In December 2022, Kenya’s recently elected president Dr. William Ruto pledged to plant 15 billion trees within a decade. His commitment is part of the country’s ambitious effort to restore 5.1 million hectares (19,700 square miles) of deforested and degraded lands under the African Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100).
Local conservation professionals, forest associations, government leaders and civil society organizations across the country are buzzing about the president’s pledge and its potential to deliver large-scale restoration and economic revitalization within their landscapes. Though many have committed to help the president’s plan succeed, not all are confident that a narrow approach involving only tree planting will sufficiently address the underlying drivers of deforestation. Land degradation-linked factors such as livelihood and development challenges will not change without a stronger emphasis on coordination and integration across sectors.
At a recent summit, the Nairobi-based Regreening Africa highlighted the need for a “well-planned mosaic of interventions” beyond tree planting. Instead, the organization proposed placing community-led efforts at the center of restoration action. Leaders from several participating national and international civil society organizations echoed this sentiment, advocating for coalitions of stakeholders working from the local to national levels.
The 1000 Landscapes for 1 Billion People (1000L) initiative agrees with this perspective. And to move people to act through a more collaborative, multidisciplinary approach, 1000L sought out local views about what is needed to drive more effective cross-sector integration and stronger coordination across restoration and development programs. Representatives from SANREM, Eden Thriving, EcoAgriculture Partners and Rainforest Alliance joined forces to interview community leaders across Kenya, including those representing civil society organizations, local and national governments and community groups. Over four months, we spoke with 43 key landscape actors and 113 youth to understand their social, environmental and economic challenges and how joint action around landscape restoration might solve them. This is what we heard:
- There needs to be more resources and incentives for coordination. “Our country’s system for sustainable development was designed to encourage siloed approaches,” noted one local farmer organization representative. This was a recurring theme identified by interviewees. Many felt that top-down projects led by large international organizations and funders tended to downplay the need for collaboration in favor of more tangible outputs such as the number of hectares restored, trees planted or people lifted out of poverty. Without first establishing the infrastructure needed to sustain those outputs for the long term, many felt those initiatives would not adequately address the underlying social and economic challenges driving deforestation and land degradation.
- Youth must participate beyond the initial planning phase. While leaders regularly consult youth during project planning, their participation usually ends there. Youth projects are generally separated from broader efforts, compromising their sustainability and impact. The genuine participation of young people in community groups, partnerships and other decision-making bodies is essential to empower the next generation of land stewards. Many interviewees cited mentorship and integrated livelihood development opportunities as opportunities to increase youth engagement.
- Knowledge sharing is necessary to build awareness and avoid duplication. Multiple interviewees noted how similar civil society, community and government efforts regularly occur in the same landscape without any awareness of one another. At best, this leads stakeholders to duplicate activities and, at worst, to compete. Efforts to build aligned agendas between stakeholders would help reduce duplicative initiatives.
- Incorporating local community leaders in policy action could lead to more successful long-term outcomes. While national policies promote integrated strategies, they fail to empower county and landscape-level actors to carry them out. Interviewees expressed that their national government retained too much authority over county-level plans, ultimately undermining their effectiveness.
How a grassroots Kenya landscapes coalition can respond to challenges and drive solutions
Based on in-depth feedback from community leaders, the need for a grassroots-led landscape coalition is clear. As one interviewee said, “We need a platform that integrates all organizations and is driven by information generated at the grassroots level.” A Kenya landscape coalition that connects local landscape leaders with prominent promoters of integrated approaches at the national and international levels has the potential to be that platform. The partnership would provide a space for knowledge sharing and joint learning and could drive project planning and implementation from the bottom up. Through collaborative fundraising and policy advocacy, it could also champion the development of an environment more conducive to helping landscape partnerships thrive.
Interview participants also articulated the concrete benefits of an organized landscapes coalition. These assets include improving market access for small-holder farmers, developing more efficient and effective advocacy channels and establishing stronger collaboration between county-level and national-level policies.
“A Kenya landscapes coalition could fundamentally change the future of our country’s approach to sustainable development by elevating integrated landscape management and normalizing it as one of the most effective ways forward,” said John Recha, founder of SANREM-Africa and a leading climate researcher with CGIAR. “It would also allow us to look beyond our borders and ensure that reforestation initiatives contribute meaningfully to global goals.”
In May 2023, 1000L will host the first in-person convening of the Kenya landscapes coalition. The meeting will bring together landscape leaders and supporters from across the country to share ideas, set priorities and establish an interim steering committee to promote the coalition’s development over the next several months.
If you want to learn more about the coalition or get involved, email Patricia Bon at email@example.com.