The project will pilot its “forest and landscape restoration approaches” in Lebanon and Morocco, but ultimately aims to build regional and national capacities to implement large-scale reforestation programs across the Mediterranean region, according to UfM.
The project has two tracks: national and regional. On the national level, UfM will attempt to secure sustainable or so-called green financing - one of the approaches - for environmental projects.
“One of the main issues on everyone’s agenda is green finance. It’s not an easy task, but we must find a business model for it,” said Miguel Garcia-Herraiz, deputy secretary general for Water and Environment at UfM.
Later on in the project, these approaches will be “scaled up” to other interested countries in the Mediterranean region.
At the regional level, raising awareness is the project’s first aim, starting with the project’s launch at Mediterranean Forest Week, Garcia-Herraiz said. Later regional offerings will include capacity-building workshops and specialized technical assistance in land management and forestry.
“Forestry is not just about planting trees,” he told The Daily Star, pointing out that sustainable environmental policies must consider environmental preservation “not as something done against human interest but in human interest.”
From this starting point, Garcia-Herraiz believes that reforesting can - and should - dovetail with other goals within human development: for example, creating and preserving jobs, and improving land management.
UfM and FAO singled out the Chouf and Bkassine regions for the forest restoration project in Lebanon, because “the Chouf is already a biosphere and Bkassine is particularly relevant for biodiversity,” according to Garcia-Herraiz
As for the choice of the project’s first countries, “Lebanon and Morocco are well known for their forest landmass, so it was a logical choice to start with [these countries],” Garcia-Herraiz said.
“The Lebanese and Moroccan governments were happy to take part in the project, which shows that they are committed to working in these areas,” he continued, adding that UfM’s job is to help countries that cannot afford such projects themselves.
The FAO was also confident about its partners in Lebanon and Morocco, given its previous track record working with the countries’ state-run organizations, Garcia-Herraiz explained.
The FAO has previously worked with Lebanon’s Agriculture Ministry and Morocco’s High Commissioner for Water and Forests.
“UfM doesn’t have a specific line of work with the [Agriculture Ministry]. But we have worked with the Lebanese government on water. So this is an interesting opportunity to expand our operations to the [Agriculture Ministry].”
In terms of the restoration project’s ambitions, Garcia-Herraiz said, “We follow mandate from member states,” and thus UfM will not yet be implementing any radical approaches to conservation such as “rewilding” - which seeks to restore areas of land to their pre-human state.
Organizations like Rewilding Europe are pioneering the practice in several European countries, including by encouraging large predators to return to environments where they were previously hunted to extinction.
“[Rewilding] is a priority for many countries. If countries look to rewilding as something to assist in, we’d be happy to join,” he said.
“Landscape is a totally social construct,” Garcia-Herraiz added.
“Man’s intervention in forests is ancient. What we are doing today is preserving an existing landscape as we perceive it currently.”
But, he added, UfM has “enough on [its] plate already” in general, referring to its work to reduce plastic consumption, remove marine litter from the Mediterranean Sea and establishing circular economies.
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