innovative approach.
Q: Please tell us about the project and the team
A: The Sustainable Land Management Project, now in its second phase, aims to restore degraded watersheds, and secure land tenure and livelihoods for the communities residing in the watersheds. The results have been especially spectacular for small groups of landless youth — including single mothers – who were provided legal and documented communal land rights, in exchange for restoring degraded communal lands, from which they then make a living.
Typically these lands are brought back into production using a variety of soil and water conservation measures like terracing, water retention pits, and replanting or regenerating vegetation cover. Once restored, these small groups or the broader community use the land for fruit orchards, woodlots, or to produce honey or vegetables. Beyond the communal land certification process, for individual households, by the time the project ends in 2018, there would be 500,000 individuals with legal landholding certificates and 2 million parcels of land would have been legally mapped – which is 4% of the country’s 50 million parcels.
While there are eight core team members mentioned in the award, there are 38 staff and consultants who have contributed towards making this a success. It is a highly dedicated and skilled team. But it is really the client and communities who are implementing this on the ground; we are just bringing it to light and setting the stage for scaling it up.
Q: What do you think made the project win?
A: This project lies at the intersection of water and land management, land rights, and land use. People residing on the most marginalized lands are highly vulnerable to climate and land degradation risks. This poses even greater challenges for landless youth and female heads of households who often have no legal land rights. It’s a perfect storm that can drive further resource degradation, poverty, and a litany of “environmental insecurities” including livelihood and job insecurity, food and water insecurity, disaster risk exposure, and conflict or migration.
This perfect storm is brewing in a number of our client countries, so there is ample scope for scaling up low-cost, effective activities such as this one in a variety of settings, such as in the Sahel. This project has shown that providing incentives to the community in the form of land rights for land restoration is the innovation that can help make the difference. We have satellite images that show an expansion of vegetation cover intensity in the project area in about two and a half years compared to areas outside the project. These are sometimes areas where the government had to provide expensive drought relief in the past.
Q: What can other teams learn from your experience?
A: I think one of the key lessons is to be able to work across Global Practices and other institutions to benefit people from the projects we finance. I have been saying, for over a decade: “Think about land, not about turf.” It’s tough to implement multi-sector approaches but a lot of great work is being done as well throughout the Bank and among our clients, and these successes need to be nurtured. It takes more time and is more expensive but is worthwhile. A second lesson is that if the community and the client own the intervention, it will probably work, despite all the administrative headaches task teams deal with on a daily basis. If the client believes in it, you probably will too. If you believe in it, they will too. It takes trust to hold it all together, and trust can be nurtured by a shared belief in the activity.
Source: World Bank Inside Africa, Sonu Jain