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CIFOR and ICRAF directors general discuss merger

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The world’s leading organizations on forestry and agroforestry, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and World Agroforestry (ICRAF), merged on Jan. 1, 2019, in order to leverage their combined 65 years of research and experience. Directors General Robert Nasi and Tony Simons recently sat down to talk about why the two organizations were merging. They also discussed tackling food security and sustainable landscapes.

Originally published by CIFOR.

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  • How can rubber contribute to sustainable development in a context of climate change?

How can rubber contribute to sustainable development in a context of climate change?

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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Rubber trees grow in rows in South Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by I. Cooke Vieira/CIFOR

Developing the rubber sector while meeting environment and social objectives involves both challenges and opportunities.

Lying in the shadow of oil palm in terms of sustainable development issues, the sector needs a combination of measures to progress toward sustainable development. There is now a wealth of knowledge and evidence to make this happen.

“Evolution to Revolution: New Paths for the Rubber Economy” was the theme of the World Rubber Summit held in Singapore on March 18-19, 2019, organized by the International Rubber Study Group (IRSG). The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) participated in the summit and I presented during a session titled Managing sustainability performances in the rubber value chain.

Plantations of all major tropical commodities – especially oil palm, timber, pulp, cocoa and rubber – are expanding quickly, creating opportunities for development while also raising concerns about impacts on the environment, landscapes and livelihoods.

FTA has identified plantations as a research priority. Rubber is a particularly interesting example; plantations are continually expanding with a very concentrated sector downstream (the majority being a small number of tire producers), and a production sector heavily dominated by smallholders.

Read also: Challenges and opportunities for sustainable rubber in Myanmar

Rubber at a crossroads

The sector is confronted with a range of issues when it comes to its impact on and contribution to sustainable development.

Land-use change: Rubber is the most rapidly expanding tree crop within mainland Southeast Asia. Additional land will be required to meet future rubber demand, which could be in forested areas or on mosaic landscapes, swidden agriculture and agroforest, though there is also potential to reduce land-use change and deforestation through more intensive systems – both in terms of rubber and other associated production depending on situations.

Biodiversity: In many areas rubber expansion has been on former natural forest, including sometimes in protected areas. The effects of converting primary and secondary forests to rubber monoculture are well understood – it decreases species richness and changes species composition. However, the biodiversity value of swidden agriculture and of mosaic landscapes is less well known and the effects of their conversion to rubber plantations has been assessed in less detail.

Climate change mitigation: The potential contribution of rubber to climate change mitigation depends on what it replaces and the way it is conducted. The impact is generally negative when rubber replaces primary or secondary forests, but positive when planted on very degraded land. The impact can be neutral or slightly positive when rubber replaces swidden systems with a short fallow period, but negative when it displaces swidden systems that will then encroach on forest.

Water and erosion: Effects again depend on what rubber replaces. For instance, there can be less fog interception relative to complex canopies. Conversion to rubber can increase evapotranspiration relative to native vegetation. Rubber risks depleting deep-soil moisture during the dry season with effects on groundwater and streamflow. In mountainous areas of mainland Southeast Asia, plantations on steep slopes have negative impacts on soil erosion, landslide risk and water quality. There are also indications of impacts from rubber plantation runoff on water quality and aquatic biodiversity.

A hevea tree is seen in Ngazi, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR

Social issues: Production is still dominated by smallholders in most countries, especially in “traditional” production areas. The establishment of rubber replacing swidden agriculture has substantially increased smallholder income in Southwest China and Northern Thailand. In non-traditional areas, such as Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and some African countries, the expansion of rubber often takes the form of larger-scale plantations – which could disadvantage rural communities, with some reports of evictions and of poor labor conditions in large-scale plantations.

Resilience to price fluctuations: Rubber prices can be volatile, which is a concern for long-term investment and has consequences for the sustainability of economic and production models. Smallholders who are purely engaged in rubber are very exposed, especially if they are not supported by public policies. Smallholders with diversified systems are the most resilient. Paradoxically, large estates may be more exposed due to monoculture and having to pay a workforce.

Climate change adaptation: Until recently it was difficult to predict the incidence of climate change on violent precipitation and winds, to which plantations are vulnerable. There is also a need for more research on the impacts of climate change on the distribution of pests and diseases. Diversified systems are more resilient to shocks of any kind, including from climate change, and can contribute to adaptation at a landscape level.

Read also: Challenges and opportunities for sustainable rubber in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Ways forward 

Given these challenges, the potential impacts of rubber expansion and the contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement ultimately depend on three factors. First is where expansion occurs, and the land use or land cover that rubber replaces. Second, it involves production systems, yield and overall efficiency, including the use of rubber wood, as well as impacts on water and biodiversity. The third factor is benefits for smallholders and local populations, contributing to economic and social resilience.

A range of objectives could pave the way forward for sustainable development.

  • Limiting negative impacts of land-use change
  • Regulating land concessions and contract farming
  • Supporting smallholders and farmer groups
  • Promoting and improving diversified systems

To meet these objectives, it would be necessary to see a combination of measures.

  • Research in development
  • Extension services aiming for high yields and quality, as well as diversified production systems
  • Land-use zoning and planning
  • Enabling regulatory environment on concessions and contracts
  • Recognition of sustainable practices, including through corporate social and environmental responsibility and certification
  • Support and incentives for smallholders when engaging in sustainable development, such as secure tenure, technology transfer, economic risk mitigation, payment for environmental services

The rubber sector needs measures connecting downstream with upstream, involving various stakeholders, building on science and knowledge and promoting transfer in a practical way. The newly launched Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR) will hopefully address this.

Knowledge and evidence could enable the transition in a proactive way, contributing to sustainable development outcomes. FTA stands ready to work with the GPSNR and to help support the sector move toward sustainable development, “from evolution to revolution”.

By Vincent Gitz, FTA Director


The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) is supported by contributors to the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • How can rubber contribute to sustainable development in a context of climate change?

How can rubber contribute to sustainable development in a context of climate change?

Rubber trees grow in rows in South Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by I. Cooke Vieira/CIFOR
Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Developing the rubber sector while meeting environment and social objectives involves both challenges and opportunities.

Lying in the shadow of oil palm in terms of sustainable development issues, the sector needs a combination of measures to progress toward sustainable development. There is now a wealth of knowledge and evidence to make this happen.

“Evolution to Revolution: New Paths for the Rubber Economy” was the theme of the World Rubber Summit held in Singapore on March 18-19, 2019, organized by the International Rubber Study Group (IRSG). The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) participated in the summit and I presented during a session titled Managing sustainability performances in the rubber value chain.

Plantations of all major tropical commodities – especially oil palm, timber, pulp, cocoa and rubber – are expanding quickly, creating opportunities for development while also raising concerns about impacts on the environment, landscapes and livelihoods.

