Main authors: Cecilia De Ita, Lindsay C. Stringer, Luuk Fleskens, Diana Sietz
Contributing authors: Ioannis K. Tsanis, Ioannis N. Daliakopoulos, Ioanna Panagea, Michalakis Christoforou, Giovanni Quaranta, Rosanna Salvia, Sandra Valente, Cristina Ribeiro, Cláudia Fernandes, Oscar González-Pelayo, Jan Jacob Keizer, Alejandro Valdecantos, V. Ramón Vallejo and Susana Bautista
Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: De Ita, C. et al. (2017) Report on multi-scale evaluation of CASCADE's management principles and grazing model scenarios with stakeholders and policy makers. CASCADE Project Deliverable 8.3 69 pp



Although advanced tools for SLM in drylands such as WOCAT (World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies; have been developed, tailoring measures to particular socio-environmental systems is necessary, as conditions vary within sites and over time (Schwilch et al., 2012), and the effectiveness of programmes and measures depend on their capacity to address particular local and external issues affecting land degradation. The close contact of CASCADE researchers with land users and policy makers allowed the project to develop more insightful results and propel a practice of knowledge sharing and learning, appropriate to advance SLM.

However, stakeholders’ involvement in the research does not guarantee the identification of appropriate management measures (Schwilch et al., 2012) or the adoption of new technologies. There are various barriers to the adoption of new and innovative land management measures (Fleskens et al., 2014, Sietz and Van Dijk, 2015). Policy research and literature state that decision making is mainly driven by beliefs, values and experience, which in turn can interact with particular sets of goals and perceptions of issues and challenges (Sotirov et al., 2016, Hall, 1993). These can affect the ways in which research is used.

It is suggested that when the participation process is led by non-state representatives, it is more likely that participants would share and learn information from each other, and solutions would be reached (de Vente et al., 2016). CASCADE researchers were perceived as a third party by stakeholders, able to communicate with them and policy makers without conflicts of opinion. Such perceived objectivity can be useful, particularly if stakeholders are seeking evidence to continue with particular practices. Equally, stakeholders’ access to sound information can further foster shared perceptions and goals.

Thus, the learning and knowledge sharing process was considered particularly important by the project, especially where land users and land managers have dissenting positions, such is the case in Crete, where policy makers and shepherds were not able to attend the same workshop due to conflicting views (Sotirov et al. 2016). As shared goals are more feasible to be pursued, participatory approaches can be key in identifying common ground, connecting long and short-term ways of thinking through improved understanding. Using stakeholder engagement throughout, it was possible not only to share information, but also to share priorities, visions, and barriers. This was recognised as a tool to further design and elaborate outreach and management programmes. It also opened new channels of communication between researchers and stakeholders.

Forest sites

Stakeholders’ perceptions of land abandonment, forest fires and grazing in forested areas of Spain, Portugal and Italy differed. Mainly, stakeholders agreed with post fire and forest fire principles that linked to abandonment, as well as the grazing principles. Yet while they did not disagree with the land management principles, the approach to managing land abandonment was controversial. The causes and consequences of land abandonment are complex and encompass multidimensional factors (Renwick et al. 2013), so its management was perceived beyond the reach of CASCADE. In the views of stakeholders, it was necessary to situate the guidelines within a socio-environmental context. Spanish stakeholders saw this as key to their usefulness and applicability, especially in the land abandonment and forest fire context. In Spain and Portugal living in the region may become difficult due to the lack of services and general economic climate, alongside other externalities. At the same time, the management of the land for forest fires was closely related to land tenure, as the availability and interest of stakeholders to engage in land management varies depending on their stake and the perceived land value.

The key barriers in Spain and Portugal related to land tenure and the lack of laws that allow land managers to apply forest fire measures on private land. Private and public sectors can have different goals, which can also change over time, as values and socio-economic conditions change (Cubbage et al., 2007), while private management may respond to shorter term needs and values.

Land tenure in the hands of multiple land owners with small sized plots was perceived to be hampering land management, as land owners of smallholdings may not be involved in land management. In Portugal stakeholders stated that successful operationalization of forest fire prevention is restricted by the predominantly small-scale forest land parcels. Here, abandonment links to forest fire management.

