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Is the landscape approach the way to govern and sustain bioeconomies?

Landscape-based approaches rely on collaboration between diverse stakeholders to create governance structures to boost the sustainable management of natural resources.

Rocio Diaz Chavez looked at the effects of landscape-based measures at Kenya’s Lake Naivasha, the subject of a case study for a recent International Energy Agency Bioenergy report analyzing the effectiveness of such initiatives. She has also contributed to the development of a regional innovation-driven bioeconomy strategy for Eastern Africa which will be discussed during the Eastern Africa Bioeconomy Conference.

Ekaterina Bessonova / Published on 20 October 2020
Hippopotamus showing over the waters of Lake Naivasha.

Hippopotamus showing over the waters of Lake Naivasha. Photo: ivanmateev / GettyImages.

Sticking their heads out of the glittering waters, hippos are gazing at the grassy papyrus banks hugged by fever tree groves. Lake Naivasha boasts rich wildlife, nourishes local forests, and provides thousands of people with water, food and resources for economic activities.

But this freshwater oasis faces many pressures, including water withdrawals for farming, geothermal energy generation and other needs of the Naivasha municipality. The lake also suffers from deforestation and damaging land, as well as pollution from the poorly functioning sewerage.

After a drastic drought in 2009 the government of Kenya decided to set up the Imarisha Naivasha Water Stewardship Programme – a public-private-people partnership with a goal to restore the lake.

Established with a legal mandate to “monitor and coordinate restoration activities within the Lake Naivasha Basin by ensuring enforcement of and compliance to regulations and strengthening of institutions”, the programme has now evolved into a collaboration between diverse stakeholders: floriculture and livestock industry representatives, tourism and wildlife conservation actors, officials from the cities of Naivasha and Gilgil, small-scale fishermen and vegetable growers, and members of an association of landowners whose properties border the lake.

The functions of the partnership made headway too, expanding from water monitoring to improving water availability for communities and businesses in the Lake Naivasha Basin through soil and water conservation and community water projects. The partnership operates through a combination of a secretariat and a multi-stakeholder forum, which allows information exchange and the creation of common solutions.

While this initiative has made strides in delivering on its main functions, it also led to the creation of a Water Stewardship Standard in 2013, which was later used as a basis for the Kenya National Flowers and Ornamentals Standard launched in 2015. While the former provides incentives for better water management through a market-based approach, the latter ensures certified producers foster sustainable, responsible and safe production, covering good agricultural practices and human resource management.

The Imarisha Naivasha Water Stewardship Partnership is one of the nine cases explored in the recent report, “Novel regional and landscape-based approaches to govern sustainability of bioenergy and biomaterials supply chains” by the IEA Bioenergy which reviewed practicalities and efficiency of landscape approaches.

Landscape approaches have been widely discussed in the scientific community and proposed as a model for the management of the commons, like Lake Naivasha. However, the practical implementation of the approach remains limited. So, it is still hard to say if it’s truly effective.

“Accessibility of data remains challenging. Landscape governance systems and their scales are also very diverse, which contributes to the challenge,” says Rocio Diaz Chavez, Deputy Director at SEI Africa. “Because most of the initiatives are recent, and it is still difficult to evaluate their effectiveness so early on in the process. Gathering more background information, as has been done in this report, is the first step. Eventually, it will be possible to systematize our experience with landscape approaches, and properly assess their effectiveness.”

The report includes her analysis of two case studies in Kenya: 1) The Imarisha Naivasha Water Stewardship Program, and 2) the Kijabe Environment Volunteers (KENVO) community trust project for the Lari-Kijabe landscape, near the Aberdare Mountain Range.

The IEA Bioenergy report indicates that landscape governance requires long-term vision and commitment, as well as effective structures to support stakeholder interaction. All of the cases had one common feature: a stakeholder-based organization with a common goal of securing the sustainability of a shared resource for ecological and for economic aims. Judging by the experience from the cases examined in the report, initial operationalization needs to focus on process-based indicators, growing roots for best practices.

Finally, it is important to understand that landscapes are dynamic and exist within certain social, ecological, economic and political contexts. This socio-political and economic environment can determine the character of landscape initiatives. At the same time, integrated landscape management can spur change in its surroundings, providing new ways to arrive to a mutual understanding and collaboration. In other words, landscape initiatives can catalyse and drive sustainable outcomes, providing platforms for robust management of the commons.

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