FTA has identified plantations as a research priority. Rubber is a particularly interesting example; plantations are continually expanding with a very concentrated sector downstream (the majority being a small number of tire producers), and a production sector heavily dominated by smallholders.

Read also: Challenges and opportunities for sustainable rubber in Myanmar

Rubber at a crossroads

The sector is confronted with a range of issues when it comes to its impact on and contribution to sustainable development.

Land-use change: Rubber is the most rapidly expanding tree crop within mainland Southeast Asia. Additional land will be required to meet future rubber demand, which could be in forested areas or on mosaic landscapes, swidden agriculture and agroforest, though there is also potential to reduce land-use change and deforestation through more intensive systems – both in terms of rubber and other associated production depending on situations.

Biodiversity: In many areas rubber expansion has been on former natural forest, including sometimes in protected areas. The effects of converting primary and secondary forests to rubber monoculture are well understood – it decreases species richness and changes species composition. However, the biodiversity value of swidden agriculture and of mosaic landscapes is less well known and the effects of their conversion to rubber plantations has been assessed in less detail.

Climate change mitigation: The potential contribution of rubber to climate change mitigation depends on what it replaces and the way it is conducted. The impact is generally negative when rubber replaces primary or secondary forests, but positive when planted on very degraded land. The impact can be neutral or slightly positive when rubber replaces swidden systems with a short fallow period, but negative when it displaces swidden systems that will then encroach on forest.

Water and erosion: Effects again depend on what rubber replaces. For instance, there can be less fog interception relative to complex canopies. Conversion to rubber can increase evapotranspiration relative to native vegetation. Rubber risks depleting deep-soil moisture during the dry season with effects on groundwater and streamflow. In mountainous areas of mainland Southeast Asia, plantations on steep slopes have negative impacts on soil erosion, landslide risk and water quality. There are also indications of impacts from rubber plantation runoff on water quality and aquatic biodiversity.

A hevea tree is seen in Ngazi, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR

Social issues: Production is still dominated by smallholders in most countries, especially in “traditional” production areas. The establishment of rubber replacing swidden agriculture has substantially increased smallholder income in Southwest China and Northern Thailand. In non-traditional areas, such as Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and some African countries, the expansion of rubber often takes the form of larger-scale plantations – which could disadvantage rural communities, with some reports of evictions and of poor labor conditions in large-scale plantations.

Resilience to price fluctuations: Rubber prices can be volatile, which is a concern for long-term investment and has consequences for the sustainability of economic and production models. Smallholders who are purely engaged in rubber are very exposed, especially if they are not supported by public policies. Smallholders with diversified systems are the most resilient. Paradoxically, large estates may be more exposed due to monoculture and having to pay a workforce.

Climate change adaptation: Until recently it was difficult to predict the incidence of climate change on violent precipitation and winds, to which plantations are vulnerable. There is also a need for more research on the impacts of climate change on the distribution of pests and diseases. Diversified systems are more resilient to shocks of any kind, including from climate change, and can contribute to adaptation at a landscape level.

Read also: Challenges and opportunities for sustainable rubber in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Ways forward 

Given these challenges, the potential impacts of rubber expansion and the contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement ultimately depend on three factors. First is where expansion occurs, and the land use or land cover that rubber replaces. Second, it involves production systems, yield and overall efficiency, including the use of rubber wood, as well as impacts on water and biodiversity. The third factor is benefits for smallholders and local populations, contributing to economic and social resilience.

A range of objectives could pave the way forward for sustainable development.

  • Limiting negative impacts of land-use change
  • Regulating land concessions and contract farming
  • Supporting smallholders and farmer groups
  • Promoting and improving diversified systems

To meet these objectives, it would be necessary to see a combination of measures.

  • Research in development
  • Extension services aiming for high yields and quality, as well as diversified production systems
  • Land-use zoning and planning
  • Enabling regulatory environment on concessions and contracts
  • Recognition of sustainable practices, including through corporate social and environmental responsibility and certification
  • Support and incentives for smallholders when engaging in sustainable development, such as secure tenure, technology transfer, economic risk mitigation, payment for environmental services

The rubber sector needs measures connecting downstream with upstream, involving various stakeholders, building on science and knowledge and promoting transfer in a practical way. The newly launched Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR) will hopefully address this.

Knowledge and evidence could enable the transition in a proactive way, contributing to sustainable development outcomes. FTA stands ready to work with the GPSNR and to help support the sector move toward sustainable development, “from evolution to revolution”.

By Vincent Gitz, FTA Director


The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) is supported by contributors to the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • What’s good for business is good for forests in Indonesia

What’s good for business is good for forests in Indonesia

A community member holds a tree product as part of the Kanoppi project in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia. Photo by A. Sanjaya/CIFOR
Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Scientists in Indonesia are demonstrating how better business opportunities for local communities can help foster and reinforce sustainable forest management.

As the world marks International Day of Forests on March 21, the benefits of reforestation and forest restoration are rightly lauded. In success stories of the past, local communities have often been cast as the heroes of sustainable forestry, while private sector businesses have been portrayed as villains. But what if that’s not the whole story?

The Kanoppi project, which launched in 2013 and has now entered its second phase, concentrates on the expansion of market-based agroforestry and the development of integrated landscape management in the poorest provinces of eastern Indonesia and the country’s most densely-populated island of Java.

The project, which is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and led by scientists from the World Agroforestry (ICRAF), Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the Research, Development and Innovation Agency (FOERDIA) of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry and Murdoch University in collaboration with other project partners.

Read also: New children’s book teaches the sustainable traditions of West Timorese honey hunters

Missing link

For many generations, communities living in Indonesia have relied on forests to supplement the food and income they reap from farming. Yet, despite the riches of the forests, poverty is still widespread. Some rural households living in the Kanoppi project’s pilot sites in eastern Indonesia earn around US$210 a year.

Part of the challenge is a lack of integration and linkages between community groups producing timber and non-timber forest products (NTFP) and the private sector. Conflicting, confusing and changeable public policies also do not help.

“For example, some communities will plant small teak plantations as a kind of savings account, but most don’t know how to get the permits required to harvest and transport the timber,” explained Ani Adiwinata Nawir, policy scientist with CIFOR. “This means that communities do not harvest as much teak as they could and that they can’t convert their timber into cash when needed.”

Strengthening value chains has become a key focus for Kanoppi, so that farmers can capture more value from their agroforestry production. This, however, requires sustained efforts at multiple levels, including promoting better practices on the ground to increase productivity and profitability, developing markets and private sector engagement, and facilitating supportive policies and institutions.

People work together in a paddy in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR

Protecting the forest

One example of how to turn traditional community practices into a successful business venture comes from the Mount Mutis Nature Reserve in West Timor. Here, communities come together every year to harvest wild forest honey. The task is dangerous – men scale trees of up to 80 meters to collect the honey by hand – but it is also sustainable because it does not require cutting down trees.

