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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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  • Collecting gender-disaggregated data, and what to do with it 

Collecting gender-disaggregated data, and what to do with it 

A man holds sirih leaf in Indonesia. Photo by I. Cooke Vieira/CIFOR
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A man holds sirih leaf in Indonesia. Photo by I. Cooke Vieira/CIFOR

Collecting robust sex-disaggregated data on forests and climate is one thing, but analyzing it and making it available to the right players is another.

Under the umbrella of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the 48th session of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI 48) took place from April 30 to May 10, 2018, in Bonn, Germany.

An in-session workshop at SBI 48, focused on differentiated impacts of climate change and gender-responsive climate policy and action, featured a number of prominent speakers, including CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) gender equality and social inclusion team member Markus Ihalainen, who is also a gender researcher at FTA’s lead center, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

The workshop was mandated in Marrakech as an element of the extended and enhanced Lima work program on gender, SBI 48 chair Emmanuel Dlamini stated in opening the workshop. The topic of the workshop was elaborated last year, in a decision that established the first gender action plan under the UNFCCC, he added.

In the workshop’s first panel discussion, speakers addressed the why and how of sex-disaggregated data in identifying differentiated impacts and informing climate policy and action. Collectively, the discussions aimed to help bring to life the gender action plan, with Ihalainen speaking specifically on sex-disaggregated data in relation to policy and action on REDD+, forests, trees and agroforestry.

Ihalainen’s presentation, based on a submission from CIFOR that was made on behalf of FTA and in partnership with colleagues from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and Bioversity International, explained by means of background that the agriculture, forestry and other land uses sector (AFOLU) is responsible for roughly a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, half of which results from deforestation and forest degradation, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In light of this, Ihalainen stated, forest- and tree-based mitigation action holds a lot of potential, but the ecosystem services provided by forests are also critical for adaptation and for reducing social vulnerability – such as by providing safety nets to communities if crops fail, offering protection against extreme weather, regulating water flows, and enhancing soil nutrient retention.

Data shows a clear division of labor in terms of ‘who does what?’, Ihalainen explained, regarding the links between gender, climate change and forest- and tree-based landscapes. This can translate to gender-differentiated perceptions and knowledge in terms of natural resources or climate change.

“Just like in the agricultural sector, there are rampant inequalities in access and control over productive assets, including land, trees, credit, information and extension services,” he said. “As well as inequalities in decision-making power.”

A couple goes fishing in Indonesia. Photo by I. Cooke Vieira/CIFOR

These inequalities result in differentiated vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities. Research illustrates that in order to ensure programmatic interventions reach both women and men:

  • Gender constraints regarding time use, resources and labor need to be considered.
  • We need to move beyond male and female binaries and collect and analyze more socially disaggregated data on vulnerabilities.
  • We need to understand that gender relations are dynamic, and change over time.
  • We need continuous efforts to collect and analyze data to understand how gender relations are affected by climate change or responses to it.

So how can sex-disaggregated data support policy and action in the forest sector?

“In looking at the forest sector, we can see that gender considerations have largely been absent in policymaking,” said Ihalainen, nothing a lack of systematic data, especially at national levels.

Many climate policies and programs in AFOLU aim to change land-use practices, for example with climate-smart agriculture, large-scale agroforestry, or land and forest restoration. These policies are often informed by a cost-benefit analysis at either community or farmer level.

“The logic is that costs incurred by communities or farming households due to this land-use change should be outweighed by immediate or future benefits, to incentivize land-use change,” said Ihalainen.

“But what’s often overlooked is that households are made up of many different members who might experience different costs or benefits from these changes. In order to accurately assess and attribute costs and benefits that are associated with different policy options, robust intra-household level data is critical.”

Thus, understanding how and by whom land is used and is critical for mitigating adverse impacts.

Mismatches between costs and benefits at the intra-household level can risk increasing inequalities within households, decreasing women’s wellbeing and serving as a disincentive for women’s participation. This shows that gender-blind policies and actions can sacrifice efficiency and long-term sustainability, while also jeopardizing gender equality and women’s wellbeing.

On the other hand, “when climate policy is gender-responsive, there is evidence to show it can help level gender equalities while generating better institutional and environmental performance,” said Ihalainen.

But these synergies cannot just be assumed, he warned. Instead they must be built on thorough gender analysis and robust data.

“If we lack an understanding of the differentiated opportunities and constraints that women and men face, we risk tasking women with saving the environment without addressing any of the structural constraints,” he added.

A dwelling is constructed in a forest in West Kalimantan. Photo by I. Cooke Vieira/CIFOR

He admitted that tradeoffs do exist between different objectives, but that incorporating gender-specific targets and conducting thorough gender analysis can help to identify and mitigate potential tensions.

During the workshop, participants – consisting of Party delegates and representatives from observer organizations – stressed the lack of national-level sex-disaggregated statistics.

Indeed, a recent UN Women report found that only 10 out of 54 gender-specific indicators in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were produced with sufficient quality and regularity to allow for reliable monitoring on the global level. However, while it is indeed important to address challenges on the statistical front, a lack of national-level sex-disaggregated data should not hinder gender-responsive policy altogether.

“We should not think that the lack of national-level sex-disaggregated data on a number of climate-related issues means we can’t do evidence-based gender-responsive climate policy,” Ihalainen said following the event. “A lot of data and knowledge already exists, and it’s often more about establishing ways for that knowledge to inform policy. Where there are data gaps, partnerships can be established with research institutions and other stakeholders so that they can be addressed effectively.”

