Conservation news

Monitoring the ambitious land restoration commitments in Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya – Burkina Faso and Tanzania announced at the just-concluded 2018 Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) Africa Conference that they are committed to restoring 5 million and 5.2 million hectares of their degraded forest landscapes, respectively, by 2030.

The pledges are those countries’ intended contributions to the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), the ambitious land restoration goal that seeks to restore some 100 million hectares (247 million acres) of degraded land by 2030. The announcements by Burkina Faso and Tanzania at the GLF Africa Conference, which took place in Nairobi, Kenya last week, brings restoration commitments under AFR100 to a total of 96.4 million hectares by 27 African countries.

Making pledges is one thing, however, while monitoring and tracking progress in actually achieving these restoration goals is another. Attendees of the GLF Africa Conference were keenly aware of this challenge, and a variety of tools for monitoring and tracking restoration activities were actively discussed throughout the conference.

Anchored on the forest landscape restoration (FLR) principle, AFR100 aims not only to support mosaic landscape restoration through agroforestry, planting, and natural tree regeneration, but also to restore the ecological functionality of degraded landscapes and improve local community well-being at the same time.

“If we want to rectify errors from the past, then we need to run twice as fast. We must restore at least 12 million hectares annually to reach land degradation neutrality,” Robert Nasi, director of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), told delegates during the conference’s opening plenary.

As Africa’s population rises, deforestation from fuelwood collection, the timber trade, and agricultural expansion is increasingly threatening a variety of landscape types, from woodlands, tropical rain forests, and dry forests to mangroves, grasslands, and savannas. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) indicates that three million hectares of forest are lost and 65 percent of land is impacted by degradation in Africa every year.

Meanwhile, climate change directly and indirectly affects the growth and productivity of forests through changes in temperature, rainfall, weather, and other factors. Increases in temperature could make future droughts more damaging than those experienced in the past. Additionally, drought will increase wildfire risk and reduce trees’ ability to produce the sap that protects them from destructive insects. These disturbances are likely to reduce forest productivity while changing tree species distribution.

Dalbergia melanoxylon seedlings, a flowering plant native to seasonally dry regions of Africa. Brackenhurst Garden, Kenya. Photo by Sophie Mbugua.

Even as impacts of climate change are exacerbating threats to Africa’s forests, however, stopping deforestation has the potential to be one of the most powerful tools in the global fight against climate change — capable of providing 40 percent of the low-cost emissions reductions solutions the world needs to meet the global target of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

Need for monitoring

AFR100 is a country-led effort meant to contribute to the Bonn Challenge, a global initiative launched by Germany and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2011 that aims to restore 150 million hectares of degraded land globally by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030.

So far, 47 countries around the world have committed to restoring 160.2 million hectares as part of the Bonn Challenge. The IUCN indicates that meeting the Bonn challenge will generate at least $84 billion in material benefits, providing additional income opportunities to rural communities.

However, one major obstacle that faces efforts like AFR100 and the Bonn Challenge is that of accurately monitoring and measuring countries’ progress towards meeting their goals and the impacts that work is having on the ground.

Emily Averna, an associate with the AFR100, noted that, even though smallholder farmers have already restored millions of hectares across Africa, there is no consistent monitoring program to track overall progress. “There is need for [an] effective tracking system, as monitoring restoration progress is not done in a systematic manner,” Averna told Mongabay.

Tangu Tumeo, the principal forest officer at Malawi’s ministry of natural resources, explained just what’s at stake without monitoring mechanisms being in place. “Data exists, but [is] not shared. You cannot restore if you do not know what you are restoring. Without an accurate data set, it is hard to monitor environmental, social, and ecological benefits of these forests as well package [the] landscape restoration business case for investors,” Tumeo said at the conference in Nairobi.

Tumeo notes that with nearly 80 percent of land in Malawi considered degraded, the government, which just finalized its FLR strategy, has embarked on restoring about 8 million hectares of degraded land through improved agricultural technologies, river and stream bank restorations, commercial plantations, agroforestry, and community woodlots. According to Tumeo, Malawi is already monitoring its restoration activities, and intends to start reporting its progress in 2019.

“It is going to cost us over $300 million to restore the 4.5 million hectares we have pledged,” Tumeo told Mongabay. “We have put in place mechanisms to collect data from the grassroots — including input from small holder farmers, and youth engaged through the extension service providers.”

Monitoring tools

Restoration requires more than the planting of trees, as Charles Karangwa, an IUCN Regional Forest Landscape Restoration Coordinator, noted at the conference: “Countries must enact polices, allocate budget to restoration implementation, track and learn from their progress.”

Newtonia buchananii seedling planted as an ornamental tree and shade tree in coffee, tea, and cocoa plantations. Brackenhurst Garden, Kenya. Photo by Sophie Mbugua.

