What’s missing in land restoration: the ‘middle’

What’s missing in land restoration: the ‘middle’

To achieve global and national restoration goals, involvement of groups at all levels of society is needed, argue researchers in a new policy brief.

While evidence that international and national groups are already well involved in land restoration, the same cannot be said of sub-national governments, community-based and non-governmental organizations, communities and private enterprises. The absence of this critical meso-level is what a research team from the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) refer to in a new policy brief as the ‘missing middle’.

‘These groups are necessary for scaling-up restoration,’ said Peter Minang, lead author of the brief, principal scientist and director for Africa with CIFOR-ICRAF, ‘and this state-of-affairs is likely hampering replication of well-documented, best restoration practices as well as limiting capacity to scale up. This may place in jeopardy the path to global restoration.’

Restoration needs many different groups to co-design socially, economically and environmentally sustainable solutions, argue the researchers.

‘While groups at local levels engage in the implementing phase of a restoration project, at the same time, financiers mostly engage in the preliminary planning and design stage, which results in low participation and influence by local groups in investment and planning decisions,’ said Lalisa Duguma, co-author of the brief and scientist working on sustainable landscapes and integrated climate actions.

The African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative and the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration only feature international organizations on their list of partners. The Global EverGreening Alliance recorded only six out of 36 partners and the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration noted five out of 35 partners at national and local levels.

The same is witnessed in implementation for donors, researchers and developmental organizations, write the research team. And while the role of the private sector has been gaining increasing attention in discussions concerning financing sustainable land management and restoration, middle-level institutions, both governmental and non-governmental, and community-based groups are also critical for restoring degraded land.

International and large national NGOs are significant in raising awareness and advocating for issues. They are crucial in piloting, designing and promoting policy changes. However, a critical mass of meso-level and local institutional involvement is needed in the implementation phase of a restoration project, argue the team.

Priscilla Wainaina, a co-author of the brief, noted that ‘continual adaptation to an evolving finance market is required’. She added that meso-level institutions play a crucial role in accessing innovative financing sources to address gaps in national and international forest-restoration financing and later decipher these into feasible actions.

Proactive engagement of meso-level organizations was recommended by the research team.

‘International platforms and mechanisms working on restoration need to ramp up the engagement of meso- as well as local organizations, including community-based organizations, and bring them into the dialogue and discourse,’ said Minang.

Manuel Guariguata, co-author and scientist at CIFOR-ICRAF, emphasized that academe also plays a vital role in building the necessary capacity for restoration.

‘However, a gap looms between what is taught at universities and restoration on the ground,’ he said.

Shortages of skills and knowledge gaps need to be addressed to encompass restoration's social, cultural, economic and political dimensions.

Among the recommendations in the brief, the team argued, in particular, for investment in building capacity, which is projected to yield more returns than any other type of investment in landscape restoration.

In order to accelerate the uptake of restoration in the missing middle, sustained training and learning through networking and knowledge platforms were also recommended along with enterprise development and business support in addition to regular agroforestry and forestry extension services.

Minang PA, Anulisa CO, Wainaina P, Duguma LA, Guariguata MR. 2021. The ‘missing middle’: landscape restoration’s greatest challenge? Policy Brief 60. Nairobi, Kenya: World Agroforestry (ICRAF).

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