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  • Can DRC’s community forests alleviate poverty?

Can DRC’s community forests alleviate poverty?

Woman carrying wood, Yangambi, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR
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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Community forestry is an attractive endeavor in the quest to reduce poverty. Multiple countries with tropical forests have placed it at the heart of their rural development strategies, giving local communities the rights to directly manage forests and decide how land will be used.

Underpinning community forestry is the proven belief that local people are best placed to manage the resources on which they rely. Done sustainably, poverty can be alleviated, social mobility enhanced, and the ecological protection of the forest achieved.

But between theory and practice, lies a disconnect.

A new study shows that the benefits don’t always materialize. Community elites are most likely to reap the rewards from such models, risking disillusionment among rural communities. Such is the case of multiple community forest initiatives across Central Africa, found researchers from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the University of Kisangani (UNIKIS).

Scientists found that two community forest pilot sites in northeast Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), failed to produce an increase in people’s real income. “Our research shows that the business case for community forests in DRC remains weak,” said Guillaume Lescuyer, lead author of the study. “In both of our pilot sites, we saw a negative financial turnover over five years. All the productive activities that we analyzed – including logging, hunting and firewood collection – either result in losses or a very low profit.” The researchers therefore advise that community forestry is unlikely to develop into a profitable model in the DRC, unless people are convinced that it will increase their financial and physical capital.

Though financial impact is just one factor to consider when assessing community forests, it is arguably the biggest deciding factor for communities to maintain or discard the model.

The findings from the DRC come at a crucial moment when the Congolese authorities are backing community forestry, implementing several legal and administrative entities. “In 2002 the national forestry law adopted the concept of ‘local community forest’, but it lacked detail until 2016,” explained Ignace Muganguzi, co-author of the study.

“Recently this law has been complimented by a series of decrees that are opening a legal pathway to formalize community forests of up to 50,000 hectares.”

The Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development has also created a sub-department devoted to community forestry, while there is a new government-wide National Strategy for Community Forestry aimed at promoting this model.

Read also: Setting the stage for agroforestry expansion in Eastern Congo

A man cuts down a tree to produce charcoal, Yangambi, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR

Financial failures

Despite the recent rise of community forestry in the DRC, one of the barriers that persists is the exorbitant costs required to set up a community forest. In the selected case studies, USD 100,000 to USD 160,000 is needed to comply with regulations. These fees cover necessary coordination meetings and committees, the creation of boundary lines and maps, baseline studies, and other formal procedures. “The start-up cost is just too high to make this model viable,” stated Lescuyer.

Beyond these expenses, lies high costs of formalizing local economic activities to comply with regulatory requirements. “The payment of all the approvals, taxes and permits that are required to carry out activities such as hunting, chain-sawing, or gathering non-timber forest products, in a legal manner, often prevents small producers from making a profit,” added Lescuyer.

To address these issues, the researchers make two recommendations.

First, new community forest projects should focus on the productive uses of forest resources, creating a business case with financial forecasts. “Short and medium-term livelihood outcomes need to be quantitatively measured, and to continue supporting these projects there should be strong evidence of a significant economic impact,” said Lescuyer. The study shows that to date, no community forest in the DRC has conducted such analyses.

Second, legal constraints should be simplified to reduce the cost of creating and managing community forests. Furthermore, local institutional processes should be streamlined to facilitate operations. “If national regulations continue the same, people might even favor illegal practices to cover these costs,” warned Muganguzi.

A question of ownership

This new research underlines finance as a major obstacle to the success of community forestry in the DRC: the lack of ownership by local populations.

The researchers argue that in most cases, community forestry emerges as a top-down initiative. Because of expensive administrative costs, the creation of community forests is out of reach for local communities, making them dependent on external actors. These days, many initiatives in the DRC are thus subsidized by international funds and run by local or international NGOs. “One of the problems with this situation is that the intervening agencies tend to impose their normative values and sophisticated management tools,” explained Lescuyer. “A bottom-up approach that takes into consideration local realities of communities would be more appropriate. It could lead to more functional systems than those brought in from outside.”

