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ACM levels the playing field for women and men in forest-adjacent communities

A woman collects firewood in her forest plantation in Mpigi district, Uganda. Photo by John Baptist Wandera/CIFOR
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A woman collects firewood in her forest plantation in Mpigi district, Uganda. Photo by John Baptist Wandera/CIFOR

Aimed at enhancing women’s participation as well as identifying how negotiation and facilitation can strengthen women’s tenure, a gender-equity approach is showing better outcomes not only for women but also for forest resources.

The approach, dubbed Adaptive Collaborative Management (ACM), was outlined in a recent webinar by Esther Mwangi, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) principal scientist and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’s (FTA) former gender lead.

In opening the discussion, Ewen Le Borgne of the CGIAR Collaborative Platform for Gender Research, which organized the webinar, foreshadowed how ACM can be used to foster increased gender equity in the management and use of community forests.

“Strengthening women’s rights is possible even when norms of patriarchy are strong,” he said. “[Mwangi] shows that strengthening women’s rights and decision-making has positive implications for the reforestation of degraded forests as well as for increasing on-farm tree planting.”

Mwangi, whose research focuses on forest governance issues, including gender, tenure, property rights, community participation and linking knowledge with action, presented the findings of work carried out in Uganda over a six-year period that ended in 2016.

Read more: Strengthening women’s tenure and rights to forests and trees and their participation in decision making

Gender biases generated through cultural norms and practices are considered to be among the most common impediments to women’s rights to, and participation in the benefits of, forests and trees.

Customary norms regulate land and resource rights in many parts of Africa, with studies showing that such norms permeate into formal decision-making arenas where they can constrain the implementation of gender-equitable statutory provisions.

During the discussion, Mwangi questioned what tends to eventuate from policies, which are generally well-intended, particularly those aimed at promoting gender equity in the forestry sector. In Uganda, she explained, forest policy was very explicit about increasing the security of tenure over forest resources for women, as well as encouraging women and youth to actively participate in decision-making, resource management and benefit-sharing.

A ficus tree is pictured in Uganda. Photo by John Baptist Wandera/CIFOR

Interested by this policy, Mwangi examined the extent to which the good intentions were fulfilled in practice. She first presented the results of a situation analysis conducted in 18 communities in three districts in Central Uganda, which aimed to establish how men and women used and managed forest resources.

Mwangi discussed the nature of the relationship between men and women and their decision-making in relation to forest resources. She found that gender inequalities still exist in the sector, often due to cultural norms and practices at the community level, among many other reasons.

These norms can dictate who owns trees and forests, as well as who makes decisions about trees within community forestry groups and on farms.

“There was a clear bias against women,” she explained. “Women cannot plant trees. In particular, certain trees are considered taboo species, such as ficus.”

Ficus natalensis, also known as the natal fig, can be used for fodder and firewood, or as timber for furniture and boats. Ficus bark is also processed into barkcloth, used for traditional functions and burial ceremonies in Uganda, which can provide a source of income for processors.

Prior to the development of ACM, because of the existing cultural taboos surrounding the planting of ficus, women in Uganda were prevented from cultivating and deriving an income from the trees. However, the collaborative approach encouraged more women to negotiate with their husbands to allow them to plant ficus.

Read more: Forbidden no more: women negotiate changes in tree planting traditions

ACM enhances women’s participation and identifies how negotiation and facilitation can strengthen women’s tenure rights amid customary norms with a male bias, Mwangi explained.

“It involves voluntary groups that are facilitated in order to enhance communication, improve collaboration, resolve conflict and […] seek out ways of collectively learning about the impacts of their actions.”

It is ultimately about “enabling communities to deal with their own issues and their situation,” she said, which can improve equity, and “empower women and other marginalized groups to have a say in how forests are used and managed.”

Forest degradation and a decline in forest resources were key issues in the forest-adjacent communities, who found they could reduce pressure on forest resources with on-farm techniques such as tree planting, keeping bees and pigs, and water harvesting.

Within the process of implementing these priorities, women were facilitated to take on leadership positions, and participate and engage in more meaningful ways. Through ACM, women can contribute to discussion without fear of ridicule or retribution, Mwangi stated.

A farmers’ group works with seedlings in Mbazzi, Uganda. Photo by John Baptist Wandera/CIFOR

Mwangi looked closely at the application of the ACM approach among six randomly selected forest-adjacent communities in three districts in Central Uganda.

According to her, women in the communities expressed concern over exclusion from decisions despite their use and management of forests and trees; absence in leadership positions; poor attendance at meetings; a lack of confidence to speak up during meetings; and cultural norms that prevented them from planting, owning and economically benefiting from trees.

Before the approach, there were no women planting Ficus natalensis, due not only to the issues identified by the women, but also the taboos highlighted by the researchers surrounding the trees as land ownership symbols. Following the efforts, around one-third of the women involved began to plant the trees, while two women also began to sell barkcloth made from ficus.

Women also planted and owned more trees, were able to contribute equally to discussions, and took on more leadership positions.

Read more: Strengthening women’s tenure rights and participation in community forestry

Within these efforts, linkages to external actors were key, as they provided buffers, resources and legitimacy, and helped to identify new opportunities. Men in the communities were also important players in improving women’s rights.

“Men can be allies in processes of strengthening women’s rights and empowerment, and in fact mixed groups can be a viable pathway, in addition to women-only groups,” said Mwangi.

Statutory rights are not always automatically exercised or implemented, she explained, especially when cultural norms create roadblocks, which is why collaborative approaches are needed on the path to gender equity.

