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Restoring Degraded Land in Latin America Can Bring Billions in Economic Benefits

Imagine a landscape, baked by a hot tropical sun, where almost nothing grows. The dirt is compacted and bone dry, the grasses are sparse and weedy, and it is quiet — there’s no sound of the livestock that used to roam here or the wildlife before that. After years of unchecked deforestation and heavy grazing, this badly degraded land provides few environmental benefits, and no longer makes money for the communities that once depended on it.     

New research shows that bringing life back to these damaged landscapes through landscape restoration can generate billions of dollars of profit for farmers, investors and society. A new WRI report, The Economic Case For Landscape Restoration In Latin America, finds that restoring 20 million hectares (49 million acres) of degraded lands in Latin America and the Caribbean by adding trees and improving farming practices would yield $23 billion in net benefits over 50 years, a value equivalent to about 10 percent of annual food exports from the region. That’s an average of $1,140 per hectare!

Thinking of Lost Productivity as an Opportunity

With close to 650 million hectares (1.6 billion acres) of deforested and degraded lands in Latin American and the Caribbean, an area double the size of Argentina, the region is primed to tap into restoration’s economic promise at a massive scale. Eleven Latin American countries as well as several Brazilian states and private projects have already pledged roughly 27 million hectares (67 million acres) for restoration through partnerships like Initiative 20x20 and the Bonn Challenge. Investors have earmarked more than a billion dollars in financing to kick-start restoration projects. The private sector, from farmers to investors, expects to see financial returns from increased agricultural productivity, forestry products, ecotourism and carbon sequestration.

Landowners and investors however, need more than economic models to justify placing huge financial bets— they want examples of where restoration has been successful and where it has turned a profit. Here, we can look to three cases from Latin America that demonstrate restoration is good business.