Overview and conceptual instances of unlearning

ROAM is simultaneously, a new notion in resources management, and composed of old or previously existing components. It was put together as a methodology between 2011 and 2014. Although being currently tested around the world it has been so far, tied to landscape restoration. Given that association, the GPFLR, the Bonn Challenge and more recently, the AFR100 are important stakeholders. The methodology is underwritten by two major international organizations; the IUCN and WRI who authored and published the Road Test Edition of ROAM in 2014. As progress is achieved with ROAM, new knowledge is gained, and simultaneously some un-learning is experienced. As experts are trained and they begin to use ROAM more widely in different contexts, new circumstances are encountered that invariably questions the existing knowledge and some un-learning goes on.

One example of where some unlearning is occurring, even required, is in the definitions of landscape Restoration as discussed earlier. Whereas “forest” is more emphasized in forest-rich countries “landscape” tends to be so, in less forested areas, such as the Sahel. So, experts planning to work across west Africa for instance, are advised to be ready to unlearn Forest-centered ways of thinking and to embrace and emphasize Landscape aspects. This has consequences for the boundaries of the discipline as we will see further in this analysis.

Another instance is regarding what comes first: the restoration pledge or a national ROAM? In Cote d’Ivoire, a national ROAM prompted a pledge of 5 million hectares. Meanwhile in Burundi (Central Africa) a National pledge of 2 million helped mobilize World Bank funds for a sub national ROAM. Although debatable, restoration of degraded forest reserves in Ghana by FORM Ghana, does not appear to be directly linked to either Ghana’s pledge in 2015 or ROAM completed in 2011. The entire MRU sub region has pledged a total of 9 million hectares of degraded lands (5 of those from Cote d’Ivoire) to be restored through, both the Bonn Challenge and AFR100. Despite this, the most serious ongoing ROAM efforts, are the GEF/IUCN – supported transboundary efforts making only cursory references to the national pledges. Even here, it’s not yet clear what proportion of the 9 million hectares will be covered.

Unlearning in practice 1: ROAM as Framework for ongoing activities

If viewed beyond an instrument to execute the Bonn Challenge and AFR100, a ROAM is more than a methodology. Although its discipline remains landscape management, the objective is ultimately to help restore degraded/degrading portions of the landscapes. The process of getting there may involve one or more of; a high-level Political commitment; biodiversity conservation, habitat restoration, combatting fire; developing tree-based systems or many more, but all requiring a super-structure or framework around which to grow interventions.

Figure 3 below is an infographic summarizes the more limited relationship between a restoration pledge which can take considerable time, energy and resources; and a ROAM; compared to the more extensive, and complex process of achieving Landscape Restoration. Note that, whereas the ROAM can be the one-off action that kicks-off the process of landscape restoration, it is an important first step along the restoration process, during which many more disciples intervene. Nevertheless, the restoration process is effectively, an unravelling of a ROAM activity.

The ROAM is also a set of “expectations”, known before-hand, but which interact together over time, to deliver a restored landscape and improved livelihoods of communities. ROAM can therefore, be considered as a “model”, “a conceptual framework” or simply, “a framework”. This non-conventional perspective of a ROAM, suggesting that a ROAM can be used as “a set of rules, in a sequence”, to help guide the organization of information”, requires some amount of un-learning. It is the quintessential characteristic of a ROAM qualifying it as a “framework”; and one that is valuable in a context of past and ongoing activities aiming to deliver outcomes which are similar or identical to a ROAM. In such a scenario knowledge of a ROAM provides a clear framework of how existing activities can be arranged to solve ecological degradation and to deliver restoration outcomes in the specific contexts.
On the other hand, such a framework renders what may be missing in the sequence more evident; much easier to pin-point; just as, the actions needed to fill the identified knowledge/action gaps. The scenario just described, is precisely what’s going on in eight (08) transboundary river basins, where the WA BiCC/TetraTech Project is intervening in West Africa (Table 3). If we include interventions in the three (03) coastal landscape complexes (Table 3) and biological monitoring interventions in the ZWW and TGKS HCVFs, over a score of the WA BiCC/TetraTech Project interventions are ongoing across the transboundary river basins of the MRU and Ghana.

