Policy Brief - Co-learning for sustainable and equitable management of community resources

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Message 1:
Sustainable management of water and natural resources is a complexand context dependentissue and needs
to be addressed with knowledge from scientific experts, facilitation practitioners and community members jointly.
Restoration activitiesin these communitiesare urgently required to address the erosion linked to overgrazing
and to, at a minimum, slow the rate of erosion with the intention ultimately to restore the landscape.
Message 3:
Rangeland management requires an integrated approach including well informed and controlledfire
managementstrategies with resting periods and controlled grazing to avoid further degradation and loss of productivity.
Message 4:
Mapping and assessment of landscape resources requires a participatory approach to build a shared
understanding of the landscape’s capacity, use and benefits including ecosystem services.
Message 5:
Enhanced understanding ofclimate patterns, ecosystem health and functioning, and consequences of
management practices enables better-informedand climate-resilientcommunity resource decisions.
Message 6:
Enhanced understanding about the community governance structures, decision-making processes, and
community needs and priorities enables better guidance from project experts towards equitable and sustainable
management of natural and water resources.
Message 7:
Addressing power imbalances and promoting transparency, accountability, and meaningful participation are
essential for equitable and sustainable management of naturaland water resources.
Message 8:
Co-learning processes involve experienced and skilled facilitation, continuously within and outside of structured
Message 9:
A carefully designed, expert guided and community led co-development of community resources management
plans enables social agency, stimulates action, and improves decision-making and governance outcomes.
Message 10:
Collaboration with mandated government structures providing communities with an innovation platform for
trying out and integrating locally relevantideas have the potential for long-lasting impact.
Message 11:
Supporting participants’ livelihoods opportunities prior to, or in parallel with, community engagement
activities enablescollaborative commitment and engagement that is not hindered by individual poverty struggles.
Message 12:
Building trust through genuine, caring and intentional presence in the community is essential to stimulate
commitment and collaboration between the project team and community participants.
Policy Brief
Co-learning for sustainable and equitable management of
community resources
A case study in two Drakensberg communities
Henriksson R, Toucher M, Kruger E, Doarsamy S, Malinga M, Ngwenya M, Dunyana P, Madondo NT, Hlongwane H, Buthelezi Land Mbokazi N
Aim of Policy Brief
This brief aims to outline the key messages and findings from a four-year transdisciplinaryproject focusing on sustainable and
equitable management of community resources in two agricultural villagesin the Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa. The
brief highlights theimportance in creatingasharedunderstandingofthe communities’resourcebase between scientists,
practitioners and community members, the communities’dependencyandmanagement of their landscape, governance and
decision-making structures and mechanisms forsocial learning, generation of agency and action, and assuring long-lasting and
fair impact.
Backgroundand Methodology
Smallholdercommunities inthe uKhahlambaDrakensberg Mountain, KwaZulu-
Natal, dependonthe naturalresourcebase oftheir landsto sustainagriculture,
water resources and ecosystem services for their livelihoods and well-being.
Climatechange,poverty anddegradedlandscapescall for urgentneedto
implement sustainablemanagementstrategies for securing these resources.
Conventional approachesto natural resourcemanagement have typically
involved technical andtop-down strategies, which are rarely successful dueto the
varying andcontextualnatureofresourcedependentrural communities.The
context-specifics in such communities include historical, institutional, and social-
culturalsettings,whichshape the landmanagement decisionsmade by
community members and leaders.Increasingly,it hasbeensuggested that
increased participation by community members, integration of knowledge
systems and co-design of resource management planspositively influence the
implementation and long-lasting impacts of natural resource management
This project took place in two agricultural communities, Costone and Ezibomvini,
in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Mountain, KwaZulu-Natal. Thesecommunities
dependon their landsto sustain agriculture,water resources and ecosystem
services for their livelihoods. Poverty, climate change and degraded landscapes
call forurgent needto implement sustainableand participatory management
strategies for securing these resources. Experts from various scientific disciplines
were brought together with community development practitioners and local
communities, using a transdisciplinary, participatory approach to 1) create a
shared understanding of the community resources, climate variability and local
governanceand management structures, and 2)co-learn for stimulating action,
building social agency andimproved decision-making and governanceoutcomes.
This integrative and iterative science-action approach involved methods such as historical and current monitoring of climatic
andhydrologicalobservations, landscape mapping,veld assessment,participatory mapping and villagewalks, and facilitated
co-learning workshops and dialogues. Community-led activities for spring protection, later reticulation, grazing management
and restorationoccurred throughout the project.
Project outcomes, part 1: Enhancing the knowledge base towards a shared understanding
This sectionoutline thenew knowledge generated in the project to enhance the knowledge base of theproject team
and community participants. Theseoutcomes wereshared, discussed and reflected on in a series of co-learning
workshopsinthe communities.
