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Restoration is an urgent correction to the past and current global land degradation trends, to return forest cover, improve food security, and tackle climate change – among other goals. It has been estimated over 2 billion hectares of degraded land provide opportunities for forest and landscape restoration [1].

Forest Landscape Restoration recounted

In September 2011, world leaders launched the Bonn Challenge – a voluntary global initiative that aimed to restore 150 million hectares of degraded land by 2020 [2].

The global Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) movement is gaining momentum. Thus, it is important to clarify what FLR is, the concepts, opportunities, challenges and its future implications.




Concepts: Forest, Land and Restoration

The most consistent definition of FLR approach provided by the International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says:

Forest landscape restoration (FLR) is the ongoing process of regaining ecological functionality and enhancing human well-being across deforested or degraded forest landscapes. FLR is more than just planting trees – it is restoring a whole landscape to meet present and future needs and to offer multiple benefits and land uses over time[3].

In addition, the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration’s (GPFLR) defines FLR  as:

an active process that brings people together to identify, negotiate and implement practices that restore an agreed optimal balance of the ecological, social and economic benefits of forests and trees within a broader pattern of land uses[4].

Therefore FLR is more than a simple restoration tool, as it aims to re-establish ecological health, improve human well-being and enhance the long term resilience of previously degraded landscapes.

In general, FLR revolves around three main pillars:

  • Forest: encompassing tree planting, but also assisted natural regeneration, agroforestry, or other sustainable land management technologies and practices, protected wildlife reserves, managed plantations, riverside plantings and more;
  • Landscapes: implementation occurs at large scale incorporating diverse areas under different jurisdictions, stakeholders and countries;
  • Restoration: an intentional activity aimed at recovering a degraded ecosystem [5]

The GPFLR developed a report in which it identifies 6 guiding principles:

  1. Focus on landscapes: FLR is implemented within the mosaic of a landscape, which involves a variety of land uses, actors, and governance systems;
  2. Maintain and enhance natural ecosystems within landscapes: FLR aims to restore degraded forests and ecosystems through a sustainable land management approach;
  3. Engage stakeholders and support participatory governance: FLR also aims to be a more inclusive restoration tool, at different scales, but especially for the most vulnerable and marginalize groups in the landscape;
  4. Tailor to the local context using a variety of approaches: FLR uses a variety of context specific approach as well as different knowledge systems, such as science and local/traditional knowledge;
  5. Restore multiple functions for multiple benefits: FLR also aims to restore multiple functions (ecological, social, and economic) of the landscape to benefit a diverse range of stakeholders;
  6. anage adaptably for long-term resilience: FLR seeks to enhance and monitor landscape’s changes by integrating stakeholders’ guidance [6].

Approaches and interventions

When we move from definitions to practical implementation of FLR, there are a variety of approaches and tools based on specific landscape needs. But which are the tools used and designed to help the FLR process within countries and regions? The aim of the tools is designed to plan and implement interventions on the ground [7]:

  • A diagnostic tool for identifying readiness for FLR and for assessing the status of key success factors for FLR;
  • A tool for assessing restoration needs and ecosystems conditions. The Forest Landscape Assessment Tool (FLAT) helps to determine forest ecological conditions and threats;
  • A tool for mapping, monitoring and planning at the landscape scale designed by EcoAgriculture Partners and TerrAfrica. It is an eight-step process that seek to provide guidance for diverse stakeholders by integrating agricultural activities, conservation and development;
  • A tool for assessing FLR opportunities and approaches at national and sub-national levels. WRI and IUCN developed a Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology (ROAM) tool that aims to provide support to those countries addressing restoration issues;
  • Tools for seeking financial for FLR (part of the third phase of ROAM);
  • Tools for engaging stakeholders in the FLR process. The FAO Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)s a manual created to provide information about rights and mapping the social landscape’s dynamics. 

For instance, once the priority area is identified through the diagnostic tool, the most appropriate intervention strategy is to be selected. The GPFLR identifies a framework of general categories for restoration interventions, based on three different type of land use:

  • Forest land can be restored either through silviculture or natural regeneration interventions. Silviculture treatment includes liberation thinning, enrichment planting, reducing fire and grazing, removing invasive species, and many more; natural regeneration is a highly cost-efficient intervention and it is a slower process compared to planting.
  • Protective land and natural buffers are typically associated with marine and freshwater ecosystems. The main interventions in this type of land involve mangrove restoration or watershed protection as well as erosion control measures. Water protection and erosion control are part of a strategy of tree planting on a sloppy land and along water courses. Mangrove restoration intervention provides benefits to coastal communities, by protecting fish, increase ecotourism opportunities and protect from natural hazards.
  • Agricultural land is typically land under some type of management scheme and it can be restored through agroforestry and improved fallow. Agroforestry is a sustainable strategy that establishes and manages tree planting on active agricultural land, improving crop productivity and water retention. Improved fallow is a technique that through fire control and tree planting during extended fallow period, helps soil regeneration and soil erosion control [10].

