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


CASCADE policy forum methods

CASCADE held a policy forum in Matera, Italy on the 24th of February 2017. Participants represented a range of stakeholders representing groups or institutions at the international, national and local levels (Table 1).

Table 1. Participants in the CASCADE policy forum.

Country  Institution or group
  • Land and Water division AGL - FAO
  • Science and technology, UNCCD
  • IAMB (Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari)
  • Italian Senate Agriultural commission
  • Basilicata Agricultural assessor
  • President of Basilicata farmers association
  • From Castelsaraceno (Mayor of the village in the last 10 years)
  • Transient large livestock breader from Castelsaraceno
  • General Director of Environment. Regional Government of Valencia, Spain
  • Director Decentralized Administration of Crete, Directorate of Water
  • Institute for Forest and Nature Conservation – ICNF
  • Former vice-president of ICNF, responsible for the National Council for Reforestation
  • Agricultural Research Institute
  • Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment
  • Members of the CASCADE project consortium

 The forum aimed to:

  1. Identify key policy recommendations according to stakeholders and policy makers, highlighting convergent and divergent priorities between stakeholders and policy makers and among study sites;
  2. Establish the entry points to inform relevant policy which could utilise CASCADE’s results and data, as well as possible barriers and opportunities for uptake of the project findings according to policy makers at different levels; and
  3. Identify remaining knowledge gaps and opportunities for future research regarding SLM.

Overall, the forum consisted of two sections. A short video was presented about CASCADE research at the beginning of the forum. Next, presentations from policy representatives introduced the audience to relevant policies in the EU and internationally that deal with land degradation, tipping points and rural development. Three presentations from CASCADE members, showcased some of the main findings in relation to the important themes within CASCADE: land abandonment, overgrazing and forest fires. Each presentation was followed by questions from the audience, enabling dialogue and clarification on key points.

A roundtable with researchers, policy makers and land managers formed the second section of the policy forum engaging participants and researchers in discussing relevant issues to dryland research and management. Moderators formulated propositions and requested roundtable participants to respond, not only to answer questions from the audience, but also making sure that the objectives of the forum were achieved. The audience was asked to respond to the participants’ interventions and to ask further questions to roundtable panellists.

The questions that started off the roundtable discussion were:

  1. What were the most surprising findings from CASCADE?
  2. How do CASCADE results help inform your work?
  3. What enablers do you need, or what is currently missing, which could help you use our CASCADE project results?
  4. What knowledge gaps remain?

Relevant remarks during the policy forum

New insights provided by CASCADE’s research, the contribution that the project has made in the study sites and the further potential impact informing policy and land management were the main topics discussed. Local stakeholders, international policy makers and land managers, as well as CASCADE researchers, intervened throughout the forum.

In general, the concept of catastrophic shifts excited attention from the audience, and its meaning and implications conveyed across the different study sites was discussed. Policy makers and land managers mentioned that it is a concept that brought attention to the urgency of improving land management, and to the risk of catastrophic and irreversible damage to environmental resources if poor management practices or inaction are the norm.

Among the results that CASCADE researchers presented were the prospective outcomes of land degradation. They showed that soil erosion and loss is not always the pathway that land degradation takes. Instead, changes in land cover and vegetation can replace existing environments, leaving the landscape less diverse and providing fewer environmental services.

Other relevant results and their potential to be translated into SLM measures were debated. For example, researchers noted that not only the amount of land cover, but also the spatial arrangement of land cover is essential to resource conservation. Discussions considered that these kinds of findings could be translated into better and more accurate management principles and practices, and inform restoration programmes targeting degraded areas.

The remainder of comments and topics are presented here in four sections following the analysis of detailed notes of the interactions between participants. The analysis was undertaken in a thematic way to categorise and group comments and discussions, broadly following the questions that were considered throughout the day. First, participants’ perspectives on the participatory research undertaken by CASCADE is explored, followed by presentation of some of the ways that CASCADE has contributed towards land management in the study sites. Entry points for CASCADE’s results in relevant policy areas are identified, and finally, the contributions of the forum regarding future opportunities for progressing the SLM agenda (including dissemination and outreach) are considered.

Participatory research approach within CASCADE

The benefits of using a participatory approach for SLM research within CASCADE was discussed by both stakeholder participants and researchers. Not only policy makers and land managers found the integrated contributions of CASCADE to be novel; researchers also said that they found new information by using a participatory and interdisciplinary approach that extends beyond their usual toolkit of methods.

For researchers, the direct and iterative engagement of CASCADE elements with the study sites, enabled them to highlight relevant issues for land users and provided context to environmental issues. As local researchers with wide experience in the area commented, “everything was green, everything was excellent…But still people living there were really upset about the environment, about the landscape…Speaking with the shepherds, they said, "Look at this area, it's very bad, there is lot of shrub encroachment"”. By contextualising scientific findings within local perspectives and livelihoods, the danger of providing inappropriate scientific advice and policy recommendations is reduced. This was considered a key strength of CASCADE’s approach.

