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Playing a bigger role in global monitoring of SDGs

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Women take part in a mapping workshop in Nyangania, Ghana. Photo by Axel Fassio/CIFOR

UN Women’s 2018 flagship report on gender and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offers a framework to monitor each of the 17 SDGs from a gender perspective, and takes stock of their performance to date. 

The report calls for greater collaboration between researchers, governments and women’s organizations to realize the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.

Bimbika Sijapati Basnett, gender coordinator for the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) gender scientist, recently published a brief evaluating the report.

In this second installment of a two-part series, she analyzes the report and its implications for the CGIAR gender research community, reflecting upon entry points for CGIAR to respond to this call.

According to Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, gender specific Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 5, and the mainstreaming of gender across the 17 other goals, is evidence that: “gender equality is a goal in its own right and a powerful force for upholding the main promise of the 2030 Agenda: to leave no one behind” (UN Women 2018, 2).

However, in its newly released flagship report monitoring each SDG from a gender and social inclusion perspective, UN Women finds that only six out of the 17 goals are gender sensitive (SDGs 1, 3, 4, 5, 8 and 16); five goals are gender sparse (SDGs 2, 19, 11, 13 and 17) and the remaining six are gender blind (SDGs 6, 7, 9, 12, 14 and 15). The available gender data presents gaps. There is inadequate investment and funding for additional or quality data collection. Data collection methodologies (e.g. censuses, labor surveys) present deep biases which prevent them from collecting reliable, gender disaggregated data.

Read more: What’s in it for gender researchers when it comes to UN Women’s gender and SDGs report?

According to the report, such monitoring is essential to: translate global commitments to results; offer space for public debate and democratic decision-making; determine each stakeholder’s (governments, citizens, civil society organizations, private sector) roles and responsibilities and strengthen accountability for actions or omissions (UN Women 2018, 24-25).

As a reminder, UN Women calls for greater and concerted effort among governments, researchers and women’s rights organizations to realize the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. How so? By tracking progress against the goals, identifying achievements and gaps, and highlighting implementation challenges and opportunities.

As a global collective focusing on agriculture and natural resource management research in multiple countries and contexts across Africa, Asia and Latin America, the CGIAR gender research community is uniquely positioned to contribute to such endeavors.

In this blog, I reflect upon how the CGIAR gender research community can contribute more significantly towards future global efforts to monitor the SDGs from a gender and social inclusion perspective. This is the second part of a two-tier blog, the first of which unpacks the report and highlights its strengths and limitations.

Read more: UN Women’s evaluation of gender in the SDGs – What’s the role for the CGIAR?

A team works together during a REDD+ workshop in Peru. Photo by Marlon del Aguila Guerrero/CIFOR

Limited contribution of CGIAR gender researchers and research publications

The UN Women report does not significantly showcase CGIAR gender researchers and research publications. This is remarkable, considering the impressive number of academics, practitioners and policy makers, both within and outside the United Nations system, who have played a role as team members in writing the report, background paper authors, advisory members and reviewers. The report also features a comprehensive reference list combining both foundational and recent publications.

A quick search through the report returned only one CGIAR gender researcher (Sophia Huyer), acknowledged for her contribution as a report reviewer. Prominent CGIAR gender researchers are scarcely referenced: Cheryl Doss is referenced twice; Agnes Quisumbing once; Carol Colfer, Cynthia McDougall, Lone Badstue, Anne Larson, Esther Mwangi, Margreet Zwarteveen and Paula Kantor receive no mention. All of these authors are among CGIAR gender researchers who have contributed high quality publications on topics that are relevant to SDGs from a gender perspective – i.e. poverty, food security, inequality, land and water.

That said, direct participation of researchers and/or citation of their work may not be an effective way of measuring CGIAR research’s influence. Although Ruth Meinzen-Dick is not directly cited in the report, one of her well-recognized arguments that women’s land rights must be measured in terms of a ‘bundle of rights[1], Meizen-Dick et al. 2014; Meizen-Dick et al. 2018; Ribot and Peluso 2003) is included, under the sub-section on ‘Spotlight on women’s equal rights to land’ (111).