“Negotiation and facilitation by intermediaries can strengthen women’s rights and participation,” she said. “We can actually move from one set of norms to another, which allows women greater freedoms, allows them to take leadership, and be seen as legitimate leads in decision-making, resource allocation and resource access.”

This results not only in better outcomes for women, but also for forest resources and reforestation, she added.

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

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

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  • Long-term partnerships benefit research on tree genetic resources

Long-term partnerships benefit research on tree genetic resources

The work on the African Orphan Crops Consortium includes partners such as Mars. Photo: Cathy Watson/ICRAF
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unknownIn the next phase starting in 2017, the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) will feature a new Flagship 1: Tree genetic resources to bridge production gaps and promote resilience. It includes elements of what is now Flagship 2 Management and conservation of forest and tree resources, coordinated by Laura Snook of Bioversity International. Before the start of Phase II, Ramni Jamnadass, Co-Leader, Tree Diversity, Domestication and Delivery at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and Coordinator t of the future Flagship 1 reflects on the most important partnerships within her research area. Read more on partnerships here.

Tree genetic resources are crucial for productive and sustainable landscapes, but this importance is not yet universally recognized. Research in this area lacks coordination and appropriate investment; quality planting material needs to be developed and promoted more effectively for socio-economic and environmental benefits. Currently the tools and approaches to achieve this are inadequate.

One example of a fruitful partnership.
One example of a fruitful partnership.

With the restructuring of the Flagships, activities on safeguarding genetic diversity, domestication and delivery of planting material will be subsumed under a single Flagship. We’ll bring together work that was previously dispersed across different components of FTA. Key strategic partners in the new Flagship are ICRAF, Bioversity International (who previously led the Flagship) and the University of Copenhagen.

Like the other Flagships, we have partnerships with a range of advanced research institutions in Europe (such as the James Hutton Institute), America (such as the University of California, Davis) and elsewhere.

Noteworthy is the training program for 250 African plant breeders set up with the University of California, Davis, which sits under the partnership with the African Orphan Crops Consortium.

The work on the African Orphan Crops Consortium includes partners such as Mars. Photo: Cathy Watson/ICRAF
The work on the African Orphan Crops Consortium includes partners such as Mars. Photo: Cathy Watson/ICRAF

Recently, the University of New Hampshire has come on board, and we have been approached by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) that wants to expand their international work on orphan crops.

In terms of international organizations, we also a have very fruitful collaboration with the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, on a range of initiatives such as the State of the World’s Forest Genetic Resources. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has been a really good partner.

There are some evolving partnerships, which will depend on mutual expectations and if we can meet each other’s, but it’s not at all about money. One such new partnership is with the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) where synergies exist within work on best approaches for germplasm improvement and delivery. INBAR will be a managing partner in the next phase of FTA.

Also read: Seeing the trees as well as the forest: the importance of managing forest genetic resources

I want to also highlight partnerships with the private sector, for example with Mars, Unilever, and Natura. The partnership with Mars is both upstream, on genomics to support breeding work under the African Orphan Crops Consortium; and downstream, on cocoa farm upgrading through the use of improved planting material in Cote d’Ivoire.

The engagement with Unilever has grown over almost 12 years. Such work has established a pathway for difficult species where there’s been no investment previously but where potential for market use is high.

More on partnerships:

Robert Nasi: Partnerships make forests, trees and agroforestry program work

Diversity, commitment, challenges and shared goals: How CIRAD looks at FTA

Long-term relationships and mutual trust—partnerships and research on climate change

The best science is nothing without local voices: Partnerships and landscapes

Influence flows both ways: Partnerships are key to research on Livelihood systems

Alignment is key to make partnerships work

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

Bringing in the development expertise: INBAR to join CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry

Connecting with countries: Tropenbos International to join CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry

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  • Seeing the trees as well as the forest: the importance of managing forest genetic resources

Seeing the trees as well as the forest: the importance of managing forest genetic resources

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Reliable data on the status and trends of forest genetic resources are essential for their sustainable management. The reviews presented in this special edition of Forest Ecology and Management on forest genetic resources complement the first ever synthesis of the State of the World’s Forest Genetic Resources (SOW-FGR) that has just been published by the Food and Agriculture Organization. In this editorial, we present some of the key findings of the SOW-FGR and introduce the seven reviews presented in this special edition on: (1) tree genetic resources and livelihoods; (2) the benefits and dangers of international germplasm transfers; (3) genetic indicators for monitoring threats to populations and the effectiveness of ameliorative actions; (4) the genetic impacts of timber management practices; (5) genetic considerations in forest ecosystem restoration projects using native trees; (6) genetic-level responses to climate change; and (7) ex situ conservation approaches and their integration with in situ methods. Recommendations for action arising from the SOW-FGR, which are captured in the first Global Plan of Action for the Conservation, Sustainable Use and Development of Forest Genetic Resources, and the above articles are discussed. These include: increasing the awareness of the importance of and threats to forest genetic resources and the mainstreaming of genetic considerations into forest management and restoration; establishing common garden provenance trials to support restoration and climate change initiatives that extend to currently little-researched tree species; streamlining processes for germplasm exchange internationally for research and development; and the intelligent use of modern molecular marker methods as genetic indicators in management and for improvement purposes.

Category: Journal articles

Author: Loo, J.; Souvannavong, O.; Dawson, I.K.

Journal or series: Forest Ecology and Management, Vol. 333

Pages: p. 1-8

Publisher: Elsevier

Publication Year: 2014

Publication Format: PDF

ISSN: 0378-1127

Language: EN

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