The costs of implementing forest landscape restoration are notoriously site specific. Sometimes they can be quite high. What determines these costs? Are there easy ways to make restoration cheaper?
- By Aaron Reuben, IUCN Global Forest and Climate Change Programme
We raised these questions with Severino Pinto, Project Coordinator for the Environmental Center of Northeast Brazil and Jerônimo Boelsums, forest ecologist with the International Institute for Sustainability. Both are experts on restoration in Brazil, a country with large restoration ambition and greatly variable costs of implementation.
What does forest restoration cost in Brazil?
Pinto: There is no one answer to that question – it is completely heterogeneous across the country. For the Atlantic rainforest, where we both work, we find the costs in the south can be quite low, while the costs in the north are much higher, perhaps twice as much per hectare.
Boelsums: That is absolutely true. We don’t have good data yet for the north but in the southeast we find, on average, that restoration costs around $5,000 per hectare, for implementation and for monitoring for the first two years. Now that’s for the most expensive strategy: total tree planting. Costs will be much lower for more passive strategies, like assisted natural regeneration. And we are concerned with agricultural restoration, namely restoring pasture lands – costs will be higher for restoration from other disturbances, as on former mining sites.
We arrived at that number by reviewing data from restoration projects financed by the Brazilian development bank, BNS, and from surveys of companies and non-profits engaged in restoration.
What accounts for the large difference in costs?
P: In the southeast, around Rio and Sao Paolo, a market for restoration has existed for many years. There are many seed producers, nurseries for seedlings, and companies and non-profit organizations involved in restoration. That’s a direct result of a law requiring restoration on degraded lands and specifying the number of species you must introduce, how you should do so, etc. That law was the spark, I believe.
B: The new Forest Code for Brazil also specifies restoration requirements, so we are hopeful that this will lead to markets for restoration across Brazil. That will bring costs down but also engage people in restoration.
P: that’s the exciting thing about restoration – it isn’t just good for the forest, it creates a supply chain with economic and job opportunities for rural people. Without people joining the effort and participating in a market for restoration goods and services you cannot succeed.
S: And of course the economy in Brazil is larger in the south, so there is more economic activity already, which drives costs down.
Tell me more about the economic opportunity from restoration.
B: Well, we should think of restoration as an economic opportunity, for people to participate via small businesses, like nurseries and technical restoration activities, like planting and monitoring. A real question now in restoration is how to measure success. Do we look at just vegetation or biodiversity restored? Or do we also consider social impacts? The answer now seems to be that you look at everything: ecological, social and economic factors. How much ‘good’ did you do?
P: On the economic front, we have an exciting project based on the heterogeneity in markets in Brazil. We saw that the restoration supply chain is very organized in the south and decided to help organize it in the north. As a first step we financed the formation of a seedling producers organization in the northeast. We brought existing seedling producers together and helped them form an organization, called Mudenodash, and improve their growing techniques. Mudenodash now directly generated 60 jobs that will support restoration in the north. But it will also support more people to begin producing seedlings for restoration of a greater quality.
What’s next for you?
P: For our analyses we want to improve our sample. We want to survey more projects and from other regions in Brazil.
B: The first step is to refine our estimate of the costs of restoration. But what we want to do next is really prove that you can involve people in the restoration supply chain, to create income and quality jobs. That’s our “restoration opportunity” vision.
This discussion occurred during the learning event, “Financing functional restoration in rural landscapes in Mesoamerica, South America and West Africa,” held in Antigua Guatemala in February of 2015. The event was organized through the Private Sector Investment in Landscape Restoration project (PiLaR) of the IUCN, which is supported by the Norwegian government. The supply chain projects mentioned in the discussion are also supported by PiLaR. Learn more.