As a gender researcher from CIFOR, working on FTA, I was particularly drawn to the report’s coverage on SDG 15 – ‘Life on Land’. One of CIFOR and FTA’s flagship publications on the gender dimensions of palm oil expansion in West Kalimantan, Indonesia (Li 2014, 2018) is featured as Case Study Box 3.3. This publication also contributes to the report’s broader argument that SDG implementation cannot be left to the private sector, and that governments need to drive the agenda, with civil society organizations supporting these efforts and holding government representatives to account.

However, the CIFOR study is (mis)presented in a way that pits local women against men. The report wrongly suggests that the deforestation and dispossession resulting from palm oil expansion in West Kalimantan have harmed local women and benefitted local men. The differentiated effects of palm oil expansion on diverse categories of women (painstakingly documented in the CIFOR publication) are not mentioned at all. This is unfortunate, given that Chapter 3 (‘Moving beyond averages’) examines the intersection between gender and other social difference axes in order to get to the roots of marginalization.

Suggestions and future: ‘strategic entry points’ and ‘getting house in order’

The CGIAR gender community could intervene in various areas.

CGIAR research can be leveraged to monitor against multiple SDGs. CGIAR research programs indeed focus on climate action (SDG 13), water (SDG 6), land and forests (SDG 15), fisheries (SDG 11) and energy (SDG 7). And all CGIAR research programs share Poverty (SDG 1), food security (SDGs 2 and 3), inequalities (SDG 10), employment and livelihoods (SDG 8) as cross-cutting concerns.

Guidance notes and training products developed by CGIAR gender researchers can be used to transform existing data collection methods to better capture lived realities of women. This could include the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets’ ‘Standards for collecting sex-disaggregated data’ (Doss and Kieran 2014); FTA’s ‘Practical tips for conducting gender responsive data collection’ (Elias et al. 2014); and the CGIAR Research Program on Aquatic Agricultural Systems’  publications on measuring gender transformative change (Hillenbrand et al. 2015).

Women from the Mattu community of practice harvest cow pea leaves. Photo by Ake Mamo/ICRAF

Innovative, cross-CGIAR research methodologies (such as the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) and GENNOVATE) and their research results can complement the data presented.

Emerging research on intersectionality can help better target policies and efforts.

Current data collection and collation initiatives (including through the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture) may help identify broader patterns of gender inequalities and reform opportunities.

CGIAR gender researchers could play a role in generating synergies between SDGs and other global initiatives, such as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) among others.

CGIAR gender researchers may also consider different ways of working so as to play a more prominent role in the 2030 Agenda, for example through:

  • Actively seizing opportunities to inform future reports, including through a Memorandum of Understanding with the UN Women team that produces such reports;
  • Capitalizing on relationships with governmental agencies, national statistics offices, and women’s organizations in the countries where we operate, so that we are routinely consulted on national efforts to monitor the SDGs;
  • Demonstrating how our current research contributes to the SDGs, through mapping if, to what extent, and how CGIAR gender research contributes to each of the SDGs;
  • Going beyond binary analyses of ‘women versus men’ to also account for differences within groups of women and men — and broadening our gaze to consider disabilities, sexuality and masculinities in CGIAR gender research;
  • Moving beyond the confines of our specific sectors (agriculture, forestry, water) or commodities (rice, maize etc.) to inform cross-sectoral and national/regional/global efforts;
  • Consolidating and harmonizing our research, research methodologies and findings to have a bigger voice and effect.

In summary, the CGIAR community is uniquely situated to respond to UN Women’s request for greater collaboration among researchers, governments and women’s organizations to realize the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. As our first step in that direction, the CGIAR community could prioritize CGIAR-wide deliberations as to if and how they could play a more meaningful role. This blog contribution offers some ‘food for thought’ for embarking on such a deliberation.

By Bimbika Sijapati Basnett, originally published by the CGIAR Collaborative Platform for Gender Research

[1] comprising documented ownership, ability/right to sell land and ability/right to bequeath land to others.

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  • What’s in it for gender researchers when it comes to UN Women’s gender and SDGs report?

What’s in it for gender researchers when it comes to UN Women’s gender and SDGs report?

