• Home
  • Strength in numbers: How the Global Landscapes Forum connects the land use community

Strength in numbers: How the Global Landscapes Forum connects the land use community

Posted by


The idea… sounded simple

Why don’t we bring together the key actors in land use to address urgent challenges and find solutions?

The starting point…was complicated

From 2007 to 2012, there was a stark division between the forest and the agricultural community. This found its expression in two separate special days, held on the sidelines of the UNFCCC COPs over several years.

Forest Day, was launched in 2007 at COP 13 in Bali, Indonesia, and Agriculture and Rural Development Day at COP 15 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The next Global Landscapes Forum: Peatlands Matter will take place on 18 May in Jakarta, Indonesia. Click here for more information

The solution… had to be promoted

Advocates on both sides of the—imaginary—trench started to harness the growing acceptance of integrated landscape approaches to merge the two into one bigger event. The landscape approach has been recognized as a useful framework for integrating measures to boost agricultural productivity and rural livelihoods, and the protection of forests, water and biodiversity. Landscape approaches embrace compromise amongst competing social, environmental, political and economic demands to produce multiple benefits from limited resources.

The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) leveraged its role as the lead center of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) to drive this concerted effort.

A first effort was made during COP 18 in Doha, when Forest Day was held back-to-back with the first ALL Day, under the shared theme of “Living Landscapes.”

The outcome… was impressive

The first Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Warsaw 2013 succeeded in introducing the landscapes approach to more than 1,200 climate and development policy makers. By focusing on breaking the silos that continue to exist between land use sectors, the Forum brought together more than 60 international organizations working in forestry, agriculture, mountains and watershed management, land use planning and human development.

After four years, the GLF, a well-known acronym among the hundreds of partners, has been established “as the global platform leading the debate on sustainable land use and forestry.”

FTA has co-financed all GLFs. FTA partners such as CIFOR, the World Agroforestry Centre, CIAT, CIRAD, CATIE and Bioversity International have been key actors throughout the years, hosting discussion forums and side events as well as sharing information and advocating in their communities of practice.

The reward… international recognition

In November 2016 at the UNFCCC COP 22 in Marrakesh, the German government committed to host the GLF for the next four years.

In Marrakesh, more than 5,500 people from 95 countries connected in person and online to forge solutions to the planet’s greatest climate and development challenges through sustainable land use.

The high point of the event was the commitment by the German government and GLF partners to support the long-term future of the Forum and its vision of reaching one billion people.

The history

Before this, the GLFs in Warsaw (2013), Lima (2014) and Paris (2015) had created strong momentum for productive cooperation between different sectors, agencies, governments and private businesses. The GLF is usually structured around five themes: Restoration; Financing; Rights; Measuring Progress; and Food and Livelihoods.

In 2015 and 2016 a second GLF, called The Investment Case, was held in London to focus on how to finance sustainable land use and landscapes.

The Investment Case brought together experts from the financial services industry with leaders from the corporate sector, government and academia to take investments into sustainable landscapes “to the next level”. It is meant to be a platform for experts to explore the role of private finance in enhancing livelihoods and landscapes across the globe. FTA is one of three supporters of this event.

Presenting FTA research…

In principle, practically all that was discussed at the GLFs pointed directly to FTA research, and many scientists presented FTA research:

… and more

From the start, GLF was conceived as a platform and avoided monopolizing the agenda for core FTA research coming from CIFOR as the lead Center. More and more partners outside of the research arena were encouraged to collaborate and bring in their issues and solutions: governments, business, civil society and development agencies.

Many CGIAR Centers outside of FTA (e.g. ILRI, IFPRI, CIP), and CGIAR Research Programs (CCAFS, WLE) participated in the GLF to drive home their message of integrated solutions to issues such as deforestation, global warming, sustainable and inclusive value chains, food security, water, indigenous people’s rights, gender and a greener economy.

And now?

Today, the GLF has become the world’s largest and only science-led multi-sectoral platform designed to produce and disseminate knowledge and accelerate action to build more resilient, climate friendly, diverse, equitable and productive landscapes. Its platforms connect diverse stakeholders; provide learning opportunities; allows people to gather and share knowledge; and accelerate action to produce sustainable solutions to complicated problems.

For 2017, four GLF events are planned: A Peatlands Matter conference in Jakarta on 18 May, a Restoration conference in Cameroon in September, an Investment Case conference in New York in October, and a Global Forum in Bonn in December.

By Kerstin Reisdorf, FTA Communications. 

  • Home
  • Altitude Matters: How elevation affects carbon and biodiversity in a warming world

Altitude Matters: How elevation affects carbon and biodiversity in a warming world

Drenched in rain and humidity, the massif is around 1,000 meters high and covered in an ancient forest that ranges from lowland to submontane cloud forest. Photo by: Christelle Gonmadje/CIFOR
Posted by


Environmental conditions vary with altitude, affecting temperature, soil type, rainfall and humidity. Photo credit: Ollivier Girard/Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

By Kate Evans, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Cameroon – In the south of Cameroon where the Congo Basin meets the Atlantic Ocean, there is a range of hills called the Ngovayang Massif.

Drenched in rain and humidity, the massif is around 1,000 meters high and covered in an ancient forest that ranges from lowland to submontane cloud forest. It is home to gorillas, chimpanzees, panthers, giant pangolins, and porcupines, as well as various rare bird species.

Very little was known about Ngovayang’s plant life until Christelle Gonmadje from the University of Yaounde and the French Agricultural Research Center for International Development (CIRAD) spent five months per year there over the span of her three-year PhD research, listening to gorillas growl and monkeys hoot as she set out 15 one-hectare permanent plots.

Across the Ngovayang Massif, Gonmadje identified 1,491 plant species, including 224 of high conservation value. She found 18 species endemic to this range of hills, which are found nowhere else.

“It is one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world,” she says. “In terms of species richness, it’s very important – perhaps one of the most important sites in Central Africa.”

In collaboration with scientists from a handful of other institutions, including the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Gonmadje also measured the above-ground biomass in the forest and analyzed its variation with altitude.

Drenched in rain and humidity, the massif is around 1,000 meters high and covered in an ancient forest that ranges from lowland to submontane cloud forest. Photo by: Christelle Gonmadje/CIFOR

Above-ground biomass refers to the total quantity of living matter found in the trees (but not in their roots or the soil). Biomass is crucial to helping scientists and policy makers determine how much carbon is stored in a particular forest.

Gonmadje and colleagues found that in Ngovayang, the above-ground biomass decreases at higher altitudes, driven by a change in the kinds of plants found at different heights.


The study is important, says Terry Sunderland, a senior scientist at CIFOR who also worked on the paper. This is because permanent plot studies in tropical forests have tended to focus on the lowlands.

“What Christelle’s research has shown, is that you can’t make huge generalizations about biomass in tropical rainforest without taking into account the contribution of altitude,” he says.

Environmental conditions vary with altitude – temperature, soil type, rainfall, humidity – and this influences what grows there.

“When you walk from the lowland to the high altitude, some species disappear, because they are not adapted to those conditions,” Gonmadje says. “So the bigger tree species disappear, and you have a shift in species composition.”

