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Biodiversity, Ecosystem services, Social sustainability and Tipping Points in African drylands (BEST)

African drylands are fast approaching a tipping point of range enclosure, with associated loss of wild and domestic grazer mobility, and attendant loss of ecosystem services and of poor people’s livelihoods.

The shift to an enclosed (or conversely back to an open) state is driven by the interplay of changing policies on land tenure and natural resource management. The effects of these policies, which are integrated at the level of household tradeoff decisions and subsequent land use choices, are expressed in environmental and social sustainability implications. We ask the research question: How do different policy and economic drivers shape household decisions on land use choices, and with what ecosystem services and poverty implications? BEST uses modeling and major extant datasets to develop understanding of household decisions over land use, through a cross-border comparative analysis encompassing drylands in three of the poorest African countries. 

Our objectives are:

  1. to develop a conceptually innovative approach focusing on the intersection of changing land tenure and NRM policies and their impact on tipping drylands into a closed, impoverished state, from formerly open, resilient rangelands, with mobile domestic and wild animals, and often cash-poor but relatively secure and resilient pastoral livelihoods.
  2. to leverage existing datasets (biophysical and socioeconomic), extract maximum analytical power and develop policy relevant lessons from cross-border comparative analyses (Kenya/ Ethiopia Boran: Kenya/Tanzania Maasai)
  3. to model household-level decisions on drylands resource use choices in different policy and economic contexts, integrating biophysical and socioeconomic dimensions, maintaining a disaggregated level of analysis across household types and conditions, and exploring policy and economic incentives fostering conservation-compatible choices
  4. to develop policy scenario evaluations to support better ecosystem management, making more visible and comprehensible poor people’s resource use choices, and enhancing their livelihoods
  5. to build on local knowledge, engaging stakeholders at all levels, through networking, field consultation, workshops, and media outputs, from concept to beyond project end. Through collaborative working, stakeholder engagement and a wide range of outputs pitched at policy as well as scientific audiences, we aim to leverage dissemination through non-funded project partners, research and practitioner networks alongside stakeholder engagement activities.

The BEST partnership combines in depth experience of the biophysical and socioecological dimensions of the ecosystems studied, advanced modelling capabilities, and outstanding experience in communications and engagement, with significant research, policymaker and practitioner networks. UK and non-UK members of the BEST partnership already manage major datasets necessary for the work. Together with non-funded partners ASARECA, STEPS and TAWIRI, and the involvement of BEST research partners with current research collaborations, the BEST partnership aims not only to deliver findings that will help evaluate policy scenarios, giving credible and relevant insight into the ecosystem services and poverty implications of different land tenure and NRM policies, but also to ensure those findings and tools are embedded into policymaking and practice.

Main findings/expected findings:

The project will produce (1) integrated datasets and (2) models (conceptual, land use decision and simulation) culminating with (3) policy scenario evaluations. These explorations will foreground the needs and priorities of poor people and the pergent ways different policies on land tenure, land use, natural resource management, payments for ecosystem services (especially payment for wildlife conservation) are likely to impact on livelihoods and on resource use decisions in different contexts. This will highlight pathways to positive outcomes for ecosystem services and poverty reduction. We will carry out the proposed modelling and scenario evaluation in the context of stakeholder engagement, from grassroots land users to high level policymakers.

Working with locally experienced communications staff, and dovetailing with partners networked into high-level national and international policymaking, we will consult with different stakeholders, present conceptual models of ecosystem services and poverty interactions, and test model findings against local knowledge at grassroots, management and policymaker levels, to explore sustainable solutions, seeking management compromises with something to offer all interest groups, avoiding win/lose outcomes. Through partner networks, communications work, research links into research networks and local knowledge reality checks, we aim to get research findings incorporated into policy, ultimately influencing climate change adaptation programmes, and district and national planning and budgeting cycles.

Start date:


End date:


Partners in the project: 

International Livestock Research Institute

Institute of Zoology

University College London

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