Climate change threatens food production and efforts to keep pace with the world’s rapidly increasing population – projected by the U.N. to reach some 9.8 billion people by 2050.
Rising temperatures, water scarcity and growing pressures on already-depleted natural resources could further weaken global food security in the near future. Already, 815 million people—one in nine—do not get enough food to eat and one in three people suffer from malnutrition.
The challenges are immense, but the potential exists to maximize existing resources by reversing land and environmental degradation. Estimates by World Resources Institute indicate that 2 billion hectares of deforested and degraded land worldwide – an area roughly the size of South America – are available for restoration.
Landscape restoration requires a combination of economic incentives, changes in agricultural practices, and policies that support preservation and conservation efforts, according to researchers with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global network of government and civil society organizations, which favors forest landscape restoration (FLR).
Through restoration of goods, services and ecological processes forests offer at the landscape level, human demand can be met more sustainably, according to a joint paper by IUCN, which features examples from several countries.
The potential impact of looking at forests as holistic, interconnected “systems” is substantial.
Worldwide, high-economic value tree species offer income, fuelwood, timber, medicine and nutritious food for more than 1.6 billion people. Agroforestry is another strategy for improving land productivity sustainably with potential benefits for more than 1 billion people. Mangrove restoration can aid coastal erosion and increase carbon sequestration.
The IUCN Report – Enhancing food security through forest landscape restoration – argues that FLR approaches offer “win-win” solutions that address degradation, enhance productivity and develop resilient food systems. The report backs up its claim with seven case studies.
In Burkina Faso, FLR restored the productivity of degraded lands, conserved soil and water, increased biodiversity and diversified agricultural production: non-timber forest products, fodder and crops have addressed food deficits and forests are now perceived as safety nets by local communities.
Cocoa-based agro-forestry systems introduced to the Brazilian Amazon have also diversified production. These systems, which include the production of cassava, maize and bananas, have restored degraded pastures, enhanced food security, and through existing cocoa market chains generated additional incomes for rural communities. Improved varieties, extension services and training have also enhanced cocoa production in Ghana, helping to ease land degradation challenges and food insecurity.
Efforts to restore communal land in Ethiopia have demonstrated that large-scale landscape restoration initiatives are economically viable and more productive than efforts on a smaller scale.
In Guatemala, FLR approaches to reversing degradation have tapped indigenous knowledge, revitalizing the ancient practice of planting dispersed trees within the plots of annual crops. The result: soils and crops gain protection from the eroding effects of rain and soil moisture is preserved during drought periods.
The restoration of mangrove forests in Vietnam has enhanced the food security and livelihoods of poor coastal communities, supporting fisheries and habitats. Communities also benefit from protection against storms and typhoons.
Finally, restoration efforts combining reforestation, agro-forestry and crop cultivation in upland regions of the Philippines have generated financial returns for farmers while addressing underlying degradation challenges and conserving the rich biodiversity of upland areas.
An analysis of these case studies reveals several lessons that can enhance the implementation of the FLR approach elsewhere. First, restoration initiatives must address the socioeconomic and food security needs of smallholder farmers and their communities.
“Experience suggests that when a reforestation initiative does not provide short- and long-term financial benefits, and is in conflict with smallholder subsistence farmer activities in terms of time, labor and use of the land, the program is unlikely to succeed,” write the authors of the report.
Experience also reveals the need for impact investments: building a solid business plan to bring investment resources to agricultural supply chains is essential to support project expansion and deliver environmental, social and economic benefits. Additional considerations include institutional partnerships and capacity strengthening for farmers and extension agents so they can apply new innovations.
Finally, success will be dependent on a strong enabling environment. “There is a need to analyze policy, legal and institutional frameworks and identify favorable and unfavorable conditions,” states the report. “Research–based evidence is important to mainstream and strengthen adequate action and should be used to inform policy dialogue on the importance of integrating restoration into land-use plans to ensure the food security of smallholders.”
Photo of regenerative farm in Ethiopia via Adobe Stock.
This article by Jack Durrell originally appeared in Landscape News. Reprinted with permission.