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New online platform promotes collaboration in the Congo Basin

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Aerial view of the Congo River. Photo by A. Gonzalez/CIFOR

To address the duplication of initiatives in the Congo Basin, the Central African Forest Observatory (OFAC) – whose mission is to provide data to decision makers so they can create evidence-based policies – recently launched an interactive project monitoring platform. The online tool enables access to data and projects in the region, to promote collaboration and put an end to wasted resources.

Conservation of the Congo Basin forests is a critical, but complex undertaking. This massive tropical forest block, the world’s second largest, covers over 200 million hectares and spreads across six countries in Central Africa.

It is home to some of the world’s most critically endangered animals, such as lowland gorillas, as well as over 10,000 endemic tropical plant species.

It also provides livelihoods to 60 million people, who depend on forest resources for food, energy, and jobs – a significant economic contribution in one of the world’s least developed regions. And as if this was not enough, it stores around 46 billion metric tons of carbon, benefitting the whole planet facing climate change.

The importance of this ecosystem means that a multitude of actors, including donors, implementing agencies, national governments, and local organizations, are simultaneously carrying out conservation and development efforts on the ground.

While international interest, availability of funds, and political will are certainly good news, duplications of initiatives do happen. Information gaps and a lack of overarching coordination stand in the way of achieving environmental and development objectives.

“In the last two decades, the region has seen an exponential increase in the number of actors in the forest-environment sector,” explained Quentin Jungers, OFAC’s technical advisor, who leads the IT team behind the platform.

“The new project monitoring platform answers calls for better coordination at the regional and national levels. It will allow organizations and governments to share information, promote collaborations, and ensure harmonization.”

Read also: Can DRC’s community forests alleviate poverty?

A woman carries vegetables in Yangole, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR

A call for a regional approach

Better coordination has long been part of the Congo Basin conservation agenda. In 1999, the Central Africa Forest Commission (COMIFAC), became the birth-child of all ten Central African countries; its mandate to oversee the sustainable management and conservation of the Congo Basin’s forest ecosystems.

In 2005, the finalizing of a first Convergence Plan provided a common strategy for the COMIFAC Member States and international partners to reach sustainable goals.

OFAC officially became part of COMIFAC in 2011, leading to the development of an integrated monitoring and evaluation system just a few years later.

“There are so many initiatives to support the sustainable management of Central Africa’s forests, that sometimes it is difficult for COMIFAC to have a clear vision of all the efforts that contribute to the implementation of our Convergence Plan,” explained Vincent Medjibe, OFAC coordinator at COMIFAC. “We expect this platform to give us an accurate overview of what is happening on the ground”.

Read also: Observatory addresses urgent need to monitor forests in East Africa

Digital solutions

The development of the project monitoring platform, the first of its kind in Central Africa, began in 2015 with a basic repository and took over 8 months of intense work to convert into an analytical platform, which was finally ready last year.

“We started by developing a basic database with experts, projects, and capacity building initiatives in the fields of environment and climate change, sustainable management of natural resources, and conservation,” said Donald Djossi, programmer at OFAC. Though he says the real technical challenge was to find the “interconnections” of the projects, so as to provide a comprehensive cross-view of all initiatives.

“Our goal was that all kinds of users, tech-savvy or not, could benefit from it,” added Jungers. Appetite for the platform is clear. Though it was only launched a couple of months ago, it already has an average of 60 users per week.

Users can benefit from a directory and an interactive map showing geolocation and explanation of each initiative, an analysis tab that examines the current state of projects, as well as a report generation tool.

People gather outside the parish of Notre Dame de l’Assomption in Yangambi, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR

Learn more: Go to the project monitoring platform website 

Contributions needed

This platform is a collaborative initiative, and its success will depend on the organizations’ will to share their projects’ information. Until now, over 651 projects have already been submitted, out of which 508 have been validated and published, a significant amount considering that they account for 5 billion euros of funding.

To contribute, it is first necessary to create a user account. This gives organizations access to a private module. Then they can fill out a form for each project. “That’s all is needed,” said Djossi.

After a project is submitted, OFAC’s team reviews the form to ensure that all information is accurate and to avoid duplications. “We need to go through this validation process to ensure that our platform is a reliable source,” explained Jungers.

To encourage organizations to feed the platform, with their user account they also get access to a free monitoring tool that can help them track the progress of their projects. “They can have a report with one click”, said Djossi.

The next step for OFAC is to use the information on this platform to produce a regional publication called “The State of the Projects”, expected in 2020. As a complementary instrument, it will analyze the impact of projects in the Congo Basin in the last 15 years, looking to better integrate them into national and regional environment policies.