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A woman and her father-in-law pick up a permit to collect fuelwood in the Chisapani Community Forest, Nepal. Photo by Chandra Shekhar Karki/CIFOR

UN Women’s 2018 flagship report on gender and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offers a framework to monitor each of the 17 SDGs from a gender perspective, and takes stock of their performance to date. 

In a two-part series, Bimbika Sijapati Basnett, gender coordinator for the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) gender scientist, analyzes the report and its implications for the CGIAR gender research community. Sijapati Basnett recently published a brief evaluating this role.

With this article, she reviews the strengths and limitations of the UN Women report – Turning promises into action: Gender equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – for gender researchers wishing to contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The highest echelons of the United Nations have hailed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as “a victory for gender equality” [1]. Concerns are mounting, however, over how the SDGs will be interpreted and implemented, and whether they will make a difference to the lives of women and girls the world over.

The UN Women 2018 flagship report offers a framework to monitor each of the 17 SDGs from a gender and social inclusion perspective, and it takes stock of that performance to date.

The report calls for greater collaboration among governments, researchers and women’s rights organizations to realize the 2030 Agenda. How? By tracking progress against the goals, identifying achievements and gaps, and highlighting implementation challenges and opportunities.

Read more: UN Women’s evaluation of gender in the SDGs – What’s the role for the CGIAR?

KEY MESSAGES 

Turning promises into action: Gender equality in the 2030 agenda for sustainable development

The report makes a strong case for leveraging data, evidence and analysis, to inform the duties and performance standards of those in positions of power, and to help assess compliance and enforcement of sanctions and remedies where required.

“The ultimate test for the 2030 Agenda will be whether the SDGs are achieved by 2030” (43).

The report’s excellent assessment of the current ‘Global Indicator Framework for the Sustainable Development Goals’ offers strategic entry points for CGIAR (and/or gender researchers outside of CGIAR) to address current limitations in data, methods and analyses. The Global Indicator Framework comprises 232 indicators to track and monitor progress against the SDGs. The Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development is the inter-governmental body responsible for developing and providing technical support for implementation of the framework. The UN Women report also offers conceptual, methodological and policy directions for future CGIAR research.

Some key messages and highlights from the report are listed below.

Strategic entry points

Although gender equality matters to all 17 goals, the current Global Indicator Framework is inadequate for gender responsive monitoring of the SDGs because:

  • Only six of the 17 SDG goals are gender sensitive (SDGs 1, 3, 4, 5, 8 and 16); five goals are gender sparse (SDG 2, 19, 11, 13 and 17) and the remaining six are gender blind (SDGs 6, 7, 9, 12, 14 and 15).
  • The available gender data presents gaps.
  • There is inadequate investment and funding for additional or quality data collection.
  • Data collection methodologies present deep biases (e.g. censuses, labor surveys).

Upon assessing all 54 gender-specific indicators and analyzing one indicator per goal in detail to illustrate progress, gaps and challenges to date, the report calls for: “serious analytical work that sharpens our understanding of how to capture, measure and monitor meaningful change for women and girls” (73).

The report suggests this gap is particularly clear in new and emerging areas, such as understanding the gender implications of climate change.

Commitment to intersectionality

The report highlights that focusing on women as a group is insufficient to measure progress. Gender inequalities only acquire meaning and significance when they interact and intersect with other social relations. Many women and girls face multiple forms of discrimination – e.g. accessing resources, services and opportunities – based on aspects of their identity that differentiate them from more advantaged groups. It is critical to move beyond averages and to identify and compare how the most marginalized fare on key well-being markers in relation to other groups.

Through four country study summaries (see Chapter 3), the report shows how average aggregate figures on women’s wellbeing often mask significant variations across regions, ethnic, racial and income groups. This is a considerable departure from previous reports that had given lip service to ‘differences among women’ and treated women as a group (UN Women 2014; Asher and Sijapati Basnett 2016).

