On a Tuesday afternoon, Charity Lanoi stares out across the vast rangeland of the Kuku Group Ranch, nestled in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Here resides a dynamic community of Maasai people, who have been stewarding and protecting the biodiversity of southeastern Kenya for centuries.
However, challenges such as weak governance, environmental degradation, insecure land rights and access, and dryland fragility have faced the Maasai in recent years; Charity has made it her mission to help them overcome these difficulties.
As the Livelihoods Coordinator of the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, Charity spent the last year working to shift the attitude of the community to value the importance of dryland restoration.
She spent hours of each day engaging in frequent and intimate conversations, drawing the relationship between global environmental changes and local livelihoods.
As part of this work, Charity participated in the inaugural Restoration Stewards program—a joint landscape restoration initiative from the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) and Youth in Landscapes (YIL)—which equipped her with the resources to help create a grass seedbank that is now managed by the local Maasai women. By using the seedbank to restore the surrounding degraded rangelands, the Maasai can now better raise their livestock.
Alongside Charity, four other Restoration Stewards similarly mobilized youth and climate-vulnerable communities around the globe to address issues of deforestation, marine and coastal restoration, and mangrove rehabilitation to great success.
Here’s what they achieved during the 2020-2021 program:
Analí Bustos, Argentina
Analí Bustos (pictured at top) has long been determined to create change in society beyond her PhD research in agrosystems at the University of Buenos Aires. After joining the first Restoration Stewards cohort, Analí spent the following year working tirelessly to restore El Espinal, which ranks among the world’s most degraded forest ecosystems.
In her Monte Alegre Nature Reserve Project, she transferred a wealth of knowledge around the significance of ecosystem restoration to the local community, successfully inculcating a culture centered around ecological appreciation and care.
One of Analí’s main learnings from this work, she says, was to share ownership over her project and open herself up to her team member’s ideas. “Coordination with the work team has been one of the biggest challenges, I’m learning to delegate and trust everyone’s work, and I think that resultingly increased the involvement and desire of the team members to do their part well.”
The support from the Restoration Stewards program helped Analí increase the number of volunteers, outreach and social networks, and alliances with other organizations for the Monte Alegre Nature Reserve Project. They also built a native plant nursery, created an environmental education project for schools and conducted biodiversity censuses in the forest.
“I have personally gained experience, knowledge and confidence to continue expanding on this incredible mission that is ecological restoration,” she says. “The Monte Alegre Project will continue working to increase its number of restored hectares, while reaching more and more people who join in working with the land.”
Grace Easteria, Indonesia
Working as an environmental consultant in the Low Development Carbon Indonesia Foundation under Indonesia’s Ministry of National Development Planning, Grace Easteria achieved more than she could have expected.
Normally, she serves as an analyst for the implementation of climate resilience development policies and strategies in the marine and coastal sectors. However, in her time as a Restoration Steward, she has also launched the CarbonEthics project, which has been so successful in helping marine conservation that she has committed to elevating her project aims in the coming years.
In the Thousand Islands region off the coast of Jakarta, Grace worked to restore coral reefs that have been severely jeopardized largely by anthropogenic activity. With the support of the GLF and YIL, she mentored and fostered community awareness among local youth, educating them on the impact of climate change on coral reef ecosystems through her CarbonEthics curriculum.
Using climate education as the focal area of her work, Grace additionally implemented a community-based conservation model, where Indonesian coastal communities were equipped with the agency to lead and determine how the island coasts could be best protected and preserved. Grace successfully trained volunteers to plant and monitor coral reefs and fostered dialogues among multiple stakeholder groups on shifting toward coral-friendly eco-tourism.
But her work is not yet complete. Owing the success of her conservation project to the funding and mentorship received from the Restoration Stewards program, Grace will now upscale her work. “The next step is to continue developing local community members’ leadership skills as advocates for our coral ecosystems,” she says. “We will work to build community empathy toward the landscape through fundraising initiatives.”
Through this, she hopes to subvert the grim trend that has reduced the country’s coral reef population from 50 percent to 10 percent over the past few decades and restore broader appreciation for these vibrant ecosystems.
Charity Lanoi, Kenya
Charity Lanoi spent most of her days during the pandemic working with local Maasai people of the Kuku Group Ranch, mulling over ideas on how to restore their land through grass seedbanks and bunds.
