Exchanging knowledge on the multiple values of urban green infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of Earth and Environment

Abstract

Over half the world's population now lives in towns and cities, a proportion that is predicted to increase to approximately 70% by the middle of the century. The majority of this future urban expansion will occur in low-income regions, with Africa urbanising faster than any other continent. Over 1.2 billion Africans will be living in cities by 2050; equal to the entire current population of the continent. While cities can be centres of social and economic development, many challenges exist in how to manage their growth sustainably to ensure human well-being is prioritised and maximised.

One key measure which is increasingly recognised as essential in urban living is the provision of high quality, accessible urban green infrastructure. However, as cities expand, the maintenance or enhancement of ecosystem services is rarely considered in planning and development processes, leading to a loss of urban green infrastructure (the network of green spaces and other vegetated features within and surrounding a city). This is particularly so in situations where there is a lack of locally relevant evidence or capacity to promote the inclusion of the values and benefits of urban green infrastructure in local policy. This is despite the plethora of research studies, including many based on NERC science, which have demonstrated the important role urban green infrastructure plays in supporting the delivery of multiple ecosystem services, such as flood risk and temperature mitigation, pollution reduction, biological carbon storage, human health, good social relations, habitat for biodiversity and cultural/spiritual value. Equally, poorly managed or located urban green infrastructure can cause/augment negative aspects of ecosystem properties (sometimes referred to as 'disservices'), such as increasing disease or natural hazard risks.

Cities will have to take a central place in meeting the United Nation's "2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development" and addressing many of its associated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Relevant goals include Goal 11 "Sustainable Cities and Communities", but also directly impacting on the whole suite of 17 goals. Getting the future management of urban green infrastructure right will play a positive part in reaching these goals and will be directly relevant to Goals 2, 3, 6, 13, 15 and 15 (Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well-Being, Clean Water and Sanitation, Climate Action, Life Below Water and Life on Land).

By working with a suite of local academics and partners across a range of low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa, this fellowship will facilitate the exchange of knowledge and consolidation of evidence on the multiple benefits of urban green infrastructure. It will do this with the aim of explicitly impacting policy and urban expansion decisions, with the intention of promoting equitable access to, and provision of, urban green infrastructure as one major pathway towards sustainable urbanisation in the Global South.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The following key findings have been generated from the project:

A review of relevant policies in Malawi highlighted that there was little evidence that urban green infrastructure is incorporated into national-level decision-making processes. In contrast, promoting and enhancing urban green infrastructure was a priority in documents produced by the Lilongwe and Mzuzu City Councils. Overall, better institutional coordination and policy coherence across national level sectors that affect urban greenspaces and green infrastructure is required if their multiple benefits are to be realised.

An analysis of stakeholders with an interest in, or influence over, the management of urban greenspaces showed the potential that environmental advocacy, education and capacity building, have to address the main challenges facing greenspace management, namely population growth and illegal/unplanned urban development.

Mainstreaming and capacity building activities indicated that there was little understanding of urban greenspaces, and their associated values, among policy and decision makers and implementers across the main urban municipalities in Malawi. Training events in March and September 2019 were held to redress this lack of capacity, however since no resources are available to in-country stakeholders since the project ended, there has been no further progress.
Exploitation Route Networks of decision- and policy makers were established in Malawi who had a clear interest in being supported to ensure that benefits of urban greenspaces could be more fully recognised as cities in Malawi continue to expand. However, due to the shortened nature of the funding associated with the project, networks were not yet running independently of the project. Future work could re-establish the networks and continue to support the translation of NERC-based knowledge and expertise into policies associated with urban greenspace management and conservation.
Sectors Environment

 
Description As a result of mainstreaming workshops held in Malawi in March and October 2019, officials responsible for redrafting regional and city development plans committed to making use of project information on urban greenspaces and green infrastructure to update plans to take into account the supplied new information. Any changes to development plans will take place in 2020. However, given the project was only funded for half its original timeframe, there is no longer any support in place for officials from the project, which might mean that impacts on development plans are minimal. This will be clearer for the next submission.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Environment
 
Description Contribution to MSc module 'Natural Systems' at the University of Leeds
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
URL https://courses.leeds.ac.uk/i429/sustainable-cities-msc
 
Description Influencing redrafting of national and local development plans
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Ecosystem service trade-off of irrigation ponds: sharing scientific knowledge
Amount £11,930 (GBP)
Funding ID IEC\R3\183035 
Organisation The Royal Society 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2019 
End 03/2021
 
Description Integrated Catchment Solutions Programme (iCASP) mini project
Amount £251,629 (GBP)
Funding ID 116295 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2018 
End 03/2020
 
Description Natural Environment Research Council SPHERES Doctoral Training Programme
Amount £90,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2018 
End 03/2022
 