“The State of the Projects will help regional policymakers understand what has been done to conserve Central Africa’s forests, and what still needs to be done,” concluded Jungers.

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

This research was supported by the RIOFAC,  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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  • 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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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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  • Why peatlands, and why now?

Why peatlands, and why now?

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Peatlands are increasingly playing a bigger role in forest conservation thanks to their extraordinary proficiency at carbon sequestration.

In November the Center for International Forestry Research’s (CIFOR) Forests News reported that the ‘bogs’ had finally been given the spotlight. The newly established International Tropical Peatlands Center (ITPC) is set to open its doors in 2019, to bring ‘researchers, governments, civil society and other stakeholders together to ensure the conservation and sustainable management of peatlands throughout Southeast Asia, the Congo Basin and Peru’.

Here, three scientists from CIFOR – a coordinating partner of the ITPC and longtime peatlands analysist – explain ‘why peatlands, and why now.’

Answers have been written in sic, though minor amendments have been made for easy reading.

Why are peatlands important for biofuel and bioenergy?

Himlal Baral: Peatlands provide a wide range of ecosystem goods and services- for example, climate regulation and water cycling. And they are a great source of biodiversity, as well as ecosystem goods- such as timber and nontimber products, including bioenergy. The biomass produced peatlands can be converted into sustainable energy production. That’s why it’s getting attention as bioenergy.

What are you working on right now?

HB: We are doing quite a few and different projects- but one of the projects is about bioenergy production potential in a variety of landscapes, including peatlands. We are looking at how peatlands can be utilized for sustainable biomass production without damaging their nature and characteristics. The technique is called paludiculture. It involves growing trees or growing things on wetlands conditions, it is an excellent example to utilize peatlands. We are currently developing, testing a wide variety of tree species that can produce bioenergy from peatlands.

Why is the study of peatlands important?

HB: Peatlands are extremely important to ecosystems. They are home to endangered species, rare species, such as orangutans. They are great sequesters of carbon and they provide livelihood opportunities for millions of people living on and around peatlands. So, they are not only for people, but also for nature.

Can you tell us what you’re working on right now?

Dede Rohadi: In leading this project I work with local partners, and our main focus is to understand how the community is using and managing the peatlands. We are trying to identify what other options there are in developing livelihoods other than oil palm, because the problem is it seems that everybody goes into the oil palm business, and we understand there are a lot of negative impacts to the environment because of this expansion. So, we’re trying to develop what are the other options that are more in line with peatland conservation strategies.

What is the relationship between humans and peatlands?

DR: I think it is interesting to understand the behavior of people, especially the farmers who are living around the area. For example, we can understand why the people are interested in expanding the oil palm plantations. Previously they used the peatland for growing paddy, silviculture, lots of fruits on their lands- but it seems because of the market, they turn to oil palm plantations.

Also, some people are selling their lands to other people for oil palm expansion. There is a lot of industry there and the market is good, so people are dragged in because they feel comfortable with oil palm as they have secure income from it. But actually, there are a lot of other commodities that may be prospective for them to develop. But, there are some questions. For example, we need to provide the market channel and also we need to provide them with the knowledge and the skills on how to use or develop these alternative products. That’s what my project is doing.

What are some alternatives?

DR: For example, we can develop on farm-based and off-farm-based options. On farm-based, for example, some commodities such as pineapple. Pineapples grow well in the peatlands and the peatlands don’t need to be drained. In fact some of the people also now plant them, and they have a good market. But, the question is if more people grow this pineapple what will be the market? If the market is saturated then that is an important question for us to develop. And coconut, for example. In one village coconut has been planted by people and up until now they’re still planting coconuts and it has been the main source of their livelihoods. And betel nuts too.

We can also develop off-farm activities such as honeybees, because the people in the area are still collecting wild honey. It’s a good product, and the market is there, but they need to improve the market channel. They need to improve, for example, the quality of the honey and how to also not only collect the honey but also cultivate the honey in the home garden. Because there are different honeys- we can provide them with the knowledge.

Another product is fish, for example. A lot of people are living around the river, which has a high potential for fish industry. Up until now it has not been used optimally- so we can provide the technology for example, on how to process fish into fish products, and add value to their products.

Why did you get into forestry?

Herry Purnomo: I got into forestry first, because I love nature and lots of things related to nature I would like to contribute to. Secondly, forests and forestry matter to our lives, to the sustainability of this planet. Forests can contribute to the economy of this country [Indonesia]. For example, timber production, as well as ecosystem services such as ecotourism, as well as providing lots of benefits to people and local communities.

