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Colombia - 11 December, 2020
Catalina Vargas & Carlos Rodriguez - Tropenbos Colombia
Corpoamazonia, the environmental authority in the Colombian Amazon, reports that 75,000 hectares of forest was lost in the first trimester of 2020, the same as in the whole of 2019. Participative productive restoration of forest landscapes aims to restore deforested land and improve livelihoods of those living in these areas. But most involved institutions approach this process from a very technical perspective, promoting the planting of trees species not always aligned with local conditions, and rely on ‘standard’ species, nurseries, cultivation patterns, management procedures and follow-up. But local communities have the capacity to build their own reforestation programmes based on traditional forest management, leading to truly participative productive restoration.
Tropenbos Colombia talks to indigenous peoples when formulating restoration programmes, listening to their traditional knowledge of land use and tenure, cultivation patterns, local capacity, and the importance of non-commercial species for their role in a healthy ecosystem and community wellbeing , such as lianas, fungi, mosses and bromeliads that they say provide ‘energy’.
Collective implementation makes communication channels direct, leading to better opportunities to solve problems and establish community commitment. It is imperative to include women as they hold significant knowledge regarding family food security and health. Elders also must be consulted because of their wisdom regarding ecological calendars, the interactions of trees and all forest species – animals and plants – and the way each needs to be taken care of.
To formulate a restoration programme including local visions, the following actions are needed:
Institutions understand economic benefits as values, production costs, risks, and economic opportunities, but they do not consider the value of non-commercial species and desire for food security and health.
Tropenbos Colombia has been working with Way Matapí in a pilot restoration programme in the mid river Caquetá area. This indigenous young man is convinced that restoration has great importance in the future of communities and is focused in developing a concept to better understand and include community values. For example, some trees generate income in the long term, allowing communities and individuals to plan ahead in terms of future investments, and has been advocating such messages – that trees planted today will generate income to pay for the education of their children. Way Matapí also advanced a restoration pilot including 20 commercial species now growing with companion species, also involving his family and community by planting in more than 5 hectares during the Covid-19 lockdown. It has been challenging, but there are also early benefits from firewood and fruit. Nevertheless, it is difficult to make communities understand the short term benefits that restoration represents.
Raising awareness is crucial and restoration programmes needs a very strong social component, and that builds on local cultivation systems as a regular activity that communities understand, including the concept of including species not only for food, but wood for construction, palm fronds for thatch, species for handcrafts and plants for nature itself.
A crucial element in designing restoration programmes is to understand local perspectives, and if not, projects will surely fail, as so many have in the past. Strategies must adapt to agricultural and ecological cycles, local practices and decision making. Based on research and pilots, Tropenbos Colombia launched a citizen lab to consolidate truly participative productive restoration proposals following dialogue with communities and technical support from forestry, financial and market advisors, and universities and CSOs working in the Amazon region.