Reaching the ‘how’ of landscape restoration: experts from ICRAF, IUCN discuss in Paris
As climate negotiators wrangled in Paris towards the historic agreement this December, scientists and policy makers elsewhere in the city were equally fixated on landscapes and how to restore them. Landscape restoration locks up carbon in the soil and vegetation, so it helps address climate change. But it is far greater than just a climate measure.
“Restoration is improving the productive resilience of the land,” said Ravi Prabhu, Deputy Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), at a meeting that his organization convened. Other scientists at the gathering explained that this entails returning ‘functionality’ to degraded landscapes, such as their ability to withstand disturbance, control erosion, shelter biodiversity and provide food, water and energy.
Although often called forest landscape restoration (FLR), participants were clear that it was about more than forests.
“A common perception is that restoration is about going back to a pristine state,” said Dennis Garrity, UN Convention to Combat Desertification Drylands Ambassador. “But we have to hammer home productivity from the word go and talk about restoration as improving the quality of land under agriculture.”
Representatives of the Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact in Brazil, International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and World Resources Institute (WRI) also attended. In 2014, WRI and IUCN launched the Restoration Opportunity Assessment Methodology (ROAM) that is now the jumping-off point for much FLR. ROAM defines FLR as “the long-term process of regaining ecological functionality and enhancing human well-being across deforested or degraded forest landscapes.”
With crisp precision, the methodology lays out how governments and others can: prioritize areas for restoration; shortlist the most relevant and feasible restoration intervention types; quantify costs and benefits and additional carbon sequestered by type; analyze the finance options for restoration; diagnose “restoration readiness”; and address policy and institutional bottlenecks.
In its assessment, for instance, Rwanda found that approximately 1% of its land area is suitable for natural forest interventions, 2% for reforesting ridge tops to stabilize the soil and reduce erosion, and 11% for improved management of eucalyptus and pine woodlots and plantations. Agroforestry, however, predominates. Of Rwanda’s 2.4 million ha, more than 45% is potentially suitable for “new agroforestry on flat and gently sloping or steeply sloping land.”
But how is Rwanda to act on this? How does it roll out restoration? Reaching this ‘how’ is why ICRAF, IUCN and others convened in Paris. The goal was to conceptualize a post-ROAM guide to the principles, practicalities and metrics of restoration. Discussion flew thick and fast.
“We need criteria for the quality of the process,” said one scientist, “What qualifies as a hectare of restoration?” Others stated: “You can’t start agroforestry until you manage livestock.” “Easing regulations for trees outside forests would incentivize farmers to plant trees.” “You need extension agencies on board.” “Clarifying land rights leads to people investing in agroforestry.” “Agroforestry is knowledge intensive.” “You have to reconcile livelihoods with conservation goals and production with ecosystem services.”
Participants agreed that restoration must start with how people already use their land and a portfolio of tree species for different purposes. Lars Graudal, who specializes at ICRAF in the use and conservation of tree genetic resources, described a restoration project he is preparing for the Ethiopian government that presents a tentative menu of 1280 indigenous tree species for 12 vegetation zones.
Further, with agroforestry now a primary restoration method, efforts must recognize that it is not one practice but an array that will vary from place to place and even farm to farm.
“You engage local stakeholders in designing options that are best suited to their context,” said ICRAF’s Emilie Smith, co-author of a manual on agroforestry for Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. “Tapping into local knowledge is key to understanding landscape narratives.”
“What is bread and butter to us at ICRAF is new to others,” said Jonathan Cornelius, who leads ICRAF in Latin America.
Andrew Miccolis from ICRAF Brazil said it is vital to consider trees outside forests: “The forest agenda is taken care of by others, and tree planting is not always reforestation: it can involve trees on agricultural land. We need the global community to recognize the cost and the long-term and intensive nature of the task. And we need to innovate.” Landowners in the Amazon are required to restore 80% of their holdings, says Miccolis. Elsewhere in Brazil, it is 20%. “Restoration can cost $5000-10,000/ha. But innovations like muvuca can cost as little as $1000/ha.”
Muvuca is the direct mechanical sowing or launching of a seed cocktail of five fast-growing and 40-55 non-pioneer tree species. Pioneered along Central Brazil’s Xingu River, which had 300,000 ha of degraded riparian land, it avoids the need for big nurseries. Assisted natural regeneration costs less still.
As worrying as land degradation, however, is that restoration itself might do harm. An effort might be well intentioned but nevertheless plant an invasive tree species in an ecosystem dominated by grasses, for instance.
Another theme was: do not let the farmers down.
“We do not want laundry lists, lots of little initiatives, or poorly thought out activities that discourage people,” said Rhett Harrison, who works for ICRAF in the Mekong.
“Livelihoods are often very poorly represented in restoration efforts,” said ICRAF’s Jenny Ordonez. “Often people have had to abandon land to bring ecosystem functions back.”
“We can’t do it without smallholders,” said Ravi Prabhu, “And smallholders are not the problem. Governance is driving much of the degradation. We need a social movement.”
Degradation affects 1.9 billion ha of land worldwide, including, according to the Montpellier Panel, 65% of Africa’s arable land. The good news, however, is that global thinking is embracing restoration. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 is “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.” Landscape restoration is fundamental to other SDGs too. It directly contributes to SDG1 No poverty, SDG2 Zero hunger, SDG6 Clean water and sanitation, SDG7 Affordable and clean energy, and SDG8 Decent work and economic growth.
Visionary drives for restoration are proliferating: added up, the goal is half a billion hectares. The Bonn Challenge, launched in 2011, aspires to restore 150 million ha by 2020, and was increased by the New York Declaration on Forests (2014) to restore 350 million by 2030. Latin America supports these with Initiative 20×20 (20 million ha by 2020), backed by $730 million in investment funds. The African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), launched on 6 December 2015, aims to restore 100 million ha by 2030.
So while the situation is grave, commitment has never been higher. Guidelines on restoration are an urgent must. Chetan Kumar, IUCN’s manager of landscape restoration science and knowledge, asked for “processes to identify and inform decision-makers about ‘real’ restoration opportunities, technologies, practices, and information systems to support restoration on ground, and evidence on how agroforestry-based restoration enhances socio-economic benefits, including gender.”
As the group agreed on a first draft by February, ICRAF’s Aster Gebrekirstos, a specialist in tree rings, referred to the astounding re-greening in Tigray and other parts of Ethiopia: “The lesson is that you take an integrated landscape approach and co-learn with all actors, including farmers. The package includes practical techniques, such as agroforestry, enrichment planting and natural regeneration, but also policy analysis, training, and research.”
ICRAF’s Prabhu wrapped up: “Restoration must learn from the past. We have moved beyond ‘one size fits all’ or ‘you participate, we orchestrate’ towards using our knowledge and technologies to channel the diversity of life, cultures and opportunities. Some of the largest, most durable and cost-effective restoration initiatives have been the result of local people – farmers and forest-users – harnessing the power of nature, with government policy providing an enabling environment.”