A regional problem

Community forestry became a booming trend among political and technical circles across Central Africa in the 1990s. Cameroon rose as the early-adopter, being the first country in the region to enshrine it in law. The government created formal community forests as early as 1998, which allowed village associations to legally harvest, process, and trade forest resources within an area of up to 5,000 hectares.

Girls carry vegetables, Yangambi, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR

However, the limited financial impact on rural livelihoods, as well as the complicated administrative procedures, have hindered any extensions. At present, only about one percent of Cameroon’s forests is managed by the communities.

“In Cameroon, engagement in community forestry has also been very low, mainly because of the lack of belief that it will raise their standard of living,” explained Lescuyer. “Likewise, in this case the costs of setting up a community forest is too elevated.”

What’s more, previous research unearthed multiple cases where community forests in Cameroon were exploited through subcontracts with logging companies. Mostly medium-sized and informal, they paid cut-rate rents that did not trickle down to improve collective standards of living; the reality of job creation reflected by very low salaries.

Other studies have concluded that revenues from logging are seldom equally distributed- local political, economic and military elites reaping the lion share of profits.

“The failure of community forestry in Cameroon is worrying because the model has been replicated for about 15 years across Central African countries, especially in Gabon, the DRC, and Central African Republic,” said Lescuyer.

Read also: Addressing equity in community forestry: lessons from 20 years of implementation in Cameroon

The essence of community forestry

While CIFOR and UNIKIS’ research focuses on the financial returns of community forests and their impact on livelihoods, the authors acknowledge that there are benefits beyond monetary gains.

Community forests protect biodiversity, which in turn supports food security; they both mitigate and facilitate adaptation to climate change, sucking carbon from the air and retaining natural barriers against intense weather events; they are an important tool for recognizing customary rights; they help secure land tenure and facilitate long-term investment by the involved communities.

“Of course there are other long-term benefits,” recognized Lescuyer, “but so far there aren’t enough examples from Central Africa to say that community forestry can improve the well-being of people without increasing their revenues.”

Lescuyer agrees, believing that the purpose of increasing income should be at the core of community forestry, especially in rural areas where development options are limited. “It is time to ensure that the tens of millions of dollars devoted to supporting this model actually ends to alleviate poverty,” he concluded.

By Ahtziri Gonzalez, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.


This research was supported by the REFORCO and FORETS projects and funded by the European Union.

This work is also part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), 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, ICRAF, INBAR and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Catalyzing partnerships for reforestation of degraded land

Catalyzing partnerships for reforestation of degraded land

Aerial view of Southwest Mau Forest and neighbouring tea estates. Photo by Patrick Sheperd/CIFOR
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Charlotte van Andel. Photo by FMO

In this second edition of the “Innovative finance for sustainable landscapes” interview series, we hear from two sustainable finance experts from the Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO). Steven Duyverman is a manager in FMO’s Agribusiness, Food and Water department and Charlotte van Andel is a senior environmental and social officer in the same department.

Steven Duyverman. Photo by FMO

Working in inclusive and green finance, FMO is ramping up its investments in the forestry sector. Duyverman and Van Andel reflect on how to apply their experience at the landscape level.

“Investors are reluctant to invest in landscapes in developing countries, since it is a new sector, with long payback periods and of uncertain risks. Such risks can be reduced by clarifying tenure rights, early engagement of local stakeholders in project development, strengthening partnerships and strengthening local capacities to implement best practices. Investors need to consider these if they really want to have an impact.”

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

Making finance inclusive is about reaching the bottom of the pyramid, so to speak, directly or indirectly. It must also focus on those so often left behind – the vulnerable, women, indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups. It is about increasing local employment, especially for the poorest, with decent and sustainable jobs that help improve local economies and reduce inequalities.