Besides such variety of interventions, FLR is a concept based on a comprehensive and multi action approach with specific areas of work: assessment of landscape degradation and restoration opportunities; enabling environment; institutional setting; governance issues; technologies and approaches; private-sector investment; resource mobilization; capacity development, extension and dissemination; and research needs [11].

The history of FLR: Before Bonn and the Bonn momentum

During the 1990s, the concept of FLR started to step out of the forestry realm for being a “a planned process that aims to regain ecological integrity and enhance human well-being in deforested and degraded forest landscapes”, as defined at a forestry meeting in Segovia in 2000 [12].  The meeting was followed by a meeting in Heredia (Costa Rica), 2002, which recognized the need of new partners and approaches to move forward the FLR idea.

In the same year, IUCN, WWF and Forestry Commission of Great Britain began to incentivize the idea of a global partnership network, and indeed, the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration was launched [13]. The platform involves 27 non-governmental organizations and 13 national states, with the scope to fulfill the international restoration commitment, monitoring and impacts [14].

The development of GPFLR created the opportunity to organize the first global Forest Landscape Restoration Implementation Workshop in 2005 in Petropolis, Brazil, co-hosted by the Brazilian government and the United Kingdom, which identified the need to restore to benefit nature and people [15].

Despite the momentum, there remained a need to identify the ultimate aim of FLR. In this context, in 2009 in London, the government of the United Kingdom and IUCN held a high-level Roundtable on Forest Landscape Restoration which gathered several ministers, representatives of private sector, civil society and local community to produce a London Challenge document with a focus on climate change and  people[16].

The results of the Roundtable opened the opportunity, through the Bonn Challenge in 2011, to target the potential opportunity areas for restoration intervention. The initial assessment targeted 150 million hectares of degraded land, which corresponded to 15% of previous estimations, to restore by 2020 [17]. This mapping exercise also led to the development of the Restoration Opportunity Assessment Methodology (ROAM).

Besides setting up the global restoration target, the Bonn Challenge established a multistakeholder platform for those countries politically committed to restoration action [18].

Beyond Bonn Challenge: benefits, challenges and way forward

In supporting the long-term commitment of the restoration momentum, in 2014, more than 100 governments, civil society organizations, local communities, and private sector representatives committed to the New York Declaration on Forests, a non-legally binding political declaration that a to end deforestation and extends the aim of restoration to 350 million hectares by 2030 [19].  

Despite the growing enthusiasm for FLR approach, challenges remained implementation of interventions, policy strategies and knowledge gaps reduction. However, the rapidly growing body of scientific literature on FLR, also identifies a number of opportunities [20, 21, 22, 23]. Here we summarize some key opportunities and challenges:


  • Environmental benefits: functioning ecosystems, increased wildlife habitats, improve quality and quantity of water flow;
  • New livelihood opportunities for forest-dependent communities;
  • Health and productivity of agricultural land improvements, food security;

Challenges (for implementation):

  • Knowledge and tools gaps to facilitate FLR implementation;
  • Development of efficient monitoring and evaluation restoration activities;
  • Development of cross scale and cross sector governance to promote holistic FLR initiatives;
  • Policy coordination strategies;
  • Unclear land tenure rights.

Currently, two are the main challenges that might be way forwards for FRL approach: collaborative monitoring tools and governance and tenure rights. With regards to monitoring tools, as FLR requires a long-term commitment, a collaborative monitoring strategy might help FLR planners to facilitate a more inclusive stakeholders process, identify which elements need to be strengthened, and to assess existing monitoring tools [24].

Especially with regards to governance and tenure rights challenges, scientists working for the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) suggest the need to look at FLR through the tenure, governance and community lens. In other words, seeking to identify tenure rights and responsibilities as important enabling conditions for FLR’ [25]. Although FLR’s guiding principles already stress the importance on tenure and governance considerations, it remains crucial to address [26, 27]:

  • Lack of rights and tenure insecurity;
  • Overlapping tenure claims;
  • Inconsistencies in statutory laws and policies;
  • Lack of government capacity or political will to enforce forest regulations;
  • Lack of community capacity or political will to enforce forest regulations
  • Legal and customary norms conflict with conservation objectives

Restored forests and landscapes have social, economic and environmental positive impacts. Furthermore, as FLR can be seen as an integrated approach, it is also interlinked with several SDGs and can help to strengthen progress and identify tradeoffs [28]:

  • Restoring ecosystems can generate income opportunities, jobs and improve livelihood (SDG 1, 8);
  • Sustainable forest management and FLR can help sustainable supply of forest-based products for energy, consumption and production (SDG 7, 12);
  • Several FLR strategies (watershed protection, erosion control, agroforestry) can reinforce food security and health benefits (SDG 2, 3);
  • As women play a pivotal role in natural resource management, FLR can contribute to achieve inclusiveness, gender equity and more participatory approach (SDG 5)
  • Restored landscape and forest can improve water resilience, quality and security as well as healthy ecosystems (SDG 6, 15). Especially for Goal 15 (protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems), FLR approach might be an essential strategy aiming to achieve restoration, conservation, and thus to fight desertification, habitat loss, and climate change.


