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  • Forest finance partnerships more productive than competition

Forest finance partnerships more productive than competition

Trees stand in Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR
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“Distribution and equitability contribute directly to reducing inequality, one of the root causes of environmental degradation.” © Ben Singer

Benjamin Singer of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) Secretariat shares his views on inclusive landscape finance in the latest of this new interview series.

He brings a decade of experience from his role in implementing the UNFF’s Global Forest Financing Facilitation Network to the discussion. Here he reflects on using public funds to assist developing countries in their efforts to mobilize finance for sustainable forest management.

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

There are two distinct ideas to the concept of ‘inclusive finance’ in the context of sustainable forest and land management within the broader landscape. The first relates to the need to mobilize finance as a key ingredient for the implementation of sustainable forms of land and forest management. The second is how to distribute this finance equitably among all stakeholders, with a particular focus on the most vulnerable – local communities, indigenous peoples, women, youth and the elderly.

While much of the debate around sustainable or ‘green’ finance has focused on mobilizing finance, few have considered the equitable distribution of finance once it is mobilized – as if it were a mere side-thought to consider only after money had been secured.

Yet distribution and equitability contribute directly to reducing inequality, one of the root causes of environmental degradation. Wealthier, more powerful stakeholders often exhaust natural resources without having to face the negative externalities they are creating, whereas these tend to fall onto poorer sections of society who rely on these same resources for their livelihoods and even survival.

Empowering this second category of stakeholders, through equitable benefit-sharing, amongst others, would enhance their resilience in the face of environmental change – including climate change.

It could also help create a balance of power that would introduce checks and balances on the use of natural resources by wealthier stakeholders, therefore contributing to reducing environmental degradation in the first place.

Read more: Catalyzing partnerships for reforestation of degraded land

What are the underlying reasons for the underfinancing of small-scale agricultural and forest businesses?

There are trillions of dollars going into investments worldwide – so why is it so difficult to find just a few million to meaningfully reduce the overuse of natural resources? The reason is that the vast majority of these trillions follow well-trodden paths that have shown strong track records of producing returns on investments. Many of these paths are not productive. Some may even be very risky, but they will still be attractive if investors are familiar with them and the mechanisms of investing are straightforward.

In contrast, investing in small-scale agriculture and forestry in developing countries can be daunting to investors from the North – private or institutional. One reason for this is that knowledge of the financial performance within this subsector is scant, if it exists at all.

Such investment also varies considerably from one country to another, and often has a dismal reputation – though mostly unwarranted – of causing environmental degradation. Perhaps most importantly of all, the scale of financing required in each case, which may be one or two million at most – is simply incompatible with opportunities that interest institutional investors, which generally start at half a billion.

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

“Finance exists (lots of it), and the need for financing exists. The problem is that we are just not connecting the dots.” © Ben Singer

Finance exists (lots of it), and the need for financing exists. One problem is that we are just not connecting the dots. Instead, we are carrying on with business as usual. Investors tend to invest in the usual stock markets that finance the main agricultural commodities produced in developing countries, while foresters in developing countries continue to lament deforestation and forest degradation.

We need to focus on building bridges between sectors (finance, forestry and agriculture), between stakeholders (private investors, public authorities, and small-scale agriculture and forestry businesses) and between concepts (economic development and social and environmental sustainability). All the ingredients are there. The challenge is how to identify, experiment and scale up those win–win solutions that actually work.

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

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

The UNFF Secretariat, through its Global Forest Financing Facilitation Network, supports its member states in mobilizing finance for sustainable forest management in three ways:

    • Assisting in the design of national forest financing strategies
    • Assisting in the design of project proposals to harness funding from multilateral financing institutions such as the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility
  • Creating a clearing house to highlight lessons learnt and best practices in forest financing in developing countries and those with economies in transition

One key lesson is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Despite appearing obvious, policy makers time and again underestimate the specificity of financing needs of different countries or different forest stakeholders.

It is essential to get a better understanding of the gaps, obstacles and opportunities related to financing specific forests or forest activities, before targeting financing sources. In some cases, for example, grants from multilateral financing institutions might be the best-adapted source, for others it could be micro-credit from non-governmental organizations.

