The African Highlands Initiative (AHI), a program in World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) launched in Uganda, worked to improve livelihoods and reduce natural resource degradation in the densely settled highlands of eastern Africa. AHI developed and tested an integrated natural resource management approach in selected highland areas of Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and institutionalized its use in key partner organizations. It targeted the poor where environmental and related livelihood problems were widely visible on farms and landscapes and were of concern to local residents for their effects on livelihoods. Progressive and alarming degradation of the natural resource base interlinked with increasing rural poverty in the highlands of East and Central Africa led to the establishment of the African Highlands Initiative (AHI) by research and development (R&D) stakeholders in 1995 as an eco-regional program of the CGIAR and a regional program of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA). The core role of AHI was to develop novel methods and approaches for participatory integrated natural resource management (INRM) and institutionalization of the approach in partner R and D organizations. AHI’s targeted beneficiaries and partners include national and international research organizations and networks, development organizations, local governments, civil society organizations, service providers, policy-makers, community-based organizations, and smallholder farmers in the densely populated humid highlands of East and Central Africa.

Objectives and beneficiaries

The main principle of AHI is participatory approaches to managing natural resources. Hence, right from its formulation, planning, implementation and evaluation different stakeholders were involved. The local communities were fully integrated in the project with respect to planning and implementation of the project and in decision making. The success of the programme was premised on attaining buy in from the major beneficiaries that is the local communities in the partner countries. They fully participated in the planning through participatory community action plans (CAP) and were the major implementers of project activities. To ensure that project activities corresponded to verified demands of the communities, they were tasked with the duty of identifying their natural resource management (NRM) constraints, prioritizing them to ensure that the more pressing constraints the solution of which will have multiple impacts were tackled first. The identification and prioritization process took into consideration the gender segregation of the community based on sex and age. As much as possible each group was fairly balanced although in areas where religious or cultural restrictions barred mixing of different gender in a group. Gender balance was ensured through awareness creation on the importance of exposing all community members to the INRM approaches.

Expected results and benefits for climate change adaptation and mitigation

During the watershed diagnosis, several problems stemming from incompatible tree selection were identified throughout the eastern African highlands. These include the depletion of groundwater by fast-growing tree species, competition of boundary trees with neighboring crops, negative impacts of trees on soil, and enhanced run-off from an impermeable layer of leaf litter. Following further exploration through the niche compatibility study, a number of specific problems were found by niche. This called for trade-offs in terms of opting for more profitable scenarios. Analysis of ethno-botanical knowledge of tree species identified by local residents identified trade-offs in species selection. To effectively address the trade-offs inherent in species selection required additional policy support that goes beyond case-by-case negotiation. The AHI scientist experimented with three different approaches for managing the trade-offs that may accompany species selection. The approaches used as a means of managing the social and biophysical trade-offs inherent in species selection included: a) identifying and increasing the availability of niche compatible species, b) multi-stakeholder engagement by niche, and c) participatory policy evaluation and formulation. In Lushoto, Tanzania, those trees found to have the greatest economic benefits exhibited a strong inverse correlation with the (largely indigenous) species exhibiting a number of important environmental benefits. In Galessa, Ethiopia, there was an inverse association between those species seen as best for income on the one hand, and species that are fast-growing and good for soil fertility on the other. This suggests that there are clear trade-offs in the species chosen in terms of their environmental impacts, whether positive or negative and trade-off between economic and environmental benefits, the latter a precursor to niche compatibility. In addition to enabling wise species choices among individual landowners by enhancing the availability of more compatible species, trade-offs embodied in species selection often require that land management practices be negotiated between individual landowners and other stakeholders negatively affected by their management decisions.

At the end of each phase there was an evaluation of project achievements. External Review and Impact Assessment (ERIA) of AHI was done end of 2007 by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) (Mekuria et al., 2008). The objectives of the study were to: 1. Assess the extent to which the program is meeting its objectives and aims, 2. Document and assess program results 3. Offer reflections on the strengths and weaknesses of the program’s thematic approach and strategies in relation to the current thinking and practice; 4. Assess the composition and functioning of the program team as it relates to its ability to meet program objectives; 5. Make recommendations on how AHI could adapt in light of the current situation and anticipate changes within the field of INRM research. The study which included desk work, household surveys, focus group discussions and stakeholders’ interviews concluded that AHI had demonstrated an INRM that works but the spread of the interventions were limited to the target sites with little spillover.

Replicability potential of the practice

AHI has generated many important lessons and experiences from INRM work in pilot sites scattered in 5 countries in East and Central Africa. These countries are Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Madagascar and Rwanda. To ensure that project activities were replicable the project sites were characterised in details both looking at the social and biophysical factors that promote / hinder adoption of INRM technologies. This way it was possible to identify similar areas that would be the extrapolation domain of the introduced activities. There has been notable adoption of the introduced technologies beyond the target sites although an M&E done in 2008 showed that the spread of the technologies was not impressive as was envisaged. This is mainly because of limited support to local communities by district level institutions due to financial constraints.