Can you tell us about your peatlands work?

HP: Now I’m working on a community-based fire prevention and peatland restoration in Riau province in Indonesia. We call this ‘participatory action research’. We try to work with the local community to understand the behavior of peatlands, to reduce the fire evidence, as well as to restore the degraded land.

So the community is not only the object of our work, but also the subject of restoring peatlands. It’s a 15-month project and very interesting actually to understand the peatlands, as well as transforming the local livelihood into more peatland-friendly. We use the theory of change for the current situation – in which people are likely to use fire fir agriculture and peatland, to reduce the fire as well as improve the livelihood of the people there. We’re funded by Temasak and the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise from Singapore.

Why is the study of peatlands important?

HP: Firstly, the fire in 2015- let’s call it a disaster because it produced a lot of toxic haze and people in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in particular suffered from the burning of the peatlands and forests.

So now we try to do research and science enquiry to provide more sustainable livelihoods by not only investigating, but by providing evidence and an action arena that communities as well as government can do – peatland management without fire. It’s not easy because using fire is common for local communities, but we provide evidence that a community can get benefits by not using fire, but more sustainable agriculture. We believe that good peatland management will happen in Riau in this way.

By Christi Hang, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

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

This research was supported by Temasak and the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise.

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  • Are community forests a viable model for the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Are community forests a viable model for the Democratic Republic of Congo?

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Since the second half of the 2000s, several options for implementing community-based forest management in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), like the local community forest concession (LCFC), have been discussed in the country’s technical and political circles. Proposals and pilot testing have increased in the last five years, but the funding of initiatives is often proposed for divergent purposes and taking different approaches. We reviewed current experiences in the Eastern province of the DRC and found that nobody has carried out an estimation of the financial returns of the business models they drew up for/with the communities involved. We therefore conducted a financial feasibility analysis for two case studies, estimating the costs of developing/implementing activities and the benefits expected for the communities within the next five years. Three main conclusions were drawn from the analysis: (1) most activities conducted under the LCFC model deal with rural development, and not with forestry operations per se; (2) several forestry activities such as biodiversity conservation or carbon sequestration are not detailed in the management documents and appear to have little legitimacy for local populations; (3) the two LCFCs show a negative financial performance because the inception and implementation costs are substantially higher than the medium-term profits. Community forestry is unlikely to develop in the DRC unless local people are guaranteed that it will contribute to improving their livelihoods, notably their financial and physical capital. This requires that LCFC initiatives focus on actual productive uses of forest resources, which financial performance is systematically assessed ex ante. A simplification of the legal constraints is also needed to reduce the cost of creating and managing a LCFC.

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  • Peatlands: From marginal lands to essential ecosystem

Peatlands: From marginal lands to essential ecosystem

Birds perch among mangroves in North Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by M. Edliadi/CIFOR
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If climate change is a global issue, then peatlands are too.

Peatlands, natural areas of the accumulated decayed plant material known as peat, have huge importance as carbon sinks, making them key in limiting global warming. Given this corresponding significance for climate targets, preserving intact peatland and restoring degraded areas are increasingly being recognized as international issues.

A new International Tropical Peatland Center (ITPC) is aiming to become a one-stop shop for countries that encompass tropical peatlands, providing research and knowledge to enable informed decisions on sustainable management of the areas. Its interim secretariat is to be based in Bogor, Indonesia, ahead of the formation of the center itself in the coming year.

“Tropical peatlands are found in more than 80 countries, yet they remain among the least understood and monitored ecosystems in the world, storing 30-40% of global soil carbon deposits, on only 3% of the world’s land surface,” Indonesia’s Minister of Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, said during the center’s launch event on Oct. 30, adding that it was crucial to preserve them from destruction and degradation given their importance in mitigating climate change.

Representatives of the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – both home to extensive areas of tropical peatland – joined together with Indonesia at the event to push forward a sustainable peatland agenda.

Throughout the day’s discussions, several speakers from government, international organizations and research institutions – including the ITPC’s coordinating partners the Indonesian Environment and Forestry Ministry, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), UN Environment Programme, and the Food and Agriculture of the United Nations – addressed the importance of international collaboration and mutual learning, particularly between countries in the global South.

Speakers also raised capacity strengthening at all levels, as well as community engagement and alternative livelihoods among people currently living on peatland, as key points in implementing sustainable peatland management.