In Italy, given that land tenure is held in larger land plots, the representative of the farmers’/shepherds’ union considered that the best option would be to set up an agency to oversee the management of publicly owned land that favoured agricultural and forestry use. This could help to preserve and better maintain publicly owned lands which are currently at risk of abandonment.

Given the complexity of managing the land when land tenure is distributed in smallholdings, stakeholders in Spain considered focusing on individual and localised productive projects as the best opportunity to boost conservation and development. Even if such projects are held at a small scale, they could work as a network. Small successful projects in the region could in turn spark development at a local level, as well as recover interest in the land once other proprietors realize its potential. Furthermore, land owners could form cooperatives to boost local production, as well as their incomes. The strategy of localised sources of production would help to concentrate on the commercialisation of valuable resources such as honey production, agrotourism and ecologic agriculture, plus they considered it more feasible as it is at a small scale and it would be possible for technicians to support owners. Stakeholders would expect that these projects could stabilise the population. Such development was seen as requiring simultaneous efforts towards creating schools for farmers. This was a novel and unexpected insight, that land users can be engaged in revitalising an area by making localised efforts, especially as more conservative or traditional strategies were expected.

Fire awareness campaigns in Spain have been ineffective according to a stakeholder from the forest fire prevention department, as many are a consequence of badly-managed stubble burning by farmers, rather than the result of accidental or negligent actions. Fire prevention campaigns were considered as top-down approaches to increase awareness. Instead, a bottom-up approach through boards and owners organisations was considered necessary by the forest fire department representative. Local stakeholders in Spain are nevertheless exploring legal means to move forward fire prevention strategies on private property. Lessons from Spain could be usefully tested in other study sites.

In general, Spanish stakeholders did not complain about the lack of technical information and documentation as a barrier to improve SLM. The Centre of Forest Research and Experimentation (CIEF) (Conselleria de Agricultura, Medio Ambiente, Cambio Climático y Desarrollo Rural) works as a governmental research centre in charge of providing GIS information and there are local technicians working within the region. Land managers and decision makers are usually affiliated to governmental or academic institutions, therefore they can access the information if necessary. In other study sites however, information is sometimes lacking or difficult to access.

In Italy, rural tourism was seen as a good alternative to boost the region’s development and to sell local produce. The tourism authority stated that there have been actions to support and promote tourism in the region, however, this was hampered by a lack of cooperation as local farmers try to sell produce independently. Direct trade with the consumer is also commonly seen as the best way to increase produce revenues and maintain production, as mentioned by the beekeeper representative in Italy. There is a common belief that tourism increases economic revenues, can improve infrastructure and promote general community development, however, to ensure that tourism development meets community expectations appropriate planning and community collaboration is necessary (Presenza et al., 2013).

Additionally, in Portugal and Spain stakeholders mentioned the need to develop farmer schools in order to maintain and transmit traditional knowledge, in shepherding, ethnobotany and ethnozoology courses, as well as to learn new SLM technologies. These kinds of ideas support many of the suggestions made at the policy forum regarding making information available to stakeholders in different ways and ensuring SLM interventions are linked to wider environment and development debates and challenges.

Grazing sites

In Cyprus and Crete, stakeholders generally agreed with the grazing principles that CASCADE proposed. Shepherds also mentioned that it was the first time that any institution approached them to talk about dryland management, and showed interest in their information and measures. Thus, it is important to maintain these kinds of efforts. Low levels of contact with dryland farmers can lead to their alienation as they can see how traditional land uses have devaluated under government indifference, which can lead them to refuse to engage with conservation efforts (Onate and Peco, 2005). Given the value of stakeholder engagement noted at both study site workshops and the policy forum, it will be vital to ascertain how best to keep in touch with the stakeholders after the end of the CASCADE project.