In forestry, outgrowers and employees, who are recruited locally to the largest extent possible, receive training. They are made aware of health and safety aspects, like using protective equipment when pruning or spraying. This equips them with skills and helps to ensure better livelihoods in the long term. Women are empowered and are often also seen as being more reliable and precise in certain tasks, such as in tree nurseries, allowing them to gain new knowledge and increase their own incomes.

With our forestry investments, we create 30–50 new jobs per 1,000 hectares of new plantations established. At the end of the day, FMO was established nearly 50 years ago not only to make money but, importantly, to create long-term development impact and to improve environmental and social conditions in the countries where it operates.

People gather under a tree. It takes time to find the most inclusive way of investing in the forestry sector. © FMO

What are the underlying reasons for the underfinancing of agricultural and forest businesses in developing countries?

One reason for underfinancing in the forestry sector is the reluctance of many to invest in a new sector, with long payback periods and unknown risks, in developing countries. For energy projects, for example, revenue streams and returns only come two or three years after the investment has been made. But investing in forestry requires a different view on cash flows, because even on the shortest cycles, it takes eight, 10, 12 years to start generating income from selling a marketable product (i.e. construction wood, electricity poles or wood chips), and before investors start to be repaid.

In such new markets, the risk is inherently higher than in more well-known investments with much shorter payback times that are perceived as ‘safer’. This does not just concern financial risk, but also – and inherent in inclusive finance – social and environmental risk. Establishing timber plantations is also a high-impact investment, and one of the cheapest means to make significant changes in mitigating climate and improving local economies and communities. However, given the complexity of large landscape-level forestry projects, getting these approved and implemented takes time. But we are gaining more experience in the sector, so we trust that efficiency will improve.

Another key issue for foreign investors is that working with local smallholders is difficult, as for them formal titles over the land they farm or want to reforest are sometimes impossible to acquire, and of uncertain legality if they do exist. Local authorities and land users sometimes have quite different views on what is needed, indicating that more dialogue is needed to increase understanding among all groups involved.

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

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

There is no right or wrong, but it is very important that we strive for sustainable development. That also means that we must ensure that business models are sustainable. Viability of a project requires financial, environmental and social standards to be met. For example, we require all our forestry clients to be Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) certified.

We see that with a structured approach, income is created, deforestation is reduced and biodiversity improved. As a consequence, people have new alternative sources of cash income rather than depending on illegal charcoal making or poaching. At the same time, having additional income also tends to enhance development and security in local communities.

Our strength lies in catalyzing other partners; hence we need partnerships, partnerships and more partnerships to more effectively progress in the reforestation of degraded land. But for alignment reasons, we also require the support of governments to politically back up plans for land reforestation and to aid where adjacent commercial plantation forestry can be developed as a future mitigation toward deforestation.

We need more cooperation and collaboration, between us as a development finance institution and the private sector, with UN organizations, with national governments and their departments, with NGOs and civil society. To successfully nurture opportunities for growth in the restoration economy, cooperation of technology startups, smallholder finance and timber companies open doors to inspiring venture capital, private equity and impact investors who may know little about such landscape restoration opportunities.

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

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

At FMO, we provide ever more loans and equity to support projects with landscape-level objectives, and that have social and environmental benefits at their core. We have learned to include contextual risks. This triggers an early focus on risks outside the influence of our project, on how to better ensure indigenous peoples’ rights are respected, including land ownership and user rights, and using stakeholder engagement safeguards even more. We now also realize that it is not always possible to be able to do the right thing at the right time. Circumstances can be such that land issues cannot be fully resolved, or that human rights defenders are threatened, or that deforestation still takes place around the client’s activities. In such cases, we have developed ‘early warning systems’ and if seen to be so, we decide not to invest in unsustainable projects.

Companies that we invest in must have good and transparent relationships with local and legal authorities that have influence over forests and landscape. We also expect them to hear the voices of the people, of local communities, and to fully assess their needs. This means they must invest considerable time from an early stage, and talk to all involved, communities and traditional leaders, occasional users such as nomadic pastoralists, district and forestry authorities, NGOs or knowledge partners.