Fewer big tree species means less biomass and less carbon – at least above ground. A few other studies have found that at higher altitudes, a higher proportion of a tree’s biomass is stored underground.

Having accurate data on how carbon is stored in forests of different kinds is important for countries like Cameroon that hope to benefit from international efforts to mitigate climate change by reducing deforestation, such as REDD+.

Christelle Gonmadje and her team in the field doing research. Photo credit: Christelle Gonmadje/CIFOR

“To be competitive in carbon trading markets or REDD+ initiatives, countries which have tropical forests need to demonstrate that they have reduced their carbon emissions, and that means they need accurate knowledge of the quantity of carbon stock in their forests to start with,” says Gonmadje.

“With this information, policy makers can develop greenhouse gas management and mitigation plans and identify the steps they can take to maintain or increase carbon stocks. You cannot have these benefits if you do not have good, quality data on the biomass and carbon stocks.”


The research also highlights the importance of paying attention to altitude in a warming world.

“As global temperatures change and things get hotter, the altitudinal aspect of tropical ecology is going to play a huge role,” Sunderland says. “What Christelle is showing is basically the importance of plant composition with altitude and how that changes.”

“Coffee, for example, requires a very specific altitudinal and temperature range to grow, and soon it’s going to be too darn hot in the 600 to 1,000-meter range that it is currently grown in, so it’s going to move upward to higher altitudes.”

Many species requiring cooler temperatures will also need to make this shift, he adds. Some, however, won’t be able to adapt and might be lost.

“This will start affecting people everywhere when the price of their coffee goes from the average USD $3 a cup to USD $6. And in the long run, we don’t know which species can adapt, and which will die. It’s going to be a huge problem for many of our agricultural crops. Economically, it’s going to affect us enormously.”

For more information on this topic, please contact Christelle Gonmadje at [email protected] or Terry Sunderland at [email protected]

This research was supported by USAID, CIRAD, French Embassy (SCAC)
  • Home
  • Getting down and dirty in degraded lands

Getting down and dirty in degraded lands

CIFOR's SWAMP project works at peatlands restoration sites in various parts of Indonesia. Outside Dumai in Riau, one site is now planted with rubber trees, which local residents tap to make additional income. Photo: Deanna Ramsay/CIFOR
Posted by


CIFOR’s SWAMP project works at peatlands restoration sites in various parts of Indonesia. Outside Dumai in Riau, one site is now planted with rubber trees, which local residents tap to make additional income. Photo: Deanna Ramsay/CIFOR

By Deanna Ramsay, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Tropical peatlands are massive carbon sinks. But what happens when they are depleted of the water that sustains them, or subject to other land-use changes?

After fires raged in 2015 over Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia, in part due to the widespread draining of peatlands, these wetland ecosystems and their environmental significance catapulted to the center of global discussions.

“Protecting tropical peatlands is essential to combating climate change. By monitoring the emissions from degraded peat and the resulting fires, we now know just how important they are,” says Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) scientist Daniel Murdiyarso.

At one of Murdiyarso’s research sites in Riau – a swath of Sumatra now covered in oil palm – he is looking into what happens after peatlands are drained, burned and then subject to restoration.

But what that restoration looks like varies, as is how it is defined.

CIFOR’s SWAMP project uses a variety of measurements to better understand peatlands, their degradation and their restoration. Photo by Deanna Ramsay/CIFOR


“There have been few studies of restoration of tropical peatlands. Boreal, yes,” he says, an indication of why this work off a bumpy road from Dumai is so important, and cutting-edge.

According to Murdiyarso, the restoration question is a complex one, involving not just ecological processes but also socioeconomic ones that likely led to degradation in the first place.

“We need to involve the local community, and use local initiative in these landscapes,” he says, work that is necessary if we want to protect peatlands and prevent further degradation.

On peatlands in Indonesia – which is home to most of the world’s tropical peat – the first step is to block the canals that had served to drain the land of its moisture, enabling the water table to rise again.

But does this allow the peat to return to its original state?

Dendrometer bands measure tree growth, here on a rubber tree planted on degraded peatland. Photo by Deanna Ramsay/CIFOR

“Re-wetting peatlands has to be combined with re-vegetating the landscape,” Murdiyarso says, adding that the organic materials present in peat are often forgotten amid the bigger restoration picture.

In order to determine how peatlands degrade and how best to rehabilitate them, CIFOR scientists have established research sites in Sumatra and Kalimantan with partners, including the University of Riau, Palangkaraya University and government agencies. The emerging scientific evidence is being used to inform the country’s Peatlands Restoration Agency (BRG), as well as global climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies.


The work comprises a range of data gathering tasks, such as measuring carbon emissions, analyzing soil composition and monitoring tree growth.

A seven-hectare research site outside Tanjung Leban village in Bengkalis district, Riau, has peatland plots ringed by now-blocked canals, with watergates managed by the local community. The land is covered with a mix of peat swamp tree species, oil palm and rubber.

Sofyan Kurnianto, a PhD student at Oregon State University who works with CIFOR, researches water levels in intact and degraded peat.

Peatlands are important carbon sinks, and part of the study of degraded peatlands involves monitoring carbon emissions, as is being done here. Photo by Deanna Ramsay/CIFOR

“Canal blocking will influence how much water the peat can store. The big question among scientists is – after restoration – how much that storage capacity changes,” he says.

Draining and re-wetting causes peat to shrink and expand, resulting in changes in surface elevation. To monitor these kinds of changes, several rod surface elevation tables (RSETs) were installed to monitor subsidence.

And, in a pioneering move, Ground Penetrating Radar was employed. The innovative survey technique involves transmissions to receiving antennas, and is frequently used to study boreal peatlands, but used here in tropical peatlands for the first time.


The work resulted in peat depth mapping of each land-use type, offering valuable information about these rich, muddy landscapes.

In Riau, this groundbreaking research – in both the literal and figurative senses – is developing the science to impact these policy processes and the restoration they steer. Scientists are also training others to continue this necessary monitoring, data analysis and interpretation work.

“Research on peatlands is very important in Indonesia, especially in Riau as it is the dominant landscape. Management is important, and mismanagement will have a big impact on human life and the environment,” said Sigit Sutikno, a professor at the University of Riau who was visiting the research site with his students.

In the shade of trees dripping with fresh rubber, scientists and scientists-in-the-making practiced soil coring, jabbing a spear-like instrument into loamy soil over and over and collecting portions in plastic bags to be taken back to a Bogor laboratory. They measured ground-level carbon stocks, placing a small device into specific plots of peat and noting the results. Dozens of dendrometers were carefully fixed around tree trunks both small and large, with litter traps to collect forest debris adorning the area in bright orange.

Sutikno researches the effectiveness of canal blocking for ground water. His peatland research includes modeling to both estimate and predict peat water levels.

“Hydrological modeling in peatlands is not easy because peatland hydrology is unique,” he says, adding that an important element is understanding how to mitigate the risk of fire.

Charred pieces of wood are scattered about the site in Riau, remnants of fires that burned there years ago. Now planted with rubber trees tapped by nearby residents to earn extra income, and oil palm trees in a plot managed by a local landowner, the restoration that is underway has definitely taken its own shape.

