Must take real action to restore land, says UN Environment terrestrial ecosystems chief

Julie Mollins
28 August 2018

NAIROBI (Landscape News) — One of the biggest challenges facing Africa is the high level of degradation across the continent — across landscapes — and the implications for human wellbeing and biodiversity that depend on it, said a top landscape expert on Tuesday.

“While we have seen some gains over the years, there is still so much to be done,” said Musonda Mumba, chief of the Terrestrial Ecosystems Unit in the Ecosystems Division at UN Environment. “We need to move from commitments — by governments — to real action on the ground,” she said.

Mumba shared her views with Landscape News ahead of the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) conference in Nairobi this week, where more than 800 delegates at UN Environment headquarters and thousands more online will share success stories, lessons learned from the field, and the best methods to restore more than 2 billion hectares of degraded land worldwide – a combined area larger than South America.

“It’s really important because the time is right, and being in Nairobi, Kenya — it (GLF) will be bringing together such a diverse group of stakeholders all who are doing something towards the restoration agenda: scientists, policy makers, communities, youth, business leaders  – everyone that needs to be at the table,” Mumba said.

A proposed U.N. Decade for Ecosystem Restoration 2020-2030 could help direct international focus toward achieving Agenda 2030, the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. Backed publicly by head of UN Environment Erik Solheim last week, the decade, originally proposed by El Salvador’s environment ministry, will be central to discussions at the GLF.

Q: What are your views on the potential U.N. Decade of Ecosystem Restoration?

A:  It’s a brilliant and timely initiative for sure. UN Environment will be champion for the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2020–2030 and as such we anticipate that women will play a pivotal in this process and also realizing it on the ground.  In other words, it’s SDGs in real action – moving from rhetoric to action.

Q: What is your primary focus of research/interest in relation to terrestrial ecosystems? How does your research intersect with the themes of the GLF Nairobi event?

A: The primary interest from our end as UN Environment is to make sure that we bridge the scientific and policy elements of all things terrestrial globally.  UN Environment as the UN Mandated agency on environmental issues is keen see that work being undertaken by various stakeholders feeds into conversations happening at the GLF-Nairobi whose focus is on Landscape Restoration.

Q: What kind of impact is the landscape approach having on restoration efforts? Are we seeing changes? 

A:  I think the impact its having is that since this approach has been advocated, people are no longer thinking in silos, but in a concerted effort.  We are now seeing inter- and multi-disciplinary teams working more together to have a collective approach for landscapes.  In a nutshell – everything is connected at this level.

Q: Is it feasible that landscape restoration could become a commonplace activity for companies? What are the pros and cons? 

A: But it must. How else can they navigate the terrain in isolation?  The pros are that it can no longer be “business as usual” for many companies right now as changes at the landscape level have implications for them. The cons on the other hand are that the landscape restoration rhetoric is yet to reach many more companies –- we continue to reach out to many still. In the words of the late former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan: The world today needs to usher in a season of transformation, a season of stewardship.

Q: What specific challenges do women face? How can this be addressed?

A:  Women across the world in general and in Africa in particular have been terribly marginalized.  They have faced challenges such as those linked to land tenure/ownership, their absence in decision making and more.  However what I can say is that they have not just stood still to watch (case in point the late Prof. Wangari Maathai).  They have realized more and more that their voice matters and they are part of the solution to restoration. It’s equally important for different platforms  and processes to make sure that their voices are represented.

Q: What role can entrepreneurs play in restoration initiatives. Is this role different for women and men?

A:  Entrepreneurs are very critical, for sure. One example, for instance, is that of Ciiru Waithaka, a Kenyan woman who owns a kids furniture company called FunKidz. She is working tirelessly with researchers to explore alternatives to wood in her business but also the role of the circular  economy in restoration initiatives, and its been amazing. She will be speaking at the GLF gender plenary and is also a woman. Both men and woman have vital roles to play.

Q: You’ve mentioned activating the connection between women, peace building and forest restoration. What would this look like?

A: Absolutely. We have learned from experiences from some of the work from the U.N. Great Lakes Region (Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda) work on how women have been instrumental in peace building and restoration of forest ecosystems. Champions such as Dr. Specioza Kazibwe (former Ugandan vice president) have played a pivotal role in this.  We are aware that conflict usually ensues due to natural resource base challenges.

Q: Often restoration initiatives focus on tree planting or re-greening areas where extraction activities have taken place, but how do agriculture and concerns over food security fit into the big picture?

A:  I think what people need to also keep in mind is the landscape approach.  This approach puts into motion various principles that also take into account productive food systems.  Even with tree planting it’s important to know whether we are planting the right tree species, at the right time, because its also about the quality of the ecosystem and its ability to provide the services that may have been lost.

Q: Are there any specific initiatives you consider a success?

A:  Indeed. Nature-based solutions advocated by many including UN Environment have been shown to work and are important for restoration.

Learn more at the GLF Nairobi opening plenary, Wed. Aug. 29 at 2:00 p.m. local time (11 a.m. GMT).

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