Natural Regeneration Seminar

Nicholas Locke, REGUA’s Project Director recently participated in a seminar on the use of natural regeneration as a means to reforest large areas.   Led by distinguished scientists and organised by Miguel Calmon (IUCN) and Bernardo Strassburg (ISS) a large audience enjoyed the seminar.

Nicholas reports
“Natural regeneration is defined as “the regrowth and reestablishment of an ecosystem following disturbances at a range of spatial intervals”.  Although it takes time, like any self-organizing colony, it can be accelerated and assisted.   The process doesn’t involve planting trees but fertilizing and weed suppression, i.e. promoting growth naturally and reducing its threats.

Although it is very unattractive in its initial stages, forest does form over time and Itatiaia is an example of a successful naturally regenerated landscape.   Natural regeneration reflects nature’s resilience, itself influenced by climate and the historical use of the land.   It certainly is the cheapest way to attain the current target of 350 million hectares in the world (an area larger than India) established by the Bonn challenge (UN Climate Summit 2014).

Brazil with vast areas needing to be forested in both the Atlantic Forest and Cerrado are perfect areas for planting trees and sharing in this objective.

However, this technique does not always work and given that 3/4 of Brazil’s areas for restoration are pastures, how can one attract land owners to abandon land, both in large and small properties?    How can one measure natural regeneration and create marketable indices?    Perhaps carbon and water or ecosystem payments can help?   However experiences show that when ecosystem payments terminate, land owners often cut those forests.

Given that certain areas never regenerate forest, perhaps we need to examine our own farming methods to prevent land from being completely exhausted.    Also there are economic issues at heart for the cheaper forested land invites destruction as a means of capitalising investments.
We know that natural regeneration is a big step in the right direction.     Reforestation is critical to maintain the world ecosystem and normal weather patterns, so we need to develop a strong collective message.   An approved plan that gives a clear direction in defining land use as a landscape of productivity and functionality for if we don’t come up with a strategy, inertia sets in, and it’s business as usual.

We need to organise those who can fund this process to include all elements from seed collection to nursery development.   Perhaps a new approach is needed; new tools needed to cope with the mammoth scale.  Perhaps we need to examine land tenure and land rights and start by reducing the scale and regionalising a programme.

At the same time, researchers need to measure forest regeneration to remunerate land owners prioritising an economic return for small landowners.    Much preparation is needed but leadership is vital to bring in landowners to cede their land for reforestation so perhaps the current drought is an opportunity to grasp.

For me the six big questions are:
1) What indicators are necessary to prove natural regeneration’s success?
2) How do we reconcile food production in forested landscapes?
3) How do we make natural regeneration economically viable for small landowners?
4) How can we scale natural regeneration scale?
5) How can we reach the politicians?
6) How to share the responsibility with the people living in cities?

The current conclusion is that natural regeneration of ecosystems is the least expensive way to reforest and in areas where it doesn’t naturally work we have to plant trees.

I met several interesting people from recognised organisations with valuable experiences around the world and I hope this seminar provides the impetus that is needed to revert the current levels of deforestation.”

Nicholas Locke