By Gerard Busse, Marketing Manager, Forest Stewardship Council, South Africa

This year marks the start of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration which aims to prevent, halt, and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide.

Forests play an important role in the health of the planet. Photo by Libreshot

Forests play an important role in the health of the planet. Photo by Libreshot

The intended outcome is to increase ecological resilience and productivity by putting trees and forests back into degraded forest landscapes at a massive scale. It is thus no surprise that the theme this year for the United Nation’s International Day of Forests on the 21 March 2021 is ‘Forest restoration: a path to recovery and well-being’. (FAO 2021)

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) recently launched ‘The Global Strategy 2021-2026’ which reaches back into the roots of who FSC is as an organisation. It reconfirms our commitment to promoting forest stewardship as the way to enable resilient forests that create environmental, social and economic value and benefits. A core component of our revised strategy is to strengthen the links between FSC, certificate holders and the wider community to promote FSC as a solutions provider to reduce climate change and biodiversity loss and to strengthen forest restoration and conservation.

FSC Principles and Criteria focuses on forest conservation and restoration. Our certificate holders are required to maintain, conserve and/or restore ecosystem services and environmental values of the Forest Management Unit, and shall avoid, repair or mitigate negative environmental impacts. Our standard includes the protection and restoration of important natural elements such as water courses, soil as well as rare, threatened, and endangered species and natural forests.

At the heart of the Forest Restoration story is to recall the numerous benefits which forests offer humankind. Forests offer everyone fresh air, nutritious foods, clean water, and space for recreation. The world is losing more than 10 million hectares of forests each year – about the same size as Iceland – and land degradation affects more than 2 billion hectares – the size of South America. (FAO 2021).

This loss emits large quantities of climate-warming gases and places forest plants and animals at high risks of extinction. The restoration and sustainable management of forests will help address both the climate-change and biodiversity crises simultaneously, while producing goods and services sustainably.

Forests provide more than 86 million direct jobs worldwide and additionally support the livelihoods of many people. Wood from well-managed forests support a number of industries from paper and packaging to textiles to construction (FAO 2021). Investment in forest restoration will help economies recover in the post-Covid crises and create even more employment.

From large scale restoration projects such as the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel initiative to restore a 100 million hectares of degraded land across Africa’s drylands by 2030 ( to small-scale planting and restoration projects, these can all have significant impacts and make important differences in the lives of communities enabling them to better govern and manage the lands on which they depend.

Community empowerment helps advance local solutions and promotes participation in ecosystem restoration and rebuilding forest landscapes. Closer to home in Southern Africa, FSC Standards have been utilised in various restoration activities on certified land.

Our Forest Management certificate holder, CMO South Africa has been involved in the restoration of grasslands and the conservation of natural forests through the removal of alien invasive tree species such as wattle with the aim to restore water gains to the water catchment areas for use by local communities and other downstream users such as farmers and industry. The clearing of the wattle will help rehabilitate and restore grasslands for cattle grazing and enable dried-up streams to flow again.

The local project has created employment not only from the logging in terms of clearing the wattle but also in charcoal production which has started up in the area, from the felled wattle. Major forestry operations in South Africa, such as Mondi and Sappi (FSC certificate holders) and the World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) South Africa (an FSC International Member) have been hard at work to implement environmental conservation measures in plantation forestry areas to restore strategic water source areas. WWF SA recognises that improving management of Strategic Water Source Areas requires better strategic planning, better implementation of action on the ground and the coordinated action of many different stakeholders. With this understanding, WWF is working with the forestry sector along with other sectors such as agriculture to take collective action to secure strategic water sources areas at a catchment and landscape level.

SAFCOL through an active delineation programme are pushing back the commercial plantations from water courses and rehabilitating soil erosion areas. They also undertake ongoing monitoring of grasslands, high conservation areas and endangered species, and implementing management interventions were necessary.

Another great example is the ongoing restoration of natural savanna woodland in Namibia. The extent of bush encroachment has already reached more than 30% of its land area, thus threatening the original biodiversity of wild animals and plants and displacing the natural savannah ecosystem. Selective logging of these bush species helps to counteract this threat. The processing of the harvested bush into charcoal creates an economic benefit for the local communities. In this restoration process, wild animals regain their natural habitat and the valuable water supply in the dry savanna soil is protected. Many farms in Namibia have obtained FSC-certification for their charcoal production because of this project, meaning that binding social and environmental standards apply. In addition, they have also manage to validate the FSC Ecosystem Services claim for biodiversity conservation in 2020.

Montigny Investments, an eSwatini based timber company with 55 000 hectares under management protects biodiversity and ecological areas within their forests. Their USutu plantations follow a soil restoration programme which entails planting along slopes and as soon as possible after harvesting. Montigny also implements watershed restoration programme which entails the removal of alien invasive tree species within 30m from all riparian zones. This provides for greater volumes of water to reach the adjacent streams and rivers. Montigny also ensures that there is no harvesting of natural forest within their plantations.

Join us at FSC in celebrating this special day as we salute our forests for the remarkable role they play in our daily lives, and as we embrace 2021 as the start of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. This is an opportunity to not only contemplate how we can prevent, halt, and reverse the degradation of our ecosystems worldwide, but also take decisive action in putting trees and forests back into degraded forest landscapes as at a scale never seen before.