18th WOCAT Networking Meeting Promoting Sustainable Land Management and Meeting the Sustainable Development Goals

Seventy percent of the world’s available water resources are being used in agriculture, while 43% of degradation worldwide is caused by overgrazing. These numbers demonstrate the link between agriculture and environmental harm, and underline the importance of creating sustainable mechanisms to ensure continued usability of natural resources. This becomes especially important when keeping in mind that global food demand is only going to increase.  
Twice a year, the World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies (WOCAT) organizes an international networking meeting. The aim is to bring together the key collaborators and to discuss the tools and methods of sustainable land management (SLM) that can be used to support related practices and approaches, while also addressing remaining problems.

What is WOCAT?

WOCAT is a global network of SLM experts seeking to support decision making in relation to SLM practices and approaches. They develop and offer standardized tools and methods that allow specialists on the one hand to identify fields of need and determine a course of action and on the other hand share their knowledge with the rest of the network. Go to WOCAT’s website.

From 13 to 16 June, the 18th WOCAT Networking Meeting took place at CIAT headquarters in Cali, Colombia. More than 50 experts from across the globe came together to discuss the role of SLM, with a particular focus on how SLM can help achieve the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

CIAT is a consultative partner of WOCAT and part of the group of eight consortium partners. CIAT has a strong interest in WOCAT’s work and was thus more than willing to host this event. WOCAT’s goal of improving SLM methods and procedures to attain best practices as well as its focus on involving different actors and learning from each other strongly align with the values held by CIAT. 

A closer look at SLM

SLM seeks to establish sustainable use of land resources in a way that meets the requirements of people now and in the future, while also ensuring the continued health of the environmental service of these resources. Through SLM, WOCAT works to achieve a longlasting coexistence between humanity and nature. SLM thus ties in closely with the SDGs, especially goal 15, dealing with the protection of ecosystems, sustainable management, and fighting desertification and degradation.  

“Protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.” -United Nations SDG 15

The exact role of SLM in meeting the SDGs was debated during the event, with WOCAT’s director Hanspeter Liniger claiming SLM to be “the single most important element in meeting the SDGs. This was not the general consensus, but, throughout the event, different methods of SLM were discussed, showing how these practices can indeed greatly contribute to meeting different targets. Some examples of successful SLM practices follow
  • The growing of cassava crops between grass strips and small trees in Vietnam, thus maximizing land use and also preventing soil erosion.
  • The Nairobi Water Fund’s use of SLM practices upstream to minimize in-water sediment, resulting in clean water downstream.
  • Peru’s new, comprehensive law on payment for ecosystem services.

These examples demonstrate the different forms SLM practices can take. As of now, 1,186 SLM practices, approaches, and technologies, spread across 121 countries, are published within the WOCAT online database. “There are so many solutions available already, but they are not being used. Why do we not use the knowledge we have?” asked Liniger. As a response, he calls for a stronger focus on the assessment of existing knowledge, to increase usability. The knowledge that has already been gathered needs to be evaluated and used to make concrete decisions, and this is where WOCAT tools step in to help. 

WOCAT Tools and Methods 

During the event, special attention was given to the questionnaire tool, which aims to help especially local-level analyses. The goal of the WOCAT tools and methods in general is to make work for people using them easier. The tools cover all stages, ranging from documentation to monitoring, assessment, and dissemination of SLM knowledge. Feedback from partners using the tools, and also consultation with local actors such as farmers, is crucial for optimizing the tools.

This ties back into WOCAT’s belief in collaborative work and inclusion of multi-level stakeholders.

The above-mentioned questionnaire poses general questions on soil and water management, and about how land managers are dealing with these issues. It also offers explanations and definitions on types of practices that may be applicable. The questionnaire can be applied to any kind of local case study, as it allows researchers to fill in information and photos themselves, and then use the information provided to draw conclusions and come up with action plans.

Tools such as the questionnaire are WOCAT’s answer to Liniger’s call for increased evaluation of existing knowledge. These tools and methods are designed to help researchers with their work, providing frameworks for analyses and information for evaluation. Furthermore, by using a standardized framework, it is easier to share knowledge among researchers on a local or global scale.

Although WOCAT and its partners agree on the usefulness of SLM practices, some remaining problems were brought up and discussed during the conference:

  • There is a lack of financial resources to implement SLM and thus a need for more education and information provided to decision makers. To be able to set up SLM practices, policymakers need to be convinced of the benefits.
  • It is often unclear which combination of technologies will bring the most benefits. Can the expected impacts of SLM even be predicted ahead of time?
  • There remains confusion about where in a country degradation is occurring due to different actors using different maps. There is thus a need for better and easier ways of mapping, and also more cost effective ways of mapping.
  • It is important to understand that each country has different priorities. Mapping needs to be combined with the knowledge of local experts in order to create optimal maps on degradation.
  • Accessibility to WOCAT tools needs to be optimized so that they can be accessed without internet or high-class technology. This is needed in order to make documentation faster and easier.

It becomes clear that there is still work to be done in order to optimize the usability of SLM tools. It is not as easy as it seems to implement innovative strategies because of factors such as financing and overcoming doubts. WOCAT, CIAT, and the rest of the network partners need to continue to spread knowledge on SLM practices, giving stakeholders the necessary tools to adapt in order to ensure long-lasting agricultural practices.

“The complexity of SLM cannot be reduced. But, we can improve how we deal with these complexities and how we help each other. -Hanspeter Liniger, WOCAT Director.

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