One tool available to countries is the Bonn Challenge Barometer of Progress — a framework that helps countries track the implementation of their commitments, including restoration financing received, enabling policies adopted, carbon sequestered over time, socio-economic benefits (such as number of jobs) created, and number of hectares under restoration. In a session on the first day of the conference, Kenneth Angu Angu, an IUCN regional forest program coordinator for Central and West Africa, discussed the latest developments of the Bonn Challenge Barometer and how to enhance its application in Africa.

Based on the Bonn Challenge Barometer, Rwanda has already restored nearly 700,000 hectares of its 2-million-hectare commitment since 2011, at a cost of over $600 million. According to Francine Tumushime, Rwanda’s Minister of Land and Forestry, the country has managed to register 11.4 million title deeds, enabling tracking of land converted to agricultural purposes and forests. 24 percent of the land, Tumushime said, is owned by women, while 14 percent is owned by men and 58 percent is owned jointly.

“To effectively restore the landscapes and benefit communities dependent on it, we engaged the private sector through packaging landscape restoration as business opportunities, which has helped us triple forest restoration and climate change adaptation domestic finance,” Tumushime said.

Launched in fall 2016 and led by IUCN with support from Germany’s International Climate Change Initiative, the Bonn Challenge Barometer has been piloting landscape monitoring projects in Brazil, Rwanda, the United States, El Salvador, and Mexico, tracking FLR commitment progress per hectare as well as climate impacts and social economic progress.

While the Bonn Challenge Barometer helps track polices, carbon saved, and budget allocated, additional tools, such as Collect Earth, compliment the Barometer by helping countries track tree cover and current land uses through satellite imagery.

The Collect Earth tool lets countries know what their beginning state is (baseline vegetation) so that they can carry out restoration interventions while tracking how the land changes (measuring progress) and also which areas are changing the fastest or remaining restored over the long run (management support), Aaron Minnick of the Global Restoration Initiative explained at the GLF Africa Conference.

Kenya and Ethiopia have engaged Collect Earth, an open data collection tool, to map their baseline vegetation cover. Kenya, for instance, is employing the tool in Makueni County. The data is not yet finalized, but if the effort is successful, it will be scaled out to three more counties that have shown interest in landscape monitoring.

Sean DeWitt, director for global restoration initiatives at the World Resources Institute (WRI), discussed the potential uses of Collect Earth in Africa during a session on practical strategies to enable large-scale implementation of reforestation commitments held one day before the GLF Africa Conference at the third AFR100 annual partner meeting, which was also held in Nairobi.

Two additional monitoring tools were discussed at the AFR100 partner meeting. One was trends.Earth, a tool created by Conservation International (originally called the Land Degradation Monitoring Toolbox) that uses remote sensing technology to help inform land management and investment decisions. Meanwhile, Everlyne Nairesiae, a land expert at UN-Habitat, discussed the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN), an international alliance that develops and deploys tools designed to increase land tenure security, particularly for the poor and women.

Local communities key to restoration success

Not all of the solutions discussed at the GLF Africa Conference were tools for measuring restoration efforts. As countries prepare to track and report their progress in meeting their AFR100 commitments, the need to harmonize which indicators of success are reported on by countries was flagged as a necessity in order to help meet reporting requirements in the context of numerous international commitments. Involvement of academia, strong political will, collaboration between governmental sectors, and a shift towards landscape-level policies are also seen as key to achieving Africa’s restoration targets.

One of the most critical factors in the success of restoration efforts discussed at the GLF Africa Conference, however, was engagement with local communities. Esther Mwangi, a principal scientist for forests and governance at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), organized the opening day plenary session, which was the first plenary in the GLF’s five-year history to feature the voices of local community members.

“The GLF, happening on the back end of the [AFR 100 annual meeting], seemed an appropriate time to bring back into this discussion the role of communities on the ground, to shine a light on what they have been doing to restore landscapes over decades, to indicate whom they worked with and how, to capture their aspirations and opportunities going forwards, and to link them up with people from different parts of the continent who may hold similar or divergent views,” Mwangi told Mongabay in a Q&A published ahead of the conference. “They know where the shoe pinches, why not just hear from them directly?

Addressing land tenure and land rights of local communities is key, according to UN-Habitat’s Nairesiae, as only a high perception of land tenure security is likely to secure local communities’ full participation in restoration efforts.

Conference participants continually returned to the need for local community involvement in land restoration. It was clear in almost all of the conference’s sessions that farmers, pastoralists, and indigenous peoples must play a critical role as stewards of the landscapes African countries are seeking to restore.

Plant nursery in Yangambi, DRC. Photo by Axel Fassio/CIFOR, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.