The quest for context-relevant governance of agro-forest landscape restoration in Central Malawi: Insights from local processes

Ida N.S. Djenontin, Leo C. Zulu

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12 Scopus citations


Failures of sectoral approaches to avert environmental degradation increase demands for integrated approaches that mitigate conflictual management of forest, tree, and land resources. Despite much agreement on the consequent need for a holistic landscape approach for a well-integrated governance system, the requisite governance interactions and processes remain under-studied. Under the idea of polycentric governance systems (PGS), we employ the Ecology of Games Theory (EGT) to investigate qualitatively the structure and functions of the current governance system supporting collective restoration of two agro-forest landscapes in central Malawi. The EGT offers theoretical grounding for context-appropriate assessment of the quality of a PGS, based on 35 focus group discussions with local-level resource-governance bodies leading restoration efforts, 21 key informant interviews (KIIs) with district-level officers and local traditional authorities, and 16 KIIs with national-level stakeholders. The current governance system shares some PGS attributes but does not foster adequate cooperation to address challenges of limited resource capacity, inequitable resource distribution, and negative institutional externalities. Social learning and coordination mechanisms helped to catalyze critical interactions to realize some PGS benefits, but need strengthening. Findings show promise for a PGS that can achieve inter-sectoral and cross-scale coordination, building on the effective operationalization of existing decentralization institutions offering multi-stakeholder platforms and coordination venues. Dynamizing relevant policy spaces, institutions, and processes that foster necessary deliberation, learning, and coordination is important to mitigate negative institutional externalities. Findings uncover challenges of governance integration and can inform necessary institutional arrangements for well-coordinated landscape-scale restoration in Malawi and similar contexts in sub-Saharan Africa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102555
JournalForest Policy and Economics
StatePublished - Oct 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Forestry
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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