November 24, 2014

Global Landscape Restoration: The Art of the “Do-able”

Peter Besseau, The Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration

This post is part of an online discussion on large-scale land interventions that runs through December 24th. Can these initiatives fulfill their promises? Comment below or send a max 800 word response to

It is easy to be intimidated by the Bonn Challenge to restore 150 million hectares of degraded forest landscapes, let alone the nearly 2 billion hectares worldwide that could be restored. But, if we look at those numbers as the sum total of what dozens of countries and millions of people can do in the places they live, then the whole enterprise seems much more manageable—and that’s because it is. Global landscape restoration happens as many, many deliberate interventions on thousands of landscapes across the world based upon the energies, talents, and resources of us all.

Pearl millet is grown under marginal dryland conditions in Niger (foreground). Around the household the soil is more fertile - making the crop more productive (background). Photo: ICRISAT/M. Winslow on Flickr

Pearl millet is grown under marginal dryland conditions in Niger (foreground). Around the household the soil is more fertile – making the crop more productive (background). Photo: ICRISAT/M. Winslow on Flickr

An excellent example of what this can look like is found in Niger. There, smallholders in the Maradi and Zinder regions have restored more than five million hectares of semi-desert into open woodlands, using a method that has become known as farmer managed natural regeneration. Diverse local tree species have returned. The smallholders did this not by planting trees, but by protecting and managing naturally occurring regrowth on their farmlands. Native acacia trees that increase organic soil carbon content and fix nitrogen are the dominant species in southern Zinder. The new tree density has increased crop yields by more than 100 kg/ha, producing enough cereals to feed an additional 2.5 million people for one year. Grain surpluses and household incomes have increased even through drought years. Tenure reform and training enabled this success. The 1993 reform of the rural code ensured the farmer’s “rights to benefits from trees,” and institutional reforms helped to redefine forestry officers as extension agents. Inclusion of all affected parties, including women and nomadic herders, was critical to this success.

So, can we scale-up this and other experiences of forest and landscape and restoration? Can the lessons learned quicken the pace of restoration elsewhere?…

The Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration

The answer is yes. The Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration (GPFLR)—a proactive network of governments, organisations, communities and individuals dedicated to restoring the world’s degraded and deforested lands—is asking this question from a variety of standpoints.

Who? Governments, businesses and individuals—members of the partnership are asking: who is best placed to contribute to the global movement and how can they be engaged? A big focus now is how to better engage the private sector in restoration.

Where? By our estimates, up to 2 billion hectares of degraded land offer opportunities for restoration across the world. Where are the best places to start? What options do we have for cost-effective restoration in all regions? GPFLR partners are involved in detailed, national and subnational assessments of restoration opportunity. Such assessments have been completed in Rwanda, Ghana and Mexico, and are now underway in 18 countries and regions, including Ethiopia, Colombia, Uganda, Indonesia, India and many more.

How? The assessments on-going across the world will not simply identify priority lands for restoration but also include analyses of costs and benefits of intervention, finance options for supporting restoration and legal, policy and institutional elements that must be put in place or strengthened for restoration to succeed.

We are moving forward!

In 2013, more than 20 million hectares of degraded land had been pledged for restoration to the Bonn Challenge, from countries like the US, Rwanda, Costa Rica and El Salvador, and from alliances like the Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact in Brazil.

Now, as of the 2014 Climate Summit in New York City, we have received restoration commitments totaling more than 51 million hectares.

  • Ethiopia committed to restore 15 million hectares of degraded lands—many of them heavily stressed drylands critical for providing food and shelter to millions.
  • The Democratic Republic of the Congo pledged 8 million hectares to the goal, bringing the global restoration movement to the very center of Africa’s tropical forests.
  • Additional pledges have come from Guatemala (3.9 million hectares), Uganda (2.5 million hectares), Colombia (1 million hectares) and Niger (1 million hectares).

These pledges signify a commitment to restoration that is often followed by action. Many of these countries have already begun restoration.

  • Rwanda has created a national goal for wall-to-wall restoration of degraded land, in pursuit of fulfilling its development goal Vision 2020.
  • The US Forest Service has already spent the last several years beginning restoration of its 15 million hectares pledged, resulting in a number of excellent outcomes: the creation of nearly 8,000 restoration jobs and labor income exceeding $290 million US dollars; 537,000 acres of wildlife habitat improved through restoration actions and fuel removed from over 383,000 forested acres near vulnerable communities. In addition, over 94 million cubic feet of timber and 1,158,000 green tons of biomass have been produced from restored forestlands in the US.
  • Guatemala, Mexico and others are also establishing national strategies for restoration.

The New York Declaration on Forests, signed by many more than 100 countries, corporations, indigenous peoples and civil society groups at the 2014 Climate Summit included the Bonn Challenge goal and extended our goal to at least another 200 million hectares by 2030. This declaration signals that the world is ready and committed to begin large-scale restoration of degraded landscapes to benefit people and nature.

It’s an exciting time to talk about restoration. It’s an even more exciting time to do it. Let’s keep the momentum going.

Peter Besseau is Co-Chair of the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration. He is based in Ottawa, Canada, where he is Director of International Affairs for the Canadian Forest Service of Natural Resources Canada and Executive Director of the International Model Forest Network Secretariat. 
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No comments

  • Adedamola Ogunsesan
    December 1, 2014 at 11:41am

    Large scale restoration can be a good way to restore degraded land and address environmental challenges when you seek indigenous approaches and break the scale into local restoration and build it to regional intervention. The Great Green Wall initiative is an AU policy which is trying to address large scale restoration by reducing the rate of desertification. It will be more successful when such policy engages the local stakeholders directly and encourages the local communities about a regional intervention by driving the implementation from these local communities where these issues are real and felt more. The use of Site Support Groups is critical in achieving regional interventions.

  • Tessa
    November 26, 2014 at 10:11pm

    Inspiring! Breaking down a daunting aggregated goal of restoring over a hundred million hectares of degraded forest landscape into a set of smaller projects that are much more digestible is an invaluable approach not only for tackling global biodiversity, but also for restoring a sense of hope and accessibility. Coordinating on a global scale is crucial for scaling up effective restoration models to new landscapes; however, integrating quality and monitoring practices into the cost-benefit analysis poses a challenge when working in such a range of heterogeneous landscapes, and when number of hectares is the most easily reported statistic. It will be valuable to see how monitoring tools develop in response to such widespread restoration.

  • Linked from The Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative | Advancing the role of natural regeneration in large-scale forest restoration   December 23 3:15pm

    […] galvanizing widespread support from multiple sectors of society. As discussed in a recent blog by Peter Besseau, the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration is leading the way forward with […]

  • Linked from What are the conditions for successful large-scale land interventions? - Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog   November 27 8:00am

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