In Cyprus the oldest shepherds disagreed about the feasibility of integrating olive trees and carob trees in grazing areas. As mentioned before, when perceptions of traditional values are challenged by new information, there is also the risk that stakeholders reject facts in order to protect their core beliefs, thus stakeholders are more open to information that doesn’t challenge their beliefs and values (Sotirov et al., 2016). Nevertheless, through participation during the study site workshop the youngest shepherd was able to convince almost all of the rest that it was in fact feasible. Equally, they were reluctant to stop killing predators, due to traditional practices rather than environmental reasons. It is clear that such traditional practices should not be overlooked but rather, engaged with and explained in order to better understand them. Stakeholders are not however totally closed to new opportunities. Nevertheless, given the current situation in Cyprus and the wider Greek economy, market diversification in a sustainable way is considered even more unrealistic in the current socioeconomic context unless incentives are provided.

In Crete while all stakeholders considered actions after fire or drought effective, in practice this is not always the case. For many measures stakeholders saw the potential benefit of the principle, but lack the motivation for applying a new measure, thus, further efforts and incentives to reap benefits and start a wave of action are needed. Bridging the gap between knowledge and action remains a challenge.

Policy makers from Cyprus also requested more information regarding new knowledge about soil management and overgrazing, which is particularly encouraging. Policy makers often concentrate their environmental conservation efforts on protected areas, thus local CASCADE researchers considered that attention to drylands and farmland areas is a step forward to prevent further land degradation. This suggests the new information provided by CASCADE can broaden policy makers’ horizons and interests.

Using and sharing knowledge for SLM in the Mediterranean, opportunities for dissemination

Stakeholders welcomed the information given by CASCADE both in the policy forum and in the stakeholder workshops. Strategies to improve the land management agenda were noted by policy makers, such as the potential uses of management scenarios, identifying pathways for management and appreciating the benefits of stakeholder engagement and institutional collaboration.

There is still nevertheless a lack of evidence for decision makers to make an informed decision about SLM investments. Using techniques such as scenarios still offer great untapped potential. It was considered that the development and explanation of management scenarios can be particularly useful for dissemination and planning. For example an Agriculture NGO representative in Spain considered that land change scenarios could be used to demonstrate the future impact of guidelines for forest and land management in the Mediterranean region. Indeed, the use of scenario analysis and other foresight methodologies has been found to aid development of common understandings of the near future, and the challenges and opportunities for stakeholder participation (Sotirov et al., 2016). This approach can also raise awareness of the resources at stake in case of inaction, therefore is useful to promote the urgency and importance of the principles proposed by CASCADE. To deliver scenario information to a general audience can be key to convey support and engagement, for which scenarios and modelling should aim to be flexible and less complicated able to convey a narrative of future pathways (Kok and van Delden, 2009). Through the use of scenarios it is possible not only to convey a message (Kok and van Delden, 2009); scenarios can be key to appraise best measures and practices, particularly for mitigating land degradation (Fleskens et al., 2014).

During the policy forum various participants stressed the importance of the dissemination of CASCADE work and results to support policy and practices at different levels. As an international policy maker from UNCCD envisaged it “…CASCADE can take one additional step which is expanding collaboration and cooperation nationally and internationally, for different areas, and other countries and regions. But also with different entry points, sometimes for forest fire management, sometimes for forest landscape restoration…”. Equally, CASCADE’s approach and findings can be applied and tested for their applicability in other areas of the world.

Effective SLM needs a coherence across socio-economic, legal and institutional approaches and measures (WOCAT, 2007). International initiatives to coordinate and share knowledge on advances towards SLM in the Mediterranean were mentioned as potentially beneficial by stakeholders in Portugal. Sharing knowledge and alternative histories of success was deemed potentially useful, as it could be replicated throughout the region. At a regional level, there are already international collaboration initiatives that share knowledge and efforts towards land management and productive enterprises. These initiatives are promoted by governmental entities but only work to link local partners in both countries. Stakeholders in Portugal mentioned that there is a current collaboration project, with the Basilicata region in Italy. Such cooperation could be vital for exchanging expertise. More could nevertheless be done in this regard to enhance knowledge sharing.