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

Policy makers and decision makers often lurch into mobilizing funds from a specific source because they have seen it work in other conditions, or because they have heard that it is easy to access.

However, I consistently recommend developing a forest-financing strategy that takes a step back and helps to understand the financing gaps, obstacles and opportunities. We take a four-step approach to developing such a strategy:

    • Identifying and quantifying forest financing needs
    • Mapping financing resources according to their origin
    • Matching the needs with the sources
  • Drawing up a list of tasks required to actually mobilize the shortlisted sources of financing

The idea of developing a forest financing strategy might seem like a cumbersome first step, but we have shown that it can save a lot of time and effort, as it helps identify the most promising sources of financing for the actual needs of the country or stakeholder concerned.

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

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

My vision is simple: partnerships. Again, this might seem obvious, but the financial sector is extremely competitive and this spills over into the world of forest finance. I have often seen supposed partners compete and withhold information and resources from each other, despite sharing the overall goal of sustainable forest management. And I have seen this result in failure for all, time and again.

Forest finance differs fundamentally from the broader finance sector in that the maximization of one’s personal gain as the overarching objective is replaced with a global gain, through the implementation of sustainable forest management worldwide. In this respect, competition is counterproductive as it inhibits the possibility of partnerships, which are crucial to increasing financing for forests.

To mobilize and equitably distribute the financial means necessary for the benefit of all – from local and indigenous communities to institutional investors, multilateral financing mechanisms, national decision makers and small, medium and large enterprises – we need to agree on both the overall goals and how to best achieve them.

However, building such partnerships is by no means a small task. All stakeholders first need to realize that forest financing is not business as usual, and that partnerships are much more productive than competition.

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 Centre 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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  • Forest finance partnerships more productive than competition

Forest finance partnerships more productive than competition

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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

“Distribution and equitability contribute directly to reducing inequality, one of the root causes of environmental degradation.” © Ben Singer

Benjamin Singer of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) Secretariat shares his views on inclusive landscape finance in the latest of this new interview series.

He brings a decade of experience from his role in implementing the UNFF’s Global Forest Financing Facilitation Network to the discussion. Here he reflects on using public funds to assist developing countries in their efforts to mobilize finance for sustainable forest management.

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

There are two distinct ideas to the concept of ‘inclusive finance’ in the context of sustainable forest and land management within the broader landscape. The first relates to the need to mobilize finance as a key ingredient for the implementation of sustainable forms of land and forest management. The second is how to distribute this finance equitably among all stakeholders, with a particular focus on the most vulnerable – local communities, indigenous peoples, women, youth and the elderly.

While much of the debate around sustainable or ‘green’ finance has focused on mobilizing finance, few have considered the equitable distribution of finance once it is mobilized – as if it were a mere side-thought to consider only after money had been secured.

Yet distribution and equitability contribute directly to reducing inequality, one of the root causes of environmental degradation. Wealthier, more powerful stakeholders often exhaust natural resources without having to face the negative externalities they are creating, whereas these tend to fall onto poorer sections of society who rely on these same resources for their livelihoods and even survival.

Empowering this second category of stakeholders, through equitable benefit-sharing, amongst others, would enhance their resilience in the face of environmental change – including climate change.

It could also help create a balance of power that would introduce checks and balances on the use of natural resources by wealthier stakeholders, therefore contributing to reducing environmental degradation in the first place.

Read more: Catalyzing partnerships for reforestation of degraded land

What are the underlying reasons for the underfinancing of small-scale agricultural and forest businesses?

There are trillions of dollars going into investments worldwide – so why is it so difficult to find just a few million to meaningfully reduce the overuse of natural resources? The reason is that the vast majority of these trillions follow well-trodden paths that have shown strong track records of producing returns on investments. Many of these paths are not productive. Some may even be very risky, but they will still be attractive if investors are familiar with them and the mechanisms of investing are straightforward.

