In Kenya the project focused on semi-arid Makueni County, with a population of just under one million. “It was really important to consult with people at the local (ward) level to determine which restoration interventions would be acceptable and would also benefit the largest number of people,” says Mary Mbenge, Makueni County’s Chief Officer for Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change. “We consulted with them through a public participation exercise, together with the county government, to prioritize the best restoration options.”
Google Earth satellite images were used in two districts of Ethiopia, not only to understand tree-cover changes over time but also to inform implementation on the ground. The goal was to meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, achieve food security, and prevent sedimentation of waterbodies through afforestation and reforestation, tree-planting in agricultural areas, trees along roads and on riverbanks, and erosion mitigation measures. While these measures have been implemented for many years in Ethiopia, district decision makers are now able to share their implementation data extracted from satellite images to boost restoration efforts.
In Niger, people own land but not the trees on that land, so they may not see any benefit in planting trees they don’t own. In any given setting all stakeholders need to be consulted so that there is local, regional and national buy-in for any restoration initiatives to be effective. “The challenges under the current legal context in Niger may soon be transformed thanks to the engaged leadership at the national level, which was a result of the consultative approach provided by the restoration project,” says WRI’s Salima Mahamoudou, who works in Niger.
Niger is a harsh environment for landscape restoration, but the country has managed to achieve considerable success in building its part of the Great Green Wall and contributing to the African Forest Landscape Restauration Initiative (AFR100). This shows that tree planting and other restoration initiatives are possible when the private sector, government and local people are on board.
For decades, many farmers in Niger cleared the shoots re-growing from old tree stumps and roots to add nutrients to the soil and plants. But 15 years ago, Sakina Mati and Ali Neno Malam decided to try something different. They began to maintain the shoots instead, by identifying the healthiest stems and trimmed off the rest. This selective pruning and protection of young stems, known as assisted natural regeneration, stimulates the growth of new leaves and shoots from old, hidden root systems. It allows the tree roots to pull water from deep underground, irrigating crops and stabilizing the nutrient-rich soil.
“Fifteen years ago, I had no trees on my land, and I had to wake up very early to go and look for fuel to cook with because we didn’t have wood,” Sakina Mati told the project team. “But today, one can count more than 150 trees on my farmland.” The regreening efforts led by Sakina Mati, Ali Neno and their community, have allowed them to have firewood, fodder for their animals—and the excess wood produced triggered the creation of a local wood market for the neighbouring villages.
“Planting trees on peatlands is probably not the best way to do land restoration in Indonesia,” says Hidayah Hamzah, an analyst with WRI who was involved with the project. Landscape restoration in Indonesia, as elsewhere, is linked to socioeconomic challenges: peatlands need rewetting, and water channels reopening to properly restore peatlands which, if they catch fire, release enormous amounts of CO2. Consultation was very relevant to gather this information.
“The project has been a great learning experience,” says Mahamoudou.
“We’ve learned that restoration mapping has to fit the country and must make the connection with local people. Governments and donors need to be convinced of its beneficial socioeconomic impact. One of the prerequisites for successful landscape restoration is identifying key actors to help unlock restoration activities. Short-term projects are not the solution,” she adds.
Restoring degraded land is only part of the picture. We need to avoid land degradation, by addressing its drivers and through proactive measures to prevent adverse change in land quality of non-degraded land and confer resilience, via appropriate regulation, planning and management practices.
Land degradation can also be reduced or mitigated on agricultural and forest land through application of sustainable management practices.
“Where feasible, some (but rarely all) of the productive potential and ecological services of degraded land can be restored or rehabilitated through actively assisting the recovery of ecosystem functions,” says Piest. “That’s where this project comes in.”