This is also the first time that a high-profile global report has engaged seriously with feminist concerns with ‘intersectionality’ in a substantial way. While intersectionality has long been considered a ‘gold standard’ for analyzing experiences of identity and oppression in feminist and gender theories, scholars have been concerned that ‘gender’ and ‘gender inequalities’ are simplified, both in policy and practice (Nash 2008; Arora-Jonsson 2014; Ihalainen et al. 2016; Colfer et al. 2018).

Read also: Making sense of ‘intersectionality’: A manual for lovers of people and forests

Spotlight on structural barriers to gender equality 

The report devotes two chapters to structural barriers to gender equality: eliminating all forms of violence against women (Chapter 5); and addressing unpaid care and domestic work (Chapter 6). The Millennium Development Goals, predecessors to the SDGs, were heavily criticized for omitting these dimensions of inequality (see Razavi 2016, Chant and Sweetman 2012, Kabeer 2003).

Chapter 6 of the report highlights that women perform the vast majority of unpaid and care work across the world. The distribution of such work remains the same, despite women increasingly joining the labor force through formal employment.

Policies and interventions aimed at empowering women economically (e.g. through greater involvement in value chains, financial literacy and new livelihood opportunities) must go hand in hand with initiatives to reduce women’s paid and unpaid work burdens, recognize their work and redistribute it within the family, as well as among families and wider institutions.

Policies and accountability

The report clearly highlights what actions are needed, as well as who should be responsible for implementation and accountable for action/inaction. It suggests that governments should prioritize universal systems that are financed and used by everyone, and simultaneously target efforts towards ensuring access for historically excluded groups. This approach offers a stance on a long-standing debate within social policy on ‘universal’ or ‘targeted policies’ for addressing poverty reduction and social inequalities (see Mkandawire 2005).

The report also highlights that governments are primarily responsible for implementation, because other actors cannot be held accountable in the way that governments can (see Chandhoke 2003). The report seeks to temper current enthusiasm around the private sector’s role in realizing the SDGs, drawing attention to the fact that private businesses are not yet bound by any global set of rules on business and human rights, and their actions do not always align with objectives of sustainable development and gender equality (Kabeer 2017).

PITFALLS AND LIMITATIONS 

A couple in a peatland area in Indonesia. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

The report also presents pitfalls and limitations from a methodological, conceptual and policy application perspective.

Methodologically, the report mainly privileges quantitative methods over qualitative and mixed methods. The risk here is to imply that any research seeking to monitor the 2030 Global Agenda must comply with pre-existing national datasets (such as national census data and demographic health, labor and living standard measurement surveys) rather than additionally taking advantage of the wide variety of other research available.

Conceptually, Chapter 3 on ‘Moving beyond the averages’ provides only lip service to the risks of using pre-existing categories to identify who the marginalized are and what sustains their marginalization. The chapter does not adequately consider the reality that ‘targeting the poor and the marginalized’ is an inherently political and contested process. Likewise, it presents just one methodological approach (the ‘inter-categorical approach’, see McCall 2015 or Colfer et al. 2018) for examining the intersection between gender and other axes of social difference.

Chapter 6 on ‘Unpaid and care work’ demonstrates this report was written by a committee of writers who do not always write with one voice; this makes the report lack coherence in many places. As such, while most of the chapters point to knowledge and data gaps, Chapter 6 reads more like a definitive guide on how to address women’s unpaid work and care burdens. Likewise, the report’s overall stance against the private sector or corporations is rather dogmatic, and does not offer a realistic way of engaging with them and/or holding their actions to account.

On the question of the potential impact of such reports, the report was published by UN Women rather than by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development or the UN Statistical Commission for the Global Monitoring of 169 SDG Targets. It is therefore unclear whether (and if so, how) the analyses and recommendations offered by the report will inform broader SDG monitoring efforts. Given the global scope of the report, the findings only provide broad brushstrokes of key challenges and opportunities. They must be validated through national and locally relevant monitoring, too.

Despite these limitations and the subsequent need to interpret it with caution, the report is an impressive first attempt at taking stock of performance against each SDG from a gender and social inclusion perspective. It also calls for more concerted SDG monitoring efforts by different actors, including research organizations.

In an upcoming article, I will outline how CGIAR can play a meaningful role in contributing to future efforts to monitor SDGs from a gender and social inclusion perspective.