Read also: Hanging in the balance: Preservation, restoration and sustainable management in Indonesian peatlands

Peatland is pictured in Peru. Photo by Rupesh Bhomia/CIFOR

Speaking during a high-level panel on national forest policy and peatland management, Robert Nasi, the Director General of CIFOR – which is the lead center of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) – emphasized the importance of bringing economics into peatland preservation and restoration, stating: “We have absolutely to conserve the peatlands that have been so far preserved […] because it is much more costly to restore than to conserve.”

“What we have now in Indonesia is a result of a decision that was taken 40 years ago to open the peatlands for industrial exploitation,” Nasi added.

Separately, Minister Siti spoke in more detail about Indonesia’s peatland management experience, for which it has enjoyed international recognition in recent years. According to Minister Siti, the country’s experience in managing its over 15 million hectares of peatlands began early last century, when local tribes such as those in Kalimantan managed peatlands in a sustainable manner. Following that was the period of extensive peatland utilization beginning in the 1970s, which saw timber plantations, large-scale agriculture and draining that degraded significant areas.

The present was a “corrective era”, Minister Siti said. Since severe fires and haze in 2015 that focused the world’s gaze on the region’s peatlands, Indonesia has enacted a peatland restoration agency, strengthened a moratorium on new licenses, improved primary forest, and overseen strict enforcement of its policies. It is now also instrumental in the establishment of the ITPC.

A researcher measures tree diameter in a tropical peat swamp forest. Photo by Sigit Deni Sasmito/CIFOR

It is this experience that could benefit countries such as the Republic of the Congo and the DRC, following the discovery in recent years of the world’s biggest single area of peatland in the Congo Basin.

Following a panel discussion on best practices in Indonesian peatlands, including lessons learned, opportunities and challenges, CIFOR Senior Scientist Daniel Murdiyarso – whose work also forms part of FTA – moderated the day’s final panel on international collaboration and experience in peatlands.

Read also: New map reveals more peat in the tropics

During the session, in a pertinent description of community engagement, CIFOR researcher Dede Rohadi outlined the Haze-Free Sustainable Livelihoods project, which is also part of CIFOR’s work on peatlands that links to FTA. The project itself is designed by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and complements a bigger project on the sustainable management of peatland ecosystems in Indonesia, led by the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

A major objective of Haze-Free Sustainable Livelihoods, an action-research project in Riau province, is to find a way to involve communities in peat conservation, Rohadi said. This would help to improve community members’ livelihoods while also remaining in line with peatland conservation strategies.

Communities are an important actor in peatland management, he emphasized, and policies or interventions could fail if the constraints and objectives of communities were ignored. Researchers and decisionmakers must understand community behavior when designing interventions and writing regulations, he added.

In Riau, some communities historically used fire for clearing land, but this did not result in wildfire because at that time the peatland was still wet. Coconut, betel nut and pineapple are among possible alternatives to the oil palm that is often associated with peatland draining, if they can be made adequately financially attractive.

In addition to this action research, CIFOR is also carrying out biophysical research in five of the seven Indonesian provinces currently targeted for restoration efforts, Murdiyarso said, adding that a special issue on peatland challenges containing 12 papers was set to be published soon.

In the past, Indonesia’s peatlands were described as marginal lands, Murdiyarso said. However, they are now considered to be an essential ecosystem. “Now there is a lot of hope when we are talking about peatlands and sustainable development of peatlands,” he added.

From local community livelihoods to global emissions targets, the launch of the ITPC looks set to place peatlands at the forefront of climate discussions.

Read also: Peat fires and toxic haze: The power of perception

By Hannah Maddison-Harris, FTA Communication and Editorial Coordinator.

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  • Can the production of wild forest foods be sustained in timber concessions?

Can the production of wild forest foods be sustained in timber concessions?

