Framework for Evaluation of Nested Sustainability Learning in Conservation and Development Projects

By Oleg Stakhanov, Robert E. Mazur and Andrew Manu.

Published by The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability: Annual Review

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Methods to evaluate social learning in conservation and development programs can prove useful to researchers and development practitioners. Emerging multistakeholder initiatives attempt to address ecosystem and livelihood vulnerability and promote resilience and sustainability. We conceptualize ‘sustainability learning’ as social learning within nested systems (farm, household, community/village, and ecosystem), and consider learning as variable at each level. We propose a conceptual framework for evaluating learning and internalizing values, skills, and practices that contribute to sustainable natural resource use. This involves resource users understanding: linkages in human-nature systems; their capabilities to address uncertainty and change values (double loop learning); and systems evolution in the direction of complexity and redundancy in social, economic and ecological terms. Data from key informant interviews, village meetings and participant observation among resource users near Mount Elgon and Bwindi Impenetrable National Parks in Uganda were used to evaluate the extent of sustainability learning. All three objectives of sustainability learning were achieved at local levels (farm, household, village).Evidence of sustainability learning at ecosystem level is limited; people rarely see management and conservation beyond community level as directly benefitting their livelihoods. Conservation and development programs need to link livelihood sustainability with ecosystem well-being.

Keywords: Sustainability, Livelihoods, National Parks, Ecosystem, Social Learning, Uganda, Mt. Elgon, Bwindi Impenetrable

The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic, and Social Sustainability: Annual Review, Volume 8, 2012, pp.45-64. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.087MB).

Dr. Oleg Stakhanov

Instructor, Department of Sociology, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NB, USA

Dr. Stakhanov received an undergraduate diploma from the Journalism School of Moscow State University in Russia; and his MPA, MS, and Ph.D. from Iowa State University. Currently, he is teaching sociology courses at the University of New Brunswick. In the 1990s, he led the press service of the Socio-ecological Union and worked as the director for research and campaign management at the Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights in Russia. His academic research interests encompass issues of sustainable development with the focus on sub-Saharan Africa, and include sustainable livelihoods, sustainable natural resource use, participatory development, and policy analysis in countries with a high incidence of poverty.

Dr. Robert E. Mazur

Professor, Sociology Department, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA

Robert Mazur is a professor of sociology at Iowa State University, and the associate director for socioeconomic development in the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods. His primary research interests are innovation and diversification in rural livelihood strategies, and linkages among livelihood activities, food security, and health. He is, or has recently been, the principal investigator for grants on agriculture, health, and livelihoods from USAID, NIH, and the Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Program. He has received college and university awards for international service at ISU, and received the Iowa Board of Regents Award for Faculty Excellence in September, 2010. He received his Ph.D. in 1982 in sociology, specializing in development and population studies, from Brown University.

Dr. Andrew Manu

Associate Professor, Agronomy Department, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA

Andrew Manu is a professor and George Washington Endowed Chair in Agronomy at Iowa State University. He is currently the president of the Association of African Agricultural Professionals in the Diaspora. He received his BS degree in agriculture from University of Ghana and his MS and Ph.D. in Pedology from Iowa State University. Besides his passion for teaching, for which he has received numerous awards and recognition, he carries out research in the areas of urban land management systems, use of remote sensing for effective natural resources management systems and digital mapping of soils. For several years he worked as Team Leader on several USAID-sponsored projects to develop and apply appropriate technologies for restitution of degraded tropical soils.