Access to clean water is a growing challenge worldwide. Landscape restoration can provide an effective response while doing good for people and nature. An online event organized by the Swedish Water House and Agroforestry Network together with WWF, SLU Global, SIANI and Focali, highlighted the benefits of landscape restoration from different angles.
The webinar featured stories of restoration from researchers and practitioners around the world. Speakers touched upon topics such as the interaction between trees and water and the re-greening of Africa. Restoration is clearly gaining momentum which will continue during the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. But if we want a long-lasting interest, we need to recognize the challenges and the success factors that come with restoring landscapes.
Lars Laestadius, Adjunct Lecturer at the Department of Forest Ecology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and Director, Eco-Innovation Foundation, held a presentation titled: “Are the stars aligning for landscape restoration?” His own response was a clear “yes”. The first reason was that the concept has now been so well developed that it includes most of the factors that are necessary for carrying out successful restoration projects. This does not always mean reversing landscapes to their previous state but instead restoring with new opportunities in mind.
Lars Laestadius explained that 75% of potential restoration areas are in mosaic landscapes. These are landscapes that are multi-purpose and can contain a mix of agriculture, forestry and other ecosystems, such as wetlands. It is about building the landscapes for the future, Lars Laestadius expressed, quoting the Bonn Challenge motto on restorative measures.
Furthermore, in line with ROAM (Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology, developed by IUCN and the World Resources Institute), a large number of countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia and elsewhere have committed to landscape restoration projects, Lars Laestadius added. No country in Europe has however made restoration commitments. If low-income countries are expected to make commitments, Europe needs to lead, Laestadius remarked, emphasizing the need for a global restoration undertaking.
Izabella Koziell, Program Director at CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) told the story of Rachel, a widowed small-scale farmer from the Kenyan highlands, where soil erosion is severe.
“Our grandfathers did this, in the 1930’s and 1940’s,” – a common response from Kenyan highland farmers when Izabella and her colleagues reintroduced strategies such as digging bunds. In short, these techniques have been well-known in many erosion-stricken areas, but have been forgotten or not adopted to the extent necessary. “To improve soil preservation and landscape restoration it is essential that we create incentives for the local populations,” Izabella Koziell explained, providing an example of how human excrement was turned into fertilizer pellets in Kenya.
Amazingly, the pellets can be used both as a source of income and for soil improvement. This is a perfect example of restoration’s multiple benefits.
All the speakers agree that restoration needs more trust and technology. All the community decision-makers need to be involved – which is challenging in settings where, for instance, women and youth might be doing the farming, but aren’t represented when it comes to decision-making. “Gender relations require deep consideration,” said Koziell.
As a complex socio-ecological process, restoration needs both “nature or nurture” – an enabling policy and finance environment for effective work at the ground level.
Aida Bargués Tobella, postdoctoral researcher at SLU, held a presentation on the importance of landscape restoration for water. She brought up a problematic scientific study by Jackson et al. from 2005, which stated that “it doesn’t matter where you are in the world when you grow trees on croplands, you use more water”. Aida Bargués Tobella went on to answer that it does in fact matter where you are, as well as what trees you grow – and whether they are integrated on cropland or other land types. We know that under certain circumstances, the positive impacts of trees on water availability can outweigh the negative ones, summarised Bargués Tobella: “Trees use water, but it does not mean that increasing tree cover in the landscape will necessarily reduce water availability.”
Bargués Tobella explained that attitudes towards using trees in restoration in drylands have changed since Jackson et al. (2005), in large part thanks to more research on the multiple mechanisms by which trees impact water. Trees can in fact lead to more groundwater recharge, increase precipitation and reduce water runoff – and thus reduced erosion. However, Aida Bargués Tobella also emphasized that trees do not solve all problems and that there are trade-offs we should be aware of. What is needed are clear goals for landscape management and an understanding that one solution, like planting trees, does not solve all problems – successful restoration needs to be context-specific.
The event included interactive sessions, organized with Mentimeter, with questions on where the participants’ projects were located. The majority of projects were in Africa, followed by Sweden and Asia. When asked about the objectives for the use of water in their projects, the response varied: some underscored the effects for improved livelihoods, other benefits for carbon sequestration. This illustrates the beauty of restoration: goals can be diverse and vary greatly depending on what you are looking for in the ecosystem or landscape.
Susan Chomba, Project Manager at ICRAF, spoke about the urgency of land restoration. 25% of global land is degraded, affecting some 1,5 billion people, according to Susan Chomba.
Through the project Reversing Land Degradation in Africa by Scaling-up Evergreen Agriculture (Regreening Africa), Chomba and her colleagues seek to restore 1 million hectares of land, which will benefit 500,000 across 8 different countries – in other words, it’s a large-scale restoration endeavor. To achieve this, Susan Chomba stressed the importance of “soft issues”, such as gender inequality and community involvement, instead of “silver bullets” such as extensive tree planting.
Ulf Johansson, Global Wood Supply & Forestry Manager at Ikea, spoke about the furniture giant’s Sow-a-Seed project, intended to restore rainforests in Malaysian Borneo. “When we started the project the forest was extremely degraded. In Asia, rainforests are often cleared to pave the way for massive palm oil plantations,” told Ulf Johansson. The results would be extensive soil erosion, with runoff all the way to the coral reefs in the ocean.
Ikea has set up a large-scale restoration project, with the goal to achieve the biggest forest restoration lab in the world. After 20 years, evaporation levels are the same in the restored forest as in natural forests. However, there remains work to be done, as species diversity in the restored area has a long way to go before it reaches prior natural levels. “We want to dedicate this area to research so that scientists can come there and learn,” said Ulf Johansson.
Thereafter, Rafael Chaves, president of the Brazilian Society for Ecological Restoration (SOBRE) shared experience about ecosystem restoration in Brazil. “When it comes to restoration, Brazil has some of the best legislation in the world. Many of these laws have to do with water conservation,” explained Rafael Chaves.
Furthermore, a number of Brazilian ecosystem restoration actors have come together to form a pact for the restoration of Atlantic rainforests. Many regional actors have joined this cause, pledging an additional 1 million hectares to be restored by 2025. SOBRE is acting as a meeting point for all stakeholders involved in restoration in Brazil, supporting collaboration across sectors.
The final speaker of the day was Anita Bergstedt, Acting Director, Wildlife Game Unit at the County Administrative Board of the Västra Götaland County in Sweden. She spoke about an ongoing initiative to prevent severe flooding and reduce eutrophication in a region that is both prone to serious spring floods and has large croplands. Some of the projects were met with skepticism from landowners, a trend reported throughout the webinar. However, Anita recommended providing landowners with all available knowledge and letting the most enthusiastic ones begin as early as possible. This way, they can act as leaders and inspire their neighbors.
Despite the challenges we face, such as ecosystem complexity and gender inequality, the experts at the event agreed that the future of restoration is bright.
Drawing on the experience from initiatives such as “Regreening Africa” and a restoration network platform in Brazil, we can learn what is most effective. Restoring our ecosystems will require a global effort and worldwide collaboration if we are to achieve the goals set out during the upcoming Decade.
Reporting by Joakim Rådström, Communications Consultant at Agroforestry Network and Vi-Skogen and David Falk, Communications Consultant at SIANI.