Feature Story

Using indigenous knowledge to reverse land degradation in Angola

August 9, 2017

Indigenous Woman
Improved pasture management is currently ever more crucial in order to provide enough feed for the animals, which are the socio-cultural capital and economic reserve of indigenous communities.

Approximately 370 million Indigenous Peoples live in more than 90 countries around the world. A significant fraction of the world’s priority areas — based on biodiversity and ecosystem importance — overlap with Indigenous Peoples’ lands, territories and resources. Given the inextricable bond of Indigenous Peoples to the land, any loss of natural resources threatens their identity and impoverishes their communities. But Indigenous Peoples are not only victims of a deteriorating global environment: they are also a source of effective solutions.

The GEF has been working with Indigenous Peoples since 1991, and enhanced the partnership in recent years through the adoption of the Principles and Guidelines for Engagement with Indigenous Peoples, the development of the GEF Policy on Agency Minimum Standards on Environmental and Social Safeguards, which includes a minimum standard dedicated to Indigenous Peoples, and the establishment of the GEF Indigenous Peoples Advisory Group (IPAG), whose members include Indigenous Peoples and others, and provides useful guidance and partnership to the GEF Secretariat.

Using indigenous knowledge to reverse land degradation in Angola

With financing from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the participation of indigenous communities and their ancestral knowledge, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has helped strengthen the capacity of agro-pastoralists in south western Angola to reduce the impact of land degradation and to increase the rehabilitation of degraded lands.

Angola has a total land area of about 1 247 million km² of which 43 percent is under permanent meadows and pastures. Indigenous groups such as the Herero, the Khoisan and the Muimba, who rely on their traditions for the management of their pastoral and agro-pastoral systems, live in Angola’s southern provinces. Continuous drought occurring in the past years, overgrazing and other elements are forcing them to adapt to the new reality.

Improved pasture management is currently ever more crucial in order to provide enough feed for the animals, which are the socio-cultural capital and economic reserve of indigenous communities.

Rehabilitating lands and improving livelihoods

To address the major issue of land degradation and promote sustainable food and agricultural systems in Angola, FAO has been promoting a Land Programme for the past ten years.

One current intervention, targeting the southwestern provinces of Angola, aims to mitigate the impact of degradation processes and rehabilitate lands affected by mainstreaming locally adapted Sustainable Land Management (SLM) technologies into agro-pastoral and agricultural development activities. Activities are designed to support 2 800 families of smallholder agro-pastoralists via Farmer Field Schools. In addition to creating a more enabling environment that supports sustained flow of agro-ecosystem services, the project is helping to strengthen and diversify both livestock and non-livestock value chains. 

The shrinking of fertile land accompanied by a growing population is a main cause for disputes in the area, particularly between peasant and commercial farmers, traditional herders, commercial cattle rangers and returning refugees reclaiming their land-use rights. Techniques such as the rehabilitation of pastoral areas with leguminous trees and shrubs increase and maintain soil fertility, allowing communities to diversify their livelihoods.

Mainstreaming local best practices

For centuries, Angola’s pastoral system has demonstrated to be the most adapted for the arid and semiarid ecosystems in the area, with a high level of resilience and adaptability to ever-changing contexts. Hence, FAO's work is based on the participation of indigenous communities, their ancestral knowledge and on mainstreaming local best practices to reverse land degradation processes.  The two main tools used are Agro-pastoral Farmer Field School (APFS) and the Participatory and Negotiated Territorial Development (PNTD).

Currently, FAO is developing a strong network of APFS in the project area which promote knowledge sharing among the beneficiaries with an endogenous approach, i.e. local communities define where and how they want to be supported. So far, a core group of 40 APFS master trainers belonging to governmental institutions, NGOs and CSOs have been accredited and are now instructing more than 80 APFS facilitators who are either agro-pastoralists or pastoralists. Their role is to mobilize pastoralist communities and facilitate the development of practical comparative experiences based on the learning curricula developed by the APFS members.

“When there is no rain, people face big problems. They become very poor and start asking other people for help,” says a beneficiary from the Mucubal tribe, a subgroup of the Herero Peoples in the state of Namibia. “Now we understand that we have to share our knowledge and help each other so nobody is poor.”

The PNTD approach, on the other hand, is a facilitative process that strives for development through dialogue and negotiation. It aims to facilitate the creation of negotiation tables where different stakeholders (often with opposite interests) can sit together trying to find a common agreement on the development of their territory.

By 2018, the prospective end date of the intervention, the project aims to achieve two main objectives: to directly benefit 2 800 people, ensuring at least 30 percent of them are women and to indirectly benefit more than 20 000 people.

This story was originally published by FAO.