Going full circle, we also never forget local legislation, such as on forest protection, but also deal with the livelihood impacts of (illegal) users according to the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) Performance Standards. Squaring that circle is not always easy. But only then can we add value and have the impact we are looking for.

One key lesson is that we used to give a lower priority to stakeholder engagement when we focused on returns. But now, at the very start of every investment, we expect companies to start talking with communities to get them to really understand the expected and potential changes, and agree in advance on how benefits can be shared. These include local job opportunities, training in pruning, use of fertilizers and safe pesticide application, and building roads, which can also initiate a village market, access to healthcare and schooling.

Training and supervising are important complements to inclusive finance, leading to sustainable safe jobs that support sustainable landscapes. © FMO

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

In Ghana and Sierra Leone, FMO is supporting a project that has reforested 10,000 hectares of formerly degraded land since 2013 and is working toward adding up to another 9,000 hectares of new plantations. In Laos, we are funding the expansion of a forestry plantation from 3,400 to 15,000 hectares, including investment to support the building of a new sawmill and wood-processing facilities. This is another example of how we are implementing an integrated, long-term investment strategy.

Helping to establish such large areas of forest plantations is also helping FMO achieve its aim of becoming carbon neutral, in line with the Paris Accord. For now, FMO has approved investment of around €40 million a year in new forest plantations. Innovative financial products are necessary, as repayments may only start after 5–7 years, so in the early years there will be no cash flow available to pay even the interest on the loans.

Furthermore, training is an important tool that builds knowledge, but also helps companies to ensure that environmental and social concerns are integrated into their processing system. So, we also provide financial support for analysis, studies, training and implementation, for instance for more efficient use of scarce water resources and for waste-water treatment.

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

The most important single factor that would increase investment is to support systems for registering and securing land rights, so that smallholders and foreign investors alike have formal ownership titles for the land they farm or want to plant with trees. And, of course, this is not just a need for development banks – it is a basic need for all land holders, independent of any future investment. Without formal titles, smallholder options are limited in many ways.

We work for a future where international development finance is no longer needed, where sufficient capital is available nationally, to support the establishment and growth of sustainable businesses in all sectors. And we also hope to see that environmental and social standards widely implemented in developed markets are also fully accepted in emerging markets and developing countries.

In that future, we expect old and new forms of finance to blend seamlessly, also mixing traditional approaches with the use of new technologies, working toward a circular and inclusive economy. This is what we are striving for. But just as it takes time for trees to grow, it will also take time to find the most inclusive way of investing in this sector. We are already seeing shifts.

By Nick Pasiecznik, Tropenbos International.

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


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.

  • Home
  • Catalyzing partnerships for reforestation of degraded land

Catalyzing partnerships for reforestation of degraded land

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Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Charlotte van Andel. Photo by FMO

In this second edition of the “Innovative finance for sustainable landscapes” interview series, we hear from two sustainable finance experts from the Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO). Steven Duyverman is a manager in FMO’s Agribusiness, Food and Water department and Charlotte van Andel is a senior environmental and social officer in the same department.

Steven Duyverman. Photo by FMO

Working in inclusive and green finance, FMO is ramping up its investments in the forestry sector. Duyverman and Van Andel reflect on how to apply their experience at the landscape level.

“Investors are reluctant to invest in landscapes in developing countries, since it is a new sector, with long payback periods and of uncertain risks. Such risks can be reduced by clarifying tenure rights, early engagement of local stakeholders in project development, strengthening partnerships and strengthening local capacities to implement best practices. Investors need to consider these if they really want to have an impact.”

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

Making finance inclusive is about reaching the bottom of the pyramid, so to speak, directly or indirectly. It must also focus on those so often left behind – the vulnerable, women, indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups. It is about increasing local employment, especially for the poorest, with decent and sustainable jobs that help improve local economies and reduce inequalities.