When asked the tricky question of how to define “restored” peatlands, Murdiyarso said simply, “The return of original species and water regimes.”

Whether this is possible is another question, but we know at least one species has returned – humans.

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and was supported by USAID and the US Forest Service.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

For more information on this topic, please contact Anne Larson at [email protected].
This research was supported by FAO, IFAD, EC and GEF
  • Home
  • Profiting from well-chosen tree species: improving the productivity of farming systems in Northwestern Vietnam

Profiting from well-chosen tree species: improving the productivity of farming systems in Northwestern Vietnam

Model exemplar landscape being established in Son la province. Photo: ICRAF
Posted by


By Ivanna Patton, La Nguyen and Ake E Mamo, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World Blog

Northwestern Vietnam is home to the three poorest provinces of the country, with a combined population of 3.4 million people and poverty ranging from 32% to 48% of households  across provinces.  There is a culturally diverse mix of communities comprising 30 ethnic groups but land use is dominated by maize production, largely sold for use as pig feed, on recently deforested slopes that are subject to high degradation rates.

In Son La province, for example, 65 000 ha of natural forest was converted to commercial maize cultivation between 2002 and 2009. In some areas shifting cultivation of upland rice, maize, soybean and cassava is still practiced but population pressures are shortening natural fallow periods, resulting in continuous cultivation with very little attention to erosion control measures exacerbating high economic and environmental risks.

Discounted cash flow (cumulative Net Present Value of agroforestry practices over a maize monoculture) calculated using production data from trials supplemented by information from mature trees and a 10% discount rate.

Most agricultural crops are grown as  monocultures on steep slopes, subject to soil degradation and declining crop yields. It is estimated from soil erosion measurements in farm trials, that typical erosion rates under maize monoculture in Yen Son district were almost 70 t ha-1 yr-1.

Agroforestry practices, involving contour planting of high value fruit and timber trees are a potential option for halting and reversing land degradation, improving ecosystem functions and enhancing the profitability of farming systems.

At the inception of the research reported here, agroforestry did not feature as an option in government policy at provincial or district level, and practical options for integrating trees on farms were not well developed in the region. There were only a few tree nurseries, generally producing germplasm of uncertain quality for a very narrow range of tree species. Farmers were further disadvantaged by low prices for products as a result of poor market access resulting from lack of infrastructure and market information, low and uncertain product quality along value-chains and lack of market links that affected the poorest disproportionately, leaving few livelihood options but subsistence agriculture.

Model exemplar landscape being established in Son la province. Photo: ICRAF

Recognizing the potential of agroforestry, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Vietnam, with support from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and CGIAR research programme on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry implemented a comprehensive 5 year (2011 – 2016) agroforestry research project with local partners to improve the performance of smallholder farming systems in Northwestern Vietnam.

 “We sought to increase the productivity of associated crop and livestock systems, leading to more diverse and sustainable production systems and better income from tree products.” Says Delia Catacutan, Head of the ICRAF Office in Vietnam. “The project took advantage of recent improvements in infrastructure which facilitate market access and increased livelihood opportunities.”

The project titled: ‘Agroforestry for livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Northwest Viet Nam (AFLi) had four specific and interconnected objectives. The first was to develop viable agroforestry practices for three altitudinal zones (<600 m.a.s.l., 600-800 m.a.s.l. and >800 m.a.s.l.), involving active engagement of local people in the design and testing of agroforestry options through on-farm trials.

The second was to improve the availability of high-quality germplasm to enable the expansion of agroforestry, addressing issues of germplasm availability, quality and multiplication. The third objective was to enhance market access and opportunities for adding value to agroforestry products and the fourth was to facilitate policy dialogues and develop extension methods for widescale promotion of agroforestry across the region.

The main assumption underpinning and being tested in this work was that integration of well-chosen tree species into the farming systems and landscapes of Northwestern Vietnam will make production systems more profitable, environmentally sustainable and resilient.

Late-fruiting longan with maize and forage grass system in Yen Bai Province. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/La Nguyen

“We built on existing agroforesty knowledge and ongoing research in North-West Vietnam, and put a strong emphasis on understanding the interactions between trees and livelihoods under different agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions in order to facilitate subsequent dissemination and adoption of agroforestry practices.” Says Dr La Nguyen, Project Leader of AFLi.

The project benefited from FTA’s global network of agroforestry research, specifically through introduction of successful sloping agricultural land technology from the Philippines and research on market development for agroforestry products and extension approaches from Indonesia and Cameroon.

FTA funds also enabled the project to respond both to farmer needs (through adding more diverse, multistrata practices to the range of options being evaluated) and opportunities to engage policy makers (through co-investment with provincial Departments of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARDs) to initiate a network of exemplar landscapes that showcase landscape transformation when agroforestry practices are adopted at scale in a given area).

This complementarity of flexible funds from FTA alongside the programmatic funding from ACIAR was important in ensuring that the research was locally relevant and that outputs were taken up at national and provincial levels.

At the end of the project in 2016, AFLi reported significant outcomes ranging from capacity strengthening, to economic, social and environmental benefits across the farming systems of Northwestern Vietnam.

Capacity outcomes: awareness, knowledge and skills. A key indicator measured against AFLi’s four project objectives is improving farmers’ awareness, knowledge and skills on establishing and managing agroforestry practices, including seedling/germplasm production and marketing. The project trained a significant number of stakeholders (lead farmers, extension staff and researchers) and raised awareness amongst key policy makers, who now provide a critical mass of expertise that can promote agroforestry practices across the region.

More than 2,000 people including farmers, extension workers and research partners were trained on different aspects of agroforestry including agroforestry design, tree pruning, seed and seedling production, and contouring. The introduction of farmer innovations from the Philippines including the pragmatic ‘ox back method’ for laying out contours rather than more cumbersome use of ‘A’ frames and the incorporation of cash crops in vegetation strips designed primarily to control erosion, were particularly valued by farmers.

A monitoring and evaluation survey showed that 73% of farmers in areas where training had been conducted knew the key elements required to implement agroforestry on farms, and were provided with adequate technical support from extension workers to establish agroforestry practices on their farms. The demonstration from the participatory farmer trials that agroforestry practices were a viable option in the region has raised awareness amongst policy makers leading to policy change at provincial and district levels (these are catalogued below), promoting and providing incentives for farmers to adopt agroforestry.

Through the development of a network of exemplar landscapes across the region in conjunction with provincial DARDs, it is anticipated that these trained farmers, research and extension staff will provide a critical nucleus of expertise to underpin widespread promotion of agroforestry – a strategy endorsed through ACIAR funding of a second phase AFLi project with a 60% higher budget than the first phase.

Economic outcomes: income and productivity.  Seven agroforestry options involving different combinations of fruit and timber trees with grass strips and maize were evaluated through participatory on farm trials over 3-4 years indicating higher productivity and profitability compared to maize monoculture. With most practices, net cashflow compared to maize monoculture was initially negative with investment costs greater than immediate returns, becoming positive after five years and then predicted to rise sharply (Figure 1).