By Bimbika Sijapati Basnett, originally published by the CGIAR Collaborative Platform for Gender Research

Notes: [1] Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN Women) in UN Women 2018, 18

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  • FTA’s research domain on livelihood systems receives strong rating 

FTA’s research domain on livelihood systems receives strong rating 

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Napier grass is intercropped in a coconut-based agroforestry system in Tumkur, Karnataka, India. Photo by SK Dalal/ICRAF

Following the revision and resubmission of Flagship 2 on livelihood systems in the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’s (FTA) Phase 2 Proposal (2017-2022), the flagship has received a positive evaluation and the highest possible rating of  “strong” from the CGIAR Independent Science and Partnership Council (ISPC).

The improved rating for this key component of FTA was an important outcome for the collective work of all the FTA scientists involved in reformulating the proposal.

The ISPC’s ex-ante assessment of the flagship underscored that the proposed research was of  very high quality, with a “robust” theory of change and “a clear strategy for impact”, and praised the “research-in-development” approach to generate international public goods, which “is coherent and, if implemented well, can set an example for other [CGIAR Research Programs]”.

Read more: Proposal Phase II — Forests, Trees and Agroforestry: Landscapes, Livelihoods and Governance

The livelihood systems flagship harnesses the transformative power of trees, through developing and promoting innovations in management, markets and policies to reduce poverty, and increase the food and nutrition security of smallholders. Better tree management contributes to these livelihood goals while protecting the environment, enhancing natural capital and strengthening people’s capacity to adapt to climate change.

The research focuses on how to:

  • Manage trees in fields, farms and agricultural landscapes to meet livelihood needs, including deploying appropriate tree germplasm and managing it to deliver desirable outcomes, which includes developing options that use trees to improve and sustain soil health, restore land and avoid further degradation.
  • Develop markets for agroforestry products so that smallholders capture more value from what they produce.
  • Formulate policies that enable people to benefit from managing tree cover on their farms and collectively in forests, and bridge the time between investment in trees, and returns from them, using novel public and private financing options.

Read more: Flagship 2: Enhancing how trees and forests contribute to smallholder livelihoods

Improved jujuber fruit is seen in San, Mali. Photo by Ake Mamo/ICRAF

In the revised proposal, FTA clarified the reasoning and provided evidence of the ways in which trees and forests can benefit smallholders’ livelihoods in a diversity of contexts. The scientific and strategic rationale for the focus and approach of the flagship was also strengthened. The theory of change was revisited in order to better explain the claims made and the circumstances under which they hold.

In particular, the revision emphasized how the flagship would work out its research and development partnerships with development actors, thus addressing the main recommendation of the very positive 2016 donors’ review of the flagship.

In addition, the resubmission clearly explains how particular resources are key to driving the research portfolio and for the flagship to generate international public goods (IPGs). This includes showing how the flagship will lead to a better understanding of how contextual factors affect the performance of solutions.

Finally, the livelihood systems flagship operates with a transdisciplinary focus involving scientists with different expertise and skill sets, comprising roughly one-third social scientists, one-third interdisciplinary system or agroforestry scientists, and one-third biophysical, agronomic or ecological scientists.

In formulating its rating of Flagship 2, the ISPC:

  • Recognized the “options by context” framework as not only a “clear strategy for impact” but also an “explicit way to tackle high contextual heterogeneity”
  • Mentioned that the strategy to generate IPGs through research in development is “coherent and, if implemented well, can set an example for other [CGIAR Research Programs]”
  • Considered that the flagship had a robust theory of change that “carefully considers the spheres of control, interest and influence” and articulates why and how it will succeed
  • Concluded that by “making livelihoods the focal point of the flagship, the proponents have provided a compelling narrative, aided by graphics”, which “demonstrates how trees and plantations can add value and make a major, additional contribution on a path to agricultural intensification”.

Read more: ISPC Assessment of Flagship 2: Trees for Smallholder Livelihoods

The revised proposal explains how resources are critical for achieving the flagship’s theory of change, to drive the overall research portfolio, as well as to enable the generation of IPGs, enabling an understanding of how contextual factors affect the performance of options.