The honey supplements local diets, and there is enough left over to sell. In fact, as much as 30 tons of wild honey is produced and harvested in Mt. Mutis annually, accounting for 25 percent of total production in the province. Working collaboratively with WWF Indonesia – which is one of the project’s NGO partners along with others like Threads of Life – Kanoppi has helped brand and package the honey, which is now sold as “Mt. Mutis honey” and sold to neighboring islands.

Similarly on Sumbawa island, this commercial success is good news for communities and for the forest: Because the continued honey production hinges on a healthy ecosystem, people have a strong economic incentive to preserve and protect the forest.

That’s the underlying logic of the whole project. When communities can successfully market and sell sustainable products, their incentive to continue sustainable forestry practices grows, which in turn increases productivity, profitability and incomes.

“We want to reinforce this virtuous cycle where business opportunities foster sustainable forestry,” said Aulia Perdana, a marketing specialist with ICRAF. “That’s why we try to involve the private sector – for example in the village learning centers we’ve established in project sites – so that communities can better connect with the market.”

Other efforts to promote sustainable and profitable agroforestry production include using voluntary extensionists, meaning that the people who first adopt a new technology help spread those innovations to other members of the community. Eleven on-farm demonstration trials have already been established, and 40 more are planned for 2019. Kanoppi has also published manuals, journal articles, videos and a picture book to promote its methodology.

Read the picture book: Secrets of the Mutis Honey Hunters

Landscape perspective

Given the project’s success with marketing the sustainably produced honey from Mt. Mutis, the local district administration has adapted its strategy on integrated landscape-level management of NTFP to give greater weight to communities’ customary practices. This is an important first step toward establishing policy support elsewhere in the country.

Honeycomb drains through a nylon filter in Indonesia. Photo by S. Purnama Sarie/ICRAF

One challenge has been that past planning and policies have separately focused on different sectors, such as small farms in forestry and target-oriented cash crop production led by other sectors – not considering opportunities for synergies or problematic overlaps. Kanoppi has departed from that approach.

“We talk about integrated landscape management, which essentially is about harmonizing the different land uses along the watershed from upstream to downstream, so that farms, plantations, forests and many other kinds of activities coexist and reinforce each other,” said Ani.

“The landscape perspective helps everyone – communities, businesses and authorities – see what kind of production fits where in the landscape, in ways that are both profitable and sustainable.”

Kanoppi is a clear example of how combining the expertise and experience of CIFOR and ICRAF scientists makes for a strong response to development and sustainability challenges in forested landscapes – among the many reasons why the two institutions recently announced a merger.

In Indonesia, Ani, Perdana and their colleagues will continue their work to develop inclusive, sustainable business models that generate a fair return – specifically focusing on scaling-up the adoption of improved production practices and value chains to benefit smallholder livelihoods through landscape-scale management of the farm-forest interface – for communities and for forests.

By Marianne Gadeberg, communications specialist.


This research is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with Bioversity International, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR, ICRAF and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • What’s good for business is good for forests in Indonesia

What’s good for business is good for forests in Indonesia

Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

A community member hold a tree product as part of the Kanoppi project in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia. Photo by A. Sanjaya/CIFOR

Scientists in Indonesia are demonstrating how better business opportunities for local communities can help foster and reinforce sustainable forest management.

As the world marks International Day of Forests on March 21, the benefits of reforestation and forest restoration are rightly lauded. In success stories of the past, local communities have often been cast as the heroes of sustainable forestry, while private sector businesses have been portrayed as villains. But what if that’s not the whole story?

The Kanoppi project, which launched in 2013 and has now entered its second phase, concentrates on the expansion of market-based agroforestry and the development of integrated landscape management in the poorest provinces of eastern Indonesia and the country’s most densely-populated island of Java.

The project, which is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and led by scientists from the World Agroforestry (ICRAF), Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the Research, Development and Innovation Agency (FOERDIA) of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry and Murdoch University in collaboration with other project partners.

Read also: New children’s book teaches the sustainable traditions of West Timorese honey hunters

Missing link

For many generations, communities living in Indonesia have relied on forests to supplement the food and income they reap from farming. Yet, despite the riches of the forests, poverty is still widespread. Some rural households living in the Kanoppi project’s pilot sites in eastern Indonesia earn around US$210 a year.

Part of the challenge is a lack of integration and linkages between community groups producing timber and non-timber forest products (NTFP) and the private sector. Conflicting, confusing and changeable public policies also do not help.

“For example, some communities will plant small teak plantations as a kind of savings account, but most don’t know how to get the permits required to harvest and transport the timber,” explained Ani Adiwinata Nawir, policy scientist with CIFOR. “This means that communities do not harvest as much teak as they could and that they can’t convert their timber into cash when needed.”

Strengthening value chains has become a key focus for Kanoppi, so that farmers can capture more value from their agroforestry production. This, however, requires sustained efforts at multiple levels, including promoting better practices on the ground to increase productivity and profitability, developing markets and private sector engagement, and facilitating supportive policies and institutions.

People work together in a paddy in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR

Protecting the forest

One example of how to turn traditional community practices into a successful business venture comes from the Mount Mutis Nature Reserve in West Timor. Here, communities come together every year to harvest wild forest honey. The task is dangerous – men scale trees of up to 80 meters to collect the honey by hand – but it is also sustainable because it does not require cutting down trees.

The honey supplements local diets, and there is enough left over to sell. In fact, as much as 30 tons of wild honey is produced and harvested in Mt. Mutis annually, accounting for 25 percent of total production in the province. Working collaboratively with WWF Indonesia – which is one of the project’s NGO partners along with others like Threads of Life – Kanoppi has helped brand and package the honey, which is now sold as “Mt. Mutis honey” and sold to neighboring islands.

Similarly on Sumbawa island, this commercial success is good news for communities and for the forest: Because the continued honey production hinges on a healthy ecosystem, people have a strong economic incentive to preserve and protect the forest.

That’s the underlying logic of the whole project. When communities can successfully market and sell sustainable products, their incentive to continue sustainable forestry practices grows, which in turn increases productivity, profitability and incomes.

“We want to reinforce this virtuous cycle where business opportunities foster sustainable forestry,” said Aulia Perdana, a marketing specialist with ICRAF. “That’s why we try to involve the private sector – for example in the village learning centers we’ve established in project sites – so that communities can better connect with the market.”

Other efforts to promote sustainable and profitable agroforestry production include using voluntary extensionists, meaning that the people who first adopt a new technology help spread those innovations to other members of the community. Eleven on-farm demonstration trials have already been established, and 40 more are planned for 2019. Kanoppi has also published manuals, journal articles, videos and a picture book to promote its methodology.

