Sustainable Forest Management Impact Program on Dryland Sustainable Landscapes

Achieving land degradation neutrality: integrating data for a holistic assessment to achieve better planning and decision-making


Achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) at landscape level is possible, but also very challenging, especially with scarce or non-existing data for making well-informed decisions. 

To tackle this, the Drylands Sustainable Landscapes Impact Program (DSL-IP), a multi-country endeavor supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), has developed its Integrated Landscape Assessment Methodology (ILAM), aimed to strengthening the LDN process through ensuring data from multiple sources and levels is seamlessly integrated to generate meaningful and evidence-based information.

Household-level socio-economic data can shine light on the many issues faced by land users that are directly related to land degradation. Loss of productivity, land management options, access to information, and many other parameters are key to identifying the threats, bottlenecks and barriers leading to land degradation at farm level. 

DSL-IP countries in Southern Africa, through the implementation of ILAM, will apply a customized version of the household survey using the Self-evaluation and Holistic Assessment of climate Resilience for farmers and Pastoralists (SHARP+) to capture detailed information on land user’s resilience and relationship with natural resources. Tailored to the specific socio-environmental context of the country, this version includes a thorough assessment of potential barriers and incentives for effective project implementation, employing insights from behavior change science. 

By pinpointing these barriers, the impact program aims to pave the way to more targeted and context-specific interventions. This ensures that strategies align with the needs on the ground, fostering relevance and sustainability beyond the project's duration. The household survey, as part of ILAM, becomes a powerful tool, not only for capturing detailed information on resilience levels and the existing farming systems, but also for shaping impactful and enduring interventions in the target areas. 

Zooming in on Malawi
In Malawi, the DSL-IP aims to improve livelihoods and economic diversification of rural communities in two productive landscapes of the Upper Shire River Basin of Southern Malawi by promoting best land management practices and green value chains for key agriculture and woodland commodities.  

Assessment results for the country showed that Forest and Farm Producer Organization (FFPO) members are affected by different land degradation processes in their land, of which loss of topsoil and gully erosion are the most prominent ones across all six assessed FFPOs. Farmers have furthermore stated being affected by floods. 

It also demonstrated that, although intercropping and pigeon pea cultivation is already widely practiced in the landscape, many farmers expressed a lack of technical know-how on how to effectively harness the benefits of these practices, such as improving soil fertility and increasing yields. This is where the DSL-IP steps in, aiming to foster knowledge and providing technical support to farmers, enabling them to increase soil fertility while enhancing soil health. 

Additionally, the survey results showed that farmers were in some cases deterred from using crop residues as fuel material due to the low burning quality, characterized by a high amount of ashes and fast burning. The project could address this concern by exploring solutions such as promoting the use of energy efficient stoves. Generally, farmers showed significant interest in implementing the proposed integrated food and energy system, as it provides additional energy security and contributes to improved yields and income. 

The SHARP+ methodology furthermore revealed that economic aspects of the farming systems under study are compromising the resilience of smallholder farmers. The results indicated a significant reliance on crop production as a source of income, yet this activity is not consistently profitable, partly due to low or fluctuating prices. Additionally, access to financial services appeared to lack institutionalization, as most farmers accessing these services did so through family and friends. Therefore, there is room for improvement in these aspects by organizing farmers more effectively, increasing value along the supply chain, enhancing profitability in crop production, stabilizing prices, and institutionalizing access to financial services for smallholder farmers.

The DSL-IP household survey in Malawi offers crucial insights into the existing farming practices and challenges faced by farmers in the landscape. By addressing these key findings, the project not only contributes to LDN but also ensures that interventions are tailored to the specific needs of the local communities. As the project progresses, these insights will continue to inform targeted interventions, fostering resilience and sustainability in the region beyond the project’s lifespan. 

Currently, the assessment is in its final stages for the DSL-IP project in Zimbabwe, with a specific focus on the unique challenges within the project landscape and an exploration of potential barriers and incentives for scaling up neglected and underutilized species as well as non-timber forest products.

Credits / Authors: Annabelle Buhrow, Sirine Johnston, with the support of the DSL-IP Global Coordination Project Management Unit