FTA’s livelihood systems flagship is now open for funding in 2018 and, as per the FTA prioritization process, will deploy its efforts in 2018 on a specific set of operational priorities, including focusing on market-based agroforestry, the farm-forest policy interface, diversification of tree-crop commodity production systems (coffee, cocoa, oil palm, rubber and tea), silvopastoral systems, understanding smallholder livelihood trajectories, and agroecology for food security and nutrition.

The flagship is led by the World Agroforestry Centre’s (ICRAF) systems science leader Fergus Sinclair, involving all FTA core partners and working with a wide range of stakeholders, including major international development organizations such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), as well as national agricultural development institutions, universities in the North and in the South, and foresters’ and farmers’ associations.


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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  • Entry points for enabling gender equality in agricultural and environmental innovation

Entry points for enabling gender equality in agricultural and environmental innovation

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Men and women on average report growing power and freedom to shape their lives as well as declining poverty in their villages across the 137 GENNOVATE village-level case studies. Wider forces in the macro environments as well as improvements in rural livelihoods due to agricultural innovation contribute importantly to these promising trends.

Yet, beneath these broad patterns, the GENNOVATE data show strong differences in how men and women – and their communities – experience and benefit from innovation processes. The research communities experiencing more inclusive innovation processes and rapid poverty reduction offer valuable lessons on which agricultural research and development (R&D) can build.

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  • CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) Annual Report 2016

CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) Annual Report 2016

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2016, the last year of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’’s Phase 1, saw significant achievements in output, outcome and impact terms as detailed in this Annual Report. Overall Phase 1 FTA results contributed to placing the program, for its Phase 2, as a potential key provider of knowledge and solutions for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement.

The many achievements in 2016 offered potential for scaling up and out and showed recognition of FTA’s work by partners. The program was also impacted by the efforts from senior management to develop the FTA Phase 2 proposal.

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  • What are the priorities for relevant, legitimate and effective forest and tree research? Lessons from the IUFRO congress

What are the priorities for relevant, legitimate and effective forest and tree research? Lessons from the IUFRO congress

A pisciculture research station is seen in Yaekama, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR
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A pisciculture research station is seen in Yaekama, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR

We can all agree that forests and trees play a vital role in sustaining life on earth. Addressing climate change – both mitigation and adaptation, something that few sectors can do simultaneously – ensuring food security and nutrition, and preserving biodiversity will not be possible without the full spectrum of solutions that forests, trees and agroforestry offer.

At the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) 125th Anniversary Congress, held on Sept. 18-22 in Freiburg, Germany, by one of the world’s oldest international scientific institutions, more than 40 scientists affiliated with the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) presented their latest results and findings.

Among them were Bimbika Sijapati Basnett from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and Marlène Elias from Bioversity International, who launched the Earthscan Reader on Gender and Forests, a major reference to ground future research, as well as to inform curricula worldwide.

FTA senior scientist Ramni Jamnadass of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) presented on safeguarding forest food tree diversity in a session on food trees in forests and farmlands, while her colleague Sonya Dewi presented about ICRAF’s work on combining remote sensing, crowdsourcing big data and multi-objective modelling to inform landscape approaches, during a session on forest restoration policy assessment in the tropics.

One of the major subplenary sessions – Changes in Forest Governance: Implications for Sustainable Forest Management – involved FTA scientists Pablo Pacheco and Paolo Cerutti of CIFOR, who presented on changes in forest governance in South America and Africa, respectively.

In a significant joint effort on the final day of the congress, IUFRO and FTA cohosted a subplenary session titled Research for sustainable development: Forests, trees and agroforestry, aimed at discussing main research and knowledge gaps in forest and tree science in relation to the sustainable development goals (SDGs), and how to address them.

The IUFRO 125th Anniversary Congress took place in Freiburg, Germany, from Sept. 18-22. Photo © FVA.

Forest and trees are central to many of the challenges of our time. This raises new questions every day, as the IUFRO congress showcased. But this makes the prioritization of issues both more difficult and more necessary. What is needed most and where we should start? How should we, as researchers and research institutions, conduct research in order to best enable impact?