In contrast, investing in small-scale agriculture and forestry in developing countries can be daunting to investors from the North – private or institutional. One reason for this is that knowledge of the financial performance within this subsector is scant, if it exists at all.

Such investment also varies considerably from one country to another, and often has a dismal reputation – though mostly unwarranted – of causing environmental degradation. Perhaps most importantly of all, the scale of financing required in each case, which may be one or two million at most – is simply incompatible with opportunities that interest institutional investors, which generally start at half a billion.

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

“Finance exists (lots of it), and the need for financing exists. The problem is that we are just not connecting the dots.” © Ben Singer

Finance exists (lots of it), and the need for financing exists. One problem is that we are just not connecting the dots. Instead, we are carrying on with business as usual. Investors tend to invest in the usual stock markets that finance the main agricultural commodities produced in developing countries, while foresters in developing countries continue to lament deforestation and forest degradation.

We need to focus on building bridges between sectors (finance, forestry and agriculture), between stakeholders (private investors, public authorities, and small-scale agriculture and forestry businesses) and between concepts (economic development and social and environmental sustainability). All the ingredients are there. The challenge is how to identify, experiment and scale up those win–win solutions that actually work.

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

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

The UNFF Secretariat, through its Global Forest Financing Facilitation Network, supports its member states in mobilizing finance for sustainable forest management in three ways:

  • Assisting in the design of national forest financing strategies
  • Assisting in the design of project proposals to harness funding from multilateral financing institutions such as the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility
  • Creating a clearing house to highlight lessons learnt and best practices in forest financing in developing countries and those with economies in transition

One key lesson is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Despite appearing obvious, policy makers time and again underestimate the specificity of financing needs of different countries or different forest stakeholders.

It is essential to get a better understanding of the gaps, obstacles and opportunities related to financing specific forests or forest activities, before targeting financing sources. In some cases, for example, grants from multilateral financing institutions might be the best-adapted source, for others it could be micro-credit from non-governmental organizations.

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

Policy makers and decision makers often lurch into mobilizing funds from a specific source because they have seen it work in other conditions, or because they have heard that it is easy to access.

However, I consistently recommend developing a forest-financing strategy that takes a step back and helps to understand the financing gaps, obstacles and opportunities. We take a four-step approach to developing such a strategy:

  • Identifying and quantifying forest financing needs
  • Mapping financing resources according to their origin
  • Matching the needs with the sources
  • Drawing up a list of tasks required to actually mobilize the shortlisted sources of financing

The idea of developing a forest financing strategy might seem like a cumbersome first step, but we have shown that it can save a lot of time and effort, as it helps identify the most promising sources of financing for the actual needs of the country or stakeholder concerned.

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

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

My vision is simple: partnerships. Again, this might seem obvious, but the financial sector is extremely competitive and this spills over into the world of forest finance. I have often seen supposed partners compete and withhold information and resources from each other, despite sharing the overall goal of sustainable forest management. And I have seen this result in failure for all, time and again.

Forest finance differs fundamentally from the broader finance sector in that the maximization of one’s personal gain as the overarching objective is replaced with a global gain, through the implementation of sustainable forest management worldwide. In this respect, competition is counterproductive as it inhibits the possibility of partnerships, which are crucial to increasing financing for forests.

To mobilize and equitably distribute the financial means necessary for the benefit of all – from local and indigenous communities to institutional investors, multilateral financing mechanisms, national decision makers and small, medium and large enterprises – we need to agree on both the overall goals and how to best achieve them.

However, building such partnerships is by no means a small task. All stakeholders first need to realize that forest financing is not business as usual, and that partnerships are much more productive than competition.

By Nick Pasiecznik, Tropenbos International.


