In the two decades that the concept of the forest transition curve has been used to explain the regrowth of forests in developed countries, a number of developing countries have seen net increases in forest area. This has been especially pronounced in Asia—particularly in China, India and Vietnam—where conversion of agricultural and barren lands to forest has been promoted through major development programs.
Increased forest cover can be a result of natural regeneration of abandoned land, purposeful tree planting, and/or various forms of forest protection and management. However, in many newly reforested or afforested areas, the quality of tree cover is not optimal, with poor growth and survival rates, low diversity and minimal incremental provision of ecosystem services. The challenge of forest restoration is to identify and promote forms of management that optimize the ecological and social benefits of increased tree cover. These potentially include: improved plantation forestry that incorporates more tree species suited to specific sites; management of natural regeneration, which is often best when assisted by local landholders; enrichment planting using locally appropriate tree species; and adapting forestry practices using local knowledge, with greater livelihood benefits to local stewards of the landscape.
In hilly and mountainous landscapes, forests play an especially important role in providing various forest ecosystem services, not only to local residents but also to downstream communities. These include water for drinking and irrigation, biodiversity protection, carbon stocks for climate change mitigation and landscapes for recreation and tourism.
However, such landscapes are often remote, and communities living there are often economically and politically marginalized, receiving few of the benefits provided by national and local investments in economic development. As a result, upland communities are increasingly the target of a range of government policies and initiatives aimed at restoring forest cover to maintain or improve ecosystem services. However, there is insufficient knowledge of the effects of these initiatives on traditions, livelihoods and land management.
The projects developed under the SLANT initiative will research the complex interplays between local community interests and emerging initiatives promoting forest landscape restoration for ecosystem service provision. The first SLANT project is based on a collaborative program with China’s Forest Economics and Development Research Center (FEDRC), the organization responsible for monitoring the Conversion of Cropland to Forest Program (CCFP), also known as the Sloping Land Conversion Program (SLCP).