Finding what works for national restoration plans

Lessons emerge from four countries in Latin America
Amazon River winds its way through forested and deforested landscapes
Aerial view of the Amazon river and rainforest, near Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas. CIAT/Neil Palmer

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Although only four Latin American countries have drawn up national plans so far to meet international commitments for forest restoration, other countries can learn from and build on those efforts, according to a new study.

Considering social and economic factors, as well as biological goals, in these plans is crucial in Latin America, where smallholders and indigenous communities have a role to play in ecological restoration, according to the researchers from Mexican universities and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

A bottom-up approach that includes local communities in the work of planning, restoration and monitoring is crucial for long-term success, the study finds.

“We applied a generic framework to discern commonalities and differences in the way ecological restoration is conceived among countries and how it would be implemented,” says CIFOR Principal Scientist Manuel Guariguata, one of the authors of the study.

“While crafting and adopting a national restoration plan is certainly an achievement for countries, our analysis revealed critical gaps that must be addressed in order to upscale ecological restoration to meet international commitments,” he says.


Thirteen Latin American countries have made international commitments to restore deforested or degraded land by 2020, but only four have completed restoration plans. The researchers looked at what those plans include — and what they don’t — and drew up recommendations for other countries in the region as they seek to meet their pledges.

The study grew out of efforts to draw up a national restoration plan for Mexico, which has made one of the region’s largest pledges, committing to restoring 8.5 million hectares by 2020, says Cristina Martínez-Garza of the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos en Cuernavaca.

“The idea was to look at the countries that already had plans and see how they had done them and what they included,” says Martínez-Garza, a member of the commission designing a restoration plan for Mexico.

To the commission’s surprise, however, only Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Guatemala had completed restoration plans. Brazil had two — a national plan and another specifically for restoration of the Atlantic coastal forest.


When they compared the plans, the researchers found some common elements and many differences. They were surprised that the four countries with plans were very different from each other, Martínez-Garza said.

Brazil is geographically large, with a large economy, although its per-capita income of US$15,800 is similar to Colombia’s, at US$14,700. Ecuador and Guatemala are much smaller, with economies that are just a fraction of the size of Brazil’s. Of the four countries, Guatemala has the largest proportion of indigenous people, at about 40% of the population.

The objectives outlined in the plans frequently mention ecosystem services and sustainable management. Several also mention securing financing for restoration efforts. Brazil’s national plan makes training and rural technical extension an objective, as well as research, development and innovation.

Ecuador’s plan mentions improving people’s quality of life, while Guatemala’s objectives link biodiversity with livelihoods.

The Society for Ecological Restoration (SER), based in Washington, DC, has drawn up a set of six International Standards for gauging the practice of ecological restoration. Although the four countries’ plans reflect some of those standards, none takes the entire set as a basis, Martínez-Garza says.

Nevertheless, there are many common elements, and the plans include elements not considered in the SER standard. That could lead to guidelines that are especially appropriate for Latin America, she says.

All of the plans include an emphasis on assisting natural recovery processes, which is one of the SER standards. Most also consider mosaics of forests and agriculture, reflecting the importance of keeping forested areas connected and taking into account smallholders who are part of the landscape, Martínez-Garza says.

All four countries used maps to identify priority areas for restoration, but none included a cost-benefit analysis in its planning, and only Brazil’s national plan calls for an analysis of the likelihood of success.


Monitoring and evaluation is a shortcoming in all the plans, as well.

“They mention monitoring, but not what [to monitor] or how,” says Martínez-Garza.

Means of financing mentioned in the plans include payment for environmental services and compensation for lost biodiversity, as well as government funds and grants from donors.

All of the plans call for involving local communities in restoration activities, although the communities are not necessarily involved in the planning. Guatemala and Colombia specifically mention the use of traditional knowledge in restoration activities.

Overall, the four countries’ plans reflect progress toward Latin America’s goal of restoring 20 million hectares of deforested or degraded land by 2020, says Moisés Méndez-Toribio of the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos in Mexico.


Analysis of the strengths and weaknesses led the researchers to propose criteria that Mexico and other countries can use to guide their restoration planning, he says.

First, they should emphasize a landscape approach at the national, regional and local scales, Méndez-Toribio says. They also should draw on the SER standards, although criteria for Latin America may vary slightly, especially by including social and economic factors in objectives and monitoring, he says.

Maps used to identify priority areas for restoration should include both biological and socioeconomic information, to avoid trying to plan a restoration project on land suitable for agricultural production, he says. If the land can be used for production, efforts to restore forest there are likely to fail.

We hope that other countries in the Latin American region that are developing national restoration plans will learn from our analysis

Manuel Guariguata, CIFOR Principal Scientist

The plan should include short-, medium- and long-range goals and actions in the political, social and economic spheres. The coordinators responsible for each area should be identified, and monitoring should be based on social and economic indicators, as well as biological and physical factors, Méndez-Toribio says.

To ensure sustainability, the plan should take a bottom-up approach, involving local communities from the beginning of the planning process, and ensuring that they benefit from ecological restoration. Long-range plans for financing are also crucial.

Ultimately, however, the region’s success in meeting its restoration commitments will depend not just on having national plans, but on ensuring that they are carried out despite changes in government administrations.

“We hope that other countries in the Latin American region that are developing national restoration plans will learn from our analysis,” Guariguata says.

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