In forestry, outgrowers and employees, who are recruited locally to the largest extent possible, receive training. They are made aware of health and safety aspects, like using protective equipment when pruning or spraying. This equips them with skills and helps to ensure better livelihoods in the long term. Women are empowered and are often also seen as being more reliable and precise in certain tasks, such as in tree nurseries, allowing them to gain new knowledge and increase their own incomes.

With our forestry investments, we create 30–50 new jobs per 1,000 hectares of new plantations established. At the end of the day, FMO was established nearly 50 years ago not only to make money but, importantly, to create long-term development impact and to improve environmental and social conditions in the countries where it operates.

People gather under a tree. It takes time to find the most inclusive way of investing in the forestry sector. © FMO

What are the underlying reasons for the underfinancing of agricultural and forest businesses in developing countries?

One reason for underfinancing in the forestry sector is the reluctance of many to invest in a new sector, with long payback periods and unknown risks, in developing countries. For energy projects, for example, revenue streams and returns only come two or three years after the investment has been made. But investing in forestry requires a different view on cash flows, because even on the shortest cycles, it takes eight, 10, 12 years to start generating income from selling a marketable product (i.e. construction wood, electricity poles or wood chips), and before investors start to be repaid.

In such new markets, the risk is inherently higher than in more well-known investments with much shorter payback times that are perceived as ‘safer’. This does not just concern financial risk, but also – and inherent in inclusive finance – social and environmental risk. Establishing timber plantations is also a high-impact investment, and one of the cheapest means to make significant changes in mitigating climate and improving local economies and communities. However, given the complexity of large landscape-level forestry projects, getting these approved and implemented takes time. But we are gaining more experience in the sector, so we trust that efficiency will improve.

Another key issue for foreign investors is that working with local smallholders is difficult, as for them formal titles over the land they farm or want to reforest are sometimes impossible to acquire, and of uncertain legality if they do exist. Local authorities and land users sometimes have quite different views on what is needed, indicating that more dialogue is needed to increase understanding among all groups involved.

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

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

There is no right or wrong, but it is very important that we strive for sustainable development. That also means that we must ensure that business models are sustainable. Viability of a project requires financial, environmental and social standards to be met. For example, we require all our forestry clients to be Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) certified.

We see that with a structured approach, income is created, deforestation is reduced and biodiversity improved. As a consequence, people have new alternative sources of cash income rather than depending on illegal charcoal making or poaching. At the same time, having additional income also tends to enhance development and security in local communities.

Our strength lies in catalyzing other partners; hence we need partnerships, partnerships and more partnerships to more effectively progress in the reforestation of degraded land. But for alignment reasons, we also require the support of governments to politically back up plans for land reforestation and to aid where adjacent commercial plantation forestry can be developed as a future mitigation toward deforestation.

We need more cooperation and collaboration, between us as a development finance institution and the private sector, with UN organizations, with national governments and their departments, with NGOs and civil society. To successfully nurture opportunities for growth in the restoration economy, cooperation of technology startups, smallholder finance and timber companies open doors to inspiring venture capital, private equity and impact investors who may know little about such landscape restoration opportunities.

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

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

At FMO, we provide ever more loans and equity to support projects with landscape-level objectives, and that have social and environmental benefits at their core. We have learned to include contextual risks. This triggers an early focus on risks outside the influence of our project, on how to better ensure indigenous peoples’ rights are respected, including land ownership and user rights, and using stakeholder engagement safeguards even more. We now also realize that it is not always possible to be able to do the right thing at the right time. Circumstances can be such that land issues cannot be fully resolved, or that human rights defenders are threatened, or that deforestation still takes place around the client’s activities. In such cases, we have developed ‘early warning systems’ and if seen to be so, we decide not to invest in unsustainable projects.

Companies that we invest in must have good and transparent relationships with local and legal authorities that have influence over forests and landscape. We also expect them to hear the voices of the people, of local communities, and to fully assess their needs. This means they must invest considerable time from an early stage, and talk to all involved, communities and traditional leaders, occasional users such as nomadic pastoralists, district and forestry authorities, NGOs or knowledge partners.