[1] Laestadius L., Buckingham K., Maginnis S. and Saint-Laurent C., 2015. ‘Before Bonn and beyond: The history and future of forest landscape restoration’. Unasylva. 245. 11.

[2] Bonn Challenge website, n.d. (available at http://

[3] IUCN, n.d. Forest Landscape Restoration (available at

[4] Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration website, n.d. Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration (GPFLR) (available at

[5] Bonn Challenge, n.d. (available at http://

Erbaugh J.T and Oldekop J.A., 2018. ‘Forest landscape restoration for livelihoods and well-being’. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Vol. 32.

[6] Besseau, P., Graham, S. and Christophersen, T. (eds.), 2018. Restoring forests and landscapes: the key to a sustainable future. Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration, Vienna, Austria.

[7] Chazdon RL and Guariguata MR., 2018. ‘Decision support tools for forest landscape restoration: Current status and future outlook’. Occasional Paper 183. Bogor, Indonesia: CIFOR.

[8] IUCN and WRI, 2014. ‘A guide to the Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology (ROAM): Assessing forest landscape restoration opportunities at the national or sub-national level’. Working Paper (Road-test edition). Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Bonn Challenge website, n.d. (available at http://

IUCN and WRI, 2014. ‘A guide to the Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology (ROAM): Assessing forest landscape restoration opportunities at the national or sub-national level’. Working Paper (Road-test edition). Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.

[11] Sabogal C., Besacier C. and McGuire D., 2015. ‘Forest and landscape restoration: concepts, approaches and challenges for implementation’. Unasylva 245, Vol. 66, 2015/3.

[12] IISD, 2002. ‘Summary of the International Expert Meeting on Forest Landscape

Restoration 27–28 February 2002’. Sustainable Developments. Vol. 71, No. 1

(2 March 2002) (available at

[13] Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration website, n.d. Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration (GPFLR) (available at

[14] Ibid.

[15] Laestadius L., Buckingham K., Maginnis S. and Saint-Laurent C., 2015. ‘Before Bonn and beyond: The history and future of forest landscape restoration’. Unasylva. 245. 11.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Wentik C., 2015. ‘Landscape restoration: New directions in global governance. The case of the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration and the Bonn Challenge. Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. The Hague.

[19] UN, 2014. ‘New York Declaration on Forests Action Statements and Action Plans’.

United Nations Climate Summit 2014 website (available at

[20] Bonn Challenge, n.d. (available at http://

[21] Chadoz R. L. and Leastadius L., 2016. ‘ Forest and landscape restoration:

Toward a shared vision and vocabulary’. American Journal of Botany. Vol 103 (11): 1869 – 1871.

[22] Mansourian S. 2017. ‘Governance and forest landscape restoration: A framework to supportdecision-making’. Journal for Nature Conservation. Vol. 37: 21-30.

[23] Djenontin I. N. S., Foli S. and Zulu C.L., 2018. ‘Revisiting the Factors Shaping Outcomes for Forest and Landscape Restoration in Sub-Saharan Africa: Away Forward for Policy, Practice and Research’. Sustainability. Vol. 10, 906.

[24] Evans K. and Guariguata MR. 2019. ‘A diagnostic for collaborative monitoring in forest landscape restoration’. Occasional Paper 193. Bogor, Indonesia: CIFOR.

[25] Mclain R., Guariguata M. and Lawry S., 2017. ‘Implementing Forest Landscape Restoration Initiatives. Tenure, Governance, and Equity Considerations’. A paper prepared for a workshop on “Accelerating Restoration of Degraded Forest Landscapes: The role of tenure security and local forest governance in catalyzing global restoration initiatives” held in Bonn, Germany on 3 November 2017.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Report of Secretary-General, 2019. ‘Special edition: progress towards sustainable development Goals’. United Nations Economic and Social Council.

[28] IUCN, n. d. ‘Forest landscape restoration pathways to achieving the SDGs’. (available at


This Thematic Narrative was authored by Malaika Yanou, PhD student at the University of Amasterdam and Research Consultant at CIFOR.

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