This article was produced by Tropenbos international and the Centre 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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  • Guiding principles for sustainable bamboo forest management planning: Benishangul-Gumuz Regional State (BGRS)

Guiding principles for sustainable bamboo forest management planning: Benishangul-Gumuz Regional State (BGRS)

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Benishangul-Gumuz Regional State (BGRS) is the region of Ethiopia with the greatest bamboo forest cover. The resource has, however, encountered heavy degradation in recent years due to fires for farming and for hunting, mass flowering, unsustainable harvest, and land conversion. Bamboo, if harvested correctly, can become a valuable resource and a source of income for the rural population of BGRS. In order to do so, a management plan is needed at the regional level to provide guidance for future planning at the district level. This document, based on a desk study, field survey, direct observation, and a participatory mapping workshop, intends to provide this guidance for a sustainable bamboo forest management plan. It also gives recommendations on how to sustainably harvest bamboo, how to develop nurseries for future bamboo plantations, how to link bamboo forests with the private sector and the market, and the role bamboo could play in degraded land restoration.

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  • Making international standards more credible: The case of the FSC forest management label

Making international standards more credible: The case of the FSC forest management label

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Issue 50 of Perspective, the CIRAD policy brief series, looks at the credibility of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standard that will be increased if certain indicators and auditing practices are reviewed. This revision process will facilitate the work of the certification bodies and will clarify the adoption of practices by certified forestry companies.

The global organisation FSC International regulates the FSC forest management label, which is translated into national standards according to the context in each country. The initial version of the Principles and Criteria for this label, published in 1994, was revised and, in 2015, new Principles and Criteria were published, along with a list of generic indicators. This new version should be used to update national standards. This issue of Perspective proposes recommendations for drafting these new national standards and reviewing certain audit procedures. The study’s recommendations are illustrated with specific cases in Brazil, Indonesia and the countries of the Congo Basin. Indicators for the new national standards need to minimise any scope for interpretation during certification audits. Audits should no longer accept recurrence of the same non-conformities, even when these issues are minor. With Gabon announcing in September 2018 the obligation to obtain FSC certification in order to allocate or maintain forest concessions from 2020 onwards, it is important to reduce existing weaknesses in this certification.

Access this publication in English.

Access this publication in French.

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  • New guidebook helps community members and policymakers understand social forestry schemes in Indonesia

New guidebook helps community members and policymakers understand social forestry schemes in Indonesia

Cattle graze on agricultural land in Maluku, Indonesia. Photo by T. Herawati/ CIFOR
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Women cross the Way Bulak River in Lampung, Indonesia, carrying resin from damar trees Photo by U. Ifansasti/CIFOR

One challenge with social forestry is that its inner workings are not always understood – often among the communities most involved in it.

This is why a team of scientists has published a new guidebook that makes this complex form of forest management easier to understand. By explaining in simple terms the legal logistics of how local communities manage different forest areas, the guidebook serves as a reference to government officials and community assistants in the field.

Through this, it aims to help local communities gain tenure for the forests they manage, as is summed up in the title of the book: Practical Application Guidelines on Social Forestry Policy in the Acceleration of the Forest Tenure Reform.

“One of the major challenges causing slow forest tenure reforms is the lack of knowledge of people on the ground on its legal aspects and stages of the reform process,” says Nining Liswanti, Researcher at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), who led the project of producing the guidebook, which also forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA).

The book – which CIFOR developed in cooperation with Jakarta-based lawyer Asep Y. Firdaus – is part of the Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reform (GCS-Tenure) that investigates implementation of forest tenure reforms and their effects on tenure security.

“Results of our research showed that many forest-dependent people – natives and migrants both – do not know what social forestry is,” says Liswanti. “They don’t know the legal basis, rights and obligations, processes, or whether or not there is tenure security for the forests their communities manage.”

The first step to changing this is education. The guide can be considered a requisite textbook.

Read moreSocial forestry impacts local livelihoods in Indonesia

PROCESS PROGRESS

It’s not just local communities that are lacking knowledge.

“There are many implementing agencies at the subnational level that still face limitations in terms of literacy in the implementation of social forestry and community forests,” says Liswanti.

Cattle graze on agricultural land in Maluku, Indonesia. Photo by T. Herawati/ CIFOR

And it is little wonder why. Indonesia has five different social forestry schemes (hutan kemasyarakatan or community forests, hutan tanaman rakyat or community plantation forests, hutan desa or village forests, partnership forests and adat customary forests).

For years, obtaining licenses for any one of these was complex and fragmented, involving different processes at national and subnational levels that could take between two and three years.

