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CIFOR and ICRAF directors general discuss merger

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The world’s leading organizations on forestry and agroforestry, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and World Agroforestry (ICRAF), merged on Jan. 1, 2019, in order to leverage their combined 65 years of research and experience. Directors General Robert Nasi and Tony Simons recently sat down to talk about why the two organizations were merging. They also discussed tackling food security and sustainable landscapes.

Originally published by CIFOR.

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  • How can rubber contribute to sustainable development in a context of climate change?

How can rubber contribute to sustainable development in a context of climate change?

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Rubber trees grow in rows in South Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by I. Cooke Vieira/CIFOR

Developing the rubber sector while meeting environment and social objectives involves both challenges and opportunities.

Lying in the shadow of oil palm in terms of sustainable development issues, the sector needs a combination of measures to progress toward sustainable development. There is now a wealth of knowledge and evidence to make this happen.

“Evolution to Revolution: New Paths for the Rubber Economy” was the theme of the World Rubber Summit held in Singapore on March 18-19, 2019, organized by the International Rubber Study Group (IRSG). The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) participated in the summit and I presented during a session titled Managing sustainability performances in the rubber value chain.

Plantations of all major tropical commodities – especially oil palm, timber, pulp, cocoa and rubber – are expanding quickly, creating opportunities for development while also raising concerns about impacts on the environment, landscapes and livelihoods.

FTA has identified plantations as a research priority. Rubber is a particularly interesting example; plantations are continually expanding with a very concentrated sector downstream (the majority being a small number of tire producers), and a production sector heavily dominated by smallholders.

Read also: Challenges and opportunities for sustainable rubber in Myanmar

Rubber at a crossroads

The sector is confronted with a range of issues when it comes to its impact on and contribution to sustainable development.

Land-use change: Rubber is the most rapidly expanding tree crop within mainland Southeast Asia. Additional land will be required to meet future rubber demand, which could be in forested areas or on mosaic landscapes, swidden agriculture and agroforest, though there is also potential to reduce land-use change and deforestation through more intensive systems – both in terms of rubber and other associated production depending on situations.

Biodiversity: In many areas rubber expansion has been on former natural forest, including sometimes in protected areas. The effects of converting primary and secondary forests to rubber monoculture are well understood – it decreases species richness and changes species composition. However, the biodiversity value of swidden agriculture and of mosaic landscapes is less well known and the effects of their conversion to rubber plantations has been assessed in less detail.

Climate change mitigation: The potential contribution of rubber to climate change mitigation depends on what it replaces and the way it is conducted. The impact is generally negative when rubber replaces primary or secondary forests, but positive when planted on very degraded land. The impact can be neutral or slightly positive when rubber replaces swidden systems with a short fallow period, but negative when it displaces swidden systems that will then encroach on forest.

Water and erosion: Effects again depend on what rubber replaces. For instance, there can be less fog interception relative to complex canopies. Conversion to rubber can increase evapotranspiration relative to native vegetation. Rubber risks depleting deep-soil moisture during the dry season with effects on groundwater and streamflow. In mountainous areas of mainland Southeast Asia, plantations on steep slopes have negative impacts on soil erosion, landslide risk and water quality. There are also indications of impacts from rubber plantation runoff on water quality and aquatic biodiversity.

A hevea tree is seen in Ngazi, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR

Social issues: Production is still dominated by smallholders in most countries, especially in “traditional” production areas. The establishment of rubber replacing swidden agriculture has substantially increased smallholder income in Southwest China and Northern Thailand. In non-traditional areas, such as Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and some African countries, the expansion of rubber often takes the form of larger-scale plantations – which could disadvantage rural communities, with some reports of evictions and of poor labor conditions in large-scale plantations.

Resilience to price fluctuations: Rubber prices can be volatile, which is a concern for long-term investment and has consequences for the sustainability of economic and production models. Smallholders who are purely engaged in rubber are very exposed, especially if they are not supported by public policies. Smallholders with diversified systems are the most resilient. Paradoxically, large estates may be more exposed due to monoculture and having to pay a workforce.

Climate change adaptation: Until recently it was difficult to predict the incidence of climate change on violent precipitation and winds, to which plantations are vulnerable. There is also a need for more research on the impacts of climate change on the distribution of pests and diseases. Diversified systems are more resilient to shocks of any kind, including from climate change, and can contribute to adaptation at a landscape level.