Going full circle, we also never forget local legislation, such as on forest protection, but also deal with the livelihood impacts of (illegal) users according to the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) Performance Standards. Squaring that circle is not always easy. But only then can we add value and have the impact we are looking for.

One key lesson is that we used to give a lower priority to stakeholder engagement when we focused on returns. But now, at the very start of every investment, we expect companies to start talking with communities to get them to really understand the expected and potential changes, and agree in advance on how benefits can be shared. These include local job opportunities, training in pruning, use of fertilizers and safe pesticide application, and building roads, which can also initiate a village market, access to healthcare and schooling.

Training and supervising are important complements to inclusive finance, leading to sustainable safe jobs that support sustainable landscapes. © FMO

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

In Ghana and Sierra Leone, FMO is supporting a project that has reforested 10,000 hectares of formerly degraded land since 2013 and is working toward adding up to another 9,000 hectares of new plantations. In Laos, we are funding the expansion of a forestry plantation from 3,400 to 15,000 hectares, including investment to support the building of a new sawmill and wood-processing facilities. This is another example of how we are implementing an integrated, long-term investment strategy.

Helping to establish such large areas of forest plantations is also helping FMO achieve its aim of becoming carbon neutral, in line with the Paris Accord. For now, FMO has approved investment of around €40 million a year in new forest plantations. Innovative financial products are necessary, as repayments may only start after 5–7 years, so in the early years there will be no cash flow available to pay even the interest on the loans.

Furthermore, training is an important tool that builds knowledge, but also helps companies to ensure that environmental and social concerns are integrated into their processing system. So, we also provide financial support for analysis, studies, training and implementation, for instance for more efficient use of scarce water resources and for waste-water treatment.

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

The most important single factor that would increase investment is to support systems for registering and securing land rights, so that smallholders and foreign investors alike have formal ownership titles for the land they farm or want to plant with trees. And, of course, this is not just a need for development banks – it is a basic need for all land holders, independent of any future investment. Without formal titles, smallholder options are limited in many ways.

We work for a future where international development finance is no longer needed, where sufficient capital is available nationally, to support the establishment and growth of sustainable businesses in all sectors. And we also hope to see that environmental and social standards widely implemented in developed markets are also fully accepted in emerging markets and developing countries.

In that future, we expect old and new forms of finance to blend seamlessly, also mixing traditional approaches with the use of new technologies, working toward a circular and inclusive economy. This is what we are striving for. But just as it takes time for trees to grow, it will also take time to find the most inclusive way of investing in this sector. We are already seeing shifts.

By Nick Pasiecznik, Tropenbos International.

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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  • Managing peatlands in Indonesia: Challenges and opportunities for local and global communities

Managing peatlands in Indonesia: Challenges and opportunities for local and global communities

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Key messages

  • Indonesian peat swamp forests provide important local and global benefits. Their drainage and conversion into agricultural lands cause considerable and irreversible environmental, social and economic damage.
  • Carbon stocks in Indonesia’s peatlands and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with conversion are known to be substantial. However, large variations in estimates hamper a proper evaluation of their role in GHG budgets at subnational, national and global levels.
  • Environmentally and financially sustainable livelihood options for smallholders in Indonesian peatlands remain limited and underdeveloped.
  • The catastrophic 2015 fires have reinforced the commitments of the Indonesian government both to reduce peatland deforestation and fires, and to rehabilitate and restore degraded peatlands.
  • Peatland restoration faces economy-environmental trade-offs. It generates intense disagreement between stakeholders holding divergent interests (company concessions, communities, local governments, etc.). The success of peatland restoration will depend on how diverse priorities are reconciled, but also on improved governance and technical capacity building.
  • Fire management interventions may struggle to achieve their remit of fire-free futures. Exploring areas of shared concern among diverse stakeholders might provide an entry point for dialogue toward change. However, appropriate mixes of sanctions and incentives will need to successfully engage these stakeholders, including smallholders, agri-business, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and absentee investors, among others.
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  • Collective forest tenure reforms: Where do we go from here?