Table 3 is a mapping of the WA BiCC/TetraTech Project’s activities that seek to “sustain ecological benefits and improved livelihoods for communities” across these landscapes. By linking their potential Impact Pathways (IP) to how their outcomes can be measured (OM) their intuitive relationship with landscape restoration becomes more evident.

Table 3: Relationship between the WA BiCC/TetraTech Project Interventions and Restoration across 7 river basins, 2 High Biodiversity Value Forest Ecosystems and 3 Coastal Landscape Complexes

Unlearning in practice 2: Dealing with Stakeholders
Where stakeholders are already engaged in sustaining ecological functions and improving livelihoods, as is the case where a Project is already intervening in the landscapes (Table 3), it is more effective to use ROAM as a framework to strengthen outcomes, rather as a repetitive methodology to re-recommend outputs already under way.
The Project-supported actions/interventions in Table 3 are being implemented by different stakeholders, the same that are brought together during the early stages of a ROAM. Depending on how long such stakeholders may have been engaged with each other; with natural resources policies and problems; or with technical and financial partners in the landscape, so too are the different steps in the ROAM sequence likely to be useful in helping them organize their interventions for greater landscape management effectiveness.
For instance, in sub national ROAMs as are currently being implemented under the GEF-MRU-IUCN project, only a targeted range of stakeholders may need to be engaged for the actual ROAM consultations. Furthermore, a degraded or degrading part of the transboundary river basin ecosystem may well already be under some form of restoration. It would be a waste of resources; or even likely to create local resentment or conflict to awaken expectations by re-doing a ROAM/Stakeholder analyses ; or analyses of degradation drivers that may already be known. Does this mean a ROAM assessment is not necessary? No, but it means, there would be no need to repeat a Stakeholder Analyses as this would just increase the cost without adding any value. In fact, repetition may put-off some local stakeholders.
Nevertheless, in compiling the ROAM report existing stakeholder characteristics and interests would still need to be considered, including those engaged in restoration activities, but perhaps not directly consulted. If these stakeholders will be using the results of the ROAM later-on, to deepen the impacts of their activities they remain directly concerned, and actors in the landscape/ecosystem.

Unlearning in practice 3: The ‘restoration opportunities”

In ROAM theory the “opportunity” for restoration can be presented as a straight-forward quantity that emerges as the process advances, and as the “best bet area” for final investments/interventions. The practice of restoration is however, teaching us that, “restoration opportunity”, though the desirable quantity is becoming increasingly theoretical, even “transient”, and for very good reasons.

ROAM shares some similarities with land use planning and participatory local development planning. All three deal with scale and spatial planning in significant ways, while identifying investment priorities. A uniqueness with ROAM is the concept of “opportunities” for restoration.

In the case of Ghana for instance, 14 million hectares was identified as representing “Opportunities” for restoration. The first surprise was FORM Ghana’s preference for State Forests; a category of degraded forest that was almost left out of the ROAM exercise because options were pretty much well-known beforehand, and “widescale”. Landscape restoration is ongoing in different parts of Ghana, such as under the Great Green Wall Initiative for Sub Saharan Africa (GGWISSA) and others probably smaller scale like on farmers’ fields. However, so far, the FORM Ghana widescale restoration of forest reserves constitutes only 0.39% of the 3 million ha identified as opportunity under this category; so, why so little; and what’s going on with the rest?

Similarly, the commercial Benefit Sharing Agreements (BSA) between the Government of Ghana (GoGH), and the local communities pertain to 14,000 ha of a 11 million opportunity for mosaic restoration. This is 0.127% of the total assessed opportunity. This high profile, but extremely modest restoration efforts are certainly not the only ones happening. However, given what ‘a restoration opportunity” intends to convey, it is legitimate to re-assess why the “opportunity” earmarked remains so little .

In summary therefore, the ‘opportunity’ is at the heart of a restoration assessment and can be a moving target. Often smaller than the priority, it can be strongly influenced by social, economic, financial, market, political; even attitudinal factors. In an uncertain world of resource scarcity, competing interests, tastes and changing priorities, it may be more meaningful to view restoration opportunity as also a time-bound and non-static quantity, though a sought-after, and desirable quantity.

