Chapter 8.3 – Shifting from Individual to Collective Action: Living Land’s experience in the Baviaanskloof, South Africa

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By Maura Talbot, and Dieter van den Broeck of Living Lands, Patensie, South Africa


Living Lands has found that degradation on the landscapes they are working on is a symptom of what has been termed “the three disconnects.” These are the disconnection from ourselves, from each other, and from the natural environment. Living Lands has found that these three disconnects need to be addressed in order to deal effectively with land degradation processes. The experience that Living Lands has gained over the past 6 years in the Baviaanskloof has shown how this can be done through the living landscape approach that integrates a Theory U social learning process with a transdisciplinary knowledge production and a socioecological systems perspective. Rather than imposing any specific technical or institutional solution, this approach allows the solutions to emerge from the local context and a reconnection (or collaboration) within and between the people and between them and their environment. Together with Commonland (Commonland is an international nongovernmental organization (NGO) based in Amsterdam that aims to create an investable, large-scale landscape restoration industry aligned with international guidelines and policies and in close cooperation with experts and existing initiatives. Our approach is based on a sustainable business model, delivering four returns), Living Lands is now combining its bottom-based approach with a top-guided approach that uses Commonland’s Four Returns concept (Commonland’s four returns approach and business model aim to secure a return of inspiration, social capital, natural capital, and financial capital (investment)). To bridge the language gap between businesses, investors, government, and civil society and facilitate collaboration and partnerships. This section provides a case study of Living Land’s work in the Baviaanskloof, the impact this has had, and the combined learning and insights of Living Lands and Commonland.


Download the full chapter from ScienceDirect.

Further information

About the Authors

Maura Talbot, Strategic Research Advisor, Living Lands

Maura is currently a PhD at Stellenbosch under the Transdiciplinary programme. Her PhD is focused on the institutional issues around creating payments for ecosystem services for land users involved in restoration activities in the Baviaanskloof, Kouga and Kromme catchments in South Africa. This study is being undertaken in collaboration with the Living Lands NPO that is engaging with all the stakeholders in these areas around restoration and catchment management issues. Maura has  lived in Grahamstown for 20 years and am a Research Associate with the Environmental Science Department at Rhodes University. She has two BA Honours degrees, one in Human Geography (1989) and the other in Economics (2007), as well as a Masters Degree in Geography with distinction (1992). Maura previously worked as a lecturer in Environmental Science at Rhodes University and have conducted numerous social, economic, rural livelihood and resource utilisation studies in South Africa and other countries such as Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar over an 18 year period. She was most recently employed as a senior environmental consultant and socio-economic specialist by Coastal and Environmental Services for the five years ending in February 2010. While in CES’s employ her duties included working on and managing Environmental impact Assessments, Strategic Environmental Assessments, Economic Impact Assessments and Social Impact Assessments for a variety of development projects in various African countries, as well as undertaking qualitative and quantitative socio-economic surveys and monitoring, and developing Resettlement Action Plans (as per IFC guidelines) for projects in South Africa and Mozambique. Maura also headed up the CES Stakeholder Engagement Team for the Knysna N2 Toll Highway EIA which has registered over 1000 Interested and Affected Parties in the Scoping Process.

Connect with Maura.


Dieter van den Broeck, Co-Director, Living Lands

Dieter is passionate about facilitating social change processes to build multi sectorial/stakeholder platforms and partnerships to create collective action to restore resilient landscapes and create a restoration economy. He brings strong experience and knowledge of the U methodology, ecosystem management and transdisciplinary knowledge production into the process, to create strong bottom based and top guided innovations.

Dieter is focussed on creating transformation and innovations that are owned by local stakeholders and supported by solid science. He is also training himself to become a transformational coach to enable him to coach and build leadership capacity within landscape management, organizations, governments and businesses. Dieter is co-founder of the South African NGO called Living Lands, staff member of Commonland and part of the Presencing Institute Practitioner circle.

Dieter started this year with my PHD looking creating a body of knowledge how change makers can bestenage with a social field to facilitate and creating of social learning and transdisciplinary processes and multi stakeholder environments to build collective understanding, awareness intelligence and action.


Design, facilitate and coordination of social learning, transdisciplinary processes and multi stakeholder environments.

Facilitating hosting dialogue and participatory networks

Ecosystem management, stakeholder platforms, landscape transformation & leadership.

Connect with Dieter.

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