Integrating Community and Scientific Sustainability Indicators
to Facilitate Participatory Desertification Monitoring and
Sustainable Rangeland Management in Botswana
Mark Reed & Andy Dougill School of the Environment
The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification emphasises the importance
of action by local communities, through the development of "integrated sets of
physical, biological, social and economic indicators" which are “pertinent, quantifiable
and readily verifiable” (UNCCD, 1994, Article 8 (d)). Sustainability indicators are key
tools for community-based desertification monitoring as they can be used by non-
specialists to capture complex information easily and rapidly. However, the
identification, selection and participatory use of appropriate indicators remains a key
research priority with many practical difficulties.
& Management Options
Identify Indicators &
Indicators & Development
with Community Management Options
with Local Community Most existing sustainability indicators are developed
Stakeholder Primary at scales that are not relevant for land
Identification & Indicator Indicator
Livelihoods Analysis Identification Evaluation management, and are too technical for most land
with Community users to apply. If communities are involved in the
Dissemination Secondary Scientifically Test identification and selection of sustainability
Indicator Indicator Short-List & indicators, it is possible to ensure that they can be
Evaluation Review Management
Options easily applied by land users at a farm scale (Reed
and Dougill, 2002). Empirical testing of indicators
Distribute and Re- can ensure the accuracy and reliability of indicators.
Evaluate Periodically Evaluate Test Results
Integrate Indicators with Community
Land users can apply sustainability indicators to
with Management .
identify land where degradation has occurred or is
Trial Decision Support Options in Decision
System with Local Support System likely to occur. By linking indicators to management
Community & Optimise options, it is possible for desertification monitoring
to facilitate grass-roots action to prevent, reduce or
reverse land degradation.
Benefits of the Approach
Experience with Participatory Indicator Development in Kgalagadi District,
Botswana, has shown a number of benefits:
• The indicators can be easily used by land managers themselves
• There is significant overlap between indicators cited by the community and the
literature, and over 90% of those tested have an empirical basis
• The range of indicators elicited using this research framework was far broader
than published indicator lists for semi-arid environments, with less emphasis on
• Generation of indicators not found in the literature
• Rejection of irrelevant indicators and prioritization of most relevant indicators
• Communities often provide more meaningful interpretations of existing indicators,
with non-technical means of measuring complex variables. Although more
qualitative, pastoralist experience shows information from such surrogates is
sufficiently accurate to support management decisions
Research is ongoing to develop a global land degradation monitoring system, based on this approach. Existing assessments of global
land degradation have been based on single or few indicators (e.g. the Global Assessment of Soil Degradation (UNEP, 1997)). Such
assessments represent snapshots in time and are not relevant to land user needs and objectives. By integrating data from community
monitoring, ecological and soil-based monitoring and satellite data, it is possible to assess the extent and severity of degradation at a
national scale. In this way the outputs from monitoring are relevant for both policy makers and land users, and can lead to more
sustainable land management to combat desertification at a grass-roots level.
Reed MS & Dougill AJ 2002. Participatory selection process for indicators of rangeland condition in the Kalahari. The Geographical Journal 168: 224-234.
UNEP (1997). World Atlas of Desertification. Arnold Publishers Ltd., London.
This research is funded by United Nations Development Program/Global Environment Facility, Royal Society, Royal Scottish Geographical Society, Explorer’s Club, Government of Botswana Ministry of Agriculture and the University of Leeds.