Forest landscape restoration: A strategy for shifting to sustainable production to combat deforestation?

Fri, 13 Jan 2017

Current generations and those to come are faced with this complex challenge: given the scarcity of productive land, how to ensure the well-being of 7.4 billion people and accommodate an estimated 1 billion more in the next 13 years without further depleting the base of life itself – our land and forests.

The restoration of degraded and under-performing landscapes is an opportunity for a range of actors to increase the global resource base for more sustainable future production of food and commodities while addressing current and future global challenges, including deforestation. By regaining productive land and integrating it into sustainable natural resource management systems, we can decrease the pressure on natural forests and ecosystems while allowing both smallholder and large commodity producers to meet demands for increased agricultural and commodity production

Implementing forest landscape restoration (FLR) at scale can be a viable way for the private sector to shift to sustainable production without the need to scale back their operations or engage in practices that may lead to further degradation and deforestation. FLR can support the growth of small and large businesses and revive national economies through revenue and job creation, decreasing risks in other productive sectors and driving a transition towards a low-carbon and green economy. Scientific research shows that restoration interventions, in particular agroforestry for smallholders or large-scale agroforestry, can lead to diversification of production practices that are becoming increasingly important to adapt to climate change and lead to better yields of commodities such as coffee, cocoa and palm oil.

International, national and sub-national actors within the restoration movement are building evidence that FLR is an economically robust activity – attracting not only the attention of the public sector, but also offering considerable opportunities for the private sector across their value chains. IUCN is working with governments, the private sector, NGOs and civil society, and the scientific community to raise awareness of the benefits and cost-effectiveness of nature-based solutions, including FLR, and providing practical guidance for their implementation. In Brazil, for example, we are working with partners to strengthen the economic viability of restoration using native species and removing barriers that hinder private sector investments.

Some deforestation-free initiatives have already recognised the role of restoration in reaching these commitments as well as the zero net deforestation (ZND) target of no overall loss to forest area and forest quality by 2020. However, the restoration component has largely been cited as having the potential to offset the loss of natural forests (which has slowed down since the 1990's, but is still occurring at an alarming rate). While there is a need for a realistic scenario where future needs for infrastructure development and agricultural production can be offset by restoration, the potential contribution of restoration to the zero percent equation of ZND goes well beyond that. Restoration can play a substantial role in preventing further deforestation while enabling the sustainable production of food and commodities, creating new opportunities for viable economic activities, and ensuring the supply of ecosystem services including carbon sequestration, and increased resilience. And all these potential gains come from currently degraded and sub-optimally used land. 

Private investors and commodity producers who seek to operationalise their deforestation-free and ZND pledges through private-public partnerships, while also addressing the needs and livelihoods of people who depend on these resources, should explore FLR approaches to achieve these goals. To date, almost 40 governments, associations, and companies worldwide have already pledged to restore nearly 140 million hectares of forests.  These commitments provide fertile ground for inverstors and producers.

While reinforcing these opportunities and prospective gains from restoration to address deforestation, we are not downplaying the challenges associated with integrating restoration into the pathways of the private and public sectors. As is the case with most global challenges, it requires rethinking current business scenarios and breaking away from business-as-usual practices. Above all, it requires collaboration, creating partnerships, and forging alliances to allow for the flow of ideas and the aggregation of knowledge that will lead to transformative solutions – and affect the decisions of a single farmer, a policy maker, a board member or a consumer; all working towards the same goal.

IUCN is helping to address this challenge by synthesizing and disseminating strong technical knowledge and best examples that offer solutions for combating deforestation by accelerating restoration, and by conceptualizing and testing future land-use scenarios that incorporate the goals of reducing deforestation and increasing restoration while meeting demands for increased food and commodity production.

Click here for more information on the IUCN call for papers “Achieving deforestation-free commitments through restoration”. The call is open until 5 February 2017. Apply now.