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Ultimately, What is Forest Landscape Restoration in Practice? Embodiments in Sub-Saharan Africa and Implications for Future Design


Forest landscape restoration (FLR) is gaining ground as a novel, holistic approach to sustainable environmental management across developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, 30 countries have joined the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative to advance FLR goals. Although conceptually compelling, and despite efforts articulating initial implementation guidelines, divergent discourses and interpretations confound FLR translation into practice. We propose a characterization of FLR in practice using insights from political ecology; principles of ecological restoration and landscape sustainability science; and the philosophy, principles, and objectives of the FLR paradigm. Our qualitative analysis further draws on secondary data and insights from participant observation during FLR-related workshops. We build and organize the FLR characterization around answers to ten questions: why restoration; what purpose; for what desired outcomes; where (location and land uses); what spatial extent and scale(s); who; which techniques; how (approach/strategy); when and how long; and how much to achieve. We then assess early FLR strategic priorities for interventions across nine African countries and analyze five selected actual projects to illustrate use of the proposed FLR characterization framework. The illustrative characterization of both planned interventions and actual projects does not reflect all the proposed characteristics of FLR in practice. Missing features include the initial biophysical condition, the desired target ecosystem state, and evaluation dimensions, and ill-articulated aspects include cross-sectoral integrations. We contend that any significant differences between FLR conceptualization, including its principles, and the practical manifestations can undermine coherence, the value that the FLR approach adds, and its wider adoption. The proposed characterization of FLR in practice contributes to scholarly attempts to realign FLR conceptual philosophy, principles, and rhetoric to its practical manifestations in different contexts, and can inform future design of FLR undertakings for more inclusive landscape governance.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Forest-agricscapes are natural landscapes comprising interlocked agricultural and forested lands—typical of rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa—that need holistic and integrated management (Djenontin et al. 2020).

  2. 2.

    Yacouba Sawadogo was the farmer who started restoring his degraded and bare lands. See and This farmer has been recently celebrated with the Right Livelihood Award known as “the alternative Nobel Price” (see Accessed 24 Jan 2019).

  3. 3.

    See AFR100 at Assessed April 2020.

  4. 4.

    The ARLI is the political aegis endorsed by the African Union in October 2015 to contribute to improving soil fertility and food security, combating desertification, increasing biodiversity and habitats, bolstering economic growth and livelihood diversification, and increasing the capacity for climate change resilience

  5. 5. Accessed 6 Dec 2019.



Forest Landscape Restoration


Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, plus The Sustainable Management of Forests, and the Conservation and Cnhancement of Corest Carbon Stocks


New York Declaration on Forests


Sustainable Development Goals


Society for Ecological Restoration


United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change


United Nation Convention on Biological Diversity


United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification


African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative


Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative


Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology


Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration.


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This material is not supported by any specific grant. The authors are grateful to the various institutional and financial support from Michigan State University (MSU) through the Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences; the Environmental Science and Policy Program (ESPP); the College of Social Sciences; and the MSU Graduate School. The first author is also grateful to the Graduate Women International (GWI)’s financial support to her research in the framework of her PhD dissertation. Lastly, many thanks for the constructive comments provided by two anonymous reviewers and the guest editors of this special issue.

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Correspondence to Ida N. S. Djenontin.

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Djenontin, I.N.S., Zulu, L.C. & Etongo, D. Ultimately, What is Forest Landscape Restoration in Practice? Embodiments in Sub-Saharan Africa and Implications for Future Design. Environmental Management 68, 619–641 (2021).

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  • Characterization framework
  • FLR in practice
  • FLR concepts and principles
  • Spatial extent and scales
  • Multiple socio-ecological benefits
  • sub-Saharan Africa