Read also: Challenges and opportunities for sustainable rubber in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Ways forward 

Given these challenges, the potential impacts of rubber expansion and the contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement ultimately depend on three factors. First is where expansion occurs, and the land use or land cover that rubber replaces. Second, it involves production systems, yield and overall efficiency, including the use of rubber wood, as well as impacts on water and biodiversity. The third factor is benefits for smallholders and local populations, contributing to economic and social resilience.

A range of objectives could pave the way forward for sustainable development.

  • Limiting negative impacts of land-use change
  • Regulating land concessions and contract farming
  • Supporting smallholders and farmer groups
  • Promoting and improving diversified systems

To meet these objectives, it would be necessary to see a combination of measures.

  • Research in development
  • Extension services aiming for high yields and quality, as well as diversified production systems
  • Land-use zoning and planning
  • Enabling regulatory environment on concessions and contracts
  • Recognition of sustainable practices, including through corporate social and environmental responsibility and certification
  • Support and incentives for smallholders when engaging in sustainable development, such as secure tenure, technology transfer, economic risk mitigation, payment for environmental services

The rubber sector needs measures connecting downstream with upstream, involving various stakeholders, building on science and knowledge and promoting transfer in a practical way. The newly launched Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR) will hopefully address this.

Knowledge and evidence could enable the transition in a proactive way, contributing to sustainable development outcomes. FTA stands ready to work with the GPSNR and to help support the sector move toward sustainable development, “from evolution to revolution”.

By Vincent Gitz, FTA Director


The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) is supported by contributors to the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • How can rubber contribute to sustainable development in a context of climate change?

How can rubber contribute to sustainable development in a context of climate change?

Rubber trees grow in rows in South Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by I. Cooke Vieira/CIFOR
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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Developing the rubber sector while meeting environment and social objectives involves both challenges and opportunities.

Lying in the shadow of oil palm in terms of sustainable development issues, the sector needs a combination of measures to progress toward sustainable development. There is now a wealth of knowledge and evidence to make this happen.

“Evolution to Revolution: New Paths for the Rubber Economy” was the theme of the World Rubber Summit held in Singapore on March 18-19, 2019, organized by the International Rubber Study Group (IRSG). The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) participated in the summit and I presented during a session titled Managing sustainability performances in the rubber value chain.

Plantations of all major tropical commodities – especially oil palm, timber, pulp, cocoa and rubber – are expanding quickly, creating opportunities for development while also raising concerns about impacts on the environment, landscapes and livelihoods.

FTA has identified plantations as a research priority. Rubber is a particularly interesting example; plantations are continually expanding with a very concentrated sector downstream (the majority being a small number of tire producers), and a production sector heavily dominated by smallholders.

Read also: Challenges and opportunities for sustainable rubber in Myanmar

Rubber at a crossroads

The sector is confronted with a range of issues when it comes to its impact on and contribution to sustainable development.

Land-use change: Rubber is the most rapidly expanding tree crop within mainland Southeast Asia. Additional land will be required to meet future rubber demand, which could be in forested areas or on mosaic landscapes, swidden agriculture and agroforest, though there is also potential to reduce land-use change and deforestation through more intensive systems – both in terms of rubber and other associated production depending on situations.

Biodiversity: In many areas rubber expansion has been on former natural forest, including sometimes in protected areas. The effects of converting primary and secondary forests to rubber monoculture are well understood – it decreases species richness and changes species composition. However, the biodiversity value of swidden agriculture and of mosaic landscapes is less well known and the effects of their conversion to rubber plantations has been assessed in less detail.

Climate change mitigation: The potential contribution of rubber to climate change mitigation depends on what it replaces and the way it is conducted. The impact is generally negative when rubber replaces primary or secondary forests, but positive when planted on very degraded land. The impact can be neutral or slightly positive when rubber replaces swidden systems with a short fallow period, but negative when it displaces swidden systems that will then encroach on forest.

Water and erosion: Effects again depend on what rubber replaces. For instance, there can be less fog interception relative to complex canopies. Conversion to rubber can increase evapotranspiration relative to native vegetation. Rubber risks depleting deep-soil moisture during the dry season with effects on groundwater and streamflow. In mountainous areas of mainland Southeast Asia, plantations on steep slopes have negative impacts on soil erosion, landslide risk and water quality. There are also indications of impacts from rubber plantation runoff on water quality and aquatic biodiversity.

