December 26, 2013

Saving the Trees for the Forest: Towards Landscape Restoration

Trees do it all – from slowing climate change and improving water quality to producing food and enhancing human health. Unfortunately, the number of trees available to perform these services has dramatically decreased over the last several centuries, as twenty percent of global forest cover has been degraded and thirty percent cleared. I learned these facts at The Power of Landscape Restoration – an event on December 9th organized by the World Bank’s Program on Forests (PROFOR), the World Resources Institute (WRI), and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – providing a sneak peek at two new tools under development to reverse this trend.

In the past few years, there has been a dramatic push to restore the world’s degraded and cleared forests. In September 2011, a select group of ministers, private sector CEOs, and high-level representatives of international and non-governmental organizations meeting in Bonn, Germany set a challenge to the world to restore 150 million hectares of forest landscape by 2020. To date, 20 million hectares have been pledged to this Bonn Challenge. WRI and IUCN estimate that there are two billion hectares suitable for restoration – an area the size of South America!

With only 1% of the world’s ripe-for-restoration forest landscapes pledged, we have yet to see how the process of restoration will unfold. Will land pledges be government-imposed or community-driven? Will they lead to land dispossession or to stronger smallholder land tenure? We often hear about for-profit land grabs driven by companies and investors, but a flawed model of environmental protection that idealizes “land without people” has sometimes led to conservation land grabs where indigenous people are evicted from their lands in the name of preserving the very ecosystems they cultivated over centuries. Not only does this practice violate human rights, it is proving detrimental to the environment, as an increasing number of studies find that community-managed forests are more successful in reducing deforestation and protecting biodiversity than traditional protected areas.

Fortunately, as organizations recognize the interdependence of social, economic, and environmental realities, a landscape approach – where goals from multiple sectors are pursued in a coordinated fashion across a cluster of ecosystems – is gaining popularity. In fact, three-quarters of the landscapes identified by WRI and IUCN are recommended for mosaic restoration. Rather than close these forests off to humans, we’d best restore them by encouraging residents to engage in smart land uses like agroforestry, smallholder agriculture, and silvopastoral systems.

WRI and IUCN’s Rapid Restoration Diagnostic Tool, to be rolled out in mid-2014, identifies the empowerment of local people to make decisions about restoration, and their ability to benefit from restoration, as important enabling factors for successful forest restoration projects. These factors are just two of the twenty-six factors correlated with success, and they all roll up into three key themes: motivation, enabling conditions, and the capacity and resources for implementation. The tool will help decision-makers evaluate landscapes under consideration for restoration to see which success factors exist and which would need to be addressed before human, financial, or political capital could be smartly invested in the project.

The Rapid Restoration Diagnostic Tool was created as a contribution to the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration (GPFLR), a partnership between governments and NGOs to catalyze a network of restored forests that deliver benefits to local communities and to nature. Another new tool under development by GPFLR partners that was discussed during the event is the Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology (ROAM). A briefing note on ROAM describes it as a methodology and set of tools to help policymakers identify the location and extent of degraded lands in their countries and determine “what benefits their restoration could bring, to whom, and at what cost”. The methodology was developed by PROFOR, IUCN, and WRI based on their experiences working with government and other stakeholders in Ghana and Mexico to identify national opportunities for landscape restoration, and will include tools for mapping, assessment of carbon mitigation potential and economic costs and benefits, and – in keeping with today’s theme – stakeholder engagement.

During the sneak peek at these tools last Monday, a representative of the South African Forestry Company spoke about their continuing work to reverse apartheid land dispossession and how it affects their efforts at forest landscape restoration. With land grabs both recent and centuries-old in the history of many countries, it will be interesting to see how seriously processes of local inclusion and empowerment are taken as the movement for forest landscape restoration unfolds. Facilitated by methodologies like ROAM and the Rapid Restoration Diagnostic Tool, hopes are high.

Image credit: World Resources Institute
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  • Manuel Castrillo
    December 31, 2013 at 9:51pm

    The conditions are favorable. Motivation is given by multiple factors, but the enthusiasm is key to believe that it is possible, creativity as a mechanism for creating and implementing instruments give us viable options. Obviously the importance for Nations and the planet in general. In the near future can reverse this and other global environmental conditions if there is the commitment of Governments, companies and individuals for sustainability, as a safe investment – economic, social and cultural -, is the attitude taken from these parties, leaders will usually mark the real course of the next 50 years for humanity. We will see that so wise we can be.

  • Chi (@Eaneida)
    December 31, 2013 at 2:02am

    The idea of a community driven approach to saving forests is a more wholesome approach.Forests can survive without people but people can not survive without forests.Involving them in the conservation efforts will increase environmental awareness and they will feel the need to restore the forest landscape because they understand its importance.
    Government incentives can help but at the end of the day the community approach is best.Forest restoration can only become a cultural norm when the community is involved.

  • Richard H. Stafursky
    December 26, 2013 at 11:38am

    These NGOs are saying that forests need people? That forest are better off with people? Are you joking? No, those species’ forests without people are the healthiest forests. Forests need indigenous people only when defense is needed against outsiders.

    All land is degraded by people. It is confusing because we think of an indigenous people-forest as the default when in fact the default is the prehuman species’ forest. Just because NGOs, governments and other “stakeholders” cannot imaging a Species’ Planet without people does not mean Earth would not be a very healthy place.