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Can the production of wild forest foods be sustained in timber concessions? Logging and the availability of edible caterpillars hosted by sapelli (Entandrophragma cylindricum) and tali (Erythrophleum suaveolens) trees in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Sapelli (Entandrophragma cylindricum) and tali (Erythrophleum suaveolens) are among the most important timber species harvested from Congo Basin forests. They also host edible caterpillars, Imbrasia oyemensis and Cirina forda, respectively, which are important to the nutrition and income of rural and urban populations. This study evaluated the density of these tree species within a 10 km radius around each of 4 villages and in the 2012 annual cutting areas of two timber concessions in the region of Kisangani (DRC). Sapelli and tali trees ≥20 cm dbh and their stumps were identified and measured on 21 five ha plots around each village and 20 five ha plots on each concession. Around villages and on concessions, sapelli trees occurred at densities of 0.048 ± 0.008 harvestable trees (≥80 cm dbh) ha −1 and 0.135 ± 0.019 precommercial trees ha −1. Harvestable tali trees (≥60 cm dbh) were seven times more abundant at 0.347 ± 0.032 ha −1, while pre-commercial tali trees occurred at densities of 0.329 ± 0.033 trees ha −1. Between 25% and 40% of the harvestable sapelli trees had been logged as compared to < 3% of the harvestable tali trees. Production per tree, derived from another study, was extrapolated to estimate caterpillar yields on a half circle of 15,700 ha within 10 km of villages, using these estimates of tree densities. Depending on the village, yields were estimated as 11.6–34.5 Mg year −1 of I. oyemensis from sapelli trees, and 65.8–80.9 Mg year −1 of C. forda from tali trees, an average of 0.74–2.2 kg ha −1 year and 4.2–5.2 kg ha −1 year, fresh weight, respectively (0.23–0.68 kg ha −1 year −1 and 1.3–1.6 kg ha −1 year −1, dry weight, respectively). Harvestable trees yielded more caterpillars, providing most of the C. forda caterpillars. However, because harvestable sapelli trees occurred at low densities, the bulk of I. oyemensis caterpillar production would be hosted on precommercial trees. Logging practices that reject poorly formed or hollow trees and guidelines that call for high minimum diameter limits and retention of seed trees or prohibit logging on slopes or riparian zones, safeguard edible caterpillar production. Multiple resource management for multiple stakeholders would require more deliberate planning and management approaches based on negotiations with local communities and approaches like setting aside collection zones or collection trees that would be protected from logging.

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  • Beyond timber: balancing demands for tree resources between concessionaires and villagers

Beyond timber: balancing demands for tree resources between concessionaires and villagers

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Extensive areas of the Congo Basin forest are allocated to timber concessionaires. These forests also harbour and support village populations, including indigenous Baka people, who depend on forest foods obtained directly from trees (fruits, oils and caterpillars). Most food-producing tree species are harvested by concessionaires for timber. We documented the availability and abundance of three food tree species around four villages and in two neighboring timber concessions in Cameroon. Data was used to determine the importance of timber concessions as sources of food for local people to provide a foundation for governance arrangements that consider local needs for foods from timber trees. Discussions with concessionaires revealed that some of them have voluntarily refrained from extracting timber species of interest to villagers for their nontimber products. This is either to avoid conflict with villagers, or because regulations have been promulgated to safeguard these resources. The interplay between internal village dynamics, regulations and their implementation by forest guards, and the actions of timber concessions create a complex arena for addressing rights to forest resources. This paper provides information on the accessibility and availability of multiple use timber species as a foundation for negotiations and governance arrangements between concessionaires and local communities.

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  • Advancing equity and inclusiveness in forest management and certification

Advancing equity and inclusiveness in forest management and certification

A household in Bolozo, Republic of Congo. Photo by E. Guillaume/CIFOR
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A group of women in Egaba, Republic of Congo. Photo by E. Guillaume/CIFOR

Decision-making mechanisms solely based on externally determined rules could make meaningful involvement of women and marginalized groups difficult.

Paving the way for increased and more meaningful participation of women and marginalized groups in managing forests is a requisite investment in achieving more cohesive and efficient resources governance in the Republic of the Congo. The way that forests are successfully managed depends on the capacity of men and women to come together and collaborate.

Furthermore, both men and women have a right to engage in the public arena, either directly or through legitimate representatives. This is a fundamental aspect of good governance.

Another aspect is the right to be fully informed and organized, including the right to voice their concerns for the best interests of their society in any process that will eventually affect them, their clans and communities. The capacity for men and women to actively take part in the public affairs of their communities is thus essential to achieve cohesion and successful resources management outcomes.

What sparked my interest to examine the level of inclusiveness in decision-making mechanisms in a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified and a non-certified forest management unit (UFA) in the north of the Republic of the Congo — research that was supported by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) — was to understand if externally induced rules of forest governance like the FSC standard had led to meaningful and effective participation of women and marginalized groups at the village level.

Read also: Trees for food security in Eastern Africa

View of the River Congo. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR

However, at the time of the study, requirements for gender equality and equity did not exist in the FSC standards. Therefore, it is important to note that this study is not simply a box-ticking exercise. Instead, our research focused on examining forest management decision-making mechanisms in four villages, and the perceived barriers to women’s participation in decision-making.

