The Dilemma of land use: Bringing Reality to the Classroom

By: Ahmed Said Sulaiman

Making decisions that affect people’s use of land is among the most anxious actions that any progressive society has to deal with. Some of the mainstream arguments claim that the economic needs of the country should always take the priority in determining land use, while others say that indigenous or traditional claims to land use have to be respected. Emphasizing humankind’s stewardship obligations, still others argue that where nature is threatened, the best use of land is excluding human intervention. Even though, the intensions of conservation might be industrious in protecting fauna and flora, its final consequences could also be destructive. For example, if the actions of protected areas impose misery on people especially those who are fully dependent on it for their survival, it is unlikely to succeed in the long run. Well!  What is the best option of using natural resources then? This question seems easy to ask than answered!

As part of unpacking this complexity associated with land use, Environmental Management Class (EM40) led by Dr. Eckhard Auch, performed a simulation game on May 3rd 2017. The role play was based on a case of conservation area located in India (Kaziranga National Park) which was threatened by human encroachment. The intension of the scene was to bring all relevant stakeholders and involved actors to a meeting and eventually make an agreement on issue at stake (eviction of local users). The scene brought reality on the ground to the classroom and provided a lively discussion, arguments and counterarguments among the opposing parties.

Jürgen Habermas, a German Sociologist was right when he said “only by knowing the partner’s real interests (best), a negotiation can achieve best compromises”.   I learned that land use is beyond the affiliation of certain actors. There are other stakeholders (private, civil society and NGOs etc.) who have a say and influence the decisions of every aspect. Hence, making compromises was one of the determinants of reaching success.

However, even with in this role play, the process of making compromise was not smooth either. It was quite challenging to reach a common ground even with in a small group of the same interest let alone confronting opposing parties.

On the other hand, moderation of such kind of meetings needed skillful tactics and attention to the details. For example, the facilitators’ understanding about the culture of the involved community or behavior of individuals is crucial while on the other hand systematically balancing the power of the actors in the discussion process is important factor for reaching a fair consensus.

Overall, being part of this exercise was a valuable brainstorming. It stirred my sense and brought my attention that land use management does not happen in a vacuum – it combines science and society. Though the process is complex per say, if well designed and managed, it can make a tangible progress and lead to a cumulative positive outcome or, in other words a win-win solution.

 

Ahmed Said Sulaiman is EM40 participant from Ethiopia

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