The merits of community-based restoration

Globally, the area that is suffering desertification and land degradation is ever expanding. Unsustainable and often large-scale agricultural practices, including the copious use of pesticides and fertilizers, are a major driver of land degradation, aprocess that is further exacerbated by climate change, causing more erratic rainfall patterns, longer periods of drought and unpredictable growing seasons. This is very problematic not only for the hundreds of millions of people who directly depend on land and water for their livelihoods, but also for life on earth as a whole. It is clear that this process must be stopped and reversed, better sooner than later. But how to go about it?

Promising initiatives

Fortunately, all around the world promising initiatives are emergingto turn the tide. Both ENDS is supporting a number of these initiatives by working together with local organisations and networks. In various countries in the Sahel for example, groups of farmers and pastoralists have restored vast tracts of land by nurturing what spontaneously sprouts from the soil and protecting these young plants from cattle and other hazards. In Sri Lanka, plantation owners together with local communities have transformed degraded tea plantations into productive food forests, where sustainable tea is grown under a canopy of avocado, coconut and pepper. In Bolivia, small-scale farmers have embraced agroecology and the accompanying biological pest control methods to counter the destructive expansion of industrial agriculture causing the pollution of water and soils.

The merits

These are just a few examples, but similar community-based restoration and sustainable land use initiatives are happening at the grassroots levelall around the world, sometimes as answers to current destructive practices, sometimes as a continuation of what people have already been doing successfully for decades. They are future-proof ways to reach Sustainable Development Goal 15: ‘Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.’ They can not only make a relevant contribution to addressing land degradation, but also climate change. While on the one hand they help mitigation efforts through the absorption of carbon by newly grown trees and improved soils, on the other hand they also have a positive impact on people’s income, health, adaptive capacity and resilience.

Community-based and inclusive

Although they can be very different, community-based restoration and land use initiatives have important common features that might explain their success, be it on a large or a smaller scale. Firstly and most importantly – they are community-based. This means that they have to be grounded within the community itself and be adopted and implemented by its members – with or without support from others. When people feel ownership and see their needs met in both the short and the long run, they are more inclined to use a certain method as analternative way. Another important feature is inclusiveness: all people that might be positively or negatively affected by sustainable land use or restoration activities (herders, farmers, women, youth and water users, amongst others), should be involved in the decision making and implementation of these initiatives.

Make it grow

In order for such initiatives to grow, flourish, scale up and spread, several conditions must be met. First of all, land (use) rights are extremely important. Who will invest time and energy in land that can be taken away at any moment? Also, communities, scientists and policy makers must work together and exchange both scientific and local knowledge and experiences to improve and disseminate certain land use and restoration methods. Last but not least, access to technical and financial resources is crucial to let these initiatives develop to their full potential as alternatives to current and often destructive (agricultural) practices.

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