United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Hot and dry, The Gambia is situated on both sides of the lower reaches of the Gambia River. UNEP and ICRAF are working together to restore degraded land in the small West African state. Photo CIFOR-ICRAF/CWatson

UNEP has stood side by side with CIFOR and ICRAF as an intellectual partner, implementing partner, and source of funds for many years. There have been many joint efforts.

One collaboration particularly stands out. In 2012 UNEP and ICRAF published the Sahel Atlas of Changing Landscapes: Tracing trends and variations in vegetation cover and soil condition. It was document before its time.

Usually referred to as the Land Degradation Atlas for the Sahel, this large format richly illustrated volume was prescient about the devastating impact that degradation would have on this fragile arid region.

ICRAF scientists Tor-Gunnar Vagen and Thomas Gumbricht conducted extensive field work in Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal to assemble the book, which was funded by Norway through the UNEP project – “An Ecosystem Approach to Restoring West African Drylands and Improving Rural Livelihoods through Agroforestry-based Land Management Interventions”.  

“This report provides rich and valuable insights into the climate and vegetation dynamics of the Sahel, putting recent drought and land use changes in the context of longer-term historic changes,” said the then ED of UNEP Achim Steiner and ICRAF DG Tony Simons in the foreword.

CIFOR and UNEP also produced landmark material together. In 2014, out of work supported by the Government of Sweden and USAID, the two bodies produced Guiding principles for delivering coastal wetland carbon projects. The guidance document distils best practice principles and draws on a long history of project development and implementation in fields of wetlands restoration.

The relationship between CIFOR-ICRAF and UNEP has focused on far more than documents, however,  embracing action, jointly managing projects and advocacy.

In 2016, CIFOR and UNEP signed a Memo of Understanding to foster joint action on integrated landscape management, primarily through the Global Landscapes Forum, a CIFOR knowledge platform with UNEP as a partner. Running 2017 through 2020, the partnership supported national and local action on forestry and restoration and the Global Peatlands Initiative.

And in The Gambia, where UNEP is the accredited implementing agency for the Green Climate Fund, UNEP is currently supporting ICRAF to implement the GCF-funded “Large-scale Ecosystem-based Adaptation Project” in the country’s river basin.

Launched in Banjul in 2018, targets include restoring over 10,000 hectares of degraded community forests and farmlands. It is hot hard work that includes suppressing fire that prevents trees from fruiting, seeding, and regenerating.

But perhaps the greatest interaction between CIFOR-ICRAF and UNEP is around the UN Global Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

“UNEP launched the Decade on 5 June 2021 and demonstrated outstanding leadership on this critical agenda,” says CIFOR-ICRAF soil scientist Leigh Winowiecki. “It is willing to be inclusive and has rallied all partners. This collaboration, such as we have never seen before, is highly motivating for all involved. The Decade looks set for success.”

UNEP is headquartered in Nairobi. Its mission “is to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations”.