However, these procedures were overhauled in 2016 by a ministerial regulation on social forestry. Now, acquisition procedures are more streamlined and can be processed between 24 and 37 days – as explained in the guidebook.

With a practical compact design, the book is an easy yet informative read containing an FAQ-style explanation of specific terms, clear diagrams for the application of each social forestry scheme and a complete appendix of underlying regulations.

“The guidebook illustrates the phases of application for the five different social forestry schemes. It also contains information on the recognition of customary communities post-MK35,” Liswanti says, referring to the Indonesian Constitutional Court’s 2013 decision that removed customary forests from their categorization as state forests, thereby recognizing the rights of local communities over their traditional territories.

In short, it seeks to teach both local people and policymakers about forest communities’ options and rights.

LOOKING AT LAMPUNG

GCS-Tenure research has found that people implementing forest tenure reform both directly and indirectly have challenges and questions that need to be addressed. The guidebook tackles these issues by drawing on lessons learned in social forestry areas, and Liswanti says the research site of Lampung in particular informed the book.

In 2014, Indonesian President Joko Widodo set a target of bringing 12.7 million hectares of forest landscapes under social forestry schemes; as of 2017, less than 10% of this target had been reached.

Lampung is one of the few places contributing successfully to this percentage. With almost 20 years of experience implementing social forestry, Lampung has at different points implemented all of the social forestry schemes, save for customary forests.

“Initially, the book was a collection of inputs from stakeholders in both communities and implementing agencies,” says Liswanti. “Findings from community workshop activities and results of participatory prospective analysis [PPA] workshops involving stakeholders in Lampung – and Maluku – have led to the development of this guidebook.”

Now, these stakeholder contributions are being used to help others learn, even within their own communities.

“This guidebook has been our main material in providing legal literacy training at the community level,” says Liswanti. “They happily welcome this manual.”

Read more: Possibilities and challenges for forest tenure reform in Indonesia

By Nabiha Shahab, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Nining Liswanti at [email protected] or Tuti Herawati at [email protected] or Esther Mwangi at [email protected].


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

This research was supported by the European Commission, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

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

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

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The forestry sector has engaged with gender issues to the extent that including ‘women’ mattered for sustainable forest management and other forest-related goals. More recently, there has been a growing recognition that gender equality is a goal in its own right; and accordingly, considerable efforts and resources are now being devoted to ‘mainstreaming gender’ in forestry. While these are positive developments, ‘gender’ is still interpreted in simplistic and binary ways. This has prevented a deeper and more meaningful analysis of how power relations operate to situate women and men in different forested landscapes; why certain individuals and groups are, or remain, marginalized; and what role research can play in promoting gender and social justice. One of the major reasons behind this shortfall is the gulf between applied research and gender theories. Gender research in forestry has yet to engage with the concept of ‘intersectionality,’ or intersecting and interacting identities, even as the term is viewed as a gold standard for research in gender studies.This manual aims to introduce ‘intersectionality’ to researchers working on forestry and agroforestry who are unfamiliar with the term, and to provide tips and strategies for applying it in their own work. Practitioners and policymakers who are concerned with using evidence to inform gender-inclusive programs and policies would also find this manual useful. We provide a brief and accessible overview of the major approaches and debates surrounding the term in gender studies. In applying the term, we propose a five-lens approach (cognitive, emotional, social, economic and political) to identify who the marginalized are and what sustains their marginalization. We point to the value of being attentive to questions of ‘positionality’ and ‘reflexivity’ in our research; and of supporting marginalized individuals and communities to bring about socially inclusive change.