For example, with longan-maize-forage intercropping, forage grass was the main income source in the first year, while income from maize started to pick up in the second year, and longan trees started to bear fruits in the third year and produce substantial yields from year five. Average annual incomes from the different agroforestry practices by their third year ranged from 16 to 38 million VND (700 – 1650 USD) ha-1 compared to an average of 12.5 million VND (544 USD) ha-1 for maize monoculture. There is also reduction in soil loss from agroforestry that could be valued at 5.7 million VND (250 USD) ha-1 which is the cost of replacing the NPK lost through erosion by purchasing fertilizer.

Discounted cash flow (cumulative Net Present Value of agroforestry practices over a maize monoculture) calculated using production data from trials supplemented by information from mature trees and a 10% discount rate.

Discounted cash flow (cumulative Net Present Value of agroforestry practices over a maize monoculture) calculated using production data from trials supplemented by information from mature trees and a 10% discount rate.

The trials show the potential for agroforestry to substantially increase household income in the medium term but also indicate that farmers, particularly those in cash-poor households, are likely to need financial assistance to establish agroforestry, that provincial governments are now beginning to provide through incentive schemes and input subsidy (see below). For households with livestock, the use of grass strips provides immediate benefit from the value of livestock fodder, also critical for controlling livestock grazing to prevent damage to establishing trees.

Farmers showed a preference for more diverse agroforestry options involving several tree species, creating more relisient production systems in the face of anticipated price fluctuations for different products. The potential areas suitable for agroforestry expansion are 495,000 ha across Son La, Yen Bai and Dien Bien provinces, and using S-shaped diffusion curves to predict adoption with different assumptions regarding policy incentives and uptake it is estimated that from 128 to 250 thousand households could benefit over a fifteen year period of promotion.

Social outcomes: building social capital and growing markets. A co-investment scheme to support the establishment of exemplar agroforestry landscapes was facilitated by AFLi through building social capital amongst farmers, between farmers and extension workers and researchers, and between project staff and provincial governments.

For example in Na Ban village in Mai Son district, around a third of the farmers initially volunteered to put trees on their farms with technical assistance provided by the Son La extension centre and co-financing from the provincial DARD. This resulted in 50 ha of agroforestry in a landscape about three times that size, creating a showcase for how agroforestry can transform people’s lives and their landscsape. Nearly all the farmers in the landscape are now interested in adopting agroforestry and the provincial DARDs are co-investing in establishing a network of six exemplar landscapes across the region as focal points for promting agroforestry.


The project also facilitated partnership-building with the private sector, to grow the market for son tra (Docynia indica) an indigenous fruit tree which is being domesticated and promoted within the AFLi  project. Farmers can earn high incomes from growing the fruit, but as more farmers adopt improved tree germplasm, supply will increase and market prices would be expected to fall unless the market for the fruit expands. To effect this the project worked with National Institute of Medicinal Material in Hanoi (NIMM) and the Tay Bac Tea and Special Food company to develop non-perishible products from son tra including dried tea and extract that suit the urban market in Vietnam as well as creating the potential for export. The project is now working with the district government of Bac Yen, local farmers and the food company, to secure sustainable supply of quality son tra fruits for the market at attractive prices for producers.

Environmental outcomes: Soil erosion trials have shown that agroforestry is far more effective in controlling soil erosion than monoculture practices.  Compared to maize monoculture system, for example, the longan-maize-forage grass system on the 3rd year, suggest a reduction in soil loss by up to 56%; 23% in teak-plum-coffee-soybeans-forage grass; up to 90% in acacia-longan-coffee-forage grass system; and up to 74% in acacia-mango-maize-forage grass system. Once the trees reached maturity stage and the grass strips have become stable, erosion can be expected to be 90% less to zero. Not to mention improvements in on-farm biodiversity, the more than 60,000 trees of 18 fruit and timber species, planted by farmers in exemplar landscapes and FDTs would have significantly increased tree cover in the landscape with carbon sequestration benefits.

Contributing to change: AFLi research had a key strategy of harnessing volunteerism, co-operation and co-investment in its expansion from trial agroforestry systems to the establishment of on-station and on-farm trials and the management and monitoring of those trials, including research on propagation of priority agroforestry species and small-scale nursery development. And then to enhancing market access for focus species then exploring value-adding opportunities by smallholders and facilitating links between producers and other market actors. The key outputs from the strategy were disseminated through farm cross-visits, farmer field days and training sessions held at the test sites, accompanied by regular impact assessments and policy dialogue.

Research findings were used to inform the communication strategies, policy dialogues, extension and expansion activities through workshops, media products, extension materials and training.  This also involved major dissemination efforts through a network of farmer demonstration trials (FDT) and agroforestry exemplar landscapes to demonstrate large-scale agroforestry adoption. Outcome mapping was used to document the influence of the project on policy processes.

Communication and dissemination through various means (TV shows, videos, fact sheets, conference presentations, photo exhibits, blog stories, policy dialogues and training events) were critical to increasing the project’s visibility.

The project produced seven videos, of which, two were nationally broadcast. It also produced 17 blog stories, eight international and Vietnamese journal articles, four working papers, 20 technical reports, 14 extension materials, a fact sheet, a policy brief, and two information brochures.  Knowledge was also shared across large networks throughout Asia via presentations in major conferences such as: (1) Conservation Agriculture in Southeast Asia; (2) World Agroforestry Congress; (3) Asia-pacific Farmer’s Association; (4) Southeast Asian Network for Agroforestry Education; (5) and ALiSEA (6). Several other projects have made field visits to see the AFLi project achievements as a direct result of the project’s growing popularity, such as those of the SUFORD-SU PROJECT in Laos PDR, the IFAD-Ha Tinh project on Sustainable Rural Development, and the USAID-funded Green Annamites project.

Government policies and alignment: Through documentation of policy dialogues and processes the project outputs can be shown to have been important in the development of several national, provincial and district level policy instruments. These include:

  1. Yen Bai provincial Resolution15/2015/NQ-HDND— with provision for financial support of 6 million VND ha-1 for individual households or group of households, to establish son tra-based agroforestry practices in Tram Tau and Mu Cang Chai districts.
  2. Yen Bai provincial Decision 27/2015/QD-UBND—One time financial support at 1 million VND ha-1 for individual households to establish sustainable maize cultivation on sloping land by planting grasses along contour lines to reduce erosion.
  3. Yen Bai provincial Decision 2412/QD-UBND—Support for “son tra development in Tram Tau and Mu Cang Chai districts for the period, 2016-2020”. This involves Increasing the total area of son tra plantation to 10,000 ha, improving the existing 3,820 ha son tra plantation through use of better germplasm and management, and son tra planting on 6,200 ha of degraded forest land.
  4. Minisrtry of Agricultural and Rural Development (MARD) Decision 2477/QD-BNN-HTQT, at national level which created MARD’s Agroforestry Working Group that was set up to:
  • Advise MARD on agroforestry development in Vietnam
  • Review, improve, and propose agroforestry-related policies
  • Cooperate with local provinces, national and international organizations to research and develop agroforestry options for adaptation and mitigation of climate change
  • Capacity building for national and local staff and mobilizing funding sources for sustainable agroforestry development
  1. MARD’s inclusion of agroforestry in the National Action Plan Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change of the Agriculture and Rural Development Sector (2008-2020).

