Growing forest landscape restoration from the grassroots up

Local community members of a resource-users association focused on restoration in Kenya, which has pledged 5.1 million hectares to AFR100. Patrick Shepherd, CIFOR
24 October 2018

In villages and small communities around the world, heartening tales of forest landscape restoration (FLR) success abound. But on bigger scales, the balance sheet still looks grim. Between 2010 and 2015, 40.3 million hectares of forest were lost across the African continent – an area bigger than Malawi.

Alongside grave environmental consequences for climate change and biodiversity, this degradation impacts the lives of the millions of people who depend on forests and trees for food, energy, income and other services, said Stefan Schmitz, Deputy Director-General and Commissioner of the One World – No Hunger initiative led by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), in a discussion forum at the Global Landscapes Forum in Nairobi.

He pointed to commitments – and AFR100 in particular – as opportunities to enlarge local efforts. AFR100, a country-led commitment to bring 100 million hectares of degraded and deforested African landscapes under restoration by 2030, is a “powerful tool to bring together stakeholders, gather political support and escalate ideas and best practices about how to bring restoration to scale,” he said.

However, with numerous major commitments overlapping in goals and targeted geographies, harmonizing efforts and making sure no gaps go overlooked can be a challenge. The Trillion Trees program aims in part to do just that. The program is a collaboration between the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and BirdLife International to protect and restore a trillion trees worldwide by 2050 in a way that aligns nationally determined contributions to the Paris Agreement with the Bonn Challenge, with the Aichi Targets, with the New York Declaration on Forests, and so on.

“The aim is to be catalytic,” said Tim Rayden from WCS’s sustainable landscapes unit, “by combining our individual capacities and leveraging more resources that way. 

Of course, political leadership is crucial to achieving these targets – as well as any level of restoration. But, more narrowly, speakers said policies can encourage scale by helping regulate the marketplace and creating an environment that supports the growth of sustainable product supply.

“Governments are important actors in all our economies, especially in this part of the world,” said Patrick Mugenyi, CEO of East African sustainable timber outfit New Forests Company, “and just by setting procurement standards that encourage private players to service an existing market, we shall begin to see scale come in.”

To help integrate local initiatives into larger plans and contexts, private sector actors can partner with communities on initiatives such as contract farming, so that locals can work in ways that make sense for them while also connecting to larger and more widespread markets.

For security and faith in profitable returns, private sector engagement has been repeatedly shown to happen more readily when it’s able to be mixed with other forms of landscape investment. As such, blended finance mechanisms need to be brought more to the fore. “We need to work to take the sting of the risk out of investing in these long-term assets,” said Mugenyi. “So we need a mechanism that allows governments and donors to participate economically, because private investors alone will not be able to give us the scale we’re looking for to get the impact that we all seek.”

If done well, such partnerships can certainly prompt more sustainable production processes, but ‘private sector engagement’ is by no means a magic bullet, speakers said. Oftentimes, the private sector enters into landscapes already focused on production, and these are not the areas where action is needed to combat deforestation.

Rather, areas most crucial for protecting biodiversity and the climate lie in remaining natural forests, “where there isn’t a clear market link or proposition,” said Rayden. “And it is very hard to get private sector investment and enterprise going in those kinds of places.” There often isn’t a clear path to profit by investing in sustainable production from such in-tact landscapes.

Summarizing the discussion, Nancy Githaiga of WWF Kenya emphasized the range of strategies and number of committed actors that are required to scale up FLR and meet international targets on time. “I think there is a major role for every one of us here in the success of this work,” she concluded.

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