Quick guides

Initiatives and organisations in action

Ecosystem services

Around the world, many initiatives and organisations are working to restore forest ecosystems and their functions, while ensuring a sustainable use by people. At the same time, the commitments for planting or restoring are bigger than ever before.

Who is carrying this work and which challenges are there?

Different approaches

It is now well understood and acknowledged that forests provide numerous services, but also that these are under threat. Therefore, global and regional initiatives that promote forest protection and restoration have been launched in recent years. But how do we achieve these goals?

There are different approaches that reflect different forest concepts and management goals. Here are some of the key terms:

Two popular approaches are afforestation and reforestation, and both aim to re-establish tree cover. Afforestation involves the planting of trees in areas that were never forested or have not been forested in recent history (usually at least 50 years), whereas reforestation is done on land that had recent tree cover. In both cases, often little consideration is given to the type of tree cover or the species composition and diversity. Many reforestation and afforestation programs focus on timber production and tend to favour large-scale planting of non-native monocultures (beechwood, eucalyptus, teak, etc).

Another approach is agroforestry, which refers to the land-use systems and practices that integrate trees and crops and/or animals on the same piece of land. It is based on principles of ecology, forestry and agriculture, so that farmers can increase their revenues while protecting the environment.

Restoration and rehabilitation are approaches used in places where forest loss has caused a decline in the quality of ecosystem services. Restoration attempts to return to the forest’s original structure, function, and species composition (native species). In contrast, the purpose of rehabilitation is to restore the capacity of degraded forest land to deliver forest products and services. Thus, native animal and plant species are not always re-established and non-native species are sometimes used.

The landscape approach is a broad term that includes tools and concepts for managing land with complex and widespread environmental, social and economic challenges. This approach is increasingly used in restoration projects. In contrast to site-level forest reforestation, forest landscape restoration aims to restore ecological processes (hydrological cycles, soil development, wildlife population) while improving the productive capacity of land for agriculture, forestry and other land uses.

Community forestry encompasses policies and processes to increase the role of local people in governing and managing forest resources. In many tropical regions community forestry is pursued as a rural development strategy.

Forest regeneration is the process by which tree cover is promptly renewed after the previous forest stand has been harvested or has died from fire, insects or disease. Regeneration can be accomplished through tree planting (artificial regeneration) or natural production of seedlings or sprouts in the area (natural regeneration).

Recommended reading:

FAO Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) Toolbox http://www.fao.org/sustainable-forest-management/toolbox/en/

Global and regional efforts

Almost half of the world’s original forests have been cleared or degraded to make way to croplands, cattle pastures and human settlements. Because of poor management practices, many of these lands are now ecologically and economically unproductive. In the next decades, population growth and the increased demand for food will put more pressure on forests.

However, every challenge provides an opportunity. It is estimated that more than two billion hectares of degraded lands worldwide are suitable for restoration – an area larger than South America. Improving the ecological functionality of degraded forests brings environmental and social benefits (carbon sequestration, watershed protection, improved crop yields, etc.) That is why several initiatives have been established to promote forest restoration around the globe.

The Bonn Challenge is a global effort to restore 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded land by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030. It was launched in 2011 and later endorsed and extended by the New York Declaration on Forests of the 2014 UN Climate Summit. The Bonn Challenge is not a new global commitment but rather a vehicle to achieve several existing international goals, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, the Land Degradation Neutrality goal, the UNFCCC REDD+ goal, etc. To date, 45 governments, private associations and companies have pledged over 156 million hectares to the Challenge.

Several regional initiatives are supporting the Bonn Challenge. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 40% of forests lands have been degraded or deforested in recent years. Indeed, in this region, the bulk of the emissions are generated from land use and loss of forests. Initiative 20×20 is a country-led effort to bring 20 million hectares of land into restoration by 2020. To date, 18 governments and NGOs have pledged over 27 million hectares to place into restoration by 2020.

In Africa, the extension of degraded lands is over 700 million hectares. Such an extreme magnitude hinders the continent’s resilience to climate change and its prospects of sustainable development. However, this also means that Africa has the largest restoration opportunity of any continent. AFR100 is a country-led effort to bring 100 million hectares of land in Africa into restoration by 2030. To date, 22 countries have committed to restore over 75 million hectares.

