Initiative 20×20: Getting large-scale land restoration on track

9 December, 2014 by (comments)

landscapeLast Sunday, government ministers from six Latin America countries joined a half dozen private investors at the Global Landscape Forum (held alongside the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru) to launch Initiative 20×20. Led by the World Resources Institute and supported by CIAT, the initiative aims to get the restoration of 20 million hectares of degraded land on track by 2020. Representing CIAT at this event, I confirmed our full commitment to making the initiative a success and to working toward this end with WRI, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE), and all of the participating countries.

We first heard about the initiative from WRI’s Walter Vergara last February at a meeting on climate change held at the Inter-American Development Banks (IDB) in Washington (blog). Since then, we have worked closely with him on a range of tasks – from making high-level political contacts to providing data for a major study on the societal benefits of land restoration.

As 20×20 has taken shape in recent months, we have been extremely impressed with the speed and scale of its progress. Walter has done a fantastic job of building both political and financial support for this initiative. And he has also engaged very effectively with the researchers who are helping him build a strong business and science case. The fruits of Walter’s indefatigable efforts were evident at the standing-room-only launch event, where his enthusiasm proved highly contagious, creating a lot of interest in the work that lies ahead.

There are two things in particular about Initiative 20×20 that made CIAT’s decision to support it easy and natural. First, it fits our own strategy to build an eco-efficient future, which also has a 2020 timeframe, emphasizes land restoration, and sets ambitious, quantitative targets. Second and most important, 20×20 fits our vision for agriculture and rural land in Latin America. We believe this region’s destiny is to be – not only a food basket for the world – but also a major provider of ecosystem services, like biodiversity and climate change mitigation.

To fulfill its destiny, Latin America needs major efforts like 20×20 that restore degraded land to productivity. But if this initiative is to fulfill its promise, we need to be very clear about the answers to two questions.

wri-20x20-infographicFirst, what kind of land are we talking about? Obviously, not all ecosystems are the same; not all have the same possibilities or lend themselves to the same approach. As I see it, we need to focus restoration efforts on a wide range of landscapes. These include degraded crop land (especially in hillside areas), degraded pastures in vast savannas as well as forests under different degrees of pressure. Of the estimated 200 million hectares of degraded land in this region, fully half is pastureland.

The second question is what kind of restoration we’re talking about. Just as not all landscapes are the same, not all land restoration is the same. We need a way to define and recognize different degrees of restoration. If we expect investors and governments to support 20×20, it must have a strong accountability mechanism that satisfies their expectations. Whatever form this mechanism takes, it must deliver solid evidence about the type and degree of restoration, the benefits that resulted, and the people who received benefits.

These are the kinds of questions that centers like CIAT and CATIE address every day. Our work is all about gathering evidence on what works or does not, where, why, and for whom. Evidence is critical for improving performance. It’s especially important in major initiatives like 20×20, where so much is at stake – in terms of resources and people’s livelihoods.

In our work for Latin America, I see a lot of precedents that make me feel optimistic about Initiative 20×20.

Look at Peru’s pioneering work on a new legal framework and novel financial mechanisms to mobilize public and private sector support for land restoration (blog). This is a country whose leaders understand that shared economic benefits come with shared environmental responsibilities.

Think also about the example of Colombia, where there is hope that a peace agreement will create the conditions for rural revival, based on a more resilient and climate-smart agriculture. This is a country where “coping with climate change is the responsibility, not just of one or two ministers, but of the entire cabinet,” in the words of Gabriel Vallejo López, Colombia’s environment minister.

And finally, consider what small nations like Honduras and big ones like Brazil have done on the technology front – developing innovative combinations of crops, pastures, and trees to create both production and environmental benefits.

These examples tell me that Initiative 20×20 can succeed. But this does not mean it will. Even with major government commitment and financial support, success will not come automatically. All of us have to make 20×20 succeed, and to do this, we need the right approach – one that integrates the policy, financial, and technology dimensions; unites the people and organizations that can put these dimensions together most effectively; and builds confidence among governments, investors, and rural people by delivering science-based evidence of success.

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Filed Under: CIAT in the media, Climate Change, Latin America and the Caribbean