East Africa is leading the continent in a global effort to restore 350 million hectares of the world’s deforested land by 2030, but it can do better.
This was said by Jesca Eriyo, EAC Deputy Secretary-General in charge of productive and social sectors, during an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the African High Level Roundtable on Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) this week.
Eriyo said: “The challenge is that we are supposed to work hard as a region together to make sure that we realise our commitments by 2020.
“But, Rwanda, by 2018 or 2019, I am very sure will report even more than the commitment it made. The East African region is taking the lead in Africa. I am very happy about that”.
The two-day session which culminated in the Kigali Declaration on Forest Landscape Restoration in Africa saw countries reaffirm commitment to the Bonn Challenge, a global effort to restore 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded lands by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030.
Experts say political commitment to scale up restoration successes is growing, with countries like Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and Kenya making significant commitments.
Conflict-torn Burundi commits to restore two million hectares, Uganda 2.5 million hectares, while Kenya commits to restore 5.1 million hectares.
However, Eriyo said: “Tanzania has not yet made its pledge. We are waiting for them to conclude their process”.
Dr Vincent Biruta, Minister for Natural Resources, admitted that Rwanda faces landscape and forestry management challenges and, as such, forest landscape restoration is no longer a choice but a necessity.
“On our journey to Forest Landscape Restoration, we need everyone on board: government, the private sector, civil society and communities,” Biruta said.
“We also need creativity in our search for solutions to our climate change challenges. Together, I have no doubt we can meet the expectations of our people.”
In 2011, Rwanda undertook that by 2035 it would achieve country-wide reversal of natural resource degradation; improve ecosystem quality and resilience; provide new opportunities for rural livelihoods; and secure adequate water and energy supplies.
Dr. Dennis Garrity, a systems agronomist and research leader currently Drylands Ambassador for the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, said land degradation in Africa is “a serious crisis.”
Garrity who is also Senior Fellow at the World Resources Institute and distinguished Senior Research Fellow at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), in Nairobi, said success will require a broad-based EverGreening Movement for land regeneration and food security.
“It will require setting targets and carefully monitoring progress. The tools for that are now available. And it will require cross-sectoral coordination and goodwill with an ‘All-In’ spirit of collaboration,” he said.
The Bonn Challenge is an implementation vehicle for national priorities such as water and food security and rural development while contributing to the achievement of international climate change, biodiversity and land degradation commitments.
The 2020 target was launched at a high-level event in Bonn in 2011 and was later endorsed and extended to 2030 by the New York Declaration on Forests of the 2014 UN Climate Summit.
Underlying the Bonn Challenge is the FLR approach, which aims to improve human well-being through multifunctional landscapes.
Stewart Maginnis, the Global Director of the Nature-based Solutions Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), explained that the FLR concept’s goal is to return and enhance multiple ecosystem goods and services simultaneously, thereby restoring economic productivity and ecological integrity to degraded landscapes.
It is not just about forestry or trees or about planting individual sites, he said, but it requires; integration with other land uses, delivery of a broader range of societal benefits, and a vision for a better managed landscape.
Eriyo said a number of factors, including over logging, population pressures, opening land for agriculture, mining and other things including climate change, have contributed to deforestation “in our region and we have seen that deforestation has caused a lot of problems”.
“Our water resources have reduced in quality and quantity. We need to change that. Our rainfall patterns have changed because the forest contributes to rainfall modulation in our region.
“We hope that once we do this restoration, the future will be better for our people; we’ll have more rainfall and more agricultural productivity”.