Description Article in environmental NGO (Urban Research and Advocacy Centre URAC) newsletter 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact An article for the Urban Research and Advocacy (URAC) monthly newsletter was written to raise awareness of the project and of urban greenspaces amongst the organisation's network. A secondary aim was to identify stakeholder groups that could be engaged with for future stages of the project. Outcomes included increased questions and discussions afterwards via email and WhatsApp, both to the PI and to local partners in Mzuzu.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Article on urban greenspaces for the Wildlife Society of Malawi (WESM) quarterly newsletter 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The purpose of the article was to raise awareness of the importance of urban greenspaces, wildlife and nature within the membership of the Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi. Outcomes included an invitation to present at a WESM public meeting, and invitations to meet further members of WESM staff in order to discuss more formal outreach activities through their networks of wildlife clubs and schools.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Mainstreaming green infrastructure into local government policies and plans 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The overall objective of the workshop was to improve the capacity of attendees to mainstream urban greenspace and urban green infrastructure issues into regional and city development plans. Specifically, the workshop improved the understanding of the current status of urban greenspaces in towns and cities across Malawi. Participants also conceptualised how their own towns and cities might be more sustainable if urban greenspaces were prioritised. The workshop went on to facilitate the redrafting of development plans to take into account the multiple values of urban greenspaces.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Mainstreaming urban greenspaces workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact For policy makers, and implementers of those policies, in city administrations and planning departments, the project ran a mainstreaming workshop. Participants learnt about the roles, values, pros and cons of urban greenspaces in Malawian towns and cities. They also learnt about the current state of policy in regards to how urban greenspaces and green infrastructure are considered in Malawian policy. Subsequently they explored how their current work has influence over urban greenspaces, and how they might be able to change their own practice to better reflect the importance of urban greenspaces.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Malawi urban green infrastructure working group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The second 'research support group' meeting was held in July 2018. Updates from all group members were provided, including details of policy drafts and processes which group members were involved, and which had the scope for the NERC KE Fellowship to feed into. Outcomes included identifying additional members to be invited to join the group, and providing formal input and recommendations for a larger scale workshop to be held in August which was intended to involve a broader cross-section of community representatives.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Malawi urban green infrastructure working group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact At the request of stakeholders and local partners in Malawi, I held a formal workshop for practitioners, NGO representatives, policy makers and private businesses in order to bring together those with an interest in, or influence over, how urban greenspaces and urban green infrastructure are managed and incorporated into decision making. The inaugural meeting was attended by 12 people. Outcomes included identifying priorities for the overall NERC KE fellowship, identifying priority research and evidence needs for attendees, developing terms of reference, nominating a group chair and agreeing on principles through with the group (which was named by participants the 'Research Support Group') should operate going forward, including the establishment of a WhatsApp group.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description National newspaper article on urban greenspaces 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact As an outcome of the formal working group meetings, we prepared a newspaper article for 'Capital News'. The article was able to promote the project as well as using the opportunity to raise awareness on the multiple benefits of urban greenspaces amongst the general public and some of the key challenges that the formal working group had identified. The main outcome would have been increased awareness on the topic. Requests for further information and links with additional stakeholders were forthcoming from this media activity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Policy analysis workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The activity was organised by the members of the 'Research Support Group' themselves as an opportunity to update each other on the activities of their organisations, continue to strengthen the urban greenspaces network that the NERC KE Fellowship was supporting, and to discuss upcoming opportunities for them, and the NERC KE Fellowship, to directly feed into, and influence, relevant draft policies. Key opportunities included the ongoing development of district level development plans and the current drafting of land and housing policies. Outcomes included a request for an academic policy review to be carried out to identify gaps, and a formal invitation from the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development to deliver capacity building training on mainstreaming urban greenspaces and infrastructure to their regional and national level staff members.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Radio interview on the topic of urban greenspaces in Malawi 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact As an outcome of the formal working group meetings, local academic partner, Dr David Mkwambisi, was interviewed on two national radio stations in Malawi. David was able to promote the project as well as using the opportunity to raise awareness on the multiple benefits of urban greenspaces amongst the general public. The main outcome would have been increased awareness on the topic. Requests for further information and links with additional stakeholders were forthcoming from this media activity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description The multiple values of urban green infrastructure 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact The activity involved representatives from community groups (churches, schools), environmental NGOs, private businesses and representatives from the public sector (water, environment, planning) discussing in a formal workshop format, their perceptions and understandings of the benefits of urban greenspace and urban green infrastructure from their perspective. Particularly for the community group representatives, there was considerable discussion about the role of the natural environment in their daily professional activities. Many attendees had not met representatives from such a diverse set of organisations previously, so new contacts and networks were established.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Urban green spaces in Mzuzu: exchanging knowledge, experiences, needs and mapping stakeholders 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The event was a workshop with members of relevant physical planning departments from Mzuzu City Council. The purpose was to raise awareness of the NERC KE Fellowship, seek input into defining priorities for the project and raise awareness of the different types of benefits that urban greenspace and infrastructure provide for the city. Outputs included a summary report and an article for a local organisation newsletter, as well as requests for further information and engagement.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Urban greenspaces in Togo: understanding the current stakeholder and policy landscape 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This workshop brought together, for the first time, policy makers, academics, practitioners and those working in the NGO sector who have an interest in the urban environment. It was an opportunity to exchange ideas and begin the process of building a network within Togo for future engagement activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Visit to urban agriculture organisation Mzuzu Urban Farmers Network (MUFNET) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A series of site visits to small scale commercial and subsistence urban agriculture plots in the city of Mzuzu, Malawi, hosted by the Chair of 'MUFNET' (Mzuzu Urban Farmers Network) to exchange knowledge and experiences of running profitable urban farms in Mzuzu. The visit led to increased awareness of the NERC KE Fellowship and interest in the overall topic of urban greenspaces.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018