Hotter temperatures with variable rainfall and streamflow
The temperatures in the areas are higher than those experienced in the past,with 2019 and 2015 being the hottest
years. Relatedto thewarmertemperatures beingexperiencedinthevillages, are anincreased numbersof heat waves.
The rainfall is highly variable, which results in variable streamflow from the catchments. 2018/2019 had the lowest
rainfall and lowest streamflow onrecord.A drought period stretched from 2013 until 2020, followed by an unusually
wet period, with the summer of 2022 being much wetter than average.
Moderately degraded rangelands with low grazing value
The communal rangelands in both villages are moderately degraded and dominated by grass species with an average
palatability and low grazing value. Continuousovergrazing has ledtoa single species dominating the rangeland. Fire as a
tool for regenerationis misunderstood. These disturbances have changed the species composition and richness.
Severe erosion and gully formation
The degradation linked to the overgrazing is the severe erosion evident in both villages. Large gullies have formed in
areas related to cattle paths and subsequent water movement down thesecattle paths. The erosion islessening the
productive land available forgrazing andiscreatinghazards and vulnerability in the villages due to the erosion
undercutting roads, incising river channels andincreasing flow rates.
Diverse but subsiding land use benefits and ecosystem services
The communities have a rich and detailed understanding of their landscape and describe a diverse utilization of,and
appreciation for,locally definedland uses and their benefits. Awide variety ofecosystem services are associated with
specific land uses and places in the landscape. These include cropand livestock production, hunting and wild plants for
food; cattle manure for fertilization; fire wood for household fuel; poles, soil and plaster sand for building material; a
variety of species for traditional medicines andspiritual uses; places forsocial relations, cultural heritage andspiritual
ceremonies. Manyofthe ecosystemservices aredeclining due tooveruse, land degradation, erosionand reduced water
Contestation of access to communal resources, decision-making andgovernancestructures
Overall, decision-making processesin these communitiesinvolve a combinationofcollectivediscussionsamongsome
selected groups of community members, individual autonomy in certain areas, and the involvement of the local chief
and councillor in resolving disputesand managing resources.Whilethere is a focus on community participation and
preserving natural resources, there are also challenges and tensions in the relationship between the community and
certain governance structures.The concept of ownership has emerged,where individualsclaim resources such as land,
water sources, and trees as their own. Thus, public access to resources has diminished.
We thank community members and leaders from Costone and Ezibomvini for their contribution and participation in the project
and to the Water Research Commission for funding. We are grateful for support from Brigid Letty, Institute of Natural Resources
and Kathleen Smart, EFTEON, SAEON
Rebecka Henriksson, Project Lead. Centre for Water Resources Research, University of KwaZulu-Natal. e-mail:
This policy brief emanates from aWRCproject final reporttitled “Building social agency and local capacity for sustainable and
equitable community resource management: A framework for co-learning, adaptive planning, and participatory mapping of land
uses and ecosystem servicesWRC Project No. C2019/2020-00150
Project outcomes, part 2: Co-learning for sustainable management of community resources
This sectionpresent the outcomes of the transdisciplinary and participatory co-learning approach between the project
teamand community participants for stimulating action, building social agency and improveddecision-making and
governance outcomes.
A transdisciplinary landscapeGISsupport tool
A series of maplayers were producedfor each of the communities,with geographical information about the community
landscapesgenerated through expert basedmapping of resources and land uses, participatory mapping, village walks
and co-learningworkshops. Themapsincludelayers ofland uses andlandscape featuressuch as grazing areas,
homesteads,water points, springs, rivers, wetlands, alien invasives,indigenous andplanted forests,erosion, ecosystem
services and the communitiesrestoration priority areas.The map reading literacy and ability to interpret spatial
information was significantlyimproved during the course of the project, which enables the communities to use the
printed maps for continued decisionsof community resources and management strategies.
Community Resources management plans
Co-learning between the project team andcommunityparticipantsabout theclimate, the environment, and the
communities’needs, priorities and decision-makingstructuresenabled the developmentof participatory community
resources management plans that are community-led and expert guided. The processparticularly empoweredthe
Costone communitytoplan, innovate and take action towards sustainable andequitable management of their
resources and to build social agency. Ezibomvini did not see thesame rate ofsuccessand require more support.
Co-designed innovations and restoration actions
Community resources innovations and management actions were co-developedbetweencommunity participants and
the project team. An engineer assisted with co-designing aninnovation for spring protection and reticulation in Costone
providing 28 households with water. Along with theefforts of a youth group, the “EcoChamps”, community members in
Costone initiated a number of restoration actions derived from the community resources management plans. Such
actions include grazing management alterations, alien clearing, river cleaning and erosion control activities using check
dams with stone and brush packs andplanting on bare soil.