The enactment of above policies plus alignment with the government’s numerous strategies toward rural development green growth, and climate change adaptation and mitigation (ie, Vietnam’s Green Growth Strategy) has and will continue to stimulate wide-scale adoption of agroforestry in the region and beyond.

Some lessons learned were that wider adoption of agroforestry requires a combination of bottom-up and top-down strategies. Bottom-up work was required to develop feasible options with farmers that suit their circumstances; but top-down action from government to sanction and support agroforestry establishement is required for widescale adoption of agroforestry by famers across landscapes where land use is driven by competing, often incentivized options operating together with land designation and regulation.

AFLi as it stands today brings new insights about how smallholder farmers make decisions related to tree planting and adopting new production systems in changing policy, market and environmental contexts. In addition to the relevance of these results to policy makers and extension services, the research findings also enrich the scientific literature on constraints and opportunities for agroforestry adoption and on drivers of land-use change in general.

AFli further contributes to research on the role of indigenous species for afforestation and mixing with conventional trees and crops in agroforestry systems, such as son tra (Docynia indica). New knowledge generated through the trials on propagation methods of this species, productive combinations with other species and its potential to contribute to soil conservation are cornerstones of its domestication. This combines with new insights from value chain research on the opportunities and limitations for diversifying and strengthening existing livelihood options through adding value to products from remote, disadvantaged rural areas.

  • Home
  • More than putting a price tag on the planet

More than putting a price tag on the planet

Putting a price tag on nature, really? Photo: Terry Sunderland/CIFOR
Posted by


Putting a price tag on nature, really? Photo: Terry Sunderland/CIFOR

By Suzanna Dayne, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

How do we calculate the worth of nature? What carries the highest value: the habitat of an endangered species, a local community’s traditional landscape, or a nation’s income from, say, timber exports?

Questions like these are what a team of researchers from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and partner institutions grappled with in their latest study.

The study makes the case for a ‘new school’ of ecosystem valuation practice that allows for the weighing of multiple values in making land-use decisions.

“Ecosystem valuation can be difficult and controversial, and classical economists have often been criticized for trying to put a price tag on nature,” says Dr. Sander Jacobs, a researcher at the Research Institute for Nature and Forest and a lead author of the study.

Jacobs says one of the issues is that when people talk about valuation, they usually think about money. But in ecological economics, the word takes on a much broader meaning.

“Valuing is what we all do, all the time, when making choices,” says Jacobs.

“Valuation in the broad sense is about assigning importance, and in an ecosystem context this means looking at how people value their environment – not only economically but also socially, culturally and ecologically.”

As the world responds to the challenges of climate change, and awareness grows about its severe social and environmental impacts, there is an urgent need to integrate nature’s diverse values more comprehensively and transparently in decisions and actions.

“Agencies in charge of protecting and managing natural resources must often make difficult decisions on land and resource use,” says Jacobs.

“Sometimes environmental and human needs can co-exist, but often there are trade-offs and leaving certain values out of such decisions can have a devastating impact on everyone.”

A timber yard with wood from the amazon, Quito, Ecuador. Photo by Tomas Munita for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).


For decades, there has been strong scientific debate between monetary and non-monetary schools of ecosystem valuation. In order to tackle current global challenges, a growing group of researchers argues that a new approach is needed – one that will balance ecological, socio-cultural and economic concerns, leading to better-informed and fairer decision making.

“We need a new culture, a new take on valuation,” says Jacobs.

“Everyone knows the main approach we have followed is a monetary approach, mainly because there are a lot of tools and methods for this, and there are a lot of economists around. But when confronted with real-life practice, a single-method approach is shown to be flawed. We found that what is needed is a new valuation school that takes a cohesive, inclusive approach, rather than pitching one [method] against the other.”

“We need decision makers to see the economic information and then say, ‘Interesting, but now I also need the social and ecological data to make a full evaluation,’” he adds. “And when you look at the reality – the real-life context where decisions are being made – decision makers are taking into account different values. They just need the balanced information.”


The researchers based their findings on more than two dozen valuation studies, covering subjects ranging from urban planning in France to impacts of fracking in Australia and social struggles in environmental conflicts in Colombia. These were presented together with the complete valuation school study in a special issue of the journal Ecosystem Services, complemented by theoretical underpinnings on valuation and a twin issue on shared values.

A key lesson drawn from the studies is that an integrated valuation approach is more widely accepted by decision makers, while a single-valuation approach – scientifically elegant as it might be – is often disputed, discarded, or simply ignored in practice.

Recent policy initiatives such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which assesses the state of biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides to society, were also considered in the study and found to take an integrated valuation approach that achieves positive results.

“What’s exciting about IPBES is that this is a politically legitimate assessment: governments, NGOs and indigenous people are all represented, and they agree on important conclusions,” says Jacobs.

“So this sends a strong message. For example, while scientists and NGOs already knew pesticides were hurting our bees, through IPBES it became a political fact that could leverage actions and can have a major impact on future policy decisions.”

IPBES is championing an integrated valuation approach in its global assessment on the values of nature, which will take into account these studies, as well as others being conducted around the world.

The IPBES assessment takes into account three ‘value dimensions’: the value of nature itself, regardless of its use to humankind; nature’s contributions to humankind; and the high quality of life that our relations with nature provide.

“It’s important that knowledge gaps in these three areas are filled,” says Jacobs. “But it is great to see that these concepts are being worked on and can be integrated into high-level policy documents.”


The study states that in order to have an impact beyond academic theorizing, ecosystem valuation researchers need to learn from real-world application of valuation methods, sharing successes and failures, and actively tailoring research processes to fit with reality on the ground.

“Of course, there are no silver bullets,” says Jacobs. “Scientists like to present them, but they don’t exist. We will have to adapt the methods to every single context, and this is a key message. There is no perfect template.”

In the end, he says, researchers need to ask themselves: ‘Who am I doing this research for, what will it be used for, and who will be impacted?’ To this end, researchers must be careful to include in their research the values of the entire range of stakeholders, particularly those at risk of being under-represented in decision-making processes.

“Valuation scientists need to go to the field and see the reality for themselves before even thinking about what method or expertise is needed. We need to involve all value dimensions and consider each one to inform decisions,” says Jacobs.

“We, as scientists, need to go beyond the theoretical. We need to solve real problems.”

For more information on this topic, please contact Sander Jacobs at [email protected].
This research was supported by the Openness FP7 Project
  • Home
  • One number to rule them all: Can we agree on the extent of deforestation?

One number to rule them all: Can we agree on the extent of deforestation?

Photo: Thomas Munita/CIFOR
Posted by


Photo: Thomas Munita/CIFOR

By Peter Holmgren, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), originally published at Forests News

Deforestation is one of our key concerns in land use and forestry. Huge political and financial resources are directed toward reducing forest loss and balancing the multiple benefits derived from the world’s landscapes. Given the massive attention that deforestation attracts, it is surprising how difficult it can be to answer the seemingly simple question: How many million hectares are deforested every year?