Collective forest tenure reforms: Where do we go from here?

Photo by Achmad Ibrahim for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
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Photo by Achmad Ibrahim for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

By Anne Larson, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

The recent World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty, held this past March in Washington D.C., provided a unique opportunity to reflect on collective land tenure reforms not only from a research point of view, but also from that of governments.

The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) organized a South-South Exchange at the Conference, as part of its Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reforms. Seven government officials from Peru, Colombia, Indonesia, Nepal, Uganda and Kenya were invited to participate. These officials represented land offices from Latin America and forestry offices from Africa and Asia.

The Conference speakers and participants provided me with much room for thought on the subject of land tenure reforms, which I will outline below.

Overall, the topic of collective tenure reforms reminded me of that simple chromatography experiment in elementary school where you put black ink on a wet coffee filter and watch the colors of the spectrum emerge and spread.

The black ink represents the idea of forest reforms to recognize or grant rights to communities living in or near forests. Although some developing countries began to address such issues by the early 20th century – such as Mexico, which granted land (including forest land) rights to communities after the 1910-1917 revolution – the ink hit the wet coffee filter in a few key Asian countries (i.e. Nepal and India) in the late 1970s and for most countries after 1980. Others are just beginning to consider community forest rights.

Photo by Manuel Boissière for CIRAD and Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

FIRST-GENERATION QUESTIONS ON REFORM: CONTENT AND EXTENT OF RIGHTS

The result today is that some countries are still grappling with first-generation questions, while others have moved on to the other colors in the spectrum, including second and third-generation challenges.

The former were exemplified at the Conference in the frustrations of those who have been working on these issues for 10 to 20 years or more, who asked, “Haven’t we come further than this by now?”

But some countries are still questioning what types of rights (content, extent, duration), if any, communities should have over forests and/or forestland.

In fact, it is notable that even in the countries that have moved into second and third -generation questions, this first question is still relevant. It concerns new geographical locations, new rights and the relationship between land and forest rights.

In Colombia, as discussed during CIFOR’s Policy Roundtable at the Conference by Andrea Olaya, Principal Advisor to Colombia’s National Land Agency, this refers to new institutions emerging from the recent peace accords, as well as the demand for land from former combatants and displaced peoples in relation to existing rights.

In Indonesia, it refers to the new “asset agrarian reform”, as stated by Pak Hadi Daryanto, Director General for Social Forestry and Environmental Partnership at the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry. These reforms resulted in the return of the first 13,000 hectares of customary land to nine indigenous communities in January of this year.


Ronald Salazar, Director of Agrarian Property and the Rural Cadaster Office at Peru’s Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, pointed out that the distinction between forest rights and land rights in Peru leads to separate laws and government institutions. This is not uncommon among countries, and follows a logic that people in communities may find baffling, or outright oppose. For instance, indigenous activists in Peru are now demanding that their titles recognize “territorial integrity,” covering not only agriculture and pasture, but also forestlands.

This fundamental question about what rights for communities also concerns rollbacks to rights where new demands, or sometimes political and economic constituencies, threaten rights that had already been recognized, such as those behind economic reforms in Peru or Brazil.

SECOND-GENERATION QUESTIONS: TENURE SECURITY AND LIVELIHOODS

The second-generation questions are about rights protection and livelihoods. Formal rollbacks are not the only challenges to tenure security. Even after formal recognition, communities need access to justice if rights are infringed upon or eliminated.

And even secure rights are not enough to secure livelihoods. As one government official said during a private forum: “Why do we have reforms if not also to improve livelihoods?”


At the Policy Roundtable, Krishna Prasad Acharya, Director General of the Department of Forests at Nepal’s Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation, said there are now 20,000 organized groups in Nepal, and forest area has increased from 39 percent to 44 percent, but more still needs to be done to support forest use and management.

At the same event, Gerardo Segura, Senior Natural Resource Specialist at the World Bank, highlighted the importance of removing barriers to communities for forest management.