Read the picture book: Secrets of the Mutis Honey Hunters

Landscape perspective

Given the project’s success with marketing the sustainably produced honey from Mt. Mutis, the local district administration has adapted its strategy on integrated landscape-level management of NTFP to give greater weight to communities’ customary practices. This is an important first step toward establishing policy support elsewhere in the country.

Honeycomb drains through a nylon filter in Indonesia. Photo by S. Purnama Sarie/ICRAF

One challenge has been that past planning and policies have separately focused on different sectors, such as small farms in forestry and target-oriented cash crop production led by other sectors – not considering opportunities for synergies or problematic overlaps. Kanoppi has departed from that approach.

“We talk about integrated landscape management, which essentially is about harmonizing the different land uses along the watershed from upstream to downstream, so that farms, plantations, forests and many other kinds of activities coexist and reinforce each other,” said Ani.

“The landscape perspective helps everyone – communities, businesses and authorities – see what kind of production fits where in the landscape, in ways that are both profitable and sustainable.”

Kanoppi is a clear example of how combining the expertise and experience of CIFOR and ICRAF scientists makes for a strong response to development and sustainability challenges in forested landscapes – among the many reasons why the two institutions recently announced a merger.

In Indonesia, Ani, Perdana and their colleagues will continue their work to develop inclusive, sustainable business models that generate a fair return – specifically focusing on scaling-up the adoption of improved production practices and value chains to benefit smallholder livelihoods through landscape-scale management of the farm-forest interface – for communities and for forests.

By Marianne Gadeberg, communications specialist.


This research is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with Bioversity International, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR, ICRAF and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Strengthening producer organizations is key to making finance inclusive and effective

Strengthening producer organizations is key to making finance inclusive and effective

Aerial view of a transition forest area in Bokito, Cameroon. Photo by M. Edliadi/CIFOR
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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Duncan Macqueen. ©Macqueen/IIED

As part of the “Innovative finance for sustainable landscapes” interview series, the International Institute for Environment and Development’s (IIED) Forest Team Leader Duncan Macqueen spoke with Tropenbos International’s Nick Pasiecznik on increasing finance and investment in sustainable forestry and farming for smallholders.

“The challenge is to build strong producer organizations and change the perceptions of risk, return and transaction costs,” Macqueen said. This highlights direct support for strengthening membership, management and business as a strategy to develop bankable businesses with investment returns that are attractive to potential financiers. This will, in turn, improve livelihoods and provide an incentive for sustainable forest management.

Among Macqueen’s most recent publications is Access to finance for forest and farm producer organisations (FFPOs).

How do you define ‘inclusive finance’ and why is it important?

Inclusive finance ensures that local forest and farm producers are collectively involved in generating incomes, saving and making investments that improve their livelihoods. Importantly, it is not primarily about individuals, but about producer organizations that include women, landless people and ethnic minorities.

In developing countries, microfinance is rarely at a scale that can lift people out of poverty. Microfinance does, however, help to build individual capacities to understand and manage larger finance. To be transformative for forests and livelihoods, producers must be organized. Producer organizations are essential. They increase the economic scale and technological efficiency of transactions, and the credibility with which investments to upgrade transactions can be managed.

International finance rarely reaches forest and farm producers because financial institutions perceive the risk-to-return ratios and transaction costs to be too high. The challenge is to build strong producer organizations and change the perceptions of all involved.

A training course for women enterprise groups in Belize: “something we should be doing more of”. ©Macqueen/IIED

What are the underlying reasons for the underfinancing of locally controlled agricultural and forest business?

Underfinancing comes down to a lack of a well-directed ‘enabling investment’, i.e. financial support that does not require a financial return. For small businesses to attract ‘asset investment’ which does require a financial return, enabling investments must secure tenure, develop technical production skills, enhance market access and business know-how, and strengthen producer organizations. Building up these four areas makes such businesses ‘bankable’.

There is also a finance gap between micro-finance and large-scale finance. Microfinance is often available. The sums are small, the periods short, the returns fairly predictable (with a high ratio of working-to-fixed capital), and interest rates can be raised to cover high transaction costs. But microfinance rarely stretches to mid-level investments allowing growth. Large-scale finance is also available, but commercial banks rarely address the small needs of producer organizations because of perceptions on returns, risks and costs.

Read more: Background note on FTA financial innovations for sustainable landscapes interviews

What are we not doing right, or not doing well enough, or not doing at all?

Producer organizations must be strengthened. This includes the leadership, management structure and staff skills required to manage savings transparently. Local producers need to organize safe ways of managing savings. Whether to invest in better technology or to repay loans for investment – saving is the key common need. Once saving patterns are established, producer organizations can build up capital, to invest, use as collateral, or to offer financial services for members.

Better forest business incubation is needed to build financial management capacities within organizations that are inclusive of marginal groups. This is already routine in business incubation, but many for-profit services struggle to cover costs in remote forest landscapes. Unless donors can subsidize such costs, their reach is unlikely to extend beyond urban centers. A more innovative solution is to develop business incubation services within umbrella (or ‘apex-level’) producer organizations to aggregate, process and market products and services from their members.

More financial de-risking is required for external investors. There are five immediate priorities: link producer groups with conventional finance through face-to-face meetings or social media technologies; form partnerships to develop loan appraisals for proposals to banks; find ways of developing collateral acceptable to banks (such as standing tree volume); offer guarantees based on social and environmental commitments to offset perceptions of risk; and help banks redesign financial products to meet producers’ capabilities.

Value chain analysis of elephant foot yam with an association of farmers in northeast Myanmar. ©Macqueen/IIED

How is your organization addressing inclusive finance, and what are your experiences and key lessons?

IIED is shaping more inclusive finance within its entire program. Its Natural Resources Group has helped FAO, IUCN and Agricord design a financing mechanism to support producer organizations through the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF). The first phase included 947 producer groups across 10 countries, with 262 businesses helped to add value or diversify products, and 158 examples of new access to finance.

Direct grants to producer organizations require gender equality and inclusion in membership, leadership and representation. Support includes market analysis and development training, learning exchanges, business fairs and trade shows, links to policy platforms, direct brokering of finance with value chain partners and banks, toolkits for risk management and forest business incubation.

FFF is also now reviewing how to improve access to finance and install forest business incubation capacity into apex-level organizations. We have learnt that direct support for strengthening membership, management and business is highly effective. Bankable businesses emerge with investment returns that are attractive to potential financiers, improving livelihoods and providing an incentive for sustainable forest management. This also creates a pipeline for investible businesses for financiers that will attract future investment. A focus on grants, concessional loans or patient equity for locally controlled forest cooperatives results in inclusive cooperatives, but a focus on debt finance for large corporates leads only to local people being treated as cheap labor.

Read also: Making landscape finance more inclusive

What examples do you have of successful or promising ‘model’ approaches or innovations?

