Educating a new generation of landscape restoration professionals in Africa
Half of the world's population suffers from the effects of land degradation. In the global south, the effects are felt most. There is no lack of initiatives to turn the tide. But where to find the professionals on the ground to get this huge task done? Supported by Wageningen University & Research and the Global Landscapes Forum, nine African universities are building a Pan-African Restoration Curriculum to bridge the gap between education and practice.
Restoration Education is the latest education project of the so-called Landscape Academy, part of the Global Landscape Forum, the world's largest platform for promoting sustainable land use. It is developed in collaboration with Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation and supported by a wildcard from the Biodiversity-Positive Food Systems investment theme. The project aligns with the UN Decade on Ecosystems Restoration for global landscape restoration. The nine member universities aim to integrate landscape approaches at all levels of education. The focus is on Africa, the continent where land degradation has disastrous consequences for biodiversity, food and water security and the economy.
Conflict is inherent
Madelon Lohbeck, assistant professor of Forest Ecology and Forest Management at Wageningen University, is involved in the project. She explains what the landscape approach stands for: "This approach recognises that an ecosystem can only be restored in collaboration with all its users around. It aims at optimising multiple landscape functions by creating synergies between use. This makes this approach something that requires much more than technical capabilities in the field."
This is also the opinion of Verina Ingram, who is an associate professor at the Forest & Nature Conservation policy Group of Wageningen University. She is researching the social and ecological impact of landscape management. "Within any landscape, conflicting interests are inherent”, she stresses. "Balancing these conflicting interests can only be done through a transparent process in which stakeholders take part in negotiating trade-offs, and taking decisions. This is a process that has to be well-managed. What do different stakeholders want to achieve with landscape restoration in terms of biodiversity, climate and land use? And who are these stakeholders actually? You will really have to identify all the people that play a role in the landscape - not just the people that live there, but also everyone who uses it and derives products and services from it. Do the current professionals have the capacities to run such stakeholder processes? Do we as educators provide them with skills?"
Coherence in curricula
“Assuming that there is only one more generation left to ensure a turnaround in our planet's environmental crisis, we count on landscape stakeholders and professionals, which means that they need to be capable of running this process”, argues Cora van Oosten (landscape governance expert at Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation, and one of the programme leaders of GLF). According to her, most of the current professionals have never been trained to run stakeholder processes and restore landscapes, as there are hardly any restoration curricula to be followed. It would be great if universities could collaborate in the design of such curricula and train the landscape professionals now and in the future.”
From primary to university level
"The landscape is a shared responsibility of all of us, stresses Adejoke Akinyele, a Reader at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and specialist in Silviculture and Tree Improvement. With her university, Akinyele is one of the network partners in the Restoration Education project. Her goal? "I want to integrate the landscape approach into all education curricula, from primary to university level. As years go by, everyone must be trained on restoration."
This is also the opinion of Steve Makungwa, senior lecturer at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources in Malawi and founder of the Centre for Applied Systems Analysis. "In Malawi, we realise that our economy and livelihoods are intertwined with the land we live on. Land degradation is a serious problem here. Around 80 per cent of the land is degraded. This is a direct threat to food water and energy security, human welfare and the viability of local businesses. Although we have built a history of planting trees, we tend to work in silos within the academic cycle. With this project, we want to end this: we really need to come together at the African level and talk about a common curriculum that can be easily adapted to local conditions."
New look at education models
"Quite a lot is already happening around capacity development", Van Oosten adds. "The point is that most efforts are done at the project level, focusing on current professionals. We as universities see very little of that knowledge is being integrated into education for future professionals. We also see that the more process-oriented capabilities are hardly addressed in curricula. Currently, students hardly get a chance to learn how to get a restoration process going, how to plan projects in one participatory way or how to ensure that the outcomes are equal, fair and just for everyone involved. This is the gap that we want to bridge. Together, we are paving the way for a new look at education models; more practice-based and hands-on, while making full use of the potential of e-learning."
In Malawi, this multidisciplinary focus is gaining ground step by step, Makungwa says: "We have an ongoing capacity development programme for restoration that focuses on practitioners in the communities themselves. We feed them with multidisciplinary knowledge: from knowledge of natural resources to areas such as communication and economics, including hands-on experiences with the farmers."
"In Nigeria, we can learn from the experience in Malawi and vice versa", adds Akinyele: "We must not be boxed-up in our little corner, but bring knowledge from the entire African continent together. Practice-based education, including online forms of education and deployment of exchange students, that is our joint commitment."
This multidisciplinary focus is going to transform our landscapes, according to Makungwa. "Ultimately, it translates into restored landscapes that are much more resilient in terms of food and water security and more resistant to climate change. This is how we aim to restore 4.5 million hectares of degraded land in Malawi alone. That is the goal to which our country is committed."
Build a workforce
There is no shortage of money for landscape restoration, Van Oosten emphasises: “But there is a shortage of investment in solid training and education to prepare the landscape professionals of the future to design and support landscape restoration at scale. Seeing landscape restoration as a profession, as something that you can study and build a career with, will help ensure that in five to ten years' time, we have a qualified restoration workforce that is ready to restore landscapes in a sustainable and inclusive manner. Offering career pathways in landscape restoration will attract a whole generation of energetic young people, especially young women. Young women are already heavily engaged in agriculture and agricultural education. Equipping them with the professional skills to restore, will put them in the lead of restoration projects around the continent."
GLF Landscape Academy: pathways to translate knowledge into practice
The Restoration Education project is an initiative of the Landscape Academy, the education programme of the Global Landscape Forum (GLF). Kimberly Merten, Knowledge Assistant Coordinator of the GLF: “There is a lot of unpacked knowledge on restoration across the African continent. The GLF has a strong convening power that allows it to bring together people with different backgrounds and expertise across different landscapes and regions. The Landscape Academy is one of the pathways to translate knowledge on landscape restoration into learning opportunities, strengthening the process and technical skill sets needed by landscape restoration professionals to do the job."