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FOZ DE IGUACU, Brazil (Landscape News) — Now that almost 50 countries from around the world have pledged to restore 160 million hectares of deforested or degraded land, it is time to put down roots by turning those promises into flourishing landscapes that benefit local communities, said top government officials who met March 16-17 in Foz de Iguaçu, Brazil.
One key is the involvement of local governments and local communities, delegates said.
The meeting was the third high-level gathering of the Bonn Challenge, an initiative launched in 2011 to restore 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded land by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030.
But while each country has pledged a certain number of hectares, both the work of landscape restoration and its benefits are executed at a very local level.
And the details vary from place to place, as restoration experts found in Malawi when they set out to devise a plan for meeting the country’s target of bringing 4.5 million hectares under restoration by 2030. A commission traveled to every district in the country, meeting with local government officials, traditional community leaders and members of local communities, said Clement Chilima, Malawi’s director of forestry.
The goal was to “find out from (those people) what they, as owners of the land, think are degraded areas,” he said.
The definitions of degradation differed, but people generally used the word to describe “an area that is no longer as useful as it used to be,” Chilima said. “Mainly, it is the lost use of land.”
That could be land that suffers from soil erosion now because it was once forested, or a place that used to have trees or other types of biodiversity, but which now lacks vegetation. It could also be an area where people once obtained non-timber forest products such as game, fruit or medicinal plants, but which is no longer productive.
The commission used that information to map Malawi’s degraded landscape. It also collected ideas from the community about how to restore those landscapes so they recover the value they once had for local communities.
“Even within the same district, different sites had different ideas about restoration, depending on what they thought the land was useful for,” Chilima said.
If the area had been forested before, communities might opt for reforestation. In other cases, the solution could be better farming techniques to make agricultural land more fertile, he added.
The result was a national strategy with a clear understanding of local needs. The challenge now is to finance the effort.
Malawi has joined the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), which aims to bring 100 hectares of land under restoration by 2030, and Chilima hopes the joint effort will provide the country with more possibilities for funding.
Local buy-in is also key to implementing restoration projects, says Alfonso Alonzo, Guatemala’s minister of environment and natural resources.
In Guatemala, local governments are responsible for many environmental programs and projects. Alonzo once worked with the Guatemalan Association of Municipalities, so after he became environment minister, he sought the support of the country’s mayors for restoration efforts.
His ministry has offices in each of the country’s 22 departments, and every municipality has an environmental management unit. He meets regularly with the municipal government officials by region.
“Politicians and technical staff must understand local government,” Alonzo said. “Mayors are the ones who have the most direct contact with people. It’s better to build from the bottom up than from the top down.” In the municipality of San Juan Ermita, in southeastern Guatemalan, around 3,000 women are currently involved in restoration work, he said.
The national ministry proposed the country’s restoration strategy and policies, and provided technical guidance and incentives. It was the local government in San Juan Ermita, however, that organized local field schools and implemented the restoration plans.
The local perspective is also crucial in monitoring restoration results, said Manuel Guariguata, principal scientist on tropical forest ecology and forest management at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), and an observer at the Brazil Bonn Challenge meeting.
“In a country that has, say, a million hectares of land restored, you need a monitoring system that tells you how things are going in each place, not one that just tells you how many hectares were planted or how much carbon you calculate is being stored,” Guariguata said.
“You need a dynamic monitoring system that generates social know-how and provides the information you need to make corrections if things aren’t going well.”