For several weeks, we conducted field focus group discussions and interviews in four villages within the two distinct UFAs of Pokola and Tala-Tala, in Sangha department, in the north of the Republic of the Congo.


Our first finding was that women and the Baka people are underrepresented in forest-related decision-making processes.

This has a significant impact on their capacity to voice their concerns and preferences, as well as to develop self-confidence and public speaking skills. Secondly, even when they are represented through a representative or a leader, their voices don’t always count. It counts when there are internally driven participation mechanisms in which women and the Baka people hold a critical or strategic role within their community.

Also, findings revealed that women and men of the villages in the non-certified UFA are actively engaged in local groups and internal decision-making mechanisms.

“Women are often too busy with domestic chores to attend our meetings, and even when they attend, they do not speak up,” said the Council President of Ouésso.

By contrast, the villages of the certified UFA are characterized by externally-induced processes monopolized by Bantu men, social and ethnic conflict, lack of collective action and cultural norms that are difficult to challenge.

Our research suggested that an internally driven community group system, with members who share a common goal of sustainable development, forest management or another interest, can be a successful engine for cohesion and collective action that is necessary for certification.

Increasing women’s representation in forest management committees alone may not be sufficient to encourage full and influential female participation, since such a positive discriminatory instrument does not directly address deeply entrenched circumstances, attitudes or psychological barriers to participation.

Also, quotas do not guarantee that elected women will effectively promote other women’s interests, and it is unclear what the common benefit might be without a strong women’s movement as witnessed in the villages of the non-certified UFA.

A household in Bolozo, Republic of Congo. Photo by E. Guillaume/CIFOR


If equity and inclusiveness can be improved through the way that forests are managed, it is important to understand that men, women, boys and girls experience forests and resources differently depending on their background.

Ask yourself about your own identity. No individual can be defined by his or her gender alone — one must also consider his or her ethnic background, education, age, marital status, social status, job, etc. All these diverse factors of one’s identity affect who one is and his or her relationships with others. This is why the best approach to capture the unique experience of men, women, boys and girls in forest societies should be multidimensional.

At the policy level, this means addressing the internal and external barriers faced by women and marginalized groups, as well as their capacity for agency. This would require a multi-level approach, encouraging the development of internally driven initiatives to challenge the established barriers to meet the needs of externally driven forest management processes.

This way, endogeneity is maximized to meet the exogenous needs of the FSC mechanisms. Such initiatives could enhance the collective and individual capacity for participation, cooperation and eventually leadership by providing a safe interface for women to gain experience before taking on more active roles in externally driven mixed-gender groups like the Local Development Fund and other committees.

Additionally, creating or reinforcing the establishment of collaborative initiatives, such as women’s associations, self-help groups or cooperatives that value women’s skills and experiences (i.e. handicrafts, backyard poultry, local forest products, etc.), could be an effective way to foster a sense of ownership and collective efforts as demonstrated by our recent study.

Investing in participation is a necessary step to achieving global gender equality and the democratic governance of forests.

Further research is required to consider the evolution of the status of women and marginalized groups prior to and after certification. Questions regarding the need for endogenous approaches to increase participation are likely to arise in the future.

Powerful standards like the FSC, which have already achieved great social advancement, will need a robust and enhanced approach toward learning about the gender and diversity aspects and needs of forest certification.

Such developments imply a potentially important role for gender-related commitments across the FSC policies, standards and criteria, as well as in the Congolese forest sector, particularly since the national government has pledged its commitment to international gender-related standards and regulations.

By Eulalie Guillaume, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Eulalie Guillaume at [email protected] or Esther Mwangi at [email protected].

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

This research was supported by the Department for International Development (DFID).

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  • Peatlands: The view from space

Peatlands: The view from space

The Congo River is pictured in Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
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The sky is seen above the forest canopy after logging in the Unamat forest, Madre de Dios, Peru. Photo by Marco Simola/CIFOR

How can satellites help map and monitor critical peat landscapes?

Dense, damp and often remote, tropical peatlands are notoriously difficult to map and monitor on the ground. So how about from space?

New methods using satellite data are finding increasing success in assessing the extent, distribution and even the volume of peatlands around the world, as well as monitoring threats to their sustainable management.

Some of the latest developments in this area were presented by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and partners at a side event during the UNFCCC Bonn Climate Change Conference held in Germany from May 8-18.

The findings continue to challenge widely-held assumptions about where peat is located, how much of it is out there, and how it can be conserved and sustainably managed to contribute to efforts on global climate change mitigation and adaptation.