I was recently invited to an expert panel organized by the Guardian, titled Forests soak up greenhouse gases, so how do we ensure their protection?. The stated objective of the session is “to discuss the resources needed to fight deforestation”. I think it is great to connect and contribute using modern communication technology instead of traveling to conferences, so I happily accepted.

As background* to the event, the Guardian states that “Every year, 18 million hectares of tropical forest – an area the size of England and Wales – are cut down. While “cut down” is an ambiguous description, the text that follows makes clear that this is in fact the deforestation we are to discuss on the panel.

“Interesting new number,” I thought. “Let’s see what the source is.”

The statement links to another Guardian article from January 2017, written by John Vidal: “We are destroying rainforests so quickly they may be gone in 100 years,” the headline warns. There is room for debate on that, but my objective is to find the number. And there it is: “Every year about 18m hectares of forest – an area the size of England and Wales – is felled.

Interestingly, this refers to all forests, not just the tropical forests referred to in the background to today’s event. This is significant, as we will see below. Also note the use of the word “felled”, which again draws an ambiguous link to deforestation. Meanwhile, the word “deforestation” is used eleven times in the text, so there is no doubt that this is the topic in focus.

Vidal’s article in turn links to a release by the World Resources Institute (WRI) from September 2015, related to an annual update of Global Forest Watch (GFW) statistics.

Cleared forest in the haze from forest fires. Photo: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR

This release starts: “The world lost more than 18 million hectares (45 million acres) of tree cover in 2014, an area twice the size of Portugal, according to new data from the University of Maryland (UMD) and Google released by Global Forest Watch. The data find that tropical forests are in the most trouble, losing 9.9 million hectares (24.5 million acres) of tree cover in 2014 – over half of the global total.”

So the “forest” in John Vidal’s article was originally “tree cover” in the study he referred to. GFW, using UMD data, indeed reports tree cover losses. It is well known among scientists that there can be discrepancies between tree cover data obtained using remote sensing and forest area data as determined through land-use or land-cover assessments — well described by WRI here. We must be careful in comparing datasets with different definitions and concepts — see, for example, my earlier article here. GFW data on tree cover loss should not uncritically be used as a proxy for deforestation.

The WRI release also tells us that about half of these tree cover losses (9.9 million hectares in 2014) were in the tropics; the rest occurred in temperate and boreal regions.

It turns out that the Guardian’s statement on deforestation is a number that is doubled compared with the source two clicks away, and that this is not a deforestation number in the first place.

The Guardian is not alone in this . I went through the 15 most recent World Economic Forum blog articles on forestry and found three different numbers used for annual global deforestation — 18, 15 and 5.2 million hectares — none of them corresponding with the 7.6 million quoted in the current Global Forest Resources Assessments (FRA) report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Now, why is it so difficult to reliably and consistently report global deforestation? There are at least five possible reasons, and sometimes they reinforce each other:

  1. Disagreement on and different use of definitions

Many civil society advocates have for decades found it worthwhile to claim that not all forests are forests. Planted forests, in particular, are disqualified in their view. This unwillingness to accept planted forests has hampered a shared understanding of issues, and has led to more complicated negotiations, for example on REDD+. Further, countries often have their own sets of definitions that need to be harmonized to fit international reporting. Finally, and perhaps most frustratingly, international processes and conventions have adopted different definitions, each fiercely defended by the respective bureaucracies. The latter issue has been addressed in a CPF initiative, but progress is slow.

  1. Limitations in data and measurements

Uncertainties and discrepancies also stem from poor measurement data. Remote sensing alone is often assumed to be a universal solution to data shortages, but the information content is shallow, ambiguous and generally incomparable across platforms. Field sampling provides better quality data, but investments in national inventories is expensive and lagging, and precision suffers when observations are few.

  1. Political purposes to exaggerate (or sometimes diminish) the problem

Deforestation has a problem-oriented focus. The tendency to exaggerate the problem, either in narratives or in quotations of facts, is not uncommon and not ultimately beneficial. Similarly, governments may underreport deforestation for political reasons. In FRA 2000, deforestation in Africa was found to be overestimated by a factor of two. The development of national forest reference levels for REDD+ is another interesting process in this context.

  1. Variations in methodologies coupled with academic/political ownership of different models

While UMD data have provided a long missing standard in remote sensing data, these are not a universal tool and are still evolving. With several academic groups developing proprietary models using different data, we are bound to have substantial discrepancies. In 2012, Winrock International and Woods Hole Research Center reported widely disparate numbers on global emissions from tropical deforestation. In the interest of stability in REDD+ negotiations, the results were later calibrated — a negotiation in itself.

  1. Low quality in source data control in published media

There is potential to improve quality in news reporting and in publication of research papers. Better quality research and reporting could help avoid the types of errors mentioned above. Even the World Bank, our leading provider of development indicator statistics, erroneously publishes deforestation data by country, when in reality these are net forest area changes, i.e. the sum of positive and negative (deforestation) trends.

We all want to, and must, curb deforestation. With ongoing uncertainty at a global level it will become difficult to know how much progress we are making, or where our successes lie. It would be useful if official institutions, in particular FAO with its mandate in this field, stepped up to work with all stakeholders on forest assessments to build stronger consensus.

At the end of the day, we share the objective and mission to reverse deforestation and support forest landscapes that are sustainable, profitable and equitable. In doing so we should make an extra effort to avoid communicating alternative facts.

*Edit: Since the publication of this article, the Guardian has updated their background document and now refer to “tree cover” instead of “tropical forest”.

  • Home
  • Connecting the dots between forests, water and climate

Connecting the dots between forests, water and climate

Left to right: Meine van Noordwijk, Chief Science Advisor of the World Agroforestry Centre, and Vincent Gitz, Director of the CGIAR Programme on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, talking with the audience in Bogor, Indonesia as part of the virtual symposium. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Riky Hilmansyah
Posted by


Forests play a critical role in the planet’s water cycle. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre

By Susan Onyango, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World Blog

More than 500 people from around the world tuned in on 21 and 22 March 2017 to Cool Insights for a Hot World, a virtual symposium to engage with scientists in a discussion about the links between forests, water and climate, on the International Day of Forests and World Water Day, respectively.

Scientists from the fields of biology, chemistry, climate science, geology, hydrology and social science, spoke with one voice in calling for greater attention to be paid to the vital role of trees in the water cycle. The functionality of trees is of great importance given forests’ ability to produce moisture that is then transported from one area to another by winds, eventually falling as rain far from its source and crossing national boundaries on the way.

That the geopolitical consequences of deforestation in one country can exert a serious impact on rainfall in another country did not go unnoticed.  The scientists recommended the establishment of regional bodies to manage ‘precipitation-sheds’, areas that generate moisture into the atmosphere, in order to mitigate potential conflict arising from mismanagement of the forests that make up precipitation-sheds.

Jointly hosted by the World Agroforestry Centre and the Center for International Forestry Research, the symposium explored the interconnectedness of  forests and water in addressing climate change, drawing on a recent study, Trees, forests and water: cool insights for a hot world. A key takeaway from the study showed that where rain is produced and where it falls both have wide a ranging impact on the security of water supplies and food production as well as the ability of nations to adapt to, and mitigate, climate change.

