ELTI Director Helps Define Political Ecology Handbook

World leaders are taking new steps to advance restoration and conservation efforts around the world, such as the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration’s global call to action and the recent 100-nation pledge at of COP26 to end deforestation by 2030. issues of equity and justice fail to address the root causes of degradation and decline, a new article co-authored by Eva Garen ’95 MESc, ’05 PhD, director of the Yale School of the Environment’s Environmental Leadership & Training Initiative, explains.

Eva Garen

To remedy this, the newspaper — titled Political Ecology Playbook and published in the journal Global Environmental Change — sets out 10 principles for effective, equitable and transformative landscapes.

The handbook notes that “land degradation is not simply the result of the unsustainable activities of small landowners, population growth or technological insufficiencies, but emerges from a complex set of biophysical, social, economic and political processes. nested at dynamic and interconnected local, national levels. , and globally. The 10 principles emphasize local knowledge and authority, prioritizing ecological and social benefits over financial rewards and cross-border collaboration.

Garen, director of ELTI since 2012, says that while many restoration efforts have been well-intentioned, some have resulted in worsening conditions on the ground. Below, she discusses some of the challenges facing efforts to restore and end deforestation.

What are the main drivers of failed restoration efforts?

There are a lot of global strategies now focused on massive, large-scale restoration that are trying to come up with technical solutions and quick fixes, like let’s just plant trees. But it’s a red flag. You should ask yourself who will implement and manage the restoration? Who lives on the earth? Who manages and has rights to the land? These landscapes are influenced by complex histories, cultures and power dynamics – and this context is often overlooked. And when overlooked, you have those poorly designed technical fixes that can end up leading to a lot of unintended consequences. These projects generally do not work because they do not take into account the complexities of the region.

Which restoration practices and principles are the easiest to implement?

I don’t think many of them are easy to achieve, but I think we have to try. I focus a lot on the local scene and try to understand local natural resource management and stewardship systems and all the power dynamics, relationships and nuances of those systems. And then, based on that, I try to build interventions from traditional systems that support sustainability, and then scale things from the bottom up. There are no win-win interventions. These are always compromises. But you can develop interventions at different scales that will help increase sustainability.

What are the main obstacles to the protection of forests and ecosystems?

The goal is to try to make keeping standing forests more profitable than cutting them down, but there are so many incentives for mass destruction. There are huge political and economic systems that don’t incentivize sustainability. And I think people run away when they see cultural anthropologists because they think, “We don’t have time to deal with what you’re telling us.” We don’t have time to study a community for a decade and learn about its rich cultural history and the power dynamics that underpin land use decision-making. But if you don’t use this kind of approach, it often won’t work.

What progress has been made?

I think people are really starting to understand the importance of addressing the root causes of degradation and deforestation. They are really trying to understand the importance of indigenous and traditional knowledge and traditions, the value of their knowledge and to build interventions with more equitable power dynamics.

What gives you hope for achieving the goals of the playbook and ecological restoration?

The innovation and passion of the people in the field. They are incredibly smart and innovate and try all these different things. They come up with these amazing systems that build durability and resilience. They teach us all the time. It was the highlight of my career.

For example, we have a wonderful program with our partners in Colombia where they practice sustainable livestock farming based on the integration of trees and forests. They get a much higher return from meat and dairy production. And there are much higher levels of biodiversity, carbon sequestration and storage on these farms. Who would have thought that cattle ranchers would become conservationists who would help restore some of the world’s most critical biodiversity hotspots? It was unthinkable and now it happens. They do it because it supports their cultural practices and their livelihood.

ELTI participants in the field

Colombian landowners learn about silvopastoral systems during a 2019 ELTI field course in El Hatico Nature Reserve, Cali, Colombia.