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  • Institutionalization of REDD+ MRV in Indonesia, Peru, and Tanzania: progress and implications

Institutionalization of REDD+ MRV in Indonesia, Peru, and Tanzania: progress and implications

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Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD+) has opened up a new global discussion on forest monitoring and carbon accounting in developing countries. We analyze and compare the extent to which the concept of measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) for REDD+ has become institutionalized in terms of new policy discourses, actors, resources, and rules in Indonesia, Peru, and Tanzania. To do so, we draw on discursive institutionalism and the policy arrangement approach. A qualitative scale that distinguishes between “shallow” institutionalization on the one end, and “deep” institutionalization on the other, is developed to structure the analysis and comparison. Results show that in all countries MRV has become institutionalized in new or revised aims, scope, and strategies for forest monitoring, and development of new agencies and mobilization of new actors and resources. New legislations to anchor forest monitoring in law and procedures to institutionalize the roles of the various agencies are being developed. Nevertheless, the extent to which MRV has been institutionalized varies across countries, with Indonesia experiencing “deep” institutionalization, Peru “shallow-intermediate” institutionalization, and Tanzania “intermediate-deep” institutionalization. We explore possible reasons for and consequences of differences in extent of institutionalization of MRV across countries.

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  • Forest Landscape Restoration in Hilly and Mountainous Regions: Special Issue

Forest Landscape Restoration in Hilly and Mountainous Regions: Special Issue

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  • Unpacking 'gender' in India's Joint Forest Management Program: lessons from two Indian states

Unpacking ‘gender’ in India’s Joint Forest Management Program: lessons from two Indian states

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India’s Joint Forest Management (JFM) programme is among the first and largest initiatives for collaborative forest governance worldwide. In JFM, the state, represented by the Forest Department (FD), and the village community share responsibilities and benefits of jointly protecting and managing forests adjoining villages. The agreement is operationalized through JFM Committees (JFMCs) – referred to as Village Forest Committees (VFCs) in some states – where elected community representatives and a FD official make forest-related decisions in a supposedly collaborative manner. In an effort to promote gender equity and social inclusion, seats are reserved on these committees for women and marginalized groups, such as Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Schedule Tribes (STs). Yet, despite reservations, the ability of these groups to actively engage in JFM processes remains limited.

This study addresses two primary questions: 1) Do local people perceive JFM, as implemented in two Indian landscapes, as equitable and inclusive?; 2) How can gender equity and social inclusion be improved in India’s JFM Program? Our research shows continued social exclusions from JFM processes on the basis of gender and ethnicity. Gender and ethnicity do not operate independently of each other to influence active participation in JFM. Participation is shaped at the intersection of gender and ethnicity, such that women and men from different ethnic groups have distinct experiences with JFM. Our findings underscore the need to reframe the issue of ‘women’s participation’ to capture inequalities among women from different ethnic groups. We conclude with recommendations for enhancing gender equality and social inclusion in JFM.

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  • Gender-responsive participatory research for social learning and sustainable forest management

Gender-responsive participatory research for social learning and sustainable forest management

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Abstract

Participatory research on forests has been commended for fostering social learning, innovation, community empowerment, social inclusion, and leading to more sustainable resource management. Yet, critiques of participatory approaches – and of the simplistic ways they are, at times, employed to address gender and social exclusion – also abound. These call for new strategies to meaningfully engage socially differentiated men and women in research on natural resource management.

This special issue focuses on the nexus between gender and participatory research in forest and woodland management. It examines: (1) the diversity of stakeholders’ forest-related knowledge, skills, needs and priorities in forest-dependent communities through the use of gender-responsive participatory approaches, and (2) choices in research design that can foster inclusive participation, knowledge sharing and social learning within and among social groups.

In this introductory paper, we position the special issue in relation to critiques regarding the lack of attention to gender in participatory research. We then summarize the authors empirical findings, contextually rooted across four African and Asian countries, and their importance for understanding the value, opportunities and challenges of working with participatory methods, both from the perspective of the researchers and of the research participants. The papers illustrate that traditional ecological knowledge is neither homogeneously distributed within communities nor concentrated among socially more powerful groups who, in the absence of a gender-responsive approach, are often the ones selected as research participants.

The authors offer an optimistic view of the potential participatory methods hold, when applied in a gender-responsive way, for sharing knowledge and promoting inclusive social learning on forests and tree resources. Papers demonstrate the need to carefully consider when to create segregated or mixed spaces – or indeed both – for participants to create situations in which social learning within and across diverse social groups can occur.

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