Left to right: Meine van Noordwijk, Chief Science Advisor of the World Agroforestry Centre, and Vincent Gitz, Director of the CGIAR Programme on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, talking with the audience in Bogor, Indonesia as part of the virtual symposium. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Riky Hilmansyah

Call to action

Forests and trees’ critical role in global, regional and national water cycles is second only to the influence of the world’s oceans. Yet, this is mostly left off global discourse on climate change, which largely focuses on forests and trees as carbon stocks and sinks as part of national actions to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

In an effort to address this omission, the scientists strongly endorsed the need for a global approach to both understanding the relationship between forests, climate and adaptation and to carry out more detailed climate research.  For more on the wider implications and recommendations for action, see Trees, water and climate: Cool scientific insights, hot implications for research and policy.

At the local level, the planting of trees is an immediate action easily available to householders, farmers and urban dwellers, one that contributes to cooling the Earth through the moisture released by trees through evapotranspiration. Tree-planting need not wait for global agreements to be in place, the scientists noted.

The symposium was organized under the aegis of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. Participating scientists included David Ellison (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences), Cindy Morris (French National Institute for Agricultural Research), Michael Marshall (World Agroforestry Centre), Aster Gebrekirstos (World Agroforestry Centre and Erlangen University), Meine van Noordwijk (World Agroforestry Centre and Wageningen University), Jan Pokorný (ENKI, Czech Republic); Douglas Sheil (Norwegian University of Life Sciences), Victoria Gutierrez (WeForest), Daniel Murdiyarso (Center for International Forestry Research and Bogor Agricultural University) and Elaine Springgay (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).

Learn more about forests and trees and their role in the water cycle



  • Home
  • Soil management and land restoration vital to meeting climate change and sustainable development targets

Soil management and land restoration vital to meeting climate change and sustainable development targets

Landscape in restoration in Abreha Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/ Ake Mamo
Posted by


Landscape in restoration in Abreha Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/ Ake Mamo

By Susan Onyango, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World Blog

Land degradation impacts the health and livelihoods of about 1.5 billion people worldwide. Further, the annual costs associated with land degradation worldwide is estimated to be US$ 231 billion as measured in terms of loss productivity and the costs to due to loss of ecosystems services.

Given that the state of the environment and food security are strongly interlinked in tropical landscapes, the increasing need for land for food production, urbanization and other uses pose several threats to sustainability in the long term. There is increasing recognition that more integrated approaches to ecosystem health assessments are needed to meet the targets of the 2030 Agenda, including SD 15.3 on combating desertification and restoring degraded land and soil. In addition to systematic and reliable biophysical and socio-economic assessments, stakeholder engagement with evidence is crucial.

The Global Symposium on Soil Organic Carbon, hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,  FAO, in Rome, Italy from 21-23 March 2017, brought together more than 300 participants to act on worldwide ambitions to preserve soil organic carbon and re-carbonizing degraded soils. The objective of the symposium was to review the role of soil and soil organic carbon in the context of climate change and sustainable evidence, and to build scientific evidence that will contribute to the IPCC Assessment Reports and reports to UNFCCC, UNCCD and on the SDGs.

Leigh Ann Winowiecki, soil scientist, and Tor-Gunnar Vågen, senior scientist, at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) presented advanced analytics on soil carbon accounting and highlighted integrated approaches for stakeholder engagement with evidence using ICRAF’s SHARED approach, a demand driven, tailored and interactive engagement process. Their presentation,  “Spatial assessments for the mapping and monitoring of soil organic carbon: Using stakeholder engagement processes”, co-authored by Constance Neely, Sabrina Chesterman and Mieke Bourne, demonstrated the integration of land and soil health maps with socio-economic datasets. Kenya’s Turkana County Government’s Resilience Diagnostic and Decision Support Tool was developed using a similar approach.

“We have established maps of soil organic carbon for the continent of Africa and are creating a large systematic database of soil organic carbon across the tropics. These maps can be used for prioritizing initiatives and baseline assessments for carbon accounting.” Leigh Ann Winowiecki, World Agroforestry Centre

Tor-Gunnar Vågen, senior scientist at the World Agroforestry at the Global Symposium on Soil Organic Carbon. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Leigh Ann Winowiecki
Tor-Gunnar Vågen, senior scientist at the World Agroforestry at the Global Symposium on Soil Organic Carbon. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Leigh Ann Winowiecki

Winowiecki and Vågen‘s  presentation highlighted the advanced spatial mapping analytics available at the Centre’s GeoScience Lab. The analysis is supported by the project, Restoration of degraded land for food security and poverty reduction in East Africa and the Sahel: taking successes in land restoration to scale, funded by IFAD and the European Commission.

Symposium participants also engaged in discussions on maintaining and/or increasing soil organic carbon stocks for climate change mitigation and adaptation and the SDG 15.3 on land degradation neutrality, and on managing soil organic carbon in soils with high organic content.

A scientific document highlighting the role of soils and soil organic carbon management in meeting the climate change and sustainable development agendas  will present an overview of state-of-the-art soil organic carbon monitoring, measures to maintain and enhance soil organic carbon, and recommended methods for monitoring and reporting soil organic carbon.

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

Also see:

Presentation – Spatial assessments for the mapping and monitoring of soil organic carbon: Using stakeholder engagement processes

Vågen, T-G., Winowiecki, L.A., Neely, C., Chesterman, S., and Bourne, M. 2017. Spatial assessments for the mapping and monitoring of soil organic carbon- Using stakeholder engagement processes, a paper presented at the Global Symposium on Soil Carbon, Rome, Italy, 21-23 March 2017.

Vågen, Tor-G., Winowiecki, L., Tondoh, J.E., Desta, L.T. and Gumbricht, T. 2016. Mapping of soil properties and land degradation risk in Africa using MODIS reflectance. Geoderma. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geoderma.2015.06.023

Global Symposium on Soil Organic Carbon website

Project website: Restoration of degraded land for food security and property reduction in East Africa and the Sahel: taking success in land restoration to scale

World Agroforestry Centre Landscapes Portal 

Blog: Put soils first, African Soil Seminar concludes

For more information, contact Leigh Winowiecki at the World Agroforestry Centre: [email protected]

We thank the European Commission and IFAD for financing the project, Restoration of degraded land for food security and poverty reduction in East Africa and the Sahel: taking successes to scale.

  • Home
  • Trees, water and climate: Cool scientific insights, hot implications for research and policy

Trees, water and climate: Cool scientific insights, hot implications for research and policy

Eko Prianto
Posted by


Amazon, Brazil. Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT

By Vincent Gitz, Director, CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, and Meine van Noordwijk, Landscape Research Leader, CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

FTA recently organized a two-day virtual symposium entitled Trees, forests and water: cool insights for a hot world to share live online the findings of a recent review paper by David Ellison and 21 other scientists, including four from FTA, and discuss their implications for research and policy.

The findings shed brand new light on the role of forests and trees in the climate debate.