Frank Martin Seifert from the European Space Agency (ESA), a cohost of the side event in Bonn, shared the ongoing work of the European Copernicus satellite program, which currently operates a fleet of dedicated satellites for environment and civil security monitoring.

Five of the satellites, known as ‘Sentinels’, are already in orbit, imaging the surface of the Earth. The resulting data are available for free and open access by anyone, anywhere in the world.

But what about peat, which mainly lies below the Earth’s surface? Can a satellite detect that?

Watch: More peat in the tropics: Implications for climate change

“Most peat is not directly visible from space,” Seifert says. “But you can still derive a lot of the characteristics of peatlands, and any critical changes, from satellite images.”

Two of the Sentinels are particularly useful for mapping wetlands and peatlands, Seifert says. Sentinel-1 is a radar mission with cloud-penetrating, night-and-day imaging capability, while Sentinel-2, the high-resolution optical mission of the Copernicus program, can map the entire land surface of the Earth in a matter of days.

Together, these two satellites can detect extent, moisture and water levels of wetlands and peatlands, as well as threats to their environmental integrity, such as land conversion for agriculture and urban developments, logging in swamp forests, degradation and damage caused by fires.

As global efforts move toward conservation and restoration of peatlands, the data will also be useful for monitoring, reporting and verifying successes on the ground.

The Congo River is pictured in Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR


As part of the Global Peatlands Initiative (GPI) launched at the 2016 Global Landscapes Forum in Marrakesh, ESA is developing and demonstrating methodologies for mapping and monitoring peatlands globally, and deriving best practices for use in the assessment of peatlands.

Demonstrations will take place in GPI’s three pilot areas — Indonesia, the Congo Basin and Peru — and further areas in the temperate and boreal zone. The findings will be useful for local, national and global efforts to conserve, manage and restore peatlands, as well as to tackle climate change.

In Indonesia, for example, satellite data can support ongoing efforts to better manage the country’s critical peatlands.

At the local level, peatlands in Indonesia support livelihoods and regulate essential ecosystem services. But draining, burning and conversion of peatlands for agriculture and other purposes is threatening the sustainability of the relationship between peat and people. Conversion and burning of peatlands are also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, posing an increased threat of climate change.

Read also: Eyes on the livelihoods of peatland communities

The national government has responded by forming a Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG). But this body will need solid data to carry out its mandate and track its progress. So where will it find the information it needs?

“Satellite data has the advantage of providing a panoptic overview of an area, as well as indicators of threats,” Seifert says. “This makes it easier to control; easier to see what’s happening.”

The Sentinel-1 satellite was able to pick up areas burned by forest fires in Indonesia during the El Niño crisis of 2015. By combining this data with international peat inventories and national data on forest cover, researchers were able to calculate an estimate of the total greenhouse gas emissions from the fires.

The issues involved in managing Indonesia’s peatlands were further discussed in a new infobrief from CIFOR shared at the side event in Bonn.


Combined with ground data and modelling, satellites can help to ensure consistency and transparency of data, enabling international comparisons. ESA is also sensitive to the demands of countries to manage their own resources using their own data, and making their own assessments.

The Copernicus satellite data is available for free and open access, but capacity is needed to interpret and analyze it. Data analysis toolboxes can help build this capacity – for example, a new toolbox will be released later this year on wetland inventories and habitat mapping in Africa, to manage wetlands, assess threats and detect changes.

CIFOR and partners have also begun to develop data toolboxes, such as the Global Wetlands map, the CarboScen land-use scenario simulator and the Indonesia Peatland Network Toolbox, for managing peatlands in relation to climate change.

But even with these advanced tools at hand, further research will always be needed at the ground level to see how dynamics play out in the landscape.

“The challenge is how to bring these approaches together,” Seifert says.

By Catriona Croft-Cusworth, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Daniel Murdiyarso at [email protected].

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

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  • Partnership increases number of academically trained foresters in DR Congo from 6 to 160 in just ten years

Partnership increases number of academically trained foresters in DR Congo from 6 to 160 in just ten years

The DR Congo has the second largest tropical forest area in the world. Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
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003720One of the successful academic partnerships under the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) is the collaboration with the University of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). As recent as 2005, the DRC counted just six people with an educational qualification higher than a Bachelor’s degree in forestry and related disciplines who were actively involved in research. We asked Christian Amani, a former student from DRC who now works as a scientific adviser for the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), to tell us about the partnership from his perspective.

How did the collaboration between Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the University of Kisangani come about?