Promising innovations come less from inclusive access to finance, but from inclusive distribution of finance. This is a question of business model design, often found in businesses with democratic decision-making where members who live with the consequences of their business decisions, balance economic, social and environmental trade-offs.

An IIED-led analysis of 50 case studies of democratic business models from 24 countries showed six clear innovations. Democratic oversight bodies governing environmental and cultural stewardship improve the natural environment. Negotiated benefit distribution and financial vigilance mechanisms improve material wealth. Networked links to markets and decision-making improve social connectedness. Processes for conflict resolution and justice improve peace and security. Processes of entrepreneurial training and empowerment for both men and women improve human capacity development. Branding that reinforces local visions of prosperity improves a sense of community purpose.

In Nicaragua for example, FFF-mediated finance for the Mayaring women’s cooperative led to the development of 15 new productss using ‘tuno’ (Castilla tunu) bark cloth for vegetables. This led to a 35 percent rise in household incomes and a forest landscape restoration project using the species.

What is your vision on how best to increase finance and investment in sustainable forestry and farming?

My vision is to tailor different financing approaches to different producer organization types. For example, finance could be directed to indigenous peoples’ organizations in natural forests for territorial delimitation and protection; community forest organizations at the forest edge for making sustainable forest management work in collectively controlled natural forests; forest and farm businesses in planted forest ‘mosaics’ for improved social organization alongside asset investments in production; and peri-urban and urban forest product-processing businesses to increase productivity. Financing could be primarily grant finance to indigenous peoples, grants and blended/concessional finance for community forest enterprises, a mix of leasing, trade chain finance and commercial debt finance and guarantees for producer organizations, and more conventional debt finance for peri-urban groups There is no simple rule – everything depends on the circumstances of the group.

Catalyzing multitiered organizations is part of this vision. This includes first-tier local producer organizations selling products and services; second-tier regional organizations aggregating products, adding value through processing, marketing and providing business incubation services to members; and third-tier national federations lobbying governments for more enabling policies. Evidence suggests that strengthening producer organizations is effective in poverty reduction, and improving governance, forest landscape restoration and delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Read as PDF: Strengthening producer organizations is key to making finance inclusive and effective

By Nick Pasiecznik, Tropenbos International.


Duncan Macqueen is a principal researcher in IIED’s Natural Resources Group. IIED is a “policy and action research organization promoting sustainable development and linking local priorities to global challenges”. His research focuses on the success factors for locally controlled forest enterprises, and he has published widely on the subject. We invited Duncan to express his views on inclusive finance, based on his 25 years of experience of working with smallholder groups and communities to strengthen their capacities to run forest-based businesses and access markets and finance. He and his team have worked closely with FAO and the World Bank, among others. His publications include Prioritising Support for Locally Controlled Forest Enterprises and Financing forest-related enterprises: Lessons from the Forest Investment Program: IIED Briefing.

This article was produced by Tropenbos International and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with Bioversity International, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR, ICRAF and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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Strengthening producer organizations is key to making finance inclusive and effective

Biofuel plantations in the Miombo woodlands, Zambia. Photo by J. Walker/CIFOR
Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Duncan Macqueen. ©Macqueen/IIED

As part of the “Innovative finance for sustainable landscapes” interview series, the International Institute for Environment and Development’s (IIED) Forest Team Leader Duncan Macqueen spoke with Tropenbos International’s Nick Pasiecznik on increasing finance and investment in sustainable forestry and farming for smallholders.

“The challenge is to build strong producer organizations and change the perceptions of risk, return and transaction costs,” Macqueen said. This highlights direct support for strengthening membership, management and business as a strategy to develop bankable businesses with investment returns that are attractive to potential financiers. This will, in turn, improve livelihoods and provide an incentive for sustainable forest management.

Among Macqueen’s most recent publications is Access to finance for forest and farm producer organisations (FFPOs).

How do you define ‘inclusive finance’ and why is it important?

Inclusive finance ensures that local forest and farm producers are collectively involved in generating incomes, saving and making investments that improve their livelihoods. Importantly, it is not primarily about individuals, but about producer organizations that include women, landless people and ethnic minorities.

In developing countries, microfinance is rarely at a scale that can lift people out of poverty. Microfinance does, however, help to build individual capacities to understand and manage larger finance. To be transformative for forests and livelihoods, producers must be organized. Producer organizations are essential. They increase the economic scale and technological efficiency of transactions, and the credibility with which investments to upgrade transactions can be managed.

International finance rarely reaches forest and farm producers because financial institutions perceive the risk-to-return ratios and transaction costs to be too high. The challenge is to build strong producer organizations and change the perceptions of all involved.

A training course for women enterprise groups in Belize: “something we should be doing more of”. ©Macqueen/IIED

What are the underlying reasons for the underfinancing of locally controlled agricultural and forest business?

Underfinancing comes down to a lack of a well-directed ‘enabling investment’, i.e. financial support that does not require a financial return. For small businesses to attract ‘asset investment’ which does require a financial return, enabling investments must secure tenure, develop technical production skills, enhance market access and business know-how, and strengthen producer organizations. Building up these four areas makes such businesses ‘bankable’.

There is also a finance gap between micro-finance and large-scale finance. Microfinance is often available. The sums are small, the periods short, the returns fairly predictable (with a high ratio of working-to-fixed capital), and interest rates can be raised to cover high transaction costs. But microfinance rarely stretches to mid-level investments allowing growth. Large-scale finance is also available, but commercial banks rarely address the small needs of producer organizations because of perceptions on returns, risks and costs.

Read more: Background note on FTA financial innovations for sustainable landscapes interviews

What are we not doing right, or not doing well enough, or not doing at all?

Producer organizations must be strengthened. This includes the leadership, management structure and staff skills required to manage savings transparently. Local producers need to organize safe ways of managing savings. Whether to invest in better technology or to repay loans for investment – saving is the key common need. Once saving patterns are established, producer organizations can build up capital, to invest, use as collateral, or to offer financial services for members.

Better forest business incubation is needed to build financial management capacities within organizations that are inclusive of marginal groups. This is already routine in business incubation, but many for-profit services struggle to cover costs in remote forest landscapes. Unless donors can subsidize such costs, their reach is unlikely to extend beyond urban centers. A more innovative solution is to develop business incubation services within umbrella (or ‘apex-level’) producer organizations to aggregate, process and market products and services from their members.

More financial de-risking is required for external investors. There are five immediate priorities: link producer groups with conventional finance through face-to-face meetings or social media technologies; form partnerships to develop loan appraisals for proposals to banks; find ways of developing collateral acceptable to banks (such as standing tree volume); offer guarantees based on social and environmental commitments to offset perceptions of risk; and help banks redesign financial products to meet producers’ capabilities.

Value chain analysis of elephant foot yam with an association of farmers in northeast Myanmar. ©Macqueen/IIED

How is your organization addressing inclusive finance, and what are your experiences and key lessons?

