Decision-making by Indigenous, local communities essential for restoration

A community member in the Nepalese village of Nalma. Thirty percent of Nepal's forests are overseen by local communities. Mokhamad Edliadi, CIFOR
15 April 2019
Sandra Cordon

From California to Nepal, Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) have succeeded in managing restoration projects on their own lands. This demonstrates why they must be actively involved in planning through to post-project monitoring if ecological restoration work is to succeed.

That’s the conclusion of an opinion article based on an extensive review of existing research and published in the journal Restoration Ecology. The article urges greater engagement with IPLCs, who are often living on the front lines of environmental change. 

“Indigenous peoples and local communities have to be brought in on decisions about restoration… decisions on what should be restored, and how it has to be restored,” says Victoria Reyes-García, lead author of the paper and ICREA research professor at the Environmental Science and Technology Institute of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB).

“There are all these targets set and all of these efforts made to restore ecosystems, but we scientists or the politicians should not be deciding alone… the IPLCs are the ones who live in these areas, so they should be brought in when decisions are made.”

The opinion article points to examples of IPLCs leading successful restoration of their own lands and waters after such areas had been overexploited or degraded by others. In California, for instance, traditional fire regimes have been used to restore overgrown broad‐crowned black oak tree stands. In Alaska, the Qawalangin Tribe received funding to restore coastlines affected by pollution. In Nepal, government regulations that devolved state forests to community control in the 1970s slowed deforestation and resulted in many communal forests and watersheds being safeguarded and restored, in turn increasing ecosystem services as well.

“If we look carefully, [IPLCs] have been doing a lot in restoration and keeping ecosystems healthy; and sometimes we don’t recognize or acknowledge that,” says Reyes-García.

But merely including IPLC representatives in restoration work isn’t enough to ensure project success, warns the article. “Not all restoration initiatives engaging IPLCs are beneficial or successful.” Too often, it says, decisions on which areas to restore are founded in choices made by scientists and analysts concerning what they consider to be biologically important or feasible, rather than on local concerns. 

The article points to Aichi Target 15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which aims to restore 15 percent of degraded ecosystems by 2020 and suggests that Indigenous peoples and local communities should be given greater prominence in the CBD agenda in future.

IPLCs have a vested interest in restoration because they are often the ones hit hardest by global environmental change and directly rely on their immediate environments for basic food, health and livelihood needs.

They can also offer local and Indigenous knowledge on maintaining traditional landscape management practices. Such traditional practices can include: rotating crops and leaving some fields fallow to regenerate; scattering species‐rich hayseed; weeding and cleaning meadows to maintain grassland productivity and resilience; interplanting in forests to improve diversity; and controlled burning to promote biodiversity in forests and control invasive species.

But IPLCs are not always listened to. Traditional burning regimes, for example, “are often dismissed in policy circles, despite increasing evidence” that these can contribute to wildfire management and control, as well as to recovering native biodiversity, notes the article.

However, there are examples where traditional knowledge is being applied to identify which species to use and sites to focus on in restoration efforts, to estimate natural baselines for species recovery and to inform restoration targets. That knowledge, says the article, is already contributing to regeneration of land, enhanced carbon sequestration, prevention of environmental degradation and combatting desertification.



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