From paper to reality: The task of restoring Latin America’s forest landscapes
Latin America – Latin America has committed to restoring 27.7 million hectares of forest landscapes by 2020 under the Bonn Challenge — but how ready are the legal frameworks in the region to advance this goal, and how effectively are they being implemented?
To shed light on the state of governance of Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) in Latin America, scientists at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and Sao Paulo University in Brazil analyzed the legal frameworks of 17 countries in the region.
The study, (in Spanish), aimed at decision-makers and practitioners across the public, private and non-profit sectors, examines legal frameworks regulating the restoration of forests, gauges the perceptions of local actors on their implementation, and offers key recommendations to help take FLR from paper to reality.
“The existing legal frameworks could be used to foster restoration, and there is political momentum to achieve FLR goals,” says co-author Daniella Schweizer.
Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Guatemala, for instance, already have national plans to advance the agenda, and other countries in the region are drafting theirs in response to the Bonn Challenge — a global effort to restore 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded land by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030.
However, “plans do not specify what sort of bottlenecks need to be overcome when it comes to executing them on the ground,” says Manuel Guariguata, CIFOR researcher and co-author of the study.
Oportunidades y desafíos para la gobernanza de la restauración del paisaje forestal en América Latina
IMPACT AT SCALE
For Schweizer, intersectoral cooperation is one of the major challenges to rolling out restoration at the landscape level. Shifting away from fragmented, short-lived pilots to achieve impact at scale requires “stable platforms in which all actors have a voice and clearly established responsibilities.”
Mexico and Guatemala are among the countries that have taken the lead in creating these structures and, in the latter, interviewed actors feel especially “optimistic” about the future of FLR implementation in their territory.
From a legal and institutional perspective, the study calls for the harmonization of regulations and for integrated land management. Specifically, “the coordination between the agricultural and environmental sectors, which often work separately and even contradict each other.”
According to Schweizer, an obstacle to agreement on multisectoral strategies is the fact that FLR means different things to different actors. Hence, “it is crucial that the objectives of an FLR initiative are clear, so that its outcome can be adequately monitored.”
There are no FLR-based, internationally agreed principles that guide national restoration plans nor their implementation
Likewise, legal frameworks should clarify which of the various FLR activities they regulate, be they ecological restoration, agroforestry or silvopastoral systems. “This is because FLR seeks to optimize different land-use activities that sometimes compete with each other,” Guariguata says.
“Conflicting legal frameworks have a lot to do with this, since there are no FLR-based, internationally agreed principles that guide national restoration plans nor their implementation,” he explains.
Another key to implementing FLR in the region has to do with continuity. Restoration is a process that may take decades to deliver its full benefits, explains Schweizer, so it calls for financial and policy provisions that go well beyond presidential mandates.
A critical activity, for example, is capacity-building for the implementation and monitoring of restoration activities, both among civil society and local stakeholders.
Respondents in countries such as Guatemala, though, noted that ephemeral educational campaigns and financial incentives lead people to “cut down or burn up the trees they planted as soon as interventions are over,” says Schweizer.
FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE
Next steps in research include the identification of social, economic and political indicators — not only ecological ones — to assess how likely a potential FLR intervention is to succeed in a given context, she says.
She also mentions the need to conduct further research on how to make restoration “more cost-effective and attractive,” while safeguarding the goals of increasing biodiversity and ecosystem services.
A third priority is to continue gauging the perceived barriers to FLR implementation by stakeholders in the field. For this researcher, “restoration should not be an academic or theoretical discipline, but involve the various actors on the ground.”
Restoration should not be an academic or theoretical discipline, but involve the various actors on the ground
Despite the various challenges, Schweizer highlights two positive trends: an increasing awareness of the ecological services and products that restored landscapes deliver, and a greater understanding of the need for stakeholders to coordinate their work — “not just in words, but also in practice.”
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