Youths watch over their cattle at a reservoir, often the last water point during the hottest and driest months of the year in Zorro village, Burkina Faso. CIFOR/Ollivier Girard

Forest and landscape restoration: a key to meeting global development goals

Achieving restoration targets

By Tim Christophersen, coordinator of the Freshwater, Land and Climate Branch at UN Environment, and chair of the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration. 

The world urgently needs to restore its degraded forests and landscapes in order to preserve a productive and healthy environment in which humans can flourish. Over 3 billion of the world’s 7.6 billion people are already affected by land degradation.

Degradation fuels food and water insecurity, global warming and the loss of biodiversity. Restoration reverses the trend, making farms more resilient, forests richer in resources and the climate more stable – key elements in achieving the 2030 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

Countries all over the world have scored successes in this area already but a big push comes on Aug. 29 when the Global Partnership for Forest and Landscape Restoration presents a new report explaining how ambitious restoration targets can be met.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to restoring forests and landscapes. Each context requires a tailored solution. Here are three:

Brazil: Keeping cattle from the riverbank pays

Cattle farmers in Brazil are earning good money for protecting drinking water supplies to the mega-city of Sao Paolo – and are restoring 3,000 hectares of farmland and forest in the process.

The project in the Municipality of Extrema is an example of a payment-for-ecosystems-services approach that creates a market for a good that private business wouldn’t otherwise provide.

As well as cleaning up water supplies, it has produced a 60 percent jump in tree cover in the sub-basin where it began.

Much of the forest in Extrema and other parts of Minas Gerais State has been replaced by beef and dairy farms. The resulting increase in soil erosion hurts the water quality in the system of reservoirs that supply over 10 million in the Sao Paolo metropolitan region.

Under the scheme, farmers are planting native trees along the banks of streams and rivers to control erosion. About 170,000 meters of new fencing prevents livestock from trampling vegetation and defecating in the water.

When it began in 2007, the Water Conservation Program was the first of its kind in Brazil. It has secured contracts with more than 100 landowners representing about 90 percent of the land area of the municipality.

The landowners receive $118 per year for every hectare of grazing land turned over to restoration planting. The payments cover both the costs of restoration and income foregone. The contracts also cover management of remnant forest patches and soil conservation measures. Bio-digesters treat wastewater on some of the farms. Small reservoirs have been built on others.

Burkina Faso: The “crazy” rewards of fenced plots

An initiative In Burkina Faso is helping farming families to realize the myriad benefits of nurturing trees in fenced plots, each of which becomes an ever-more-convincing demonstration site for its neighbors.

Drought, deforestation and overgrazing have degraded vast tracts of the West African country. Soils in many areas are exposed to erosion from wind and rain, and are short of organic matter. Once common tree species are now rare or absent.

Amid growing concern about the impacts of climate change, demand for support to establish fenced plots is high. However, farmers must meet strict criteria to qualify: they must demonstrate their commitment to a long-term project; they must have a plot of 3 hectares with clear tenure rights; and a signed agreement with their neighbors and local authorities.

The initiative supplies fencing materials, saplings and longer-term support to help families establish and manage their plots and trees. The approach favous natural regeneration but can include planting with particularly valuable species. The fence keeps woodcutters and grazing animals at bay.

The benefits include harvests of fruit, fodder and firewood, soil regeneration and the cultivation of tree species used in traditional medicine.

Southern China: model restoration in red soils

The challenge of feeding the world’s largest population means China cannot afford to lose productive landscapes to soil degradation. Now a long-term restoration effort in the country’s red soil hilly regions is delivering significant benefits for people and planet.

By the 1980s, the red soil regions of southern China had suffered serious erosion as a result of deforestation and unsustainable farming practices. Wide areas were denuded of trees and vulnerable hillsides riven with erosion gullies. Depleted soils retained little water.

To work out how best to restore it, scientists established a demonstration site in Qianyanzhou. In 1982, only seven households remained there, and were using just 11 percent of the land. A land-use plan was drawn up, with the upper hills reforested, citrus orchards on moderate slopes and rice paddies in the valley bottoms. Dams among the hills would store rainwater.

Within a few years, this mosaic of sustainable land use was already established and yielding higher incomes. Biodiversity and environmental quality as well as the micro-climate also improved. By 1995, the number of households had risen ten-fold to 70, and the annual per capita income had jumped from about $80 to about $350 – more than three times higher than in a nearby village outside the project area.

By 2000, more than 40 other sites covering a total area of 26,700 hectares had applied the Qianyanzhou model and generated multi-million-dollar benefits.

The new report, titled “Restoring forests and landscapes: the key to a sustainable future,” will be launched during the Global Landscapes Forum at UN Environment headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

Topics for discussion at the forum include a proposal from El Salvador for a U.N. Decade on Landscape Connectivity and Ecosystem Restoration from 2020 to 2030.

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