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President Obama is in Africa this week to discuss development, investment, health, and, notably, food security. The trip comes on the heels of the president’s groundbreaking announcement of a U.S. Climate Action Plan. So it’s a fitting time for Obama and other global leaders to take notice of a strategy that addresses both climate change and food security in Africa—re-greening.

Re-greening—a process where African farmers manage and protect trees that grow on their farms, rather than cutting them down—is already beginning to transform the continent’s drylands. Supporting and scaling up the low-tech process can not only increase crop yields in drought-prone regions, it can mitigate climate change and reduce rural poverty.

The History of Re-greening in Africa’s Drylands

Re-greening in Africa first garnered international attention back in 2007, when the New York Times published a front page article entitled “In Niger, Trees and Crops Help Turn Back the Desert.” Lydia Polgreen, who was the NYT’s West Africa bureau chief in those days, had visited Niger and reported “at least 7.4 million newly tree-covered acres.” The NYT article revealed that this large-scale re-greening was not due to expensive tree-planting projects, but was the result of farmers protecting and managing young trees that regenerated on their cultivated land.

This re-greening did not happen everywhere. It was observed in particular in dryland regions with high population densities. Life in dryland areas presents many challenges, and farmers and decision makers are continuously searching for ways to restore their resilience and agricultural productivity.

This post was co-authored with Carita Chan, an intern with WRI's forests initiative.

As the crisis of tropical deforestation reaches a new level of urgency due to forest fires raging in Indonesia, an important question is how can the world satisfy the growing demand for forest products while still preserving forest ecosystems? This week, some of the world’s largest companies will join U.S. and Indonesian government officials in Jakarta at the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA 2020) meeting to discuss this issue.

The meeting comes three years after the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), a group of the world’s 400 largest consumer goods companies from 70 countries, announced their commitment to source only deforestation-free commodities in their supply chains and help achieve net-zero deforestation by 2020. The TFA 2020, a public-private partnership established in 2012 at the Rio+20 Summit, aims to provide concrete guidance on how to implement the forum’s pledge.

This piece originally appeared in the Jakarta Post. It was co-written with Dino Patti Djalal, Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia and WRI Board member.

Ending months of uncertainty, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia made a courageous decision last week to extend the country’s forest moratorium. The new Presidential Instruction adds another two years of protection for over 43 million hectares of primary forests and peat land — an area the size of Japan.

This was a bold decision by a leader known for his commitment to sustainability. Extending the moratorium is a victory for the Indonesian people, business, and the planet.

The moratorium will directly benefit more than 80 million Indonesians who rely on forests for their livelihood. Many of these people are extremely poor and have struggled to gain recognition for their land rights. Extending the moratorium provides an opportunity to address these crucial issues.

Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made a bold and courageous decision this week to extend the country’s forest moratorium. With this decision, which aims to prevent new clearing of primary forests and peat lands for another two years, the government could help protect valuable forests and drive sustainable development.

Enacted two years ago, Indonesia’s forest moratorium has already made some progress in improving forest management. However, much more can be done. The extension offers Indonesia a tremendous opportunity: a chance to reduce emissions, curb deforestation, and greatly strengthen forest governance in a country that holds some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.

Boosting Achievements from Indonesia’s Forest Moratorium

Indonesia ranks as one of world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, largely due to the clearing of forest and peat lands. The forest moratorium aims to address this problem by prohibiting the award of new licenses to clear or convert primary natural forests and peat lands to agriculture or other uses. This will encompass an area of over 43 million hectares of land. Forest users with existing licenses are still allowed to operate in these regions, and there are several exceptions to the rule.

How can Indonesia—the world’s fourth-most populous country and an emerging economic powerhouse—reduce deforestation and promote sustainable development across its vast, rapidly changing landscape?

That was a question recently posed by Nirarta “Koni” Samadhi, Deputy for the Indonesian President's Delivery Unit on Development Monitoring and Oversight and Chair of the REDD+ Task Force Working Group on Forest Monitoring. At an informal meeting of forest and development experts at WRI’s offices in Washington, D.C., Koni explored possible answers, while reporting on the Indonesian government’s efforts to map and monitor forests and improve land use policies across the country.

Koni shared some of his insights with us in a video interview. Check it out below.

As the old adage suggests, it is important to see the forests for more than just the trees. While an estimated 500 million people depend directly on forests for their livelihoods, the entire world depends on them for food, water, clean air, and vital medicines. Forests also absorb carbon dioxide, making them critical to curbing climate change.

Despite some encouraging anti-deforestation efforts in places like Brazil, Indonesia, and Africa, globally, forests are under threat, particularly in the tropics. Between 2000 and 2010, nearly 13 million hectares of forests were lost every year. About 30 percent of the global forest cover has been completely cleared, and 20 percent has been degraded.

This dilemma begs the question: What is the outlook for forests in 2030? Are we missing the opportunity to preserve forests and ensure they continue to deliver the goods and services we need for a growing global population? How can we use forests to build a thriving global green economy?

Asking these questions is important. Finding answers to the challenges they raise is imperative.

Disney, one of the world’s largest media companies, made a big announcement today that can help the company move in a more sustainable direction when it comes to paper sourcing and use. This is a positive step toward environmental leadership by a company whose name is familiar to people around the globe.

According to the policy, Disney will minimize paper consumption in its day-to-day operations and increase the recovery of used paper and packaging for recycling. In terms of paper purchasing, the policy addresses most of the themes covered in WRI’s Sustainable Wood and Paper Procurement Guide. Disney commits to maximize the use of recycled fiber, maximize the use of paper made from wood sourced from sustainably managed forests (as certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or an equivalent forest certification scheme), and maximize the use of paper products processed without chlorine or chlorine compounds. Disney will also eliminate the use of paper made from “unwanted” raw materials including:

Infrastructure is essential for economic growth. But as governments debate the future of sustainable development at the Rio+20 conference, there is one infrastructure solution that can provide a good return on investment: nature.

People often don’t think of forests, wetlands, coral reefs, and other natural ecosystems as forms of infrastructure. But they are. Forests, for instance, can prevent silt and pollutants from entering streams that supply freshwater to downstream cities and businesses. They can act as natural water filtration plants. As such, they are a form of “green infrastructure” that can serve the same function as “gray infrastructure,” the human-engineered solutions that often involve concrete and steel. This example is not alone (see Table 1).

When it comes to the fate of forests, Rio+20 and the official negotiations risk becoming a side event. Instead, the main show is playing out in countless boardrooms, communities, parliaments, and villages around the world. From Brazil to Bangladesh, Canada to Cambodia, these organizations have made dramatic progress with efforts to reverse forest decline.

Of course, much remains to be done: globally, forests continue to decline at the rate of about 13 million hectares each year, according to the United Nations. But many successes help illuminate a path forward.

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