IIED is shaping more inclusive finance within its entire program. Its Natural Resources Group has helped FAO, IUCN and Agricord design a financing mechanism to support producer organizations through the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF). The first phase included 947 producer groups across 10 countries, with 262 businesses helped to add value or diversify products, and 158 examples of new access to finance.

Direct grants to producer organizations require gender equality and inclusion in membership, leadership and representation. Support includes market analysis and development training, learning exchanges, business fairs and trade shows, links to policy platforms, direct brokering of finance with value chain partners and banks, toolkits for risk management and forest business incubation.

FFF is also now reviewing how to improve access to finance and install forest business incubation capacity into apex-level organizations. We have learnt that direct support for strengthening membership, management and business is highly effective. Bankable businesses emerge with investment returns that are attractive to potential financiers, improving livelihoods and providing an incentive for sustainable forest management. This also creates a pipeline for investible businesses for financiers that will attract future investment. A focus on grants, concessional loans or patient equity for locally controlled forest cooperatives results in inclusive cooperatives, but a focus on debt finance for large corporates leads only to local people being treated as cheap labor.

Read also: Making landscape finance more inclusive

What examples do you have of successful or promising ‘model’ approaches or innovations?

Promising innovations come less from inclusive access to finance, but from inclusive distribution of finance. This is a question of business model design, often found in businesses with democratic decision-making where members who live with the consequences of their business decisions, balance economic, social and environmental trade-offs.

An IIED-led analysis of 50 case studies of democratic business models from 24 countries showed six clear innovations. Democratic oversight bodies governing environmental and cultural stewardship improve the natural environment. Negotiated benefit distribution and financial vigilance mechanisms improve material wealth. Networked links to markets and decision-making improve social connectedness. Processes for conflict resolution and justice improve peace and security. Processes of entrepreneurial training and empowerment for both men and women improve human capacity development. Branding that reinforces local visions of prosperity improves a sense of community purpose.

In Nicaragua for example, FFF-mediated finance for the Mayaring women’s cooperative led to the development of 15 new productss using ‘tuno’ (Castilla tunu) bark cloth for vegetables. This led to a 35 percent rise in household incomes and a forest landscape restoration project using the species.

What is your vision on how best to increase finance and investment in sustainable forestry and farming?

My vision is to tailor different financing approaches to different producer organization types. For example, finance could be directed to indigenous peoples’ organizations in natural forests for territorial delimitation and protection; community forest organizations at the forest edge for making sustainable forest management work in collectively controlled natural forests; forest and farm businesses in planted forest ‘mosaics’ for improved social organization alongside asset investments in production; and peri-urban and urban forest product-processing businesses to increase productivity. Financing could be primarily grant finance to indigenous peoples, grants and blended/concessional finance for community forest enterprises, a mix of leasing, trade chain finance and commercial debt finance and guarantees for producer organizations, and more conventional debt finance for peri-urban groups There is no simple rule – everything depends on the circumstances of the group.

Catalyzing multitiered organizations is part of this vision. This includes first-tier local producer organizations selling products and services; second-tier regional organizations aggregating products, adding value through processing, marketing and providing business incubation services to members; and third-tier national federations lobbying governments for more enabling policies. Evidence suggests that strengthening producer organizations is effective in poverty reduction, and improving governance, forest landscape restoration and delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals.

By Nick Pasiecznik, Tropenbos International.

This interview has also been published on the Tropenbos International website.


Duncan Macqueen is a principal researcher in IIED’s Natural Resources Group. IIED is a “policy and action research organization promoting sustainable development and linking local priorities to global challenges”. His research focuses on the success factors for locally controlled forest enterprises, and he has published widely on the subject. We invited Duncan to express his views on inclusive finance, based on his 25 years of experience of working with smallholder groups and communities to strengthen their capacities to run forest-based businesses and access markets and finance. He and his team have worked closely with FAO and the World Bank, among others. His publications include Prioritising Support for Locally Controlled Forest Enterprises and Financing forest-related enterprises: Lessons from the Forest Investment Program: IIED Briefing.

This article was produced by Tropenbos International and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with Bioversity International, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR, ICRAF and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Thinking of tomorrow: Women essential to successful forest and land restoration in Africa

Thinking of tomorrow: Women essential to successful forest and land restoration in Africa

Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Women prepare okok seedlings in Minwoho, Cameroon. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR

African community leaders know that women play essential roles in restoring land and forests, even though it is not always easy for them to contribute.

However, do high-level decision makers grasp the unrealized potential of women’s leadership? Taking cues from grassroots experiences can help regional restoration initiatives improve their chances of success.

Late last year, African community leaders put together a manifesto that underscores how important communities are for successful restoration. It also provides cues on how to accelerate restoration in Africa, with two points explicitly calling out the need to include women on equal footing with men.

Strengthening women’s tree and land tenure rights as well as ensuring equitable distribution of benefits from forests will be crucial, according to the manifesto. Its recommendations build on 12 success stories collected from women and men working to reverse degradation across the continent.

The notion of equality as crucial for progress resonates as International Women’s Day on March 8 draws near, with this year’s theme encouraging us to think equal and build smart. But how can community experiences help build smarter restoration initiatives?

Read also: Communities restoring landscapes: Stories of resilience and success

Women show leadership and commitment

The AFR100, the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative that seeks to recover 100 million hectares of currently degraded land in Africa by 2030, is one effort that could benefit from grassroots experiences. Esther Mwangi, the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) and Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) scientist who collected the 12 success stories, explained:

“Many regional or global policy processes, like AFR100, risk missing the point because they are top-down, often defined by governments. Governments are important, but what matters for restoration is what happens on the ground. The stories document what communities already know about what tends to work.”

Many of the stories portray women who display outstanding leadership in restoration, which is interesting as women lack the tenure rights that would give them access to long-term returns.

One reason for women’s commitment is that impacts from forest or land degradation often hit them the hardest, leaving them no choice but to act. This is the case on Cameroon’s eastern coast where, as one story recounts, mangroves are being exploited for fuelwood and timber, mostly by men. For women, this has meant losing access to fish, fruit and nuts used for food or income.

Aiming to restore these past benefits, women are willing to invest in replanting trees, even though only men can own the land on which the mangroves grow. Without land rights, women can only hope that the restored mangroves are eventually inherited by their sons.

That women are arguably more organized than men and better at collaborating on restoration is another lesson to be learned. A case in point is Kenyan woman Zipporah Matumbi who has a decade-long track record of mobilizing women in her community to protect and restore forests. When she launched her efforts, many women were initially reluctant to plant trees in case it was interpreted as putting a claim on land that customarily belongs only to men.

However, over time, Matumbi managed to normalize the idea that women can plant trees, and today women are able to capitalize on their efforts, for example by selling tree trimmings as fuelwood and spending the income on educating their children. Matumbi said that is why women are planting trees – because they are thinking of tomorrow.

