Researchers, practitioners and community members

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Image: In Debre Berhan, central Ethiopia, the community has restored previously degraded land using water extraction techniques and the installation of dams
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Photo credit: CIAT / Georgina Smith

Remediation efforts have unique potential to improve environmental outcomes and human wellbeing. They are the focus of the recently launched UN Decade for the Restoration of Ecosystems. However, if one ignores the social dimensions of environmental initiatives, environmental and other goals are unlikely to be achieved. Neglecting social and people-centered recovery models can lead to land grabbing, conflict and further marginalization of vulnerable groups, say the authors of a new paper.Ten human-centered rules for a socially sustainable restoration of ecosystems. ”

To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, a shift towards restoration strategies that recognize complex social and cultural realities is crucial. The authors question “top-down” restoration approaches that do not recognize the importance of humans in nature. The paper’s 47 authors represent different nationalities, backgrounds and sectors and are associated with restoration initiatives around the world.

“Too often, social issues are relegated to the local level instead of considering the human dimensions necessary for a successful recovery, including questions of voice and legitimacy, in setting global agendas,” the paper says. Calling for human-centered restoration efforts, they point out that the emphasis on “stakeholder engagement” often fails to recognize the underlying power networks and critical social, political, and economic considerations underlying the restoration.

“Dealing with people in landscapes, each with their own interests in the resources they manage, is complex and a chaotic undertaking,” explains lead author Marlène Elias, Senior Scientist at Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT. “The complexity is overwhelming for restorers and often leads to a standstill. We are trying to uncover these issues without being reductionist, including important dimensions that recovery initiatives must have on the radar for equitable and sustainable results. “

The rules cover the need to recognize diversity among stakeholders; points out that building trust takes time, conscious effort and investment to actively engage communities as agents of change, for example by holding meetings in communities in local languages ​​rather than in administrative offices. They address the importance of jointly opening up socio-historical development pathways to inform engagement and the need to strengthen resource use for marginalized groups and promote equal opportunities. The rules call for multiple benefits within ecosystems to be considered, including various cultural and social benefits that are often difficult to quantify, monetize, and trade.

“It’s not about ticking boxes, it’s about engaging people properly in order to achieve successful results. One of the most important things we highlight is that restoration is not just about economics, it is ultimately about people, ”said Stephanie Mansourian, co-author and environmental consultant and associate researcher at the University of Geneva. “They could restore food security, spiritual sites, or important timber for construction. Communities can be compensated for ecosystem services such as improving water quality, but people will also protect trees or regenerate their ecosystems because they need the services. Restoration is about more than reductionist compensation initiatives. Typically, the social dimension is completely forgotten or limited to a superficial and generally insufficient “engagement or consultation” of stakeholders. We’ll check what that means and how you can do it right. “

The seventh rule deals with the fair distribution of costs, risks and benefits in the landscape. The eighth rule takes into account the importance of relying on different types of evidence and knowledge to determine what constitutes evidence? and: ‘Whose knowledge counts?’ The ninth rule questions dominant discourses such as ecosystem degradation. For example, guilt for “unsustainable” land use practices such as overgrazing reveals little about the structures and contextual factors that drive these processes, including politics, subsidies and marginalization. The last rule calls for inclusive and holistic monitoring, evaluation and learning so that the local people can decide what, how and when to measure. It calls for the need to question who is doing the measurement and gather data that addresses local concerns.

Developed as actionable guidance for practitioners, policy makers, and researchers among others, the rules follow a specific theme in Ecological restoration and apply equally to the restoration of marine ecosystems, lakes, wetlands, forests and other ecosystems. “We have decades of restoration initiatives that were unsustainable because they were looking for abbreviations,” explains Ruth Meinzen-Dick, co-author and senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. “And what we are saying is that integrative and holistic planning – recognizing diversity at all levels – is the prerequisite for long-term, sustainable restoration.”

The paper “Ten Human-Centered Rules for Socially Sustainable Ecosystem Restoration” is a community initiative that contributes to the CGIAR research programs for forests, trees and agroforestry; Policies, institutions and markets; and water, land and ecosystems.


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