Social learning to promote forest restoration in a semi-arid landscape in North Africa


Forest restoration is a suitable tool to mitigate land degradation and enhance the supply of vital goods and services. Social participation in forest restoration has gained increasing interest. Yet, the impact of participation on people’s perception of ecological restoration and the restoration process has barely been addressed despite its relevance for the long-term success of restoration actions. We assessed mutual learning of different stakeholder groups in a ten-year demonstration project, and its potential to foster continued participatory forest restoration in Beni Boufrah valley, a semiarid area located in North Morocco. We performed face-to-face interviews to assess post-restoration individual learning for a subset of 15 highly engaged stakeholders using five components of social learning: reciprocal determinism, self-reflective capability, expectations, self-regulation and locus of control. Furthermore, we organized a workshop to assess collective learning in the study area. The lessons learnt by the project team was described using monitoring vegetation measurements, field visits and meetings, and stakeholder recommendations. Two thirds of the stakeholders showed an increasing awareness of the reciprocal relationship between people and the environment, while recognizing the inappropriateness of current behaviors and practices. Farmers showed continuous mistrust towards the Forestry Agency which justifies the need for more innovative approaches to resolve persistent conflicts, integrate forest and agricultural interventions and establish new mechanisms for economic motivation. Stakeholders acquired theoretical and practical concepts on forest restoration, but self-initiated activities were scarce and reinforcement of environmental awareness is still needed. There was a high impact of drought on seedling survival and growth along with a decrease in stakeholder engagement over the years. We could identify and implement a series of practical corrective measures, namely participatory re-planting, plot fencing, establishment of a local monitoring committee, and raising awareness activities. Such participatory implementation of corrective measures may enhance the credibility of the restoration process and it can be further tested in similar semiarid areas of North Africa even at a larger scale.

In Environmental Development