Participatory productive restoration takes root in Colombia

Participatory productive restoration takes root in Colombia

Colombia - 29 April, 2021

The Government of Colombia aims to plant 180 million trees by 2022. To ensure that local communities are effectively involved, Tropenbos Colombia calls for the participatory productive restoration approach.

At the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the Government of Colombia announced the most ambitious tree-planting programme in the country’s history. The aim is to plant 180 million trees by 2022, which includes the restoration of more than 300,000 hectares of degraded land. It will be a huge undertaking, involving municipal governments, environmental authorities and several ministries—even the Ministry of National Defence.

By the end of 2020, the first activities were already evident in the field, after the military established enormous nurseries of fast-growing tree species. This is exemplary considering the government’s top-down and technocratic approach to restoration. The prime goal is to get degraded areas covered with trees as quickly as possible.

Although Tropenbos Colombia applauded the government’s ambition, it worried that local communities were not involved, and would not be able to benefit from the programme. It therefore called for a very different approach, known as participatory productive restoration (PPR). This approach stresses that restoration needs to be productive, providing local people with access to timber, fruits and firewood for subsistence use and for sale to the market. In addition, the approach says that restoration efforts are best led by local communities themselves, based on their ecological knowledge. Elders and women in particular have a profound understanding of soils, vegetation succession and useful species, and how they relate to each other. Local people know best how lands can be restored in a productive and sustainable manner.

To develop the PPR approach on the ground, Tropenbos Colombia started in the Solano landscape in the southern department of Caquetá. This landscape has undergone rapid deforestation in recent decades, due to the establishment of illicit coca crops and the conversion of land into pastures. Today, with coca fields fumigated and pasture soils compacted from cattle trampling, the area has large stretches of degraded lands, often covered with invasive weeds. The potential for PPR is enormous.

SUB: Meeting with the community in Solano, Caquetá

At the beginning of 2020, Tropenbos Colombia organized meetings in the area, where they let people know that if they had a concrete proposal for restoration, the organization could provide them with a small budget and technical support. Soon after that, the proposals started coming in. By the end of 2020, three restoration plots were up and running, and more were in development. Tropenbos Colombia sees them as models, to help convince others of the benefits of PPR.

In addition to this landscape-level work, Tropenbos Colombia promoted PPR with the Solano municipal government and the regional environmental authority (Corpomazonia). The message did not fall on deaf ears. The Solano government decided to explicitly include PPR in its 2020–23 development plan, while Corpomazonia committed to explore the possibilities of scaling up PPR, as part of a memorandum of understanding with Tropenbos Colombia. These are clear signs that the Colombian government — at various levels — is starting to see the benefits of PPR.