The town of Salay, which sits along the northern coast of the Philippine island of Mindanao, was once home to unproductive fishponds and a barren landscape. But now, a year into Camille Rivera’s community-based mangrove restoration project, a remarkable rejuvenation has taken place, and Salay boasts a lush, saline environment that has replenished its aquatic fauna and restored meaning and purpose to its mangrove-dependent community.
This is the result of Camille’s tireless work to foster knowledge-sharing between environmental specialists and local communities on wetland restoration and multispecies planting – and their collective commitment to creating change. In getting the local community to not only understand mangrove ecology but also to engage with it, Camille has indeed achieved a monumental accomplishment, and the result has brought relief and joy throughout Salay for the reestablished health of its landscape.
Camille was one of six Restoration Stewards who participated in the inaugural Restoration Stewards program from the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) and Youth in Landscapes (YIL) in 2021. Alongside Camille were her five co-Stewards, who similarly mobilized their communities across the world, from Kenya to Indonesia, working to reverse land degradation, rehabilitate ecosystems and promote alternative, sustainable livelihoods.
This year, the second iteration of the program welcomes six young and diverse Restoration Stewards working to improve agroforestry practices, monitor reef ecosystem health, and raise community awareness of dryland restoration and conservation across the Americas, Africa and Asia. Over the course of 2022, YIL will channel funding, mentorship and professional networks to the Restoration Stewards to deepen the impact of their youth-led restoration projects. In other words, the Stewards will be given the tools they need to heal their ecologically fragile lands.
Now, let’s meet our six incoming Restoration Stewards.
Sergio Esteban Lozano Baez, Colombia
Growing up in Colombia, Sergio Esteban Lozano Baez spent much of his childhood connecting with the outdoors. It was his frequent trips to the Andes mountains that led him to study ecology in university – and to his current work coordinating forest restoration projects in Tolima.
His project for the Restoration Stewards program focuses on two species of birds threatened with extinction: the Tolima dove and the yellow-headed brush finch, which are only found in the Andes. Through forest restoration, natural regeneration and agroforestry approaches, Sergio aims to improve community awareness of tree conservation and encourage smallholder productivity in the region.
“Because people need to produce food and money, we focused more on agroforestry,” he says. “We work in a landscape dominated by coffee crops, so we planted more trees in the crops, showing and teaching the producers all the benefits of trees.” The farmers have started to not only realize the economic benefits of agroforestry but also the improvements in species conservation, water and soil.
Although 30-year-old Sergio will be a Restoration Steward for only one year, he believes that the impact of the program will be far from ephemeral. He aspires to one day show other young people the forests he once planted and how such abundant life was reborn in these formerly degraded areas. “I want to do my bit in the world of landscape restoration and transform human lives with restoration.”
Eka Cahyaningrum, Indonesia
The 2019 Central Borneo fires were a wake-up call for Eka Cahyaningrum. They alerted her to a general sense of apathy among the Indonesian public, members of which often attributed the causes of environmental problems to others, she observed. “A lot of people in the area don’t think it’s their responsibility to solve the problem together,” she says.
To combat this, Eka kickstarted a restoration project in the degraded peatlands in East Borneo to create profitable activities for the local community and to introduce youth from Central Borneo to peatland restoration. These efforts, in turn, yield cleaner and more sustainable water supplies, drought and flood risk mitigation, and higher carbon sequestration in the region.
Eka hopes to use her role as a Restoration Steward to meet other climate advocates with similar visions as well as spread awareness about her home landscape. “Through this program, there will be opportunities for me to network and introduce Indonesia and its tropical peat ecosystems,” she says. “I want to push myself to get out of my comfort zone.”
Hidayah Halid, Malaysia
A few years ago, Hidayah Halid of Penang, Malaysia set her mind to protecting the marine ecosystems of the Perhentian Islands. As the daughter of a farmer, her education in the complexities of the natural world took place right in her own backyard, filled with lush paddy fields and thriving agriculture. This upbringing paved the way for her relationship with underwater life, and her appreciation for aquatic organisms led her to work at the Perhentian Marine Research Station (PMRS).
In recent years, the Perhentian Islands have experienced significant damage to the surrounding coral reef ecosystem and local vegetation. Much of this has been due to the tourism industry polluting the islands’ waters and overusing their coastal areas.
