• Regreening relies on grassroots movements to change mindsets and land management practices, and demand supportive policies.
  • To support such movements, donors need to work across multiple scales and sectors in ways that empower communities to define land management aims.
  • Monitoring and evaluating grassroots regreening movements involves understanding social networks and information flows.

Science tells us that time is running out. In order to avert a climate catastrophe, it is estimated that we have only one decade left to make any real and lasting change. Restoring hundreds of millions of hectares of land is a critical component of this change and is already underway through the Bonn Challenge.

The restoration of degraded landscapes relies on changes at, literally, the grassroots. The values and actions of women, men and youth who live and manage their land will determine the form and rate of its restoration. These communities are also the ones with the most to gain from land restoration – and the most to lose without it.

Grassroots regreening with Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration

The huge restoration of landscapes occurring in places like Niger, Mali and Ethiopia has been achieved through Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) – a low-cost and simple practice of regrowing trees and shrubs from existing stumps, roots and seeds, or woody thickets through selection, pruning and management.

FMNR is not just a tree management practice, however, it is also a social movement regreening mindsets and empowering communities to value and work with nature to meet their needs in a mutually beneficial way.

Grassroots FMNR has spread through the process of each community adapting the practice to meet its own needs and then inspiring and supporting others to do so. When more and more people are seen taking up FMNR and other regreening practices of their own accord, these grassroots movements become self-sustaining. The power and impact of a self-sustaining grassroots movement can be further enhanced by creating an enabling environment of supportive policies, markets and institutions.

How to catalyse and support regreening movements

For development programmes or interventions to catalyse and support a grassroots regreening movement, the community needs to be in charge. FMNR and other community-based approaches, such as Landcare, seek to influence the way people live in the landscape while caring for the land by encouraging local community-led action.

Landcare facilitators often link groups with wider networks and various knowledge sources, while local communities identify their shared vision and adapt and adopt practices to suit. Similarly, FMNR facilitators often encourage communities to reflect on historical land management practices, and how their relationships with trees and vegetation have changed over time.

Once communities have been introduced to FMNR (such as through a project, training, visits or even radio), and try it out for themselves and experience positive results, they become the drivers for thriving FMNR movements. FMNR Champions are the most passionate advocates, sharing the approach with others in their community, as well as communicating and inspiring others through training, demonstration and mentoring.

Programme interventions can support and encourage individuals to find hope and determine their own futures (such as World Visions Empowered World View). Community leaders can be engaged and encouraged to positively influence socio-cultural norms, manage conflict over resources, and inspire community values, beliefs and practices that support the environment. Approaches like Channels of Hope and Citizen Voice & Action empower the community to effectively advocate for support from government to achieve their goals.

Developing networks and alliances of organisations with common goals can be valuable to coordinate action, share resources, and align messaging and activities with communities. Alliances of organisations are also powerful in raising awareness, educating and advocating for better policies, services or institutional support for grassroots restoration movements. A network of collaborating organisations is critical to support a movement, which by its very nature cannot be owned and driven by any single organisation if it is to be sustainable and self-perpetuating.

Challenges in traditional monitoring approaches

Social movements are a powerful driver for achieving land restoration outcomes. Monitoring and understanding these movements is crucial for projects, donors and investors to be able to effectively support them to build and achieve change in the short time that we have left. A truly participatory monitoring system can also assist communities in recognising the benefits of regreening, which can then demonstrate these to others and, in so doing, propel the movement further.

Traditionally, monitoring and evaluation approaches used by development programmes have relied on tracking expected outputs and evaluating anticipated outcomes. This works when outputs and outcomes are within the control of the programme. However, movements are driven by communities, contribute to disparate spatial and temporal outcomes through multiple known and unknown pathways of change, which triggers tipping points and changes in different sectors and scales. This requires either a thorough understanding of the whole system (which can be very expensive and time consuming) or ways of identifying the contribution of one programme to the collective effort to achieve a common goal.

So what alternative monitoring approaches can we adopt to effectively track movement building efforts? Regreen the Globe, Regreening Africa and other similar initiatives supporting grassroots restoration movements are today taking innovative approaches to monitoring and evaluating their contributions, including through Social Network Analysis, Remote Sensing and Outcome Mapping.

The building blocks of any movement include relationships between people (social capital), sources of information, and new ideas and support systems for the adaptation and adoption of these ideas locally. These functions within a community can be described through Social Network Analysis (SNA).

SNA can be used to understand how a community is organised, where relationships are strong and supportive, and where there might be weaknesses or disconnection that might hinder the movement. SNA can also help to measure the social capital of people in a landscape and explain how land management decisions are influenced by others in their community, and identify those who are best placed to contribute to the movement’s goals.

Measuring information flow as a component of social capital also shows how new ideas are being accessed, adapted and shared, both at a grassroots level and beyond the community to others, and how active and resilient these are. These insights can guide programmes in how best to support a grassroots regreening movement in different locations.

Remote sensing and landscape mapping and analysis tools such as Collect Earth and land health maps can tell us whether regreening is actually occurring or not. Using mobile data collection tools, such as the Regreening Africa app, can also efficiently and effectively collect, analyse and interpret data at a plot and household level to validate remote sensing, as well as assessing related social and economic impacts. Such data can then be used within the project cycle to inform rapid changes and adaptions.

Through participatory interpretation of this type of data, communities can reflect on how they are progressing with their own objectives for regreening, as well as provide context and interpretation of variations across their landscapes. These insights are valuable for not only improving regreening practices, but also demonstrating successes to those outside the community, inspiring further adoption and support for the movement.

It is also critical to understand how our programmes might be contributing (or inhibiting) the longer-term transformative changes in the enabling environment for a sustainable grassroots movement. Qualitative approaches such as outcome mapping can be used to provide a plausible assessment of the project activities contribution to observed results. Outcome mapping identifies the stakeholders that a project will work with and their anticipated behaviour changes, and tracks these changes to identify their contribution to the overall change the grassroots movement is driving towards.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about deforestation?

Halting deforestation is essential to avoiding the worst effects of global climate change.

The destruction of forests creates almost as much greenhouse gas emissions as global road travel, and yet it continues at an alarming rate.

In 2012, we brought together more than 150 partners working in Latin America, West Africa, Central Africa and South-East Asia – to establish the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020: a global public-private partnership to facilitate investment in systemic change.

The Alliance, made up of businesses, governments, civil society, indigenous people, communities and international organizations, helps producers, traders and buyers of commodities often blamed for causing deforestation to achieve deforestation-free supply chains.

The Commodities and Forests Agenda 2020, summarizes the areas in which the most urgent action is needed to eliminate deforestation from global agricultural supply chains.

The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 is gaining ground on tackling deforestation linked to the production of four commodities: palm oil, beef, soy, and pulp and paper.

Get in touch to join our mission to halt to deforestation.

In order to catalyse and feed grassroots regreening movements, programme monitoring and evaluation may be required to give up high levels of certainty and control, collaborate more across multiple organisations and scales, and use more qualitative and diverse methods to identify and reflect upon the changes observed.

Approaches that help to understand the state of the grassroots movement in a timely manner, as well as evaluate the effectiveness of efforts to catalyse and support a movement, should also look to support the movement with evidence, knowledge and power itself. This requires donors to value common goals and acknowledge that a contribution to the outcome has been made, but leave the control and the final say with the grassroots communities leading the way on these global issues.