Read also: Local communities a driving force behind recovering Africa’s landscapes

Mixed-use land is seen in Kenya’s South West and West Mau Forest. Photo by Sande Murunga/CIFOR

Empowering women to contribute

While the stories show that there is huge potential for women to lead successful restoration efforts, not many women are able to contribute to or benefit from such initiatives.

“When the community leaders wrote that manifesto, they were right on target,” said Mwangi. “It is like [former US president Barack] Obama once said, about having a whole team, but only letting half of them play. That doesn’t make sense. When you bring in women, you’re bringing in the other half — knowledge, skills, motivation and leadership.”

The problem is that empowering women to contribute is not always simple. Women’s lack of land tenure and rights, as illustrated by some of the success stories, are one challenge. Policies that give women rights equal to those of men are important. Otherwise, hardworking women are easily exploited by contributing to reforestation and restoration efforts without access to the benefits.

That being said, rights are not the only critical factor. Many other entry points exist for improving women’s opportunities.

For example, providing water and sanitation facilities can free up women’s time to plant and look after trees and attend meetings and training. Training women on how to negotiate with men can give them access to benefits and reduce the amount of time spent on household chores (which are often allocated by men), giving women opportunities to demonstrate their leadership skills, which can change how men see them.

Working with men can also help to address crucial gaps in managing restoration initiatives, such as monitoring to keep seedling predators at bay or apprehending the unsanctioned harvesting of grown trees. Additionally, providing viable, long-term livelihood alternatives can enable women and men to ease pressure on forest and land resources.

AFR100 and similar initiatives can greatly benefit from understanding how such actions can start to shake up gender norms, slowly allowing women to play a greater role and thus increasing the chances of long-term restoration success.

Read also: Can research be transformative? Challenging gender norms around trees and land restoration in West Africa

Communities give directions for road ahead

Communities’ experiences can also serve as a starting point for more research on the complex dynamics between gender and restoration.

“For me as a scientist, these stories give me a really good starting point. They provide research questions I can ask and hypotheses I can test – for example on women-targeted incentives or on leveling the playing field. That means I might eventually be able to share more rigorous evidence on what difference women make to restoration, and that can inform future initiatives,” Mwangi said.

The stories reinforce FTA’s priorities to improve gender equality by focusing on structural barriers and drivers of change. When well understood, such barriers can be overcome and changes made, allowing women to meaningfully participate in restoration, access benefits and contribute to decisions about how forests and land are used.

Through the manifesto and stories, communities are showing how to equitably expand opportunities for both men and women to restore and benefit from forested landscapes.

By Marianne Gadeberg, communications specialist.


This research is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with Bioversity International, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR, ICRAF and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

  • Home
  • Thinking of tomorrow: Women essential to successful forest and land restoration in Africa

Thinking of tomorrow: Women essential to successful forest and land restoration in Africa

Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Women prepare okok seedlings in Minwoho, Cameroon. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR

African community leaders know that women play essential roles in restoring land and forests, even though it is not always easy for them to contribute.

However, do high-level decision makers grasp the unrealized potential of women’s leadership? Taking cues from grassroots experiences can help regional restoration initiatives improve their chances of success.

Late last year, African community leaders put together a manifesto that underscores how important communities are for successful restoration. It also provides cues on how to accelerate restoration in Africa, with two points explicitly calling out the need to include women on equal footing with men.

Strengthening women’s tree and land tenure rights as well as ensuring equitable distribution of benefits from forests will be crucial, according to the manifesto. Its recommendations build on 12 success stories collected from women and men working to reverse degradation across the continent.

The notion of equality as crucial for progress resonates as International Women’s Day on March 8 draws near, with this year’s theme encouraging us to think equal and build smart. But how can community experiences help build smarter restoration initiatives?

Read also: Communities restoring landscapes: Stories of resilience and success

Women show leadership and commitment

The AFR100, the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative that seeks to recover 100 million hectares of currently degraded land in Africa by 2030, is one effort that could benefit from grassroots experiences. Esther Mwangi, the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) and Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) scientist who collected the 12 success stories, explained:

“Many regional or global policy processes, like AFR100, risk missing the point because they are top-down, often defined by governments. Governments are important, but what matters for restoration is what happens on the ground. The stories document what communities already know about what tends to work.”

Many of the stories portray women who display outstanding leadership in restoration, which is interesting as women lack the tenure rights that would give them access to long-term returns.

One reason for women’s commitment is that impacts from forest or land degradation often hit them the hardest, leaving them no choice but to act. This is the case on Cameroon’s eastern coast where, as one story recounts, mangroves are being exploited for fuelwood and timber, mostly by men. For women, this has meant losing access to fish, fruit and nuts used for food or income.

Aiming to restore these past benefits, women are willing to invest in replanting trees, even though only men can own the land on which the mangroves grow. Without land rights, women can only hope that the restored mangroves are eventually inherited by their sons.

That women are arguably more organized than men and better at collaborating on restoration is another lesson to be learned. A case in point is Kenyan woman Zipporah Matumbi who has a decade-long track record of mobilizing women in her community to protect and restore forests. When she launched her efforts, many women were initially reluctant to plant trees in case it was interpreted as putting a claim on land that customarily belongs only to men.

However, over time, Matumbi managed to normalize the idea that women can plant trees, and today women are able to capitalize on their efforts, for example by selling tree trimmings as fuelwood and spending the income on educating their children. Matumbi said that is why women are planting trees – because they are thinking of tomorrow.

Read also: Local communities a driving force behind recovering Africa’s landscapes

Mixed-use land is seen in Kenya’s South West and West Mau Forest. Photo by Sande Murunga/CIFOR

Empowering women to contribute

While the stories show that there is huge potential for women to lead successful restoration efforts, not many women are able to contribute to or benefit from such initiatives.

“When the community leaders wrote that manifesto, they were right on target,” said Mwangi. “It is like [former US president Barack] Obama once said, about having a whole team, but only letting half of them play. That doesn’t make sense. When you bring in women, you’re bringing in the other half — knowledge, skills, motivation and leadership.”

The problem is that empowering women to contribute is not always simple. Women’s lack of land tenure and rights, as illustrated by some of the success stories, are one challenge. Policies that give women rights equal to those of men are important. Otherwise, hardworking women are easily exploited by contributing to reforestation and restoration efforts without access to the benefits.

That being said, rights are not the only critical factor. Many other entry points exist for improving women’s opportunities.

For example, providing water and sanitation facilities can free up women’s time to plant and look after trees and attend meetings and training. Training women on how to negotiate with men can give them access to benefits and reduce the amount of time spent on household chores (which are often allocated by men), giving women opportunities to demonstrate their leadership skills, which can change how men see them.

