Embrapa - Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária

10/04/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 10/04/2019 10:07

Countries present studies to guide restoration of degraded areas

Recently there has been much discussion of restoring degraded landscapes, and political support for this cause has been growing significantly. One example is the global effort known as the Bonn Challenge, launched in 2011 through a partnership between the United States government and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The goal is to restore 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded land worldwide by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030. In order to leverage the international audience at the 25th World Congress of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), a side event was held on October 1 to present progress on implementing this restoration in selected landscapes in nine countries. The format was innovative and included short films, interviews with experts, and data grouped with posters. The information presented in the event was obtained from a preliminary scientific study conducted this year in each country.

Joice Ferreira, a researcher at Embrapa Amazonia Oriental, was chosen to represent Brazil in the project. She explained that the presentation showed how these countries are working towards their restoration commitments in the Bonn Challenge. Ferreira noted that the Brazilian target is to restore 12 million hectares. The study used typical landscapes in each country; the Brazilian region selected was Marabá in southeastern Pará.

'The idea was to conduct the study in a standardized manner, using a similar method in each country, to make generalizations useful for directing forest restoration. The area we have chosen is the most deforested area of the Amazon, within the arc of deforestation, which is why we thought it would be an interesting region for this project. The IUFRO side event was part of this research process, so we could present the preliminary results and discuss them with the scientific community and decision-makers. It was defined from the beginning that the report would be completed by now, for presentation and discussion at the Congress, when representatives from all the countries would be present,' she added.

The 'snapshot study' obtained data from the field. During this process, it was important to talk with the various actors involved in restoration, and all countries have fulfilled this step in their selected regions to understand how restoration is being implemented on the ground by people in each country.

'Through this study, everyone gathered a set of lessons. Even despite differences in culture, government, land ownership, and deforestation rates, there are common issues that emerge. The lessons from Brazil, for example, can be applied to other tropical countries that are carrying out restoration work,' said Ferreira.

The Brazilian study involved more than 50 interviews, in areas dominated by agrarian reform settlements. In Pará, the Embrapa team met with governmental institutions, non-governmental organizations, farmers, businesses, and universities - all the actors in the region - in order to obtain lessons that will help when scaling up forest restoration efforts. Various restoration projects in the region, both completed and still underway, were also analyzed. One of these is being carried out by the Pará State Institute of Forest Development and Biodiversity (IDEFLOR-Bio). Another, the Sustainable Rural Program, was developed by the Ministry of Agriculture and funded by the British government. A third project, 'Youth and Cooperativism,' was run by the Federation of Family Farm Cooperatives in the region and focused on the farmers' children in order to keep young people in the rural countryside and improve living conditions in the rural area beyond restoration. The lessons selected by the Brazilian team for presentation at the Congress were based on these projects.

Joice Ferreira pointed out that a key lesson from this study was that there is a conflict of expectations. She explained that these are family farmers who are vulnerable, with extremely low agricultural productivity rates and little technical assistance; most live in settlement areas. Within this context, they look for support to produce crops, feed themselves, obtain income, to be able to survive and improve their lives, since they do not have many opportunities.

'When a restoration project emerges, if we only talk about restoring trees they aren't interested. If the tree doesn't produce a return for them, there is little interest. They expect to get food and income, and this generally does not involve trees alone, since few species provide short-term income for producers. Of course it is a question of time, because biodiversity in the Amazon is immense. Farmers go into these projects expecting to carry out the agricultural part, since restoration projects have multiple objectives: social, ecological, and economic. Project coordinators consequently have to look for the social objective, since we know restoration is not possible without considering the social aspect. At the same time, however, tree cover must be increased in order to increase carbon stocks and diversity of native plants. This shows that there is a disconnect, because achieving these multiple objectives is not an easy task,' Ferreira explained.

She says that in order to ensure that the project will work, everyone involved must be approached. In other words, the farmer is the one actually carrying out the restoration; if his or her expectations go unmet, there will be no engagement.

'This was a very important lesson, to go into the farmers' world in order to propose viable alternatives for them, since they also have an agenda. The families are usually small, with few people in comparison with the workload. So if you give them yet another responsibility, they will not get involved.'

Furthermore, Ferreira indicated that during the study they found that fires have also limited restoration projects. In interviews, the researchers noted that many people lost restored areas to fires they were unable to control. She said that the restoration projects also need a strategy for dealing with or controlling fires.

'Another issue is that droughts in the region are also increasing. The region is very dry, partly because of past deforestation, which causes many complaints among the farmers since costly and cumbersome irrigation is needed. These initiatives consequently need to consider all of this, selecting appropriate species and planting schemes to work in favor of restoration without creating a problem for them,' she said.

To Ferreira, what is important is that these lessons are not only for Brazil, because drought and fires also occur in other countries. As a result, this is an excellent opportunity for countries to discuss these common points in order to continue the process, which extends into next year, when the final report will be published.

'There are similarities between the countries. One countries stressed the importance of political interest in favor of restoration actions. The representative from Guatemala said that years ago, several restoration programs emerged, including payment for environmental services; in other words, the areas they studied are the results of these incentives. In Brazil, restored areas also reflect support from governmental policies, programs, resources and training efforts. For this reason we must appreciate IUFRO's initiative to promote meeting involving everyone so we can understand exactly how restoration is being carried out on the ground by people in these countries,' she said.

After the presentations, IUFRO's coordinator-general for this initiative, Michael Kleine, summarized the study findings. These include various aspects beyond acreage such as political desire, need for landscape governance, communications and interactions, technical aspects, and monitoring and evaluation, as well as the capacity for development and project design/implementation. To measure progress on the ground, landscapes must be seen as a whole, using a bottom-up approach that talks to local residents; people must be prioritized, seeking their own view of the landscape. These realities and priorities that local residents identify need to be the starting point. Additionally, current and past interventions in the landscape need to be carried out, and systems must be monitored based on scientific knowledge.

He finished by mentioning that landscape restoration is an intervention in a social system, and that transformation to more sustainable land use takes time. For this reason, priorities of the restoration process need to be the focus, because it can help develop a circular, biologically-based economy.

Some highlights from each country's findings:

Bangladesh

A strong emphasis on benefit sharing is necessary, along with developing subsistence among rural people in highly populated regions.

Brazil

It is important to have shared understanding of goals and expectations among leadership and participants in the restoration projects.

Ethiopia

It is crucial to combine project plans with available government budgets and the local human resources.

Ghana

Communication with stakeholders helps keep them engaged and active.

Guatemala

Partnership policies and regulatory structure play important roles in mobilizing interested parties.

India

Strong political support makes all the difference.

Madagascar

Ownership and implementation of landscape restoration programs mutually influence each other to make recognition of rights a requirement for success on a large scale.

Mongolia

Development of human and technical capacity helps achieve the desired results.

Peru

Support for local communities to address some of their priorities provides a good foundation for long-term cooperation.