The role of researchers in SLM was also discussed, the ethical and professional implication of staying as a distant non-participant spectator were regarded as by a resource manager who noted that “Sometimes it's our fault as scientists, too much science and we could not clearly convey the message to the policy makers [about] what exactly needs to be done…. I mentioned the Four per Thousand initiative… a group of soil scientists said - Yes but this cannot be implemented because you cannot do this, you don't have data for that - So that's our part?”. Therefore a wider discussion over the use of pragmatic approaches to improve land management and the role of scientists therein may be beneficial. There is also still a lack of evidence for decision makers to make an informed decision about SLM investment. To decide when and where to invest, it is necessary to gain an understanding of the non-linear behaviour of the ecosystem dynamics, as environmental conditions varied and the windows of opportunity for specific measures can be critical (Sietz 2017). Together, these aspects highlight that despite important advances within CASCADE, much research remains to be done.

Laws and Incentives


Due to issues arising from land tenure, one of the most commonly discussed options for improving coordination and collaboration in Spain was organisation schemes to congregate stakeholders around specific objectives. Such efforts have been working in other areas of Spain, such as the “mesa de concertación” (agreement boards) working in the Valencia region, or the “Mesas forestales” (Forestry table) or “Juntas Rectoras” (governing board of Natural Parks), where boards or organisations are generally grouping multiple local stakeholders with the aim of managing the land.

In Spain there is currently an initiative to carry out a census of abandoned lands, with the aim of fomenting legal means that allow the administration of them for environmental conservation efforts. This is known in the region as “Custodia del territorio”. Such legal means and the formalisation of collective efforts could be usefully assessed in further research as to their effectiveness and appropriateness across other forest sites.


In Italy, improving poor infrastructure e.g. through improved road maintenance was considered by the stakeholders as one of the biggest challenges in order to boost development in the area. Lack of services can boost land abandonment if quality of life is perceived as low, and even small investments in infrastructure can boost the rural economy. Nevertheless, stakeholders considered that in a future scenario, the territory could be in a condition where land values stabilise. Therefore, existing infrastructure should be maintained (road maintenance, keeping access roads open, maintenance of irrigation networks etc.), in order to guarantee its future use. In the same way intangible assets must be preserved, such as skills and know-how (e.g. knowledge exchange about edible wild plants, methods for making bread etc.). Such efforts require policy actions and appropriate legal and institutional frameworks.

In Italy during the stakeholder workshops, it was mentioned that some legislation was hampering the production of local farmers, such as regional legislation halting on-farm slaughtering. Legislation allowing farmers to cut production costs by slaughtering and selling their produce independently (as farmers slaughtering animals on site are doing it illegally under this law) was seen as beneficial by stakeholders. Thus, farmers’ associations were seen as an option to strengthen local food networks and promote on-farm food processing of niche products. Organisation was also seen as key, as farm cooperatives could set-up a small number of collective processing plants that all farmers would have access to.

In Italy cooperation features heavily in the new policy planning period. Due to land abandonment, there is a strong consensus on the need for policies that address not only economic development but also social and environmental needs. However, although in Italy farm fragmentation is rare, it can also be a problem for SLM, as small scale owners can have less capacity to implement costly measures, plus efforts are fragmented and less effective if coordination and compromises are not achieved between owners.

In Spain the current land management directives are under study to allow actions in private lands especially in areas with high (fire) risk. Most of those areas are set aside agricultural lands (pseudoforests) with high density of pines and very low or no successional progress. The Forest Law established in 1993 already tried to permit actions in private properties affected by the design of Areas of Urgent Action (ZAUs) (mainly firebreaks) but it failed as it required one individual agreement per piece of land. Supporting this with subsidies is not feasible due to the huge number of properties and unknown land owners in many cases.


In Portugal, stakeholders perceived access to EU funds as key to implement mulching as an emergency measure for stabilization. Another possibility for increasing the viability of mulching, would be the existence of a local biomass power plant, so that the costs of handling the logging residues and their application as mulch, after shredding, would, at least partially, be covered by the economic valorisation of the larger woody parts delivered to the power plants. Again, these options require institutional support.

In Italy stakeholders mentioned that providing retirement incentives to older farmers could promote greater generational change, and the farmers’/shepherds’ union representative mentioned that the EU’s measure on minimum tillage should be implemented in order to incentivise conservation agriculture.