We faced the same issue when constructing the second phase of FTA, with a very long shortlist of 100 critical knowledge gaps and key research questions, from genetic resources to value chains and institutions.

I wonder if this centrality of forests and trees to so many challenges could not be an overarching guide to orient research prioritization. We need to fully embrace the fact that forest and tree research has to address a complex set of objectives, because forests and trees are not only concerned with SDG15 on life on land, but also with the 16 other goals. Integration is key. So the overarching issue might be how we can integrate the different dimensions of sustainable development and different objectives into the research questions, research methods and solutions we develop in practice.

For example, thanks to the integration of the work of very different scientific disciplines – tree biology, atmospheric biogeochemistry, climatology, hydrology and dendrology – there is now convincing convergent evidence on the role of forests in atmospheric water circulation, at continental scales. Forests enable rain to occur downwind at continental scales, and can help to preserve so-called bread baskets.

But we still need more work on the science base and, at the same time, on the types of institutions, policies and economic instruments to be developed so that action leads to outcomes for farmers in the field. This shows the need for integration between disciplines, scales and actors. In this particular domain, the Global Expert Panel on Forests and Water launched by IUFRO will be of tremendous use and I am particularly glad that it is being co-led by former FTA senior scientist Meine van Noordwijk, who recently retired but brought so much to FTA.

This question of the integration of objectives, of research domains and across scales, has important methodological implications, in terms of the solutions to be developed, how, with whom and for whom. It can, for a program as broad as FTA, lead to deciding to orient the priority support toward work that constructs linkages between research domains and system approaches.

The Rupa Lake cooperative improves farmers’ livelihoods and helps preserve the lake’s ecosystem. Photo by B. Saugat/Bioversity

There are two other critical dimensions to integrate:

First is the requirement to work on the full continuum from technical options to management, policy, governance and appropriate institutional arrangements. Looking at the enabling environment, such as institutional arrangements, incentive schemes and adapted business models, will facilitate upscaling and outscaling of technical options.

Second is the need to work on the “research for development” continuum, from upstream research to how the actors use this, and integrating stakeholders from the framing of questions to the development and implementation of solutions.

This implies, as spearheaded by Brian Belcher, FTA’s monitoring, evaluation and learning and impact assessment head, the need to revisit what we mean by “quality of research”, enlarging it to four dimensions. The traditional dimensions of relevance and scientific credibility need to be completed by legitimacy and effectiveness.

  • Legitimacy means that the research process is fair and ethical, and perceived as such, with consideration of the interests and perspectives of the intended users.
  • Effectiveness means that research has high potential to contribute to innovations and solutions. It implies that research is designed, implemented and positioned for use, which implies work along what we call a “theory of change”.

We can complement CGIAR by embracing this framework to define and measure the quality of research for development. This requires building appropriate partnerships, starting with development actors, and working on the enabling environment to translate knowledge to use. In FTA, for a substantial part of our research, we embed research in development projects. We aim at doing research “in” development, rather than research “for” development.

To enable this, FTA aims at playing the role of a boundary institution:

  • To understand the frontiers of science, working with universities, research institutions
  • To understand the need of beneficiaries, working with local stakeholders, governments
  • To understand the priorities of funders
  • To organize the dialogue between the three, and provide packages that bring them all together

This is a good reason why, in the future, we at FTA would like to further strengthen our relations with IUFRO.

By Vincent Gitz, FTA Director

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  • Sustainable value chains and investments

Sustainable value chains and investments

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The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’s (FTA) work on sustainable value chains and investments to support forest conservation and equitable development is one of its five research themes. This work facilitates innovations in public policy, business models, private investments and finance to stimulate the sustainable supply of timber from natural and planted forests, enhance the sustainable production of high-value tree crops and reduce the impacts of agricultural expansion in forests.

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  • Climate change mitigation and adaptation

Climate change mitigation and adaptation

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The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) works on enhancing all possible contributions of forests, trees and agroforestry to sustainable development. In this context, climate change is a major focus of FTA’s work, through one of its five research domains and across the program.