The collaboration between CIFOR and the University of Kisangani dates back to the years 2006-2007. The momentum for this collaboration came from a survey conducted by CIFOR and its partners including the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). This survey aimed to assess the national forestry skills in a country that is home to the second largest rainforest in the world with some 86 million hectares: DR Congo.

Of course, that survey revealed the country urgently needed to invest in capacity building in order to achieve sustainable management of its forests. This is how the capacity development by CIFOR started.

The University of Kisangani was selected to harbour these programs based on its experience in training scientists in the field of Biology and its strategic location within the Central Congo Basin.

The DR Congo has the second largest tropical forest area in the world. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
The DR Congo has the second largest tropical forest area in the world. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

How has the partnership evolved since 2011 when FTA started?

Since the beginning of the partnership, nearly 160 Congolese students have successfully attended the capacity development program, training people at both Master’s and PhD levels. Candidates have to go through a selection process, which is launched nationwide in the media and other available communication channels.

The very first project (REAFOR) from 2007 to 2010 mainly focused on agricultural and forestry researchers and trained 35 MSc students and 12 PhD students. This was then perceived as a historical achievement in my country. Under the second project (REFORCO) from 2009 to 2013, focused on forestry research, 39 students received a MSc degree and 18 were awarded PhDs.

The ongoing Forests and Climate Change in Congo (FCCC) started in 2012, funded by the EU’s Global Climate Change Alliance, and will end in December 2016. Overall 44 MSc and 11 PhD students were enrolled in the program.

Also read: A new generation of forest managers in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The bulk of the trained students is recruited by Congolese universities and other national institutions that focus on scientific research. They did this in order to pass on the knowledge they’ve acquired to the next generation of forestry students.

The ongoing FCCC project is a bit different from the previous two capacity development programs because its activities go beyond the central Congo Basin and the University of Kisangani. It has a second component with activities in the Virunga National Park’s landscape.

Many partners, including the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN), CIRAD, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Virunga Foundation, work together in order to help restore the highly degraded lands within the Park and plant trees outside the Park. The goal is to mitigate the pressure on the Park in this densely populated area where access to energy is a major issue.

One of the PhD students, Prosper Sabongo is measuring a Funtunia Africana in the Forest Reserve near the village of Masako, Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
One of the PhD students, Prosper Sabongo is measuring a Funtunia Africana in the Forest Reserve near the village of Masako, Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

What is the most important achievement of the partnership?

Thanks to the project, the number of Congolese scientists has increased significantly. Many of the candidates are still very young which makes me very hopeful for the future. Training programs are of high quality and meet international standards given that many international scientists are involved in teaching and supervising research.

For the first time in the academic history of the country, we are able to get highly qualified scientists with a much broader and updated view of the forestry sector, which was previously considered functioning as a silo. These newly trained scientists bring to the country a holistic approach, combining both biophysical research and social sciences, thanks to the two major fields of studies: “Man and the Forest” and “Forest and the Environment”.

The current FCCC project helped bring major improvements to the university program by also reforming the curricula.

Firstly, the university introduced an approach called teaching binome systems, which means that, whenever possible, two teachers, an international expert and a Congolese counterpart, were involved in a given course in order to reinforce collaboration.

Secondly, the students received additional English classes and annual Science Week sessions to complement the formal courses. The teaching staff at the University of Kisangani are offered opportunities to attend international conferences and training courses worldwide.

And, to help reach sustainability, the university infrastructure was upgraded by rehabilitating existing and building new classrooms, by securing electricity supply, and improving the ICT systems including the local electronic library.

Click to read: Forests in post-conflict Democratic Republic of Congo: analysis of a priority agenda
Click to read: Forests in post-conflict Democratic Republic of Congo: analysis of a priority agenda

What is your own story in this?

I was one of the people who were granted a PhD scholarship under the very first CIFOR project in DR Congo. The grant allowed me to conduct my PhD research in some forests located in the central Congo Basin where I tried to understand the impact of edaphic heterogeneity on vegetation features in those ecosystems.

At the end my PhD program in Brussels, Belgium, I was fortunate to maintain contacts with some of the CIFOR scientists and was therefore invited to teach in the MSc courses during the second CIFOR project REFORCO at the University of Kisangani.

In 2013, I applied for a scientific adviser position at CIFOR under the FCCC project and got the job. Apart from teaching at the ongoing Master’s program and co-supervising MSc and PhD students at the University of Kisangani, my position allows me to interact with research partners working in the Virunga National Park’s landscape, which again inspires my teaching at the university.

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