As a Restoration Steward, Hidayah hopes to build a community-led movement to protect the islands’ marine ecosystems from further degradation. Living on-site has allowed her to glean local knowledge on the local wildlife habitats and conservation – knowledge that she hopes to share with other young people like herself. “The Perhentian Islands community is small, but the ecosystem changes that they have experienced and will experience are significant,” she says.
Adrian Leitoro, Kenya
Adrian Leitoro comes from a lineage deeply embedded in Indigenous land stewardship and conservation. As part of the pastoralist Rendille community in Kenya’s Northeastern Province, Adrian grew up with an acute awareness of the biodiversity of Kenya’s dryland forest ecosystems. Now, his work as a Restoration Steward will focus on the Ndotos Range Forest Reserve, home to other pastoralist communities and grazing areas supporting a substantial number of livestock. In response to increasing forest fires and intentional vegetation burning in the Reserve, Adrian is creating a tree nursery to aid the restoration of these lands.
Indigenous communities currently protect around 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity, but Adrian says that their contributions to land restoration and climate resilience are often overlooked, with more attention given to climate initiatives in the Global North. To spark more recognition of Indigenous initiatives, Adrian will spotlight how the Rendille and neighboring pastoralist Samburu communities have continued to steward biodiversity hotspots in northern Kenya. “My long-term goal is to achieve the restoration of dryland forest ecosystems in a way that ensures my community gets tangible benefits from their stewardship and builds climate resilience,” he says.
Gabriela Gavarrete, El Salvador
Gabriela Gavarrete of El Salvador was first introduced to the importance of forests and natural ecosystems by her grandmother. As an inquisitive young girl, she vowed to learn deeply about ecosystem health and went on to study biology. Her aptitude for science and determination to preserve El Salvador’s biomes will enter into full force this year when she launches a project to curb forest fires and stimulate community-based tree-planting using native plant nurseries.
Gavarrete explains that her work is inseparable from the political and cultural context of her country. “El Salvador is the second-most deforested country in Latin America,” she says. “After the armed conflict that affected my country for years, the land remained degraded, and the recovery efforts were focused on social and economic areas… Working in a deforested country is a big challenge, but I hope I can start a new methodology that can connect communities with the land where they live.”
She hopes that the Restoration Stewards program will allow her to support this new narrative, promote the prioritization of healthy forest ecosystems and invigorate interest in restoration. “My long-term vision is to become an expert in forest restoration and conservation. Being named as a Restoration Steward this year has opened my mind to a lot of possibilities and has given me the confidence needed to inspire youth to be a generation of restoration.”
Growing up in a rural village in Kenya’s Meru County, Kandi was surrounded by greenery. The region’s rivers and forests nourished the land and nurtured abundant farm yields that supported her family’s livelihood, as well as her school tuition.
Over the years, these forests have begun to disappear and the rivers dry up – yet Kandi’s mother continued to carefully plant trees around their farm and home. “This has been my greatest motivation,” says Kandi, who has watched the landscape return to how it looks in her childhood memories.
Kenya’s forests have faced heavy pressure because of population growth and the use of charcoal, with tree cover declining by 11 percent between 2001 and 2020. Soil drained of nutrients and water have also resulted in smaller harvests, and a lack of rainfall has pushed over 2 million people into acute food insecurity.
Amid such daunting challenges, Kandi began her initiative Save Mama Earth to regrow forests and educate young children to become environmental stewards. Save Mama Earth has already developed two tree nurseries, grown hundreds of tree seedlings and launched five community clean-ups.
Kandi hopes that being a Restoration Steward will allow her to establish a sustainable green space with tree nurseries and a learning area to mentor children and community members on conservation and restoration. She aims to restore the forest of a local school, take the children to visit a community forest, and help local farmers boost their crop yields through agroforestry.
When asked why she does what she does, Kandi answers: “So that the younger and future generations will also have the privilege of enjoying the land and appreciating the benefits derived from it – for instance, consistent rains, high farm yields, good nutrition and sustainable livelihoods.”
Want to follow these Restoration Stewards on their journeys? They’ll be sharing their stories through a series of vlogs and blogs as they navigate efforts to build sustainable landscapes. You can also write to email@example.com to connect with our stewards for more information.