Also read: Cool insights for a hot world

Since Rio 1992 and the climate convention, climate policy has put a “mitigation” sticker – ­with the associated pressure – on forests and land use for their role in climate, emphasizing the carbon stored in forests and peat soil, and the capacity of trees to sequester carbon.

This triggered a lot of scientific work and publications, including by FTA scientists, on the best pathways to strengthen the role of forests and trees in climate mitigation. Attention was given to integration with other dimensions (‘cobenefits’ and ‘safeguards’) beyond carbon measures, especially social and economic dimensions.

It also triggered many debates, in science and in policy, as to whether or not this was the right approach, such as the recurrent debates about land-use and forestry-related loopholes in the necessary climate action in the energy sector.

Photo: Eko Prianto/CIFOR

However, this perspective on forests and climate change might well change radically. And the change may not come from carbon, but from water.

What is this new light? The findings of the review, with the level of confidence of underlying scientific evidence – assessed in the symposium – are the following:

  1. Trees influence local temperature through high transpiration rates, and remote sensing and infrared tools exist for visualizing this effect (very high confidence).
  2. Forests recharge atmospheric moisture and regional evapotranspiration responds to tree-cover transitions (very high confidence).
  3. Vegetation and trees influence cloud formation and trigger rainfall via bioprecipitation effects (high confidence).
  4. Historical evidence from tree rings and their isotopic composition shows decadal variation and local influences of land use on local rainfall and climate (medium confidence).
  5. Rainbow (atmospheric) water bookkeeping combined with prevailing winds shows continental-scale teleconnections on all tropical continents. Forests enable cascading transport of water vapor over distant locations, and therefore rain, far from the sea (high confidence).
  6. Forests, as biotic pumps, attract air and moisture flows, and the loss of forests can create a tipping point turning wet climates to dry climates (medium confidence).
  7. Trees and forests can improve groundwater recharge, with the existence of an optimum level of tree cover for that effect (high confidence).
Vegetation and trees influence cloud formation and trigger rainfall via bioprecipitation effects. Photo: CIFOR

To sum up: forests and trees are drivers of key mechanisms that govern the water cycle, atmospheric moisture, precipitation and climate at the local, regional and continental levels. In other words, forests and trees can help manage the water cycle not only from the well-known watershed perspective, but from a precipitation-shed perspective, with key implications for climate regulation. Geopolitical implications are huge: Who has the right to influence rainfall elsewhere? Yet, that happens every day, according to the new hydroclimate paradigms.

So what?

Altogether, these findings have significant implications for policy and action, and for research – particularly for FTA research – and what it can do or the tools it can provide to inform and underpin this new agenda.

Climate research

The first implication is for climate research itself, to better understand “where does rain come from?” with a priority challenge of better incorporating the above processes in general circulation models. This would inter alia lead to the improvement of the projection of precipitation and its variability, and to a better estimation of the magnitude of the effects by which forests – and land use – contribute to the processes that determine winds and rain in different regions. We need to better quantify the extent of relevant hydroclimatic relations between trees, forests and climate.

Climate March in New York 2014. Photo: Kate Evans/CIFOR

Climate policy

In climate policy, it calls for a threefold change of narrative:

  • Carbon sequestration and mitigation, rather than being the main focus, are to be seen as cobenefits of climate action in landscapes.
  • Adaptation of forests is important, but even more important is the role that forests and trees will play for the adaptation of agriculture, food security, water security and livelihoods, as well as to avoid ecosystems experiencing tipping points.
  • The top-down policy perspective on forests (their role in the global carbon cycle, absorbing the world’s excess CO2) is shifting to a bottom-up policy perspective (their role in the water cycle and in localized climates).

This triple change of narrative calls for research to look into integrated approaches to revisit the currently segregated mitigation-versus-adaptation frameworks (including related procedures and funding), especially from the perspective of the implementation of the NDCs, many of which include a range of targets for sustainable forest management, including afforestation, reforestation and forest restoration.

It will further interrogate REDD+ and call for research to help establishing measurable metrics to quantify the role of forests with regard to adaptation benefits on different scales, from local and national to regional and continental. More broadly, it will call on research to assist in the refinement of existing and new climate change policy frameworks, building on the adaptation article (Article 7) of the Paris Agreement, in order to ensure synergies with and within the SDGs.

Land restoration in Ethiopia. Photo: Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

Importantly, it will also put back the mitigation focus on fossil fuels and the energy sector, contributing to ending the often counterproductive land carbon “loophole” debate, while at the same time giving even more emphasis to the roles of land use, forests and trees for climate regulation.

Land restoration

These findings can help better understand – or avoid mistakes on – what to plant where and how or what natural regeneration to assist. They provide a hydroclimatic rationale over and above the current carbo-climate metrics of performance for tree-based landscape restoration.

They call for research to provide more information on plant functional attributes (as a source of nucleating particles for biological generation of rainfall) across climates and ecozones. They also call for research to provide tools that include a hydroclimatic perspective for stakeholders to better assess the costs and benefits of action including not only downstream benefits, but also those beyond the watershed, downwind, complemented by economic and social analysis.

Integrated landscape policies

Here the question is how to organize land use on different scales for water and climate. More effective, tailored information (including maps, transfer functions, remote sensing and visualization tools) on the location-specific nature of atmospheric moisture, rainfall and their sources can lead to improved integrated water, land and climate policies in the forest-rural-urban continuum.

Photo: CIFOR

This would lead to water policies going beyond the watersheds, toward “precipitationsheds.” Research should look into what institutional mechanisms and incentive schemes would account for such land/water teleconnections, and remote impacts from where actual land use, tree planting or removal decisions are made.

Food security

This research gives a new perspective on the role of forests and trees from continental to farm scale for food production and food security. Here research should strive for a better understanding of the decadal scale variation in rainfall and its origins (oceanic/terrestrial), to contextualize current climate and yield variability and support landscape-level ‘climate-smart’ options.

It can document and quantify the role of forests that generate rainfall in teleconnected but distant areas (including “bread baskets”). Finally, on a more local scale, it can provide new insights on how to integrate trees and forests in agriculture/crop systems.

Photo: World Resources Institute

Sustainable Development Goals

A last domain relates to the achievement of the SDGs. Expanding our interpretation of the development targets to embrace the concept of a land-food-water-energy-climate-biodiversity nexus on the landscape scale could provide a better point of reference than existing segregated policies. Research should provide operational insights on the use of forests and trees – fully embracing their relationship with water – in achieving and connecting the SDGs. It should aim for actionable, concrete and easy-to-grasp solutions for multiple objectives, and guidance on forests, trees and land-use options are part of them.


It is not often in research that efforts lead to considering possible “changes of theory” and such-wide ranging implications. The next challenge for research is both internal and external: for us to better quantify and assess the magnitude of these relations, providing clarity about uncertainties and validity domains (including on the diversity of local-specific situations), and to avoid oversimplification.

This will enable us to pursue our quest for strengthening the knowledge base, while being credible enough not to delay the opening of new avenues for action, with clarity on current evidence, (un)certainties, and policy and development implications.

Back to top

Sign up to our monthly newsletter

Connect with us