Unlearning in practice 4: Harmonizing understanding of landscape Restoration can broaden practice

As ROAM gains popularity through demand by various stakeholders across west Africa, dimensions of landscape degradation have in consequence, emerged or are been articulated for different ecological contexts. So, although the definition of forests emerged through the REDD+ process as a unifying, legalistic concept it did not blunt the intuitive understanding that people have of how forests differ from country to country. So, as emphasis on “forests” as a central feature in landscapes wanes, Landscape Restoration is increasingly understood as being all-inclusive in dealing with different types of ecosystems services degradation at the operational level. The robustness of the ROAM is thus further tested in consequence.
Restoration decisions are National Policy Statements; and landcover in west African countries are a mixture of vegetation types, much more than the narrowly defined notion of “forests”. The priorities for restoration are also often far removed from what are often referred-to as “forested areas”. Increasingly therefore, the ROAM, with its distinct steps or phases is emerging as an effective framework and entry-point for the “re-constitution of much more than land cover”; but of all three major functions of ecosystems; provisioning, service and regulatory functions; which can be lost or degraded through natural and or Man-induced actions.
It is therefore quite important that, in using ROAM, practitioners are aware that clients are expecting much more from restoration than just planting trees.

Unlearning in practice 5: The significance and dimensions of scale in Landscapes

The requirement for scale is explicit in the landscape restoration concept, because “landscapes” are understood to be “huge expanses of land”. However, “ecological functionality and services to human wellbeing” do not often require very large expanses of land. Nevertheless, there is tacit agreement that, for an activity or intervention to be legitimately considered “landscape restoration” it must necessarily respond to a dimension of scale. This is so because, consideration of scale is both important and deliberate. Firstly, in the way scale helps differentiate ecological functionalities in space (e.g. upstream/downstream; and secondly, in the way scale sets ‘landscape restoration” apart from other sustainable land uses or spatial planning processes which can be more limited in scope; e.g., village or local development plans.

Given the importance of scale, we can ponder the legitimacy of the following questions:
a) Would on-going restoration-type activities within the MRU, such as individually owned Agroforestry tree crop fields, Mangrove regeneration and replanting plots, etc.; which address important issues such as; localized wave protection, biomass energy and other livelihoods needs, qualify as de facto restoration activities?
b) Should a spatially limited restoration intervention scale, disqualify an activity from being legitimately considered and or monitored as a “restoration” activity?
Arguably, respective answers to the questions should be Yes to (a) and No to (b) under certain conditions. However, the two cases outlined below present contexts where relatively small-scale activities should be able to qualify as landscape restoration interventions in the conceptual sense:
c) Where evidence exist that, areas coming under restoration are being monitored and or are a part of the accounting for a national restoration commitment, possibly backed by a Pledge.
All four MRU countries (Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire), acknowledging the scale of degradation across their territories have made formal pledges to restore up to 9 million hectares of degraded landscapes. All types of restoration activities begin small then attain larger extents and scales. Even then, ecological functions previously degraded or lost, may take many years to become noticeable, and can often happen far away (downstream) from the site of activity (interventions). Therefore, when an activity is being monitored, as part of a bigger whole (e.g., as part of national accounting, supporting a Pledge), and or is evaluated (performance), to show its contribution to wider benefits (at landscape scale); such as reducing pressure on a degraded protected area, or facilitating connectivity between two protected areas, then such an activity should be considered as a “landscape restoration activity”; for it is more about what the activities seek to achieve at that scale, rather than the individual activities themselves.
d) When the spatial disposition of restoration activities (interventions) under implementation in a landscape (such as following a restoration opportunities assessment methodology) reflects the geo-spatial characteristics of degradation.

Scale as considered under landscape restoration also refers to the disposition, interconnectedness, ecological and spatial relationships between areas where ecosystem products and services are to be restored; versus areas under restoration activities or interventions in the landscape. Therefore, restoring a relatively small 2,000 Ha sacred forest, which connects two protected areas; sitting on a watershed; supplying fresh water to a town; and located upstream to fish spawning grounds in a coastal zone, is relevant to the surrounding landscapes, thanks to the products and services that its restoration helps deliver; or facilitates recovery or regeneration of. For such reasons, geo-spatial location of restoration interventions may be more critical to a landscape than the total area (ha) of the restoration activity.