Learning from past rehabilitation efforts

National governments,international donors and private agencies have invested in numerous forest rehabilitation projects in the tropics over the past three decades. But there has been very little assessment of the different types of projects and their impacts. This is all about to change with a recently undertaken lessons-learned study by CIFOR.

The study is part of a larger forest rehabilitation research project supported by the Government of Japan, known as “Review of rehabilitation initiatives -Lessons from the past”. It will involve CIFOR working with national partners to review ongoing and past rehabilitation initiatives and to disseminate lessons learned.

The study will focus on rehabilitation in Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, China, Peru, Brazil and will be expanded by the World Wild Fund into a number of other countries, including India. The participants in the study will include governments, forest research and development agencies, non-government organizations, local communities, industries and donors.

Unna Chokkalingam
,co-ordinator of the Southeast Asian component of the study, says evaluation of past rehabilitation initiatives is well over-due.

“There has been all sorts of research and action into rehabilitating degraded forest areas. Until now those efforts have not had much assessment made of their impact or of how they might be improved. It is critical to draw strategic lessons from past experiences and use them to plan and guide future efforts.”Chokkalingam says.

“Our aim is to increase the chances of success of muture rehabilitation initiatives. We will do this by identifying approaches which contribute to longer-term sustainability and which have had minimal negative impact on different stakeholders. Of particular interest to CIFOR is the impact of forest rehabilitation on local livelihoods. We want to know if the impact has been positive or negative and under what situations.”

One feature of the project is its examination of the socio-economic and institutional aspects of rehabilitating forests. “Often it’s the absence of supporting social or government action that prevents rehabilitation projects from successfully re-growing trees on degraded land,” says Takeshi Toma task manager of the CIFOR/Japan rehabilitation research project.

“For example, there may not be sufficient interaction between industry and local people to ensure there is a market for the end products coming out of the rehabilitated forests. Or tenure of land may be so insecure it discourages long-term management investment.”

CIFOR and partners will focus on rehabilitation activities undertaken on formerly forested lands with inhibited natural forest recovery, such as Imperata grasslands, scrub,and barren land. Bringing back forests on barren lands, scrub may be important in reducing pressure exerted on remaining forests.

The assessment looks at all rehabilitation methods that involve trees, including agroforestry, plantations and assisted natural regeneration. The assessment also covers a diversity of ecological and socio-economic rehabilitation scenarios and works closely with a representative range of stakeholders.

“The study will look at government-driven watershed reforestation, private company plantations, integrated livelihood projects, and spontaneous private tree farming. We hope to identify where stakeholders have benefited from each of these and other initiatives,” Chokkalingam says.

Toma says it is important to examine the broadest possible range of factors that determine the success of forest rehabilitation initiatives. These include the scale and duration of past initiatives, their underlying objectives, the key actors involved, and actions undertaken.

“It ’s crucial that assessment of rehabilitation efforts take an across-the-board approach. Unless we address all of the identifiable factors and variables that affect forest rehabilitation, the same mistakes may happen again in future projects,”says Toma.

According to Cesar Sabogal, co-ordinator of the Latin American component of the study, a key element of the research is its applicability to countries across the tropics, whether in Asia, Africa or Latin America.

“Often the underlying concerns and motivations driving rehabilitation efforts are similar throughout the tropics. So the experience gained during an older rehabilitation scheme on one side of the world may be highly relevant to a similar scheme starting up on the other side. The lessons learned should be shared,” Sabogal says.

The study could not be more timely, as it will feed into policy processes underway in many of the study countries. For example, Indonesia may soon review its rehabilitation program while China has several reforestation programs and is looking at incentives to ensure longer-term sustainability. Brazil also has a number of government-sponsored programmes that would benefit from the study.

To ensure the research findings achieve maximum impact with key groups, the study includes a thorough outreach strategy. Lessons learned from past projects and advice in designing and implementing future projects will be disseminated through seminars, workshops policy briefs, news articles, website postings and networking activities. CIFOR ’s work will also interlink with other important initiatives into forest rehabilitation led by WWF, IUCN (The World Conservation Union), the International Tropical Timber Organization, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the ASEAN-Korea Environmental Cooperation Project, the Asia Forest Partnership and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

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