In our view, it is unrealistic to expect countries to achieve forest-restoration targets by prioritizing natural forest regeneration over tree plantations in all cases (S. L. Lewis et al. Nature 568, 25–28; 2019).
Monoculture or mixed-species tree plantations could be better alternatives in highly degraded areas that are distant from native seed sources. Financial compensation for landowners who conserve carbon, water or biodiversity in regenerating forests might not match incomes from agriculture or commercial forestry. And the global demand for wood fuel and fibre means that these are increasingly sourced from tree plantations.
Different types of native forest, tree plantation and agroforest are acceptable restoration interventions, on the basis of the needs of local communities and national aspirations (see go.nature.com/2wpcybe). Commercial tree plantings, including mixtures of native and exotic species, can be managed to foster natural regeneration, providing direct financial benefits to farmers (N. T. Amazonas et al. For. Ecol. Mgmt 417, 247–256; 2018).
Innovative practices and policies are needed to make natural regeneration profitable over huge scales. We also need to determine where such regeneration is likely to succeed, and where it can offer benefits beyond carbon storage (P. G. Molin et al. J. Appl. Ecol. 55, 2767–2778; 2018).
Nature 570, 164 (2019)