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  • FTA cohosts meeting on soil carbon and climate change agenda

FTA cohosts meeting on soil carbon and climate change agenda

Land is cleared for agriculture In the Nebbou area, Burkina Faso. Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Land is cleared for agriculture In the Nebbou area, Burkina Faso. Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) recently cohosted a fruitful meeting along with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) on the topic of soil carbon.

“Soil carbon — the ‘carbon beneath our feet’ — could help mitigate significant greenhouse gas emissions, while also supporting food production and adaptation to climate change,” Lini Wollenberg (CCAFS), Christopher Martius (FTA), Keith Shepherd and Rolf Sommer (WLE) emphasized following the webinar.

“As such, soil carbon could be crucial to meeting the Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to below 2 degrees and Sustainable Development Goals related to food security and climate. However, we still lack the knowledge needed to sustainably manage soil,” they added, taking into account that carbon sequestration is an important cobenefit to other productive and ecological functions of healthy soils. 

Soil organic carbon (SOC) is a key component of many essential soil functions, including food production, habitats and biodiversity, carbon storage, as well as water storage and filtration. Climate change is also altering the picture.

The global 4p1000 Initiative and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Global Soil Partnership are among current efforts to overcome this knowledge gap.

The webinar aimed to build a common understanding of CGIAR’s current soil carbon research and inform a vision and coordinated agenda. Thirty CGIAR scientists, representing seven CGIAR Centers and six CGIAR Research Programs, exchanged research findings and identified priorities for a future research agenda on soil carbon and climate change.

FTA scientist Tor-Gunnar Vågen presented on soil organic carbon during the recent webinar.

As outlined in CCAFS’ blog following the webinar, future research priorities on soil carbon and climate change can be grouped into five general themes:

  • Quantifying soil carbon sequestration potential,
  • Understanding soil carbon processes,
  • Evaluating the impact of land use and new technical practices,
  • Methods for improved assessment, and
  • Policy and action.

In particular, scientists discussed the role of SOC in landscapes, and the need to estimate SOC across landscapes, while traditional work is by essence based on plot-level measurements.

FTA scientist Tor-Gunnar Vågen of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) cited the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework (LDSF), which was developed by ICRAF following years of research on land degradation and ecosystem services, as well as CGIAR and FTA’s sentinel landscapes, before highlighting the vital important of context in assessing SOC.

Watch the presentation: On the critical role of SOC in landscapes 

“The scientists will take steps to support coordination of [soil carbon] research across CGIAR Research Programs in ways that make use of our extensive network of field sites and large knowledge base on sustainable agricultural practices, while also recognizing the broader ecosystem functions of soil carbon and seeking to improve understanding of the benefits and trade-offs of soil carbon sequestration,” confirmed Wollenberg, Martius, Shepherd and Sommer.

Moving forward, FTA, CCAFS and WLE will coordinate relevant research by involving different strategies for soil carbon management across all land covers and uses, from cropland to pastures, agroforestry, trees outside forests, and forests, by providing solutions on best practices, management and policy, as well as the measurement of impacts.

The programs will also consider how soil carbon preservation and enhancement objectives can provide important co-benefits to other objectives, such as conserving, rehabilitating or restoring land, and the sustainable intensification of agriculture, for which trees provide an important solution, as FTA work will inform.

By Vincent Gitz, Christopher Martius and Hannah Maddison-Harris.

Related reading: 


This work forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. We would like to thank all donors who supported this work through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.

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  • CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry leaflet

CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry leaflet

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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Overview

Forests, trees and agroforestry produce food, fibers, energy, water and ecosystem services, and are required to maintain biodiversity and adapt to and mitigate climate change. An estimated 1.6 billion people depend on forests and trees, including trees on farms, for their livelihoods.

With improved management, transformed governance, and new institutional arrangements involving public and private actors, forests, trees and agroforestry have the potential to address a range of challenges, thereby directly contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. They can play a central role in improving production systems; securing people’s livelihoods, resilience and food security, including for young and marginalized people; and promoting the equitable distribution of benefits.

FTA research aims to better understand these roles, solutions to enhance them — technical options, management, governance, policies — and to enable actors to unlock the potential and maximize the benefits that trees can bring.


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