According to the 4 Returns approach landscape restoration takes at least one generation: 20 years – but 20 years is still a long time. Landscape restoration, therefore, is a multigenerational issue that requires local experience, knowledge, and a collaborative, resilient community that drives the project. Yet, the need for landscape restoration is not just a local one, but a global one that affects the entire planet. Digital communities have the potential to strengthen international ties, and also provide collective knowledge and the support necessary to restore ecosystems on a global scale.
Importance of community
Unforeseen weather patterns, health crises, political unrest, the lack of technology or financial support can make it difficult to regenerate land that has been degraded for generations by poor land practices. In the Altiplano region of southern Spain, European agricultural policies have led to years of large-scale land degradation. Industrialization and monocultural practices not only degrade land but also the rural social cohesion originally present in the area.
In order to restore the land and cope with the many challenges landscape restoration faces, the AlVelAl association collaborates closely with local farmers and communities to create a common vision and shared goal. This goal includes revitalizing the local community and increasing the ecological and economic yields of the area by using regenerative farming practices. In practice, this has allowed local farmers and locals to get together and share their resources and technology when needed. Community gatherings, events, online “agrocafes” and celebrations have allowed people in the area to reconnect to their land and get inspired by one another. The emphasis on nature and regenerative agriculture in schools also assures that local and traditional knowledge gets passed on to future generations.
Since 2015, AlVelAl has grown into an association of 350 members of which 80 are local regenerative farmers. Together they have planted more than 85,000 trees since 2017, managed to get 10,000 ha under improved regenerative management, and sell local products. In total, AlVelAl aims to regenerate up to 1,000,000 ha, a goal that is only possible to reach with the help of a strong local community.
Another example of many community-driven landscape restoration projects is the Central Highlands (India) Restoration Project (CHiRP). This project is a multi-partner collaborative effort between local Gond and Baiga communities, Samerth Chartible Trust, Commonland, IKEA Foundation, The Nature Conservancy India, United Designers, and Global Business Inroads. As part of a larger plan to restore 26 million hectares of India’s degraded land by 2030, the goal is to restore large, deforested areas in the state of Chhattisgarh, in central India. Strengthening the local communities are crucial for this project to ensure that they can continue to live off their land, build sustainable local businesses, and maintain large-scale landscape restoration for generations to come. Without local- communities backing up the project, the large landscape restoration is impossible.
Harnessing community power
Designing restoration projects with communities at the core is imperative to ensure the longevity of landscape restoration. Because what communities can achieve should not be underestimated. For example, although Indigenous peoples comprise just 6% of the global population, these communities protect and conserve 80% of the remaining biodiversity in the world. Imagine if that community power could be scaled across the world.
Empowering a global (digital) community
The 4 Returns Community is a global restoration community connecting landscape restoration practitioners worldwide. A lot of people in this community feel that restoring land is crucial for the survival of our planet and the ecosystems we are part of, but it is expensive, a lot of hard work and we cannot do it alone. Forming global (digital) collaborations is a powerful way to share resources, exchange knowledge and support each other through the restoration process on a global scale.
One of our members, Rob de Laet so beautifully said in an interview: ‘’The problem with the environmental movement, in general, is that it is disconnected. So, the main purpose that I see in the 4 Returns Community is to create a global eco-system of connection.”
This global (digital) space of the 4 Returns Community is not a given, but a tremendous opportunity to share what we know, learn from each other, listen to diverse voices, and make better choices for the world around us. The responsibility we have towards each other is to share the resources we have to make the world a better place. This includes raising our voices in a digital space!
Use the activity wall to let people know who you are, what you are working on, and where you might need help. Submit your own stories and share what you have learned or know about landscape restoration. Reach out to people via the matchmaking page or connect with others via the friend zone. Attend community sessions, including the monthly coffee corner events, share relevant news articles, comment on other people’s posts, and bring awareness to your own work, as well as that of others.
Communities drive and sustain the restoration process
We live in an ecological world that is inherently about interdependent relationships but are raised, particularly in the west with an uncomfortable sense of separateness. We often miss that we are intrinsically part of a vast system of relationships and that our behavior and the choices we make affect the wider system. Cultivating and nurturing long-lasting relationships in a local as well as a global (digital) space allows us to get a grip on the way local and global issues are interrelated. It allows us to share what we know across and beyond national borders. When we learn from past experiences, mistakes, and successes, we decrease the overall time and costs that it takes to restore nature and bring back biodiversity. When we form communities we can make an impact, that we cannot do alone.