Report offers useful lessons for ecosystem restoration projects



12 June 2014 — Ecological restoration efforts in Colombia in recent years — despite numerous flaws in design, implementation and monitoring — have nevertheless built a critical mass of experiences and expertise that have placed the country at the forefront of this growing trend in Latin America, according to a new publication launched by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

La restauración ecológica en Colombia: tendencias, necesidades y oportunidades (Ecological restoration in Colombia: trends, needs and opportunities) presents the findings of a retrospective analysis of ecosystem restoration projects in this Latin American country, providing insights into the development of this discipline and its current state, and recommending ways to overcome challenges for greater impact.

“The repercussions of ecological restoration extend well beyond environmental recovery. Restoration ecology has positive effects on human wellbeing and development in the broad sense,” said co-author Carolina Murcia, Science Director of the Organization for Tropical Studies.

Ecological restoration — defined by the Society for Ecological Restoration as “the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed” — can boost biodiversity conservation, provision of environmental services and climate-change mitigation.

Early on, Colombia recognized the importance of this tool for attaining these objectives as indicated by the number of projects implemented since 1950 in different regions of the country, although most of them were initiated after 2002.

Authors Murcia and Manuel Guariguata, CIFOR Principal Scientist and Regional Coordinator for Latin America, analyzed 119 restoration projects implemented in forests, wetlands, mangroves and riparian ecosystems.

Among the study’s findings:

  • Restoration projects occur mostly in the Andes, above 2400 meters in elevation. This geographical bias is the result of a focus on the recovery of watershed functions and services.
  • Most projects (87 percent) cover small areas; only 3 percent span more than 10,000 hectares.
  • The majority of projects sought to address multiple objectives, among them the recovery of ecological processes, specifically watershed functions; erosion control; biodiversity recovery and the eradication of exotic species; and an increase in ecosystem areas and their connectivity to the landscape.
  • Local communities played a minor role in the design, implementation and monitoring of outcomes from these projects.
  • Most programs did not include efforts to monitor impact. Reports of success were based primarily on meeting short-term implementation goals rather than documenting the long-term recovery of ecosystems.
  • Most projects were carried out with short-term objectives in mind, both operationally and financially, and suffered from poor planning and insufficient financial resources.
  • Most projects generally lacked an interdisciplinary approach and an explicit landscape perspective.

One of the main findings of the study relates to the role played by the state. Government agencies were responsible for financing, implementing and monitoring more than two-thirds of the projects, according to Murcia and Guariguata. These efforts involved all levels of government, from national and regional institutions down to municipal agencies; more than half of these projects were located on government-owned land.

“This finding was somewhat unexpected,” Guariguata said. “We hope that the government at various levels reflects on this particular result, as the report finds that there is room for improvement in terms of project design, financial planning, selection of appropriate indicators to measure success, and capacity building.”

NGOs and academic institutions, on the other hand, led fewer of these projects. However, they performed better at disseminating project results than government agencies, presenting them in conferences, scientific articles in national and international journals, and on the Web, according to the study.

However, dissemination has remained poor overall, the authors said. This leaves plenty of room for improvement in the evaluation of project results. Systematic data collection is a much-needed first step.

“The value of long-term data collection should not be underestimated,” Murcia said. “It provides the necessary baseline for monitoring and remedial action as appropriate.”

Overall, the study offers important insights and reasons for optimism. Experiences can provide the know-how to support the integration of ecological restoration into government plans as well as a knowledge base for an emerging cadre of young development professionals.

“In order to move forward we always need to reflect on the past,” Guariguata said. “A culture of reflection in forest management is nowadays much needed in Latin America as societal choices evolve while forests need to fulfill multiple roles; these kinds of assessments contribute to this end.”

Book launch information:

Venue: Casa Marca País, Carrera 6 No. 77-42, Bogotá.

Date: June 12, 2014

Time: 10:00 am

For more information contact:

The full paper (available in Spanish) is available here:


The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) advances human wellbeing, environmental conservation and equity by conducting research to inform policies and practices that affect forests in developing counties. CIFOR helps ensure that decision-making that affects forests is based on solid science and principles of good governance, and reflects the perspectives of less-developed countries and forest-dependent people. CIFOR is one of 15 members of the CGIAR Consortium.
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