“National surveys are very expensive, and in some cases only occur every 10 years or so. Policy needs to move faster than that – 2030 is when we are supposed to have achieved the SDGs, not the deadline for getting our data and monitoring systems in order. So while it’s important to address national data gaps, policy making needs to focus on what we already know and make sure there are mechanisms for evidence and expertise from different stakeholders to inform policy,” he added.

“And even though you base your policies on the best data, you will never be sure your intervention will yield the anticipated results. So building in safeguards and robust, innovative monitoring systems, and allowing for adaptive learning is really critical too.”

Aside from establishing mixed-gender field teams, collecting sex-disaggregated data and capturing other forms of social difference, partnerships were identified as a key priority to ensuring that data is analyzed and validated, and fed back to policies and programs.

Many relevant guidelines already exist, including some developed by FTA partners, with Ihalainen emphasizing that the program was able to support parties in collecting and analyzing data and developing gender-responsive policies in the forestry sector – steps that will help contribute toward the gender action plan.

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

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

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PEN: How global-comparative data challenge conventional wisdom

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  • Research impact and partnership: Using data to take decisions in Turkana County, Kenya

Research impact and partnership: Using data to take decisions in Turkana County, Kenya

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shared-screenshotWhat if governments and parliamentarians had a way of knowing where their citizens needed what exactly, what condition the land was in and where to put their money most efficiently to most effectively address multiple issues simultaneously? Spatial scientists at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) are supporting the county government of Turkana, Kenya in doing exactly that.

But let’s start at the beginning. In 2012, ICRAF launched the Landscape Portal, an interactive open-source website to allow users to get easy access to big data sets and select data to create maps. These big data sets were collected under the Sentinel Landscapes project of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA).

ICRAF researchers are constantly striving to make their research data accessible and valuable to decision-makers, whether in communities or at national and global levels. This is how the idea of SHARED, short for Stakeholder Approach to Risk Informed and Evidence Based Decision Making, emerged.

SHARED operates in Kenya through a partnership between the Turkana County Government, the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), UNICEF Kenya and ICRAF.

In 2010, the new Kenyan constitution devolved power to county governments and each county developed a County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP). The Turkana Government approached ICRAF and UNICEF and asked them for help in designing tools for planning and budgeting in order to enhance people’s resilience and reduce the incidence of emergencies. Funding from USAID made the Turkana SHARED project possible.

Setting SHARED up

At first, it was necessary to bring together all of the existing data from local and national sources, which came in different forms such as handwritten or typewritten reports, photographs or survey results. The data had to be sorted and digitized so that they then could be visualized spatially.

UNICEF Kenya brought in their experience in community engagement and data management to track progress on key socioeconomic indicators including education, health, nutrition, water and sanitation. The NDMA also provided information from their regular drought monitoring of county sentinel sites.

A major component of the work was the development of a spatial dashboard to house all the data and allow decision-makers to interact with and query the data. The design of the platform took place using a collaborative process of capacity development with the Turkana County Government.

This means that key staff at the government’s Finance and Planning Unit and other county executives had to be trained, for example in three workshops.

“They learned how to interpret spatial evidence to prioritize budget allocations, based on actual need,” says ICRAF’s Geoinformatics Senior Scientist, Tor-Gunnar Vagen, who has led the technical development of the spatial dashboard. “We call it the resilience diagnostic toolbox.”

In the first phase of development, the SHARED Turkana dashboard shows data for different sectors such as education, nutrition, sanitation, irrigation, security, or land health.

Vagen tells us that the tool allows the government to see for example every single school in its county with trends of teacher-student ratios and enrolment of boys and girls.

“It also shows all the security incidents in the county in a given year and where the hot spots were. This could be violence, protests or cattle rustling.”

land-health-turkanaFor land health, the system is so advanced that one can click on a map, and it zooms into the location and runs different types of analyses. The map is complemented by colored boxes – like a traffic light – with red indicating a risk in that zone such as high pH, low carbon or high erosion (see screenshot).

Surprising results on HIV/AIDS

“This is where we have interaction with the county and how we try to support the county with science,” Vagen says and gives the example of the HIV/AIDS data.

“The map shows that the highest number of health facilities is in central Turkana, but the number of children with HIV/AIDS there is quite low. In the western part of the county, however, close the border with Sudan where a lot of refugees are coming through, the HIV prevalence is very high.”

So you can look at where children with HIV/AIDS get actual care in Turkana and this is not where the prevalence is high. With better data, the government and key development partners such as UNICEF can better target their interventions.”

“In Kenya almost 8 out of 10 children are subjected to deprivation in at least one of the key pillars of child well-being such as access to water, good nutrition, education, health or access to social services,” says Ousmane Niang, Chief of Social Policy of UNICEF Kenya.

“For the government and its partners in Turkana County, it is absolutely important to easily access real-time data and evidence for informed decision- making. Therefore SHARED will be a milestone in supporting the county in planning, budgeting and strengthening service delivery,” he adds.

“Partnerships and collaborations such as SHARED are the key to delivering impactful results for adolescent, children and youth.”

Taking SHARED to the next level

A joint proposal for the second phase of work is currently under review at USAID. “The idea is that we will advance the capacity to interpret and manage in the county,” says Vagen.

“In the future, it will be the county’s data, managed in their knowledge management center so that the platform can be updated, interpreted, and evidence can be shared to support decisions.”

The SHARED team would like the platform to eventually act as an early warning system for hazards and to track epidemics. In order to function like that, it will need to have an SMS-based reporting system that will more rapidly connect community experiences with county government decisions. When it is finalized, the dashboard will deliver data in real time and be able to update itself.

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