Forest News #14

This month we look into the relationship between forests and water, and how agriculture (and agroforestry) can change into a tool for ecological restoration. One of our recommended readings covers the beautiful Ethiopia church forests and the other goes deeper into regenerative agriculture. Enjoy the reading!

“What the world needs (…) is an agricultural system that the consequence of management is to increase biodiversity, not diminish it” – David Marsh, Australian cattle farmer. This month’s video shows us how Marsh and other farmers have adopted regenerative agriculture as a way to restore the land and improve their own lives. Agriculture is a crucial aspect of human existence and this shift is an urgent one. The video and recommended book are strong reminders that we can work to restore many things at once.

New members

  • Our newest member is the Tropical Research and Conservation Centre (TRCC), from Nigeria, active in the restoration and sustainable management of degraded mangrove and tropical forest habitats through community capacity-building, tree planting and creation of alternative livelihood options compatible with conservation efforts.

Ecosystem services

One of the most critical effects of forests is how they influence the availability of water, both above and below ground, and how this shapes ecosystems and human livelihoods. There are several mechanisms at work, some adding water others removing it, as sumarised in this IUCN infograhic or nicely detailed in this longer article. The effects can go from local to regional or multi-country, as can be seen when talking about watershed forest or rain catchments forests. The work of some of our platform members, such as Vivamos Mejor in Guatemala or Bico in Kenya, shows the importance of large-scale perspectives in forest restoration.

Besides affecting the overall amount of water availability, forests also influence water quality. A recent study assessed the impact of deforestation on drinking water access in Malawi and found that decreasing a forest area by 14% cut water access by 13%. However, water treatment companies also need to spend more money to remove sediments and debris from water, thereby affecting cost, quality and quantity of water available to consumers.

As thousands of fires ravaged the Amazon rainforest during these last months, one of the topics under discussion was how the whole region is becoming drier. The concern is that, as forest cover is reduced, the amount of water brought by rain decreases, leading to a cycle of further vegetation loss and water reduction. The impacts of this degradation are already being felt: in local weather patterns, ecosystem dynamics and human activities. As explained in this interview with Carlos Nobre, Brazil’s leading expert on the Amazon and climate change, the system might reach a tipping point where rainforest changes permanently to an open savanna ecosystem similar to East Africa’s. A shocking observation by Carlos Nobre is how cattle farmers in Brasil operate at ridiculously low efficiency levels, preferring to clear more forest for new pastures than to increase their production methods…

Besides it’s biodiversity value, the Amazon forest provides many ecosystem services: food production (e.g. Brazil nuts), provision of raw materials like rubber and timber, carbon sequestration, and regulation of the regional and global climate. It was recently estimated that, in total, the Amazon contributes as much as $8.2 billion to Brazil’s economy on an annual basis. When we talk about forest (and ecosystem) restoration around the world, we should consider all these aspects in addition to carbon sequestration potential.


During the September 2019U.N. Climate Action Summitin New York, a coalition of NGOs announced an $85 million initiative to scale up agroforestry in Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, Kenya and Ethiopia. The coalition, named the Global EverGreening Alliance, has a goal of capturing 20 billion tons of CO2 annually by 2050 in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. In Africa, the coalition will implement the Grand African Savannah Green Up project, which is envisioned as a massive scaling-up of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration(FMNR). FMNR is a low-cost land restoration technique that promotes the regeneration and then the management of trees and shrubs that sprout from tree stumps, roots, and seedsfound in degraded soils.


According to a recent ProPublica article, “An (Even More) Inconvenient Truth: Why Carbon Credits for Forest Preservation May Be Worse Than Nothing”, forest carbon credit programs (REDD+) have a poor record of delivering the emissions reductions and forest preservation they promise. The article points out leakage (the displacement of deforestation from one place to another), permanence (the durability of protections for forests) and other challenges faced by carbon offsets programs.

However, the article has been received with criticism among advocates of carbon credits, pointed out successful forest carbon credit programsand claimed that the ProPublica article fails to mention other key aspects of offsetting schemes, such as buffer mechanisms to ensure permanence. The article also misses the broader goals of REDD+, which is aimed at more than just conserving forests and can help to transform local forest-based economies.

Restoring degraded lands bring many social, ecological and economic benefits. Yet restoration is currently underfunded. A report by the World Resources Institute, Roots of Prosperity: The Economics and Finance of Restoring Land, identifies seven barriers to investment in restoration, and highlights policies and strategies to unlock restoration finance.

Suggested reading

This month, we have not one but two recommendations. In case the Christmas season brings a bit more time to read 🙂

  • Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture – A New Earth, by Charles Massy (ebook/print, 448 pages): this book recounts the work and experiences of Charles Massy with regenerative agriculture in Australia, where the health of landscapes comes together with productive farms. It provides a fascinating perspective on how to make agriculture a tool of ecological restoration instead of degradation. This book is one of the inspirations behind our video highlight above.
  • Have you ever heard of Ethiopia’s church forests? Two articles, by National Geographic and Nature will give you a rich picture of these jewels. The churches of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church—the dominant religious group in Ethiopia—are located in patches of vibrant, shady forest in a landscape stripped of native vegetation. Called church forests, these stands comprise what remains of Ethiopia’s original forest canopy and are small but fertile oases where biodiversity thrives. You can also listen to a BBC interview with Dr. Alemayehu Wassie (or their video on the topic), a forest ecologist who has spent over a decade studying these forests, to learn more about the current conservation efforts to connect these stands through corridors alongside rivers and streams.