Interview with Musonda Mumba, UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) incoming chair of the Global Partnership on Forests and Landscape Restoration.
As you take on the role of chairing the Global Partnership on Forests and Landscape Restoration, tell us a little about yourself and your career path. Where are you from and how did you get interested in biodiversity, ecosystems and land degradation?
I was born and raised in the northern region of Zambia near the Democratic Republic of Congo border (then Zaire) in Lake region. I grew up around rivers, lakes, wetlands and also a lot of biodiversity, mainly wildlife and fish. As a teen, going to my grandmother’s patch of land to farm stirred a curiosity in me as to what worms were doing in the soil or why certain crops grew and others didn’t. I was curious as to why certain fish that we found at the market were darker than others and I learned much later that the darker fish came from peat wetlands, while the lighter ones came from the open waters of the lakes. My interest in all things environmental was sparked at a very early age and so when I went to the University of Zambia, my instinct was to study conservation biology in tandem with education because I wanted to be a teacher to speak to young people about our environment, the foods we ate, the forests and more.
Currently you head up UNEP’s Terrestrial Ecosystems Unit in Nairobi, Kenya. What does that involve?
My current role involves providing strategic direction around the organization on issues related to UNEP’s work on terrestrial ecosystems from an environmental management and also normative/policy perspective. The team I lead responds both to government requests on governance matters but also to science-policy inputs, and linkages to the Sustainable Development Goals.
What will be your key objectives for the Global Partnership on Forests and Landscape Restoration in the year ahead?
One of my key objectives for Global Partnership on Forests and Landscape Restoration is to make sure that this partnership provides strategic direction on all things restoration, particularly in the light of the UN Decade on Ecosystems Restoration 2021–2030, and also beyond this decade. The Global Partnership’s constituency has such a rich and impressive group of stakeholders who have an opportunity to guide private sector entities investing in restoration so that they do the right kind of restoration to avoid problematic or unintended consequences as a result of bad/wrong restoration.
Are there things that the Global Partnership needs to do differently to shift the needle on landscape restoration?
We need to set clear, traceable goals, get as many people involved as possible, and accelerate what is happening on the ground. After all, ecosystems restoration is a grassroots response to global challenges.
In what ways is the recently announced Decade on Ecosystems Restoration 2021–2030 a challenge and an opportunity?
This Decade indeed provides a challenge in that it came through at an unprecedented time when the political will was so much in alignment with the need for such a decade, but it wasn’t aligned to the financial requirements of restoration needs across the world.
The opportunity lies in the fact that there is a global acknowledgement at this point in history of the need for restoration based on our current planetary trajectory which isn’t a very good one. Everyone on the planet is convinced that things have gone wrong and as such we as humans and as a collective have this opportunity to do something about it and also do it right.
In terms of land degradation, what should we be doing, going forward?
We need to inform the world about the importance and relevance of connectivity. Landscapes do not exist in isolation and as such, degradation has a rural-urban connection and vice-versa. Because people are central to land degradation, we also need to put people at the center of recovery and healing. I mention healing mainly because degradation has implications for us as humans and our human well-being too. A degraded landscape equals to a not-so-whole human and one that is out of sync and flux.
The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021–2030, led by the UN Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and partners such as Afr100, the Global Landscapes Forum and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, covers terrestrial as well as coastal and marine ecosystems. A global call to action, it will draw together political support, scientific research and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration.