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Read the summary of what happened at day one of the Global Landscapes Forum Accra here.
Harouna Abarchi is a semi-nomadic pastoralist from Niger. His community leads their livestock to where the animals can graze and drink, which depends on the seasons and what vegetation can grow where. Their mobility across West Africa is their survival, and ever-more-so as the ecological and weather patterns they have long followed are thrown off course by climate change, and droughts, diseases, bush fires and animals struggling to breed are all becoming their new way of life.
Abarchi’s story epitomizes the collection of challenges seeing ecosystem restoration rise on the local, national and international agendas as a sustainable and cost-effective solution. This comes from the recognition that food and water security, sustainable livelihoods, biodiversity protection and climate change mitigation depend first and foremost on the health and condition of natural environments – two billion hectares of which, globally, have been degraded and stand to be restored.
On 29–30 October 2019, the Global Landscapes Forum convened in Accra, Ghana, to focus on restoring the degraded ecosystems on the world’s largest continent. More than 500 participants joined at the Accra International Convention Center, including the Queen of Buganda, Grammy-nominated musician Rocky Dawuni, leaders of U.N. agencies and Ghanaian government heads. More than 5,000 more joined online.
Epitomizing the theme of the two days, “Restoring Africa’s Landscapes – Uniting actions from above and below,” GLFx was announced at the event as GLF’s new initiative of building independent, community chapters of the organization. This “community of communities” – as described by the GLF’s managing director John Colmey – is envisioned as a way to empower local communities with the tools, technology, knowledge and support of the GLF network to make their landscapes more resilient.
Following a day focused on local businesses, experiences and initiatives happening in African villages, communities and cities, the second day of the Accra forum took a broader perspective on African restoration, looking at how it fits into national and international agendas on climate change. The Forum was held back-to-back with the fourth annual partnership meetings of AFR100, to which 28 African countries have committed to restore more than 113 million hectares of land and ecosystems.
Tree-planting might be the posterchild for ecosystem restoration, following tree-focused initiatives like the Bonn Challenge – the creator of which, Horst Freiberg, spoke at the Forum – and the New York Declaration on Forests being foundational to getting restoration on the global climate change agenda.
But the narrative of restoration is broadening, with the U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021–2030) seeing forests joined by other ecosystems – drylands and rangelands like Abarchi’s, mangroves, peatlands, mountains, oceans – in the restoration agenda.
“In my point of view, the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is not about creating something new; it is an umbrella to get together all the efforts already ongoing,” said Elke Steinmetz, political advisor to the German Federal Ministry for the Environment.
In response to Africa’s growing population – its sub-Saharan African population alone expected to double to 2.4 billion by 2050 – food and water security is becoming the urgent focus of restoration in Africa. This means developing new agricultural practices, adapting traditional methods to new conditions, and integrating the future of food production with solutions to social issues.
“It’s not now normal that we import rice and food,” said Amath Pathe Sene, environment and climate lead for West and Central Africa at the United Nation’s International Fund for Agricultural Development. “We have lands, we have water, and we need to change the way we do business with smallholder farmers. We need to see agriculture as opportunities… opportunities for jobs, for women and closing the gender gap, and for youth particularly.”
Afriyie Obeng-Fosu, who was this year named Ms. Agriculture Ghana, stressed the need for young farmers such as herself to have easier access to credit with low interest rates, which can go toward seeds, organic fertilizers, marketing and extension services. Violet Awo Amoabeng echoed this in an all-women plenary when describing the origins of her business Skin Gourmet which sources organic shea butter from northern Ghana – a growing commodity of the country – that’s handmade, largely by women, into hair and skin products.
“Africa is dependent on natural resources for our economy,” said Musonda Mumba, head of U.N. Environment’s Terrestrial Ecosystems Programme and the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration (GPFLR). “Shea butter goes all the way from a village in Ghana to a shop in Paris with the label L’Oréal. That’s how global we are. We’re a global village.”
The integration of the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration with the U.N. Decade on Family Farming (2019–2028) was also stressed repeatedly. On the international level, weaving in food systems with environmental efforts serves to build a stronger platform for attracting political will and financial support for restoration and smallholder farmers.
“For us, to synergize the two as one system, we are looking at it as comprehensive agriculture ecosystem,” said Nelson Godfried Agyemang, CEO of the Coalition of Farmers Ghana. “We want to see initiatives be farmer driven, for farmers to be in the driver seat.”
For communities such as Abarchi’s, this can – ideally – translate into better relationships between his community and farming communities, with fostered agreements as to when and where livestock can graze, and when and where farmers can burn land responsibly for agriculture without it spreading into bushfire; and with biodiversity conservationists, through better scientific support for how livestock, wildlife and people can coexist sustainably in the same territories; and with country governments, as they recognize that pastoralists’ free movement across borders is not a choice but a necessity.
“[Restoration] has to be rooted at local, subnational and national level. That’s when the real action happens,” said Stewart Maginnis, global director of the nature-based solutions group of the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “But I think we should adopt the slogan, ‘delivery defines us.’ That’s what will change us: if we see real change, real delivery on the ground.”
“This decade is about you and me, the environments we live in and we exist,” said Mumba. “And it’s about our very survival.”