Sifting through her work files, Charity reflects on the major successes of her project, which led to local Maasai women generating income through the sale of hay and grass seeds. But even more personal to her is the fact that for the Maasai women, the project led to a brave deviation from traditional economic dependency on their husbands.
Charity intimately recalls one situation: “One woman was able to send her girl to school after her husband refused to pay for school fees as he wanted to instead marry her off. Now the girl is in a national high school and doing well.” She then acknowledges how pivotal the trickle-down effects of her project will be. “I believe that after school, this young girl will be a role model to the community and other Maasai girls.”
COVID-19 presented a series of challenges that impeded the full extent to which Charity’s vision could come to fruition. Due to the waves of cases and government guidelines, Charity struggled to complete her plans to set up the seedbanks on time.
But through a one-month extension and sheer determination, Charity willed her team to install a chain link fence around a 10-acre grass seedbank, establish a beekeeping project of 15 hives managed and sold by women, and create a tree nursery. She now gleefully plans on ensuring the sustainability of her project to provide alternative livelihoods and increase awareness on the importance of dryland restoration.
Camille Rivera, Philippines
Frances Camille Rivera from Makati City works in the abandoned fishponds in La Union, monitoring mangroves in the south of the Philippines. Here, she has developed crucial community understanding on when and what species to plant in the local area.
The Restoration Stewards program helped Camille both in her goals in restoration and her personal career development beyond what she palpably imagined.
“I am very grateful for the program because it kickstarted the goal we have for our NGO, which is to restore mangroves. We were able to train community members about restoration, build a nursery of mangrove seedlings and plant 1,000 seedlings for storm protection,” Camille recaps.
Through the GLF and YIL, her project gained traction with other organizations, which has now led to new collaborations that can massively help spread awareness and mobilize more young people for ecosystem restoration activities.
Despite the many difficulties of this past year, Camille reminisces on one final memory etched in her mind. “When I was visiting our project site, I was conducting interviews to understand the needs of the community. Afterward, one community member told me in our dialect ‘Ma’am, please share with us all the knowledge you have about the mangroves so that we can share with other villages in the area.’ They want to be involved and learn. They want to share information. Her words made my heart big. I felt that what I am doing is worth it, and it reaffirmed the power of communities helping each other.”
Sumarni Laman, Indonesia
In her native rural landscape in Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan province, Sumarni Laman grew up wandering through lush forests and picking fruits and vegetables. Her childhood memories were imprinted with fond images of nature and wildlife, including wild orangutans.
But when she moved to the city of Palangka Raya in the early 2000s, things began to change. Lands in the province were cleared for development, fires ran rampant in the peatlands, and grasslands now stood over what was once pristine forests. Heartbroken, she set out to restore and protect Kalimantan from further degradation.
Sumarni began spending days planting tree seedlings, often requiring multiple tries due to their high susceptibility to extreme heat and inability to adapt to the changed landscape. Sumarni built a team, working tirelessly to replace dead trees with native tree species that were more weather-resistant.
And, all the while, Sumarni was faced with the pandemic and lockdown. “Many parts of Indonesia went into lockdown during the project, canceling several of our field activities,” she says.
Her region also weathered a flood at the end of 2021, which displaced thousands of people and made it difficult for her to access her tree-planting site.
With the support of the Restoration Stewards program, Sumarni nevertheless led The Heartland Project to great success. She raised awareness around deforestation and encouraged healthy reforestation through tree-planting and community education. The project thrived, with 8,000 trees having been planted and more than 3,500 community members supported across Kalimantan. Sumarni credits her drive and ammunition to the GLF.
“Being part of the Restoration Stewards program offered me the opportunity to study with a mentor who had an in-depth understanding of peatland ecosystems and Indigenous communities. My mentor frequently shared her insights with our team and connected us with a variety of ecosystem restoration specialists and practitioners,” Sumarni reflects.
And her goals for this next year? “Our organization, the Ranu Welum Foundation, will protect and conserve forest areas in Talekoi villages that are under the threat of coal mining expansion,” she says. “We will turn the area into an ecology center and plant various endangered endemic tree species to provide habitat for flora and fauna.”
All photos courtesy of Global Landscapes Forum.