Plinio sist discusses the urgency of action for the restoration of forest ecosystems


"There is an urgent need to act for the restoration of tropical forest ecosystems throughout the territories", said Plinio sist, Director of the CIRAD forestry and societies research unit on the occasion of the international day of forests on 21 March 2019 in an interview given to the information site. In the belief, the phenomenon of deforestation is not recent but that of massive deforestation is much more. It has already been a crucial environmental and societal issue for several decades now. The main strategies implemented today to combat this phenomenon emphasize on the one hand the conservation of existing forests and on the other hand on the restoration of degraded forests.

What is the situation of the world's forests in terms of deforestation at the present time?

Today, forests cover nearly one-third of the planet's emergent surfaces, just under 4 billion hectares. Half of these forests are located in the tropical region. Every year for nearly thirty years, 5 million hectares of forests are lost mainly because of their conversion to agricultural land or industrial plantations. And the bulk of this deforestation occurs in the tropical region.

Forests, including tropical forests, have always been used and even shaped by men. Today, most tropical forests have been disrupted more or less by human societies.

When forests have been exploited for their lumber, they are slowly reconstituting themselves. In addition, forests with the most valuable species collected are then considered worthless and converted to agricultural land, industrial planting or grazing. Many studies show that these forests still contain very high biodiversity, very close to undisturbed forests and store more than 80% of the carbon present before the harvest.

Within the so-called primary forests, the human presence is attested by numerous archaeological remains, including in the large forest massifs such as the Amazon or the Congo basin. Nevertheless, if human beings are often the source of the disappearance of forests, they can also be key players in their preservation.

What actions are currently being advocated to combat deforestation in the world, particularly in the tropical regions where it is strongest?

The forest has always been a place of resources for human beings. It provides populations of game, fruit, resins, fibres, fodder, medicines, dyes… and of course wood. It also plays a fundamental role in climate regulation. Climate change generated by the disappearance of forests also has direct consequences for agricultural productivity.

The preservation of tropical forests can therefore only be done with the involvement of people and society in General. It is also essential that these populations can benefit from the economic recovery of the resources and services provided by these ecosystems.

But the challenge is to develop sustainable management practices for these resources.

Once the timber exploited the disturbed forests are often considered to be devoid of any economic value. Forests are not just sources of timber, but they provide key environmental services that largely exceed the economic value of timber, particularly in terms of biodiversity and carbon storage. At a time when we are experiencing a period of massive and rapid extinction of the species known as the Anthropocene, it is therefore necessary, in the first place, that decisions relating to the management of territories and land use take into account the critical role played by these disturbed forests.

In parallel with conservation, there is an urgent need to implement actions to restore tropical forest ecosystems. At the territorial level, these actions will restore the ecological functionality of degraded lands such as soil fertility, carbon sink function, flood control, etc.

The restoration of degraded forests is increasingly prevalent in speeches. How is it planned to be deployed on the ground as well?

There are now more than 2 billion ha of degraded land from deforestation. This land degradation is estimated to jeopardize the well-being of more than 3 billion people worldwide. So there is an issue that is both environmental, social and economic. The restoration of forest landscapes aims to reverse the process of degradation of soils, agricultural areas, forests and watersheds, at the territorial level, so that they cover their ecological functionality. It can be translated into various forms of action such as the voluntary introduction of more varied and numerous species in gardens, farms, fields and forests, or by a natural regeneration of ecosystems suffering from overgrazing, pollution or over-exploitation.

These different actions must be carried out in a concerted manner throughout the territory. They are primarily aimed at improving the productivity of landscapes and their ability to meet the diverse and evolving needs of society.

The Bonn challenge launched in 2011 aims to restore 350 million hectares of degraded land by 2030. At present, few actions have yet been put in place on the ground, as most of the initiative has focused on the commitment of the countries in the initiative. Nevertheless, more than 50 countries have joined and are committed to promoting the restoration of landscapes. Their commitments today represent a total of over 170 million hectares. The main challenge now is to make these commitments a reality. Restoring 350 million hectares of degraded land by 2030 could generate ecosystem services worth 9 000 billion and eliminate the atmosphere from 13 to 26 additional gigatonnes of greenhouse gases.

The United Nations has clearly understood the urgency of putting in place concrete restoration actions since its General Assembly decreed on 1 March last, the period 2021-2030 as the Decade of ecosystem restoration to strengthen its implementation place on the ground.


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