A restoration movement is taking root in Latin America and the Caribbean.

One year ago, eight countries committed to restore more than 18 million hectares of degraded and deforested land under Initiative 20x20, a coalition made up of national and regional governments, research organizations and private investors. Today, several new countries and investors are joining the initiative, pledging to restore an additional 9.08 million hectares and supply an additional $365 million. That means in total, Initiative 20x20 has secured commitments to restore 27.7 million hectares of land by 2020—an area the size of the United Kingdom —with private impact investors earmarking $730 million to support restoration projects in the region.

These 27.7 million hectares will directly contribute to the Bonn Challenge, a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of land into restoration across the globe by 2020, as well as generate a host of co-benefits for the region's people, economy and ecosystems.

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The Impact of Restoring Degraded Land in Latin America and the Caribbean

At least 200 million hectares of land in Latin America and the Caribbean are deforested or degraded, meaning that they are no longer being put to productive use. Restoration of this land is particularly important, not only for ecological purposes, but also for the regional GDP, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, improving rural livelihoods and bolstering food and water security. Healthy forests and productive land are vital to the social and economic fabric of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Agriculture and forestry contribute nearly $300 billion to the regional GDP and up to half of rural household income. Unsustainable practices in these industries can cause deforestation and land degradation that drains land of its productivity, leaving fewer benefits for the people who depend on it for their livelihoods. Almost half of Latin America and the Caribbean’s emissions come from land-use change, forestry and agriculture. This is in stark contrast to the developed world’s emissions profile, which is typically dominated by energy use and industrial emissions. Land restoration is also an important component of efforts to improve food security by placing land back into productive use, as well as a mechanism to strengthen rural income and maintain natural capital like water, soil and biodiversity.

3 Steps to Turn Commitments into Reality

The growing restoration movement can thus help improve the region’s economy, its environment and its citizens’ quality-of-life. Initiative 20x20 has successfully built momentum for a restoration revolution, but now comes the hard part—taking commitments and pledges to the ground.

Restoration plans can only be successful if they have three things:

  1. Institutional capacity within the committing body: Governments, for example, need to put a national restoration strategy in place, define objectives and expectations, and establish baselines from which to monitor progress.

  2. A financial architecture: This includes setting up mechanisms to reduce risk and attract more investments, such as partial risk guarantees and capitalization funds. It also means collaborating with the private sector for the development of ecologically, socially and economically sustainable investments on the ground in a variety of restoration activities, such as agroforestry, silvopasture and assisted or natural reforestation.

  3. Capacity on the ground: Local landowners’ capacities should be strengthened in order to implement and monitor restoration programs. This capacity-building will be key for the long-term success of landscape restoration and requires the implementation of training plans and extension services for landholders (such as workshops, field visits to successful programs and internships) and the creation of cooperative associations, community groups and other voluntary organizations.

Designing, Implementing and Monitoring Large-Scale Restoration Programs

Each of these elements build upon each other and need to all be in place for restoration projects to work. Moving forward, Initiative 20x20 partners—including WRI, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Fundação Amazonas Sustentável (FAS), Fundo Brasileiro Para A Biodiversidade (FUNBIO), Fundacion Agreste, Bioversity, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Natural Capital Project (NatCap), Von Humboldt Institute and partners in national and regional governments and the private sector—will work at these three levels. By focusing on these three areas, Initiative 20x20 will prove to be successful in transforming the land, economies and societies in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Note: The total number of hectares to be restored under Initiative 20x20 was updated from 24.8 to 27.7 after an additional announcement by Mato Grosso.