Working with men can also help to address crucial gaps in managing restoration initiatives, such as monitoring to keep seedling predators at bay or apprehending the unsanctioned harvesting of grown trees. Additionally, providing viable, long-term livelihood alternatives can enable women and men to ease pressure on forest and land resources.

AFR100 and similar initiatives can greatly benefit from understanding how such actions can start to shake up gender norms, slowly allowing women to play a greater role and thus increasing the chances of long-term restoration success.

Read also: Can research be transformative? Challenging gender norms around trees and land restoration in West Africa

Communities give directions for road ahead

Communities’ experiences can also serve as a starting point for more research on the complex dynamics between gender and restoration.

“For me as a scientist, these stories give me a really good starting point. They provide research questions I can ask and hypotheses I can test – for example on women-targeted incentives or on leveling the playing field. That means I might eventually be able to share more rigorous evidence on what difference women make to restoration, and that can inform future initiatives,” Mwangi said.

The stories reinforce FTA’s priorities to improve gender equality by focusing on structural barriers and drivers of change. When well understood, such barriers can be overcome and changes made, allowing women to meaningfully participate in restoration, access benefits and contribute to decisions about how forests and land are used.

Through the manifesto and stories, communities are showing how to equitably expand opportunities for both men and women to restore and benefit from forested landscapes.

By Marianne Gadeberg, communications specialist.


This research is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with Bioversity International, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR, ICRAF and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

  • Home
  • Thinking of tomorrow: Women essential to successful forest and land restoration in Africa

Thinking of tomorrow: Women essential to successful forest and land restoration in Africa

Women prepare okok seedlings in Minwoho, Cameroon. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR
Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Women prepare okok seedlings in Minwoho, Cameroon. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR

African community leaders know that women play essential roles in restoring land and forests, even though it is not always easy for them to contribute.

However, do high-level decision makers grasp the unrealized potential of women’s leadership? Taking cues from grassroots experiences can help regional restoration initiatives improve their chances of success.

Late last year, African community leaders put together a manifesto that underscores how important communities are for successful restoration. It also provides cues on how to accelerate restoration in Africa, with two points explicitly calling out the need to include women on equal footing with men.

Strengthening women’s tree and land tenure rights as well as ensuring equitable distribution of benefits from forests will be crucial, according to the manifesto. Its recommendations build on 12 success stories collected from women and men working to reverse degradation across the continent.

The notion of equality as crucial for progress resonates as International Women’s Day on March 8 draws near, with this year’s theme encouraging us to think equal and build smart. But how can community experiences help build smarter restoration initiatives?

Read also: Communities restoring landscapes: Stories of resilience and success

Women show leadership and commitment

The AFR100, the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative that seeks to recover 100 million hectares of currently degraded land in Africa by 2030, is one effort that could benefit from grassroots experiences. Esther Mwangi, the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) and Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) scientist who collected the 12 success stories, explained:

“Many regional or global policy processes, like AFR100, risk missing the point because they are top-down, often defined by governments. Governments are important, but what matters for restoration is what happens on the ground. The stories document what communities already know about what tends to work.”

Many of the stories portray women who display outstanding leadership in restoration, which is interesting as women lack the tenure rights that would give them access to long-term returns.

One reason for women’s commitment is that impacts from forest or land degradation often hit them the hardest, leaving them no choice but to act. This is the case on Cameroon’s eastern coast where, as one story recounts, mangroves are being exploited for fuelwood and timber, mostly by men. For women, this has meant losing access to fish, fruit and nuts used for food or income.

Aiming to restore these past benefits, women are willing to invest in replanting trees, even though only men can own the land on which the mangroves grow. Without land rights, women can only hope that the restored mangroves are eventually inherited by their sons.

That women are arguably more organized than men and better at collaborating on restoration is another lesson to be learned. A case in point is Kenyan woman Zipporah Matumbi who has a decade-long track record of mobilizing women in her community to protect and restore forests. When she launched her efforts, many women were initially reluctant to plant trees in case it was interpreted as putting a claim on land that customarily belongs only to men.

However, over time, Matumbi managed to normalize the idea that women can plant trees, and today women are able to capitalize on their efforts, for example by selling tree trimmings as fuelwood and spending the income on educating their children. Matumbi said that is why women are planting trees – because they are thinking of tomorrow.

Read also: Local communities a driving force behind recovering Africa’s landscapes

Mixed-use land is seen in Kenya’s South West and West Mau Forest. Photo by Sande Murunga/CIFOR

Empowering women to contribute

While the stories show that there is huge potential for women to lead successful restoration efforts, not many women are able to contribute to or benefit from such initiatives.

“When the community leaders wrote that manifesto, they were right on target,” said Mwangi. “It is like [former US president Barack] Obama once said, about having a whole team, but only letting half of them play. That doesn’t make sense. When you bring in women, you’re bringing in the other half — knowledge, skills, motivation and leadership.”

The problem is that empowering women to contribute is not always simple. Women’s lack of land tenure and rights, as illustrated by some of the success stories, are one challenge. Policies that give women rights equal to those of men are important. Otherwise, hardworking women are easily exploited by contributing to reforestation and restoration efforts without access to the benefits.

That being said, rights are not the only critical factor. Many other entry points exist for improving women’s opportunities.

For example, providing water and sanitation facilities can free up women’s time to plant and look after trees and attend meetings and training. Training women on how to negotiate with men can give them access to benefits and reduce the amount of time spent on household chores (which are often allocated by men), giving women opportunities to demonstrate their leadership skills, which can change how men see them.

Working with men can also help to address crucial gaps in managing restoration initiatives, such as monitoring to keep seedling predators at bay or apprehending the unsanctioned harvesting of grown trees. Additionally, providing viable, long-term livelihood alternatives can enable women and men to ease pressure on forest and land resources.

AFR100 and similar initiatives can greatly benefit from understanding how such actions can start to shake up gender norms, slowly allowing women to play a greater role and thus increasing the chances of long-term restoration success.

Read also: Can research be transformative? Challenging gender norms around trees and land restoration in West Africa

Communities give directions for road ahead

Communities’ experiences can also serve as a starting point for more research on the complex dynamics between gender and restoration.

“For me as a scientist, these stories give me a really good starting point. They provide research questions I can ask and hypotheses I can test – for example on women-targeted incentives or on leveling the playing field. That means I might eventually be able to share more rigorous evidence on what difference women make to restoration, and that can inform future initiatives,” Mwangi said.

The stories reinforce FTA’s priorities to improve gender equality by focusing on structural barriers and drivers of change. When well understood, such barriers can be overcome and changes made, allowing women to meaningfully participate in restoration, access benefits and contribute to decisions about how forests and land are used.

Through the manifesto and stories, communities are showing how to equitably expand opportunities for both men and women to restore and benefit from forested landscapes.

By Marianne Gadeberg, communications specialist.


This research is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with Bioversity International, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR, ICRAF and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.


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