‘Even if I knew the world was going to end tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today.’ (Martin Luther King)
After graduating from university in 2016 I was recruited to assess the state of a forest patch in a family-owned rural property in Córdoba, Argentina. I explored the forest for days, jotting down observations, wondering about the future of that landscape, pondering next steps. The place was badly degraded –an island surrounded by productive lands and plagued with invasive plant species. However, after analyzing all the collected information together with my colleague Vero, we made up our minds: we were going to restore that native Espinal forest.
‘Will we still be on time?,’ asked Vero –the driving force behind the project– when we started. Spinal ecosystems feature deciduous xerophilous forests with great biological diversity. Being located in flat, fertile lands, they have been particularly affected by the expansion of the agricultural frontier. Nowadays, all that is left are small, relict forests which, for the most part, are excluded from the National Protected Areas System. Hence the imperative to conserve and restore them.
The success of restoration requires the appropriation and long-term commitment from local communities. Hence, the importance of reinstating these neglected landscapes as part of the local cultural identity. The profound transformation they have undergone in the past decades means that, nowadays, many people are unaware of the singularity of Espinal forests and how they can benefit human societies.
For some, restoring spinal forests may seem an exceedingly difficult task. We believe it is worth trying and, what is more, we are succeeding. So far, we have planted native species, controlled invasive ones and created a census of biological diversity in the area. We have built our capacities, created alliances with other organizations and raised funding. At the end of 2017, we started calling the project area ‘Monte Alegre Natural Reserve’ and hope the government will eventually declare it a protected area.
Little by little, the forest has started to show signs of improvement: the area is home to more animal species and trees are producing flowers, fruits and seeds, which will provide the seedlings for future reforestation efforts. And good news do not end here. The owners have come to appreciate the value of the landscape and have started transitioning towards agroecological practices, tuning the initiative into a truly holistic project.
A few months ago, we were overjoyed to learn that the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) would support Monte Alegre through 2021 in the frame of the Restoration Stewards Program. We will make the most of mentoring and the financial support provided by the GLF to learn and expand the scale and scope of the project, restoring more hectares and involving more people.
If not now, when?
Our project moves into an exciting new phase as the world embarks on the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a global initiative that seeks to heal degraded landscapes in order to fight the climate crisis, improve food security and water provision, and protect biodiversity.
Ecological restoration goes beyond tree planting. To deliver tangible results, we must tackle technical, financial and political challenges. The productive-extractive economic model that dominated the last century promoted inequality and the exploitation of non-renewable resources. Despite the uncertainties ahead, the time has come to change our ways and put our planetary home on the path to recovery. We must act, and we must do it now.