That degradation is not always indicated by losses in vegetation cover is not always an intuitive premise for researchers and non-locals, but for the local population the possibility to carry out traditional activities and livelihoods may not be reflected in the conservation state of the environment, but in the preservation of specific key resources. For example, vegetation cover increased in the Italian study site following land abandonment as bushes and trees established on previous grazing areas. However, despite the increase in biomass, for livelihoods in the area, the increased vegetation cover introduced new risks of fire and reduced the possibility to make a living from grazing those areas. Thus, for CASCADE researchers, working closely with the stakeholders provided incredibly useful insights not only about land management issues, but also about people’s needs from and links with the environment.

For land managers and stakeholders, communication with the researchers was considered beneficial as well. Stakeholders from Cyprus attending the forum mentioned that it was the first time that researchers had opened the dialogue about management practices with the land users. Therefore, combining traditional knowledge from stakeholders with CASCADE’s new insights, and furthermore, facing and working with the community’s concerns and barriers over new SLM measures, has integrated scientific aspects with local perspectives, innovation and application. Participants valued this integration highly.

How CASCADE has informed stakeholders’ work and influenced policy

Not only novel knowledge generated by the project was regarded as useful by land managers. According to policy makers in Portugal, some of the management principles were not new. However, CASCADE’s post-fire management principles were based on rigorous scientific research, and the results concurred with the empirical perceptions of local resource managers. Consequently, it provided validation and data to support the management principles being proposed by the policymakers, as well as a better evidence base with which to refine previous approaches to management.

In some cases, CASCADE principles reinstated old practices that were sustainable, which stakeholders had stopped using in recent years. For example, policy makers from Cyprus mentioned that prior to CASCADE, there was inaction from both policy makers and land managers in addressing degradation. However, the project brought attention to drylands and the risks of overgrazing, and to relevant management measures. Management principles identified by CASCADE and mentioned by stakeholders as past practices were maintaining carob trees and practicing rotational grazing. Furthermore, CASCADE principles and recommendations modified and refined management practices that were in place or were about to be carried out at the suggestion of resource managers. For example, in Cyprus, managers were considering stopping grazing to prevent land degradation, however, as CASCADE’s results pointed out the benefits of grazing, they are now revising their grazing plans so that it does not stop entirely.

That CASCADE provided well-researched information was also considered to empower land managers, as the information that they can convey is endorsed by the project. A representative from Portugal mentioned “In Portugal, only 3% of the forest area is managed only by the state. In the last 40 years, 2.5 million ha have been burned in Portugal, and 5,000 of them were burned more than 10 times in the same period. This project it is very important for us because the results gave us the knowledge we needed to transmit to the owners of the 92% of the forest”.

Entry points in relevant policies

International policies relevant to CASCADE and into which the project findings could feed were discussed extensively during the policy forum. Suggestions of key policies and frameworks from participants include the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement (on climate change), and a new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on the links between land degradation and climate change. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was considered particularly relevant as it has a large budget in the EU and it comprises targets to reduce soil erosion and keep soil organic carbon at certain levels. The interlinkage between development policies and the climate change agenda was also agreed to be important, with CASCADE results offering potential to inform both, as well as more sustainable natural resource use in general. One participant from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) noted that “In the SDGs there is now the Land Degradation Neutrality as a clear target, plus other targets need to consider soil conservation in order to be met. Equally, in order to meet the 2° target of the Paris Agreement and reach negative emissions we need to take into consideration the role of land and soil management in climate change mitigation and adaptation”. This view of the articulation of soil conservation with other major agreements was shared, with the ecosystem approach being proposed by the Food and Agriculture organisation (FAO) representative as a way to harness synergy between the various policies.

The research provided by CASCADE can provide better time frames of natural events and ecology. The importance of considering the time frame for grazing subsidies and designing programmes and policies was highlighted. It was mentioned that the temporality of policies, programmes and subventions, can create management issues and increase inefficiency, as expectations from land users can differ from estimated results. It is vital to manage stakeholders’ expectations in terms of how long it will take before the benefits of particular practices start to be seen. This can help to reduce disillusionment.

The different time frames over which policy makers, stakeholders and researchers operate creates challenges for creating entry points for research to inform policy. As one researcher noted: “The policy cycle has its own timeframe which doesn't necessarily fit with the scientific provision of results. I think that is a really key issue that comes up time and time again. It's just the nature of science and the nature of policy making.” Furthermore, applying the principles technically at a land management level was recognised to be different from changing policies as part of a supportive institutional environment.

