Book project: SLM in Practice - Guidelines and Best Practices for Sub-Saharan Africa (SLM in Practice)

About the project

Land is the true wealth of Sub-Saharan Africa. The region is characterized by a very rich diversity of natural ecosystem resources, including soils, vegetation, water, and genetic diversity. Together, these assets constitute the region’s main natural capital, supplying food, water, wood, fibre, and essential ecosystem services and functions – as well as the components of industrial products. And they must be maintained, in order to support African populations into the future. It is also from the land that 60 percent of the people directly derive their livelihoods – from agriculture, freshwater fisheries, forestry, and other natural resources.

However, African land and water resources in some areas are seriously threatened through overuse, despite per capita availability being one of the highest in the world. This is a direct result of the increasing needs of a growing population, combined, often, with inappropriate land management practices. With Africa’s population growing at over two percent a year, food production must double by 2030 to keep pace with demand. However, productivity of natural resources is declining, the number of natural disasters has increased, and climate change is already taking its toll.

A new system of management and governance of land resources is urgently needed; one that is able to respond in a systematic and integrated manner to this key development challenge. Sustainable Land Management (SLM) is a comprehensive approach, with the potential of making a very significant and lasting difference in the near future and in the long term. But what exactly is Sustainable Land Management? What are the principles, and – most importantly – the practices that people can use? How can it make a real difference and provide concrete solutions for Africa? These are the key questions that the book, “Sustainable Land Management in Practice – Guidelines and Best Practices for Sub-Saharan Africa”, wishes to address, providing answers through case studies and analyses.

Project results and impacts

The book recognizes the contribution of SLM to food security, improved livelihoods, mitigation of widespread land deg­radation and climate change adaptation and mitigation, advocating that best SLM practices must be scaled up and SLM main­streamed as a priority at all levels.

The SLM experiences presented in the book clearly show the need for major shifts in emphasis to overcome bottlenecks and barriers for spreading SLM in Sub-Saharan Africa. These shifts con­cern various aspects at different levels including technolo­gies and approaches, institutional, policy, governance, economy, knowledge management, and capacity building.

Consolidated efforts are also needed for knowl­edge management concerning SLM technologies and approaches and their spreading, not only to document and monitor valuable experiences for their own sake, but for dissemination and use in improved decision-making at the field and planning level. Given rapid changes, many adaptations and innovations concerning SLM will continue but will be untapped and unused. Consolidated action towards better use of valuable local, regional, and global knowledge is needed and will be greatly beneficial in the future, as it can be anticipated that change will be even more pronounced (global markets, climate change, demands on ecosystem services, biofuel, etc.). Investment in SLM and knowledge management pays.

The book concludes that investment in spreading SLM practices in Sub-Saharan Africa has great scope and can deliver multiple benefits not only locally, but also re­gionally (e.g. in watersheds), nationally as well as globally. SLM concerns all, at all levels, and pays in many more ways than recognized. Many of the global issues such as food security, poverty, water scarcity, desertification, climate change mitigation and adaption, and biodiversity are closely related to SLM.

The book is based on the extensive experience of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and WOCAT. It draws on WOCAT’s network and its Database of SLM knowledge – and on WOCAT’s first overview book on soil and water conservation initiatives, “Where the land is greener”. “Sustainable Land Management in Practice – Guidelines and Best Practices for Sub-Saharan Africa” was produced 2011 under the TerrAfrica partnership, whose main objective is to mainstream and scale up SLM in Sub-Saharan Africa, by leveraging and harmonizing multisectoral investments at the local, country, subregional, and regional levels.

This book aims to boost the adoption of SLM on the African continent. It is based on scientific and technical as well as practical and operational knowledge. It was written to provide clear guidance to countries, regional institutions and programmes, and development partners and land users organizations that are ready and eager to change current investments towards a more sustainable direction.

The book presents 13 major groups of SLM technologies and approaches in a user-friendly manner, exemplified by 47 case studies from all over the region. While comprehensive, these practices are not intended to be bottom-up or top-down – and in most cases can be improved and tailored to different situations. Users are therefore encouraged to adapt and modify them, based on specific conditions, integrating local knowledge, and ingenuity.

Furthermore, the book addresses environmental issues that are the most pressing for Sub-Saharan Africa: not just combating land degradation, but also preserving ecosystem functions, ensuring food security, securing water resources within the land, and confronting the climate change issues of adaptation and mitigation. Addressing typical situations in Sub-Saharan Africa, the book points out the potential for major contributions to improved livelihoods.

This volume is a core knowledge product for the TerrAfrica platform, prepared by WOCAT under the coordination of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Funded by: the multi-donor TerrAfrica Leveraging Fund, the World Bank, and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

These guidelines were prepared by Hanspeter Liniger, Rima Mekdaschi Studer, Christine Hauert, and Mats Gurtner, initiated and coordinated by Dominique Lantieri of FAO, edited by William Critchley, CIS, VU-University Amsterdam. Support, technical contributions, and reviews were received from Steve Danyo of the World Bank and Sally Bunning of FAO. The guidelines are based largely on an iterative process that tapped into the collected experiences of people and institutions both inside and outside Africa. They were made possible through the guidance, cooperation, and assistance of many contributors who champion SLM as a way to secure environmentally friendly and climate resilient livelihoods.


Sustainable Land Management in Practice - Guidelines and Best Practices for Sub-Saharan Africa

Author: Hanspeter Liniger, Rima Mekdaschi Studer, Christine Hauert, and Mats Gurtner, Year: 2011, Languages: English, French

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Isabelle Providoli

CDE Centre for Development and Environment
Research Scientist
isabelle.providoli( at )
Switzerland Switzerland

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Project finished.

Project duration

2009 - 2010

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)

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Center for Develpment and Environment (CDE)

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Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)

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