Seeking synergies to improve landscape management in southern Zambia

Community groups share their visions for use of land and resources
Kalomo District, Zambia. Photo by Malaika Yanou

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As part of an effort to operationalize an integrated landscape approach in southern Zambia, the  COLANDS (Collaborating to operationalize landscape approaches for nature, development, and sustainability) initiative has been developing and applying new tools and techniques designed to understand and integrate stakeholder visions for the Kalomo Hills Forest Reserve landscape.

Integrated landscape approaches engage diverse stakeholders with a shared interest in the use and management of a particular landscape, in an attempt to identify the means by which more sustainable and socially just landscape management can be achieved.

The Kalomo Hills landscape has experienced extensive deforestation over the past 40 years and a confluence of environmental and socioeconomic pressures have resulted in a contested landscape punctuated by increasing social conflict over land and natural resources.

Led by the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), the COLANDS initiative is aiming to improve stakeholder engagement and coordination in order to reorient the trajectory of the landscape. Despite stakeholder engagement being a key principle of landscape approaches, in practice many such initiatives are externally designed which can lead to interventions that are potentially not reflective of local needs or desires. Understanding local perspectives and achieving local buy-in is critical to the success of conservation and development objectives.

In recognition of this, the COLANDS Zambia team developed and applied a participatory theory of change concept to untangle stakeholder perceptions on land-use issues and landscape management in Kalomo. The theory of change concept requires developing a model that outlines how to transition from a current (undesirable) state to a future (desired) state and clearly outlining the necessary causal links that will enable transitioning through near-term and intermediary stages. Building upon previous research, the team developed a nine-step process that would enable the landscape stakeholders to collaboratively produce such a model.

Nine steps of theory of change

Working first individually (step one) and then in groups, the stakeholders used a number of methods (including historical trend analysis, scenario building, and problem tree analysis) to collectively agree on the main land-use issues, the drivers of landscape change, their short, medium and long term objectives for the landscape, and finally how they hope to achieve these objectives.

The 9 steps of theory of change. © CIFOR-ICRAF

Identifying drivers of landscape change and social-ecological impacts

Given the extent of forest loss in the region it was unsurprising that the group agreed that deforestation is the primary issue that needs to be addressed. However, this was one of many land-use issues (92 in total) that were identified. After much deliberation and using back-casting techniques that encourages participants to reflect on significant historical events, the group were able to categorize these issues into the core land-use drivers of change– both direct and indirect – and the resulting impacts these have on the environment and local livelihoods. The key indirect drivers included institutional disconnects and limited local governance capacity, while the direct drivers related mostly to agricultural/commodity production, particularly maize, charcoal and tobacco. The resulting widespread deforestation and forest degradation has led to loss of biodiversity, soil erosion and reduced access to natural resources which in turn have resulted in water and food insecurity and social conflict.

Drivers of deforestation and degradation, and their impacts. © CIFOR-ICRAF

A desired future landscape

With the current state of the landscape established, the group then turned to envisioning a future landscape that would support their common needs, complete with a set of near (within two years), short (up to five), medium (up to ten), and long (10+) goals and activities. In summary, the group envisioned a landscape where improved consultation across scales of influence (particularly between and across chiefdoms, departments, and communities) would enable properly enforced and harmonized laws. They felt this could lead to reduced deforestation, restoration of forests and biodiversity, improved management of grazing lands and pastures, and sustainable use of natural resources. It was considered that such a state would then deliver improved river flow, water and food security, rural infrastructure, income, and livelihood benefits.

Developing the causal pathways and theory of change model

Participants worked in three groups to develop the causal pathways – the steps required to transition from the current to the future landscape, and the research team, in consultation with participants, then collated this information to develop a synthesized theory of change. Several consistent and cross-cutting themes that are fundamental enabling conditions for progress were identified: improved actor and institutional coordination and enhanced collaboration of actors across multiple scales to improve collective decision-making; a clarification of land-use boundaries; better enforcement of regulations; recognized and secured access rights; and enhanced resources for alternative and/or sustainable land-use practice.

Moving forward

Integrated landscape approaches can help to bridge gaps between researchers, practitioners and policymakers in order to develop solutions to clearly interconnected problems related to food, water, climate, and livelihoods.

Our experience showed that bringing stakeholders together to co-develop a theory of change can support implementation of integrated landscape approaches and identify measures to mitigate some of the barriers and constraints.

For example, co-developing a theory of change for landscape management contributed towards building trust across previously distinct stakeholder groups and establish commonly shared concerns and visions for the future. Furthermore, this process not only encouraged stakeholders to question what is wrong with the current system and envision how a different future system might look, but also to critically consider how a just and equitable transition from one to the other might transpire.

Moving forward, we expect the theory of change model and planned future consultation processes to drive more effective environmental policy development and performance through enhanced integration, both horizontally (engaging across ministries within the same level of government) and vertically (engaging in multi-level governance).


For more information on this topic, please contact James Reed at


COLANDS is part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI) and is funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU).

PhD research that is part of COLANDS is hosted at the Institute for Social Science Research of the University of Amsterdam and the University of British Columbia.

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Topic(s) :   Community forestry Landscapes