THIRD-GENERATION QUESTIONS: GENDER AND ELITE CAPTURE

Third-generation questions are focused on problems such as community differentiation, gendered outcomes and how to prevent elite capture at the community level – that is, assuring that livelihood improvements reach those most in need.

At the Policy Roundtable, Dr. Prasad noted that women leaders are emerging in community forestry in Nepal. Bob Kazungo, Senior Forestry Officer at Uganda’s Ministry of Water and Environment, spoke of the importance of affirmative action and a gendered approach.

On other panels, speakers expressed concern that reforms may be detrimental to women’s tenure rights. For example, researchers reported cases where rights were registered to men as household heads, whereas under customary systems both men and women had previously held rights.

Emilio Mugo, Director of the Forest Service at Kenya’s Ministry of Environment and Water, asked: “How do we address community leaders who, on the one hand, serve as custodians, but on the other, play the role of gatekeepers?” This question speaks to institutional strengthening as a way to fight elite capture.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

The invited officials were quick to distinguish themselves as public servants, from the politicians who define policy direction and priorities. Dr. Mary Goretti Kitutu, Ugandan State Minister for the Environment, introduced herself on the Roundtable as “the only politician here” and stressed the importance of packaging information on tenure and linking it to development, in order to reach politicians. Dr. Daryanto highlighted the importance of having the budgets necessary for implementation.

When asked by the audience how officials should “insulate themselves from politics”, Dr. Mugo reminded them, “Everything you touch in natural resources is political.” This underscores the importance of building a community of practice and coalitions for change.

No country has addressed all forest demands from communities, and most still face competing claims or outright opposition to the recognition of collective forest tenure rights.

On the one hand, these three generations of questions suggest that countries are at different places and thus, research for impact needs to prioritize accordingly.


On the other hand, they highlight the importance of South-South exchanges and knowledge sharing. As some countries begin to address the multi-colored spectrum of challenges, mutual learning can suggest ways to address complex issues such as tenure security, livelihoods and gender from the beginning of reform processes, therefore increasing the potential for success.

For more information on this topic, please contact Anne Larson at [email protected].
This research was supported by FAO, IFAD, EC and GEF
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  • Company-community conflict in Indonesia’s industrial plantation sector

Company-community conflict in Indonesia’s industrial plantation sector

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FTA

Authors: Persch-Orth, M.; Mwangi, E.

Key messages

  • Competing land claims are the primary cause of conflict between communities and companies in most industrial tree plantation conflicts.
  • Conflicts manifest in different ways. Communities often conduct physical protests and media campaigns, whereas companies frequently avoid dialogue and enlist the services of security forces to suppress conflict.
  • The involvement of security forces should be regulated. Conflicts where external security personnel were involved had fatalities in 32% of the cases, versus none of the cases where external security personnel were not involved. In cases where violence occurred, the violence was mostly conducted by or directed against security personnel, army and police forces. However, we cannot differentiate between whether they were involved in a conflict already about to escalate, or whether their involvement escalated the conflict into violence.
  • Mediation is widely misinterpreted and poorly implemented. However, efforts are being made by government and non-governmental actors to build capacity in principles and practices of mediation.
  • More effort should be made to support communication between parties in conflict and to offer professional mediation services at an early stage of conflict. For the many conflicts that have already escalated to levels of physical violence, efforts to transform how the conflict is expressed or external intervention to enforce a solution may be most appropriate.
  • While communication between conflicting parties may be supported by government, it should not be mediated by government, as government is in itself an actor in most of the conflicts (as it issues the permits to the land). Ideally, mediation services can be provided by professional mediators who are part of the Impartial Mediators Network or registered under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) or the Chamber of Commerce.
  • Concrete actions that signal the parties’ commitment to ending or de-escalating the conflict are critical.
  • Local activists and community members report that companies that are RSPO members are more easily held accountable. They also respond faster to complaints, even without direct intervention of the RSPO. Most conflicts with fatalities (67%) occurred on plantations that were not associated with an international sustainability initiative such as RSPO or FSC.

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