In addition, international initiatives such as the FAO Forest and Landscape Restoration Mechanism (FLRM) and the CBD Forest Ecosystem Restoration Initiative (FERI) contribute to and support the Bonn Challenge. FLRM helps FAO member countries to implement, scale-up and monitor restoration activities. FERI supports developing countries to put into effect targets and plans for restoration.

To manage a forest, how do we define it?

Different management objectives form the basis from which a forest can be conceptualized and definitions are created.

The inner circle shows how a forest can be viewed through different lenses, related to the different management objectives shown in the middle circle. Each objective provides a perspective from which specific definitions are created.

The outermost circle describes institutions whose mission is associated with each management objective and forest definition

Image source: Chazdon, Robin L. et al. “When Is a Forest a Forest? Forest Concepts and Definitions in the Era of Forest and Landscape Restoration.” Ambio 45.5 (2016): 538–550. PMC. Web. 26 Oct. 2017

Types of organisations

The sustainable management and restoration of forests is a complex process that involves practitioners, funding agencies, standards organizations, researchers and policy-makers. These actors are interconnected and need to collaborate to achieve their goals.

Restoration efforts are conducted in the field by implementing organizations such as WeForest, Taking Root, etc. These organizations work together with local communities to enhance ecosystem services and improve livelihoods.

A wide range of funding organizations support projects on forest restoration: international funds (Green Climate Fund, GEF Small Grants Program), regional funds (EU LIFE), international and local NGO’s (WWF), development cooperation agencies (GIZ, NORAD), etc. Funding is available to national governments, community-based organizations, NGO’s, research institutions, etc.

To ensure that restoration is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable, several organizations have set criteria and standards that forestry companies should comply with. The best known standard-setting organization is probably the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international non-profit, multi-stakeholder organization that was established in 1993. Other standard-setting organizations organisations are Plan Vivo, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, among others.

Once the standards are established, third-party organizations need to compile and verify data on an organization’s policies, practices and procedures to measure conformance to management objectives. This independent inspection is called auditing and every standard-setting organization has accredited independent certification organizations to conduct it.

Forest restoration needs to take into account complex environmental, social and economic issues, and several international and national institutions are conducting research on these topics. Some examples are the Center for International Forestry Research  (forest and landscape management), the World Agroforestry Centre (agroforestry in the tropics) and the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (a global network of forest scientists).

Managing a forest requires balancing various stakeholder interests. To guide their decisions on the sustainable use of forests stakeholders need to agree on a shared vision, goals and principles. These negotiated agreements are called forest policies. International policy-making organisations are the Convention on Biological Diversity, UN Convention to Combat Desertification, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), etc. Policy-making occurs at national and local levels, and each country has its own policy-making organisations.

Issues and challenges

The environmental, economic and social benefits of forest restoration are well documented. However, restoration can be a challenging task as it involves many steps and stakeholders.

A first challenge is to ensure the production and establishment of plant material (seeds, cuttings, seedlings). We still do not know how to grow high-quality seedlings of many tropical species, whereas unsuitable weather and soil conditions, pests and uncontrolled cattle grazing can impede the establishment of plant material.

Another challenge is the landscape dimension of restoration. If a restored site is surrounded by lands with no sufficient source populations for seeds or with no seed-dispersing animals, re-emergence of native trees can be hindered. Due to its landscape-level, any restoration effort should consider all stakeholders involved in the area (local communities, forestry or mining companies, government, etc.).

Restoration is indeed a multi-sectorial activity and requires a system of good governance so that stakeholders agree on a shared vision and goals. For example, stakeholders should decide which activities they will promote (restoration plantations, exotic tree plantations, natural regeneration, etc.) or how they will share the benefits. A lack of a good governance system diminishes the success potential of restoration projects.

Restoration can also be time consuming and its opportunity cost is often higher than the current land use. Restoration projects need to look for grants or other funding possibilities but also to analyse the cost-effectiveness of their activities and choose locations with a low land opportunity cost.

Lastly, natural risks affect also restoration. Droughts, especially in early stages of restoration, and natural fires can be devastating. As climate change is increasing the intensity and frequency of these natural events, any restoration project should include measures that increase the adaptive capacity of forests.

Additional resources:

WRI – The restoration diagnostic. Available at http://www.wri.org/sites/default/files/WRI_Restoration_Diagnostic_1.pdf
Guariguata M. & P. H.S. Brancalion. 2014. Current Challenges and Perspectives for Governing Forest Restoration. Available at: http://www.mdpi.com/1999-4907/5/12/3022/htm