Given the urgency of SLM, using the precautionary principle in policy making and planning regarding land use and land management was considered relevant to prevent further negative environmental impacts, even if there is inadequate evidence and when more research is still needed. Precautionary measures that need to be in place to prevent serious damage were discussed as a gap between policy and knowledge based measures. Risk reduction measures and a precautionary approach can also be applied to the planning of subsidies. Legislation regarding subsidies has largely focused on emergency measures during disasters, such as providing fodder in drought years. However measures to prevent environmental damage, such as designated resting of grasslands during wet seasons and in extremely wet years to allow regrowth, may prevent those catastrophes and result in more cost-effectiveness in the long term. Furthermore, in view of the risk of catastrophic shifts and other environmental damages (e.g. the increased risk of landslides due to land erosion), concerns spread beyond just environmental factors. Policy actions that sought to ensure human safety under environmental change and degradation conditions were also mentioned.

The importance of linking the management principles derived in CASCADE with wider agendas was mentioned as key to advancing SLM. To further propel the operationalisation of CASCADE’s principles, the FAO representative suggested the dissemination of the findings should be linked directly with the SDGs, or other initiatives such as FAO’s climate smart agriculture programme. That way, it can be included in the agendas of international policy makers and inform their paradigms and policies. Internationally, the importance of lobbying and disseminating the results was noted. Highlighting SLM priorities and the urgency of action to the EU in Brussels was mentioned as one of the next steps that could be adopted by CASCADE researchers. It was mentioned that in order to be operationalised, policy recommendations needed to be developed in form of specific objectives and guidelines proposed to Brussels. However, discussions also noted the fine line between the provision of scientific information to policy makers and engagement in advocacy and lobbying. Therefore, participants disagreed on the desired roles of scientists within these activities, and their ideal degree of participation.

Future opportunities and outreach

During the forum, participants discussed not only how researchers can feed their findings into policy, but also how to increase engagement with land managers. It was agreed that the dissemination of the principles and other land management measures benefitted from the participatory approach taken throughout much of the research. It was also highlighted that outreach mechanisms need to use appropriate language and channels of communication to be effective. “Make the results known to the decision makers but in a way they can understand and can transmit easily”, as an international policy maker stated.

Collaboration and cooperation between organisations was seen by international policy makers as one of the best opportunities to drive changes and improvements in land management, not only at national level but also internationally. As an international policy maker highlighted, outreach can increase social interest and thus the pressure for improving policies: “Probably the best way for policy makers to take into account what the scientific community is finding is for the scientific community to explain quite well to society about the change of paradigm, not only to the policy makers.”

Knowledge management and databases available to policy makers and land managers, were seen as an area that can facilitate or set back research dissemination, due to the lack of availability of the data or its accessibility. Often although the information can be available, the information is spread out across various specialized databases, thus restricting the accessibility to policy makers. Nevertheless, the UNCCD representative stated that his organisation has been considering the localisation of knowledge, and they are working on the development of a “knowledge hub” to facilitate access to relevant information. He suggested that CASCADE could collaborate and participate in their initiative to help increase the dissemination of project findings.

Furthermore, collaboration and communication was mentioned by policy makers as an opportunity to reach agreements and actions by a land manager from Cyprus, “We are taking some decisions at the technical level. Politicians, ministers see things differently… definitely try to convince them and I hope that the answer will be positive….Further research in the study sites, to monitor CASCADE’s measures will in fact add to policy making and pro-intervention.”

Soil conservation education at different levels was also considered as a priority area of action, both for land users and policy makers. CASCADE’s land management scenarios for analysing grazing impacts were regarded as a potential tool for transformative action, as they can not only guide management practices but also help to convey possible outcomes to a wider audience. CASCADE researchers in Spain found that a local government using a participatory bottom-up approach was more successful at managing fire risks, compared with traditional methods of education, such as awareness campaigns. However, education and social awareness were also cited to be incorporated in long-term management plans.

The contributions of CASCADE can go beyond providing new technical information. As the UNCCD participant stated “a project like CASCADE can provide more insightful understanding of the socio-economic dynamics- that is quite important. It helps to better plan interventions…because one of the things policy makers hate is uncertainty, so we can provide them with better evidence of what it is going to happen, or is very likely to happen, so it will help a lot to take up the measures and to promote intervention”.

The link between science, legislation and governability were also examined by the participants. The responsibility of local and international policy makers to use knowledge that has been supported by EU funding was questioned by a policy maker. He noted the knowledge gathered by scientific research may fail to reach relevant policy makers, thus failing to permeate key discussions, meaning that the knowledge produced by European funded projects may not be used for policy elaboration. Potentially, a considerable evidence base for policy making is thus being missed.

Note: For full references to papers quoted in this article see

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