In Basilicata, 87% of the territory is classified as mountainous, therefore, certifications such as the “Mountain Product Certification” (Regulation EU No. 665/2014) gives the region the opportunity to uniquely brand its products. Local producers in Italy saw policies on certification and designation of origin (Regulation EU No. 1151/2012) as an alternative to add value to the production, and improve resilience, as produce prices could withstand price fluctuations and continue activities if prices of a determine good fall dramatically at a given point.

However, designation of origin can also have undesired consequences if demand surpasses the supply capacity. Cypriot Halloumi cheese gained the origin denomination in 2016. Therefore, there is an ongoing campaign to boost milk production to satisfy the demand.

In synthesising the proposals from the study sites and considering them in conjunction with those from the policy forum, big gaps are apparent between the large-scale initiatives at the international level and the smaller scale efforts at local levels that can help movement towards SLM. Further work is needed to bridge these gaps if international initiatives such as the UNCCD’s Land Degradation Neutrality target setting programme are to resonate with local land managers.


The global importance of land degradation and its negative impacts on agriculture goes beyond the loss of environmental services. Humanitarian crises worldwide are arising due to the loss of land productivity as tipping points are reached. The urgency of improving SLM stresses the importance of advancing CASCADE goals and the dissemination of its work. Reaching SLM requires transformative change. One important strategy for this involves research allied with participation, collaboration with broader institutional efforts and steps to foster permanent cooperation. CASCADE aimed to provide new and relevant information not only to manage the present and project future scenarios, but also to create the bridges necessary between stakeholders, policy makers, researchers, land users and land managers. Further dissemination process will close the circle of social engagement. By learning from each other, CASCADE researchers were able to build trust and share common goals, and is a job that will prove essential in oncoming years due to climate change. Furthermore, the role of the moderator is also important, a further review and compilation of the methods used by CASCADE’s team when delivering the principles, and a discussion about the particular reception in each study site, could yield interesting results.

The forest fire and post fire principles proposed in Spain and Portugal reached a high level of approval from stakeholders, although various barriers were perceived to limit their applicability. Between the perceived barriers for applying forest fires and land abandonment principles were land tenure in both countries and individual and tailored technical support for private owners in Portugal. In Cyprus and Crete, stakeholders agreed with the overgrazing principles, although shepherds were resistant to stop hunting predators, and some challenged those principles different to their traditional practices.

Highlighting the relevance of new knowledge and linking it to relevant national and international policies was one of the most frequently mentioned ways to include CASCADE’s findings in future planning.

CASCADE’s contributions are not restricted to innovative information. The research and experiments carried out also confirmed and concurred with empirical information, supporting some traditional practices that have been lost. Thus they not only highlighted the effectiveness and importance of some of the traditional local land management practices, they also provided more detailed guidelines and support for their application. This may be particularly important in the case of traditional knowledge that may have been lost, as traditional knowledge is generally less valued in policy making than scientific studies (Stringer and Reed 2007). Furthermore, during the policy workshop it was mentioned that it is more feasible to include knowledge-based regulations in policy, as it can help to deal with uncertainty.

The importance and soundness of scientific concepts, as well as how unanimous theory and practices are within the scientific community has serious implications in advancing the policy agenda and agreements, as incorporating measures in evidence based policy making require scientific support. On the other hand stakeholders ‘on site’ are dealing with tipping points and the loss of environmental services, therefore, urgency of action may require more pragmatic approaches. It is therefore vital that both kinds of stakeholders work in collaboration with scientists.

Finally, the information presented in this report further advances our knowledge about stakeholders’ views and their perceived challenges in applying SLM measures. This information can in turn, be used to foster agreements between stakeholders, as they can identify common ground and thus move forward and agreed on shared goals. Policy makers recognized that CASCADE’s research and new insights from controlled experiments and modelling scenarios, can also help them design programmes and act as a roadmap for actions for improving land management and conservation. This reiterates the importance of integrating knowledge across disciplines, stakeholders, scales and timeframes in order to reach decisions and practices that can really advance SLM.

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