From the Field Applying the Experience Capitalization Process to Landscape Restoration in Ethiopia

Getting a clear picture on landscape restoration

Over the last 20 years, Ethiopia has sought to restore millions of hectares of degraded landscapes through various initiatives such as sustainable land management program (SLMP) and Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP). These initiatives foster hope that landscape restoration can not only help mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration but also improve rural livelihoods and spur growth by improving the land’s productive capacity. In addition to government-led initiatives, different efforts are also being made to restore degraded areas and create multifunctional landscapes. Among these are the Alliance of Biodiversity International and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) – hereafter the Alliance and its partners. The Alliance closely works with partners at various levels including various CGIAR centres through Africa RISING program led by ILRI, the Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) program of the CGIAR, the national SLM program and Bureau of Agriculture at different regions as well as local NGOs. The overall aim is to implement effective and efficient land, soil and water management options to create multifunctional landscape that are productive and resilience. The team has implemented activities in deferent sites across the country.

The overall approach is that farmers will identify various landscape problems during a problem identification phase of the project in a participatory manner. Among others, soil erosion by water and water shortage for example were the key landscape problems in Gudoberet and Adisgie and Jewe landscapes (sites), respectively. Intervention strategies were then oriented around these key problems, and related solutions co-proposed jointly by the Alliance and partners. In addition to these, the team also engages in evidence generation and capacity building through training, cross-site visits and field demonstrations.

The tool: Experience Capitalization

Experience capitalization (EC) process is an approach that allows people to systematically analyse and document real-life experiences and creates knowledge, in a participatory way (CTA, 2019b). Experience capitalization (EC) aims to facilitate the documentation process by people who live an important experience or event. The approach is participatory involving multiple stakeholders, learns from reality and based on context. It has planning and implementation phases. In the planning phase; facilitators should prepare and plan the EC process including the identification of participants, financial and logistics requirements. In the implementation phase; selection of interventions, information gathering, description and analysis are major steps to be used in the implementation phase of the approach. Experience capitalization is a relatively new term and focuses on the how questions such as how are we doing things, “how did we get to where we wanted to get,” and of “how did some aspects of a project work well and some not so well” ( It differs from the standard M&E is that, much of the M&E is trying to measure impact and spends a lot of time working on log frames and indicators. However, it spends a lot less time trying to understand how we got that impact in the first place and whether it is actually a logical progression from activity to outcome. Experience capitalization process differs in the sense that, when you ask teams to assess how they did things or whether they did them well, they will usually think in terms of numbers or outputs, rather than processes. Standard M&E lacks something when it comes to capturing the essence of a project or event. In that sense, a lot of useful detail can be lost when we use conventional M&E approach.

Learning from the restoration process

The Alliance and its partners used various approaches to support landscape restoration process by extension and diverse administrative levels in the two watersheds. These approaches include cross-site visits, use of evidence generation through scientific research, multi-stakeholder integration, community mobilization, sectoral integration and use of linked technologies are the major lessons learned for successful restoration. In the last five years, soil and water conservation on cultivated lands in Gudoberet-Adisgie landscape (Figure 1) and water harvesting in Jewe landscape (figure 2) were the two example interventions in the landscape restoration process with some success stories. The restoration efforts were supported by the Africa RISING Program of the USAID and the Land, Water and Ecosystems (WLE) program of the CGIAR. The following key lessons are learned from the landscape restoration in process:

  • The use of cross-site visits created farmers awareness on the role of land management interventions to control land degradation.
  • Field based evidence generation through participatory action research facilitated attitude change and awareness creation of farmers by making visible the role of SWC practices that are otherwise difficult to observe
  • Since, landscape restoration involves laborious interventions; it can’t be successful without collective action of institutions and communities.
  • Sustainability of landscape restoration requires support from a wide range of stakeholders, including government organizations, non-governmental organizations, national and international research institutes, private sector, community organizations, and farmers
  • The EC participants argued that the most effective approaches for successful restoration of degraded lands would include a careful analysis of the problem, capacity building and create awareness through various approaches, participatory planning and implementation of interventions.

Figure 1. Gudoberet-Adisgie landscape in central highlands of Ethiopia where community restored degraded land using physical and biological SWC practices. Photo credit: Lulseged Tamene

What next?

It is clear that Ethiopia has invested heavily in landscape restoration activities through various projects such as SLMP and PSNP. Unfortunately, the outcomes of EC process from the two watersheds mentioned above may not fully represent such investments. So, a key recommendation of the study is to further use EC approach to other big projects such as SLMP and PSNP. This measure should go hand in hand with the institutionalization of the approach nationwide to monitor and document land restoration efforts. Prompt action along this line will give Ethiopia a solid basis on which to identify successes and failures of large scale investments in landscape restoration, offering valuable guidance for future investments. The researchers further recommend greater efforts to complement the investment in physical land restoration structures with agronomic or biological measures, such as planting trees and grass to stabilize soil and enhance land productivity.

Figure 2. Water harvesting in Jewe landscape in the Southern Ethiopia where community intensified homesteads using water harvesting ponds. Photo credit: Zenebe Adimassu