Finding evidence for land restoration strategies

Negative impacts of land degradation on productivity, biodiversity and local livelihoods have become undeniable.

Restoration has never been more important, with almost a third of the world’s land surface degraded. But what exactly is restoration? And how do we know if it works?

More than 1.5 billion of the world’s poorest people are directly affected by degraded land. The Bonn Challenge aims to have 350 million hectares restored by 2030. Private- and public-sector land managers have already promised almost half that amount. This is very encouraging but how will we even know whether the Bonn Challenge was a success? In other words: what do we mean by restoration?

One common notion is that land restoration returns an ecosystem to some previous, ideal state. Yet it is typical for degraded land to be inhabited by people, who are often among the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. Restoration has the potential to improve their livelihoods if, indeed, restoration outcomes respond to local needs. But returning to a previous state (whichever state that is) is often not feasible nor desirable. So, if restoration is to succeed in some form, it is imperative to set specific goals together with the people living on the land. Most importantly, what aspects of the functionality of the land are to be restored?

Another common notion of land restoration is that it is done through planting trees. But do we know if land is always in better shape with more trees? And what aspects of the functionality of the land can be restored with trees? Does it matter which trees?

This blog is re-posted with permission from the Applied Ecologists blog

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