Addressing the long-term robustness of land use policies and plans in East Africa’s Lake Victoria Basin

The impacts of land use on ecosystem services and biodiversity under climate change call for an integrated regional approach to thinking about the future in East Africa’s Lake Victoria Basin.

Lake Victoria is one of East Africa’s most prominent landmarks. Its 3460 km of pristine shoreline borders Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, with Burundi and Rwanda also located in the lake’s basin. Draining an area of 194,200 km2, the vast and diverse complex of lakes, wetlands, and rivers that makes up the Lake Victoria Basin supports a population of 40 million and plays a key role in East African development and regional integration. Its extensive natural resources also provide immense opportunities in terms of ecosystem services. However, pressures from an increasing population and rapidly changing land use patterns are having profound effects on the local environment that are both intensifying and difficult to predict in the face of climate change.

The effects of land use on biodiversity and ecosystem services are cross-border and must be tackled as such. With this taken into consideration, researchers Lucas Rutting and Joost Vervoort from the the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) Future Scenarios Project, in collaboration with the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and the Albertine Rift Conservation Society (ARCOS), a regional NGO, facilitated a scenarios process to address the long-term robustness of the region’s land use policies and plans in an integrated manner. The process, which focused mainly on agricultural land use and its effects on ecosystem services and biodiversity, water, and food security, aimed for a coordinated regional approach of land use policies that would better address and adapt to climate change consequences such as environmental degradation, rainfall variability and increasing annual temperatures.

What are future scenarios and how have CCAFS used them in East Africa until now?

CCAFS future scenarios processes use imaginary but plausible and diverse future scenarios; narratives of the future told in words, images and numbers in order to show different plausible pathways of socio-economic, environmental and political development in the face of climate change.

Broadly speaking, the exploration and analysis of the these diverse futures and the uncertainties they expose allows us to test ideas about the future and the strategies, technologies and research recommendations needed to deal with the future. Using a set of diverse East Africa scenarios, participants reviewed national and regional plans and policies on different but interconnected policy themes such as agriculture and other forms of land use, food security and the environment. They assessed whether these plans and policies would be effective in the different scenarios, and identified measures that would make them robust in the face of the challenges posed by each scenario. This lead to recommendations for improvements to each strategy, policy or plan that would increase its chance of success in range of different and often challenging eventualities.

The CCAFS East Africa scenarios were originally developed in 2010 through a series of workshops attended by stakeholders originating from Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, and drawn from a range of backgrounds including government, civil society, research and the media. Based on different assumptions and pathways of socio-economic and political development for the year 2030, they were updated and adapted for the use in the context of the Lake Victoria Basin in 2017.

Scenarios workshops in the Lake Victoria Basin produce recommendations to reinforce land use and biodiversity policies in development

The project was introduced to a range of cross-sectoral participants (public, private sector, civil society, academia, international and regional NGOs) from the five Lake Victoria Basin countries at an inception workshop in the spring of 2017 in Kampala, Uganda. As a first step participants mapped which land use and biodiversity-related policy planning processes were ongoing in the five Lake Victoria Basin countries. In follow up meetings participants could then identify which policies and plans were at the end of their policy cycle and thus presented a critical window of opportunity for improvement. With the aim of real policy outcomes, it is important that any recommendations coming out of a process have the best possible chance of being integrated into government planning processes.

A second regional workshop was held in Kigali, Rwanda in August 2016. In order to facilitate the intended coordinated regional approach to the Lake Victoria Basin countries' land use challenges, participants first compared their country’s plan to other Lake Victoria Basin country's plans on the same policy theme. Uganda’s water policy, for example, was compared to other water-related policies and plans from the four other Lake Victoria Basin countries. Participants investigated and identified the useful elements in the other policies and plans that were lacking in the Uganda policy. The policies were then analysed and reviewed using the CCAFS East Africa scenarios by participants and recommendations made to improve the plans in the face of future uncertainty.

Developing outcomes

In 2017 these recommendations were taken forward to national level workshops in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. The results of this process are promising in terms of diverse policy outcomes. In Uganda, for example, there are high hopes for the recommendations to be taken into account in formulation of new water policy, which would alleviate the pressures from an increasing population and rapidly changing land use patterns on the local environment in the face of climate change.

What’s next?

Developing countries that are highly vulnerable to climate change are increasingly turning to foresight approaches such as scenarios to guide their adaptation and mitigation planning. Not nearly enough is understood about the effect of the political context on these outcomes. Many foresight approaches are initiated by actors who are disconnected from decision-makers in governments, the private sector or civil society. Although decision-makers are often invited to participate, foresight process organizers will often not have the mandate, interest or experience to integrate policy recommendations into government planning processes.

The Re-imagining anticipatory climate governance in the world's vulnerable regions (RE-IMAGINE) project will build on the CCAFS Future Scenarios project to address such questions and investigate ways in which foresight approaches can play a role in appropriate and effective modes of anticipatory climate governance in the world’s most vulnerable regions. Made possible by the BNP Paribas Foundation’s ‘Climate Action Call’, the project is led by Utrecht University’s Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development with Wageningen University & Research, the University of Oxford and the CCAFS Future Scenarios Project as project partners.

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