It is said that a patient knows the pain and where it pains the most and ecosystem degradation is no different. A community living in a degraded area knows what goes on and the magnitude of damage caused by their activities. That same community has the power to solve the problem provided they have the necessary skills, knowledge, and resources.
A journal of nature ecology and evolution argues that bestowing communities the rights and power to restore and manage forests provides an auspicious opportunity to streamline climate mitigation and promote sustainable development.
Building the capacities of communities on environmental conservation practices not only solves the problem but also elicits a sense of belonging and enhances sustainability.
World Vision Australia’s Principal Natural Resources Advisor, Tony Rinaudo said while speaking during one of GLF Africa’s 2021 digital conference sessions, that the single most important thing to do is to empower communities as it energizes them. It is this same community that determines the sustainability of restoration projects.
“Ultimately, it’s the community that determines the ongoing success or failure of these programs,” Rinaudo said.
More often than not, communities are not prioritized during the planning process of restoration activities; yet, this same community that lives on the ground and in the program area is the first responder should there be any unfortunate occurrences such as wildfires.
Therefore, it is imperative to transform communities first before initiating a restorative project in order to realize change. This means the community should be invited to the planning process, and their ideas and suggestions should be incorporated in the final product to be implemented as communities possess more knowledge in equal measures to the experts. In fact, they are THE experts of their environments.
Charles Karangwa, the Regional Lead- Forests, Landscapes and Livelihoods Programme; Country Representative for Rwanda–(IUCN) during GLF Africa conference stated that “Local communities have huge knowledge and they know more than we know. We should listen to them, plan with them and assist them technically in implementing their plans.” “Community-led restoration efforts are sustainable,” he added.
Recognizing the power and ability of local communities to drive forth the restoration initiatives is not enough. Developing tailored workshops and modules of training based on the nature of their landscapes, the magnitude of degradation, cultural, social, and economic status of communities is ideal.
Designing projects that directly benefit the communities in addition to restoring degraded areas is central in ensuring sustainability. Restorative projects that generate income even though passively are better received. Similarly, incentivizing individuals and groups within communities to venture into restorative projects improve communal livelihoods and ecological standards. Essentially, communities invest more time, energy and resources in such initiatives.
“We must invest in incentives and share rehabilitation costs,” asserted Agnes Kalibata, the President, UN Special Envoy-The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), 2021 Food Systems Summit, while speaking at GLF Africa.
Access to financial services for green projects is fundamental to realize the success of community-led restoration projects. In many countries, especially in the African continent, funds for socio-environmental activities are limited and competitive. Thus, social enterprises focusing on ecosystem restoration, such as indigenous tree seedling establishment and access to quality seeds is a problem.
Wanjira Mathai, Vice President and Regional Director for Africa – World Resources Institute (WRI), noted during the GLF Africa conference that “our entrepreneurs need access to finance so that they can scale up.”
To complement the knowledge and financial boost, the development and implementation of applicable policies is also vital. The communities need to understand the legal and institutional frameworks governing restoration initiatives.
Utilization of environmental resources is surrounded by many policies and regulations that most communities do not understand or act against them when they are not fully informed or imposed on them without alternative options.
For instance, to reduce deforestation caused by charcoal burning, the community needs to understand the significance of a forest, why they are being told to plant more trees and stop cutting them, as well as the importance of a given policy or regulation.
Therefore, fronting, supporting and investing in community-led restoration initiatives is the first and most crucial step in restoring degraded landscapes in Africa, addressing desertification, food insecurity and climate change impacts.