Meeting forest and landscape restoration (FLR) targets during the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is crucial for mitigating climate change, providing ecosystem services that support food and nutrition security, and halting biodiversity loss. Yet their attainment is severely undermined by the lack of seeds and seedlings, especially of native tree species that are well suited for delivering both ecological and socio-economic benefits from restoration but threatened by overexploitation and habitat loss. While restoration targets and related seed needs have multiplied in the past decade, capacities for quality seed production have been largely overlooked and now lack severely behind seed demand.
Forestry and genetic resources experts from 10 Asian and African countries who gathered at the XV World Forestry Congress in Seoul, Korea, 2-6 May 2022, identified the following priority action needs for strengthening supply chains for quality seed of native tree species:
- For the restoration targets to be met, either seed production and supply mechanisms need to be urgently boosted, or the ambitions tempered in terms of area targets with an emphasis on quality instead. Currently, restoration targets are highly ambitious compared to the availability of tree seed. Quality seed sources are lacking for the majority of native species, and existing sources are often rapidly degrading. Due to the biology of trees, building up seed production takes at minimum several years and so there is no time to lose if FLR targets are to be met with new productive and resilient ecosystems during the UN Decade.
- Rapidly developing tree seed supply requires collaborative efforts among all stakeholders. In many countries tree seed production is dominated by the public sector. More activities in seed production and delivery could be outsourced to private and civil society organisations, if mechanisms to ensure seed quality were developed and implemented with corresponding efforts to strengthen capacities. Forests and trees on private or communally managed lands are potentially important seed sources as well as sources of income, and their maintenance and sustainable management need to be incentivised. Horizontal knowledge transfer needs to be enhanced between countries and sectors to build on experiences and lessons learnt from the past. For example, established quality assurance mechanisms from the forestry and agricultural sectors could be adapted for FLR.
- Forest-dependent men and women in local communities should be at the heart of programs focused on developing seed supply for restoration. Local land users often have valuable local ecological knowledge of species and seed sources and can play an important role in boosting seed supply for diverse native species and environments. Seed production can provide important income and job opportunities in rural areas to help diversify income sources and reduce poverty. However, local people need technical and financial support to be able to invest in seed production, and increased efforts are needed to strengthen their capacities in seed collection, processing, propagation and marketing.
- Restoration practitioners need guidance on selecting fit-for-purpose, site-adapted germplasm for their projects and programmes in a changing climate. Objectives of restoration vary widely depending on socio-ecological contexts and different species are required for meeting different objectives. Changing environmental conditions set new demands for suitably adapted germplasm. Yet, restoration projects and programmes often do not spend enough time on seed selection and seed sourcing strategies, and seed choices depend on what happens to be easily available rather than what would meet well restoration objectives and suit the changing site conditions. Existing knowledge on native species’ uses, reproductive biology, and capacity to adapt needs to be consolidated and made more easily available and adaptable to support decision-making. Improved awareness of the importance of seed quality and origin for restoration success will help create demand for quality germplasm of native trees and support the conservation of genetic resources.
- Financial investments need to be multiplied to support the development of supply and market chains for native species for FLR needs. Current massive investments in FLR are at risk of failing if they continue to rely on poor quality seed of a limited diversity of species. Existing infrastructure such as seed production areas for native species and research and testing facilities are grossly insufficient to meet FLR needs. Investments in developing value chains for seeds and other tree products that yield economic benefits from sustainable forest use are critical for incentivising and enabling wider use of native species in restoration efforts. Research on native species’ biology and their capacity to adapt to climate change is also needed. Diverse stakeholders, including Government, donors, development partners and private sector should jointly contribute to these efforts.
- Assisted natural regeneration is a cost-effective way to scale up restoration, but genetic quality of seed and seed sources still requires attention. Most tree species disperse seed and pollen only over relatively short distances. Natural seed sources in most landscapes in need of restoration are small and degraded almost by definition, yielding poor quality seed of narrow genetic diversity. Combinations of restoration methods may be needed to help ensure genetic diversity and resilience.
We call FLR stakeholder at all levels and across all sectors to urgently step up efforts on these action areas, to help ensure that forests restored during the UN Decade will be resilient and productive, and that the multi-billion investments in restoration bear fruit.
The action points were identified by members of the Asia Pacific Forest Genetic Resources Programme (APFORGEN), Sub-Saharan Africa Forest Genetic Resources Programme (SAFORGEN), Latin American Forest Genetic Resources Programme (LAFORGEN) and European Forest Genetic Resources Programme (EUFORGEN) as well as other forest genetic resource experts. The regional forest genetic resources networks were established since 1995 to foster collaborative research and strengthen national capacities for the conservation and sustainable use of tree species and their genetic diversity. Together, they have over 200 institutional and expert members across more than 70 countries. The networks collaborate closely with UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the CGIAR and other international and regional organisations, to ensure that invaluable forest genetic resources needed for resilience, productivity, breeding, socio-economic development, climate change mitigation and other ecosystem services are maintained and enhanced for current and future generations. The World Forestry Congress side event “Seeds for trees: the importance of seed and seedling supply for eﬀective and resilient restoration” through which the action needs were identified was jointly organised by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.