A hevea tree is seen in Ngazi, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR

Social issues: Production is still dominated by smallholders in most countries, especially in “traditional” production areas. The establishment of rubber replacing swidden agriculture has substantially increased smallholder income in Southwest China and Northern Thailand. In non-traditional areas, such as Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and some African countries, the expansion of rubber often takes the form of larger-scale plantations – which could disadvantage rural communities, with some reports of evictions and of poor labor conditions in large-scale plantations.

Resilience to price fluctuations: Rubber prices can be volatile, which is a concern for long-term investment and has consequences for the sustainability of economic and production models. Smallholders who are purely engaged in rubber are very exposed, especially if they are not supported by public policies. Smallholders with diversified systems are the most resilient. Paradoxically, large estates may be more exposed due to monoculture and having to pay a workforce.

Climate change adaptation: Until recently it was difficult to predict the incidence of climate change on violent precipitation and winds, to which plantations are vulnerable. There is also a need for more research on the impacts of climate change on the distribution of pests and diseases. Diversified systems are more resilient to shocks of any kind, including from climate change, and can contribute to adaptation at a landscape level.

Read also: Challenges and opportunities for sustainable rubber in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Ways forward 

Given these challenges, the potential impacts of rubber expansion and the contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement ultimately depend on three factors. First is where expansion occurs, and the land use or land cover that rubber replaces. Second, it involves production systems, yield and overall efficiency, including the use of rubber wood, as well as impacts on water and biodiversity. The third factor is benefits for smallholders and local populations, contributing to economic and social resilience.

A range of objectives could pave the way forward for sustainable development.

  • Limiting negative impacts of land-use change
  • Regulating land concessions and contract farming
  • Supporting smallholders and farmer groups
  • Promoting and improving diversified systems

To meet these objectives, it would be necessary to see a combination of measures.

  • Research in development
  • Extension services aiming for high yields and quality, as well as diversified production systems
  • Land-use zoning and planning
  • Enabling regulatory environment on concessions and contracts
  • Recognition of sustainable practices, including through corporate social and environmental responsibility and certification
  • Support and incentives for smallholders when engaging in sustainable development, such as secure tenure, technology transfer, economic risk mitigation, payment for environmental services

The rubber sector needs measures connecting downstream with upstream, involving various stakeholders, building on science and knowledge and promoting transfer in a practical way. The newly launched Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR) will hopefully address this.

Knowledge and evidence could enable the transition in a proactive way, contributing to sustainable development outcomes. FTA stands ready to work with the GPSNR and to help support the sector move toward sustainable development, “from evolution to revolution”.

By Vincent Gitz, FTA Director


The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) is supported by contributors to the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Getting landscapes on a fast track to sustainability

Getting landscapes on a fast track to sustainability

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GLF Charter members pose onstage during the closing remarks of GLF Bonn 2018. Photo by Pilar Valbuena/GLF

The Global Landscapes Forum in Bonn, Germany, assembled 1,000 participants on-site on 1-2 December, and thousands more online, to go beyond pledges and commitments and spur collective action on securing a more sustainable future for life on this planet.

One of the main messages emerging from the event was that the time to change is now.

“The world needs decisive action,” said director general of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) Robert Nasi, in his closing remarks. “Research is important, but we now know enough to understand that there is a problem and that we need to solve it – enough to know what we have to do.”

Jochen Flasbarth, who is state secretary of the German Ministry for the Environment, shared Nasi’s sense of urgency: “Without a sustainable land use sector, let’s forget about meeting any of the global climate, biodiversity and sustainable development targets.”

Participants reiterated that business-as-usual will not get landscapes on the track of sustainability, or do it broadly and quickly enough to meet critical biodiversity, climate and development goals. What, then, will get us where we need to go? To answer this question, delegates from governments, academia, NGOs, the private sector and civil society devoted the better part of the two-day forum to presenting specific principles and practical strategies.

“To affect systemic change, we need action from the bottom-up, but also from the top down, so we can get rid of the many that perverse policies that are not in line with the Sustainable Development Goals,” pointed out Louise Luttikholt, director of IFOAM, which is one of 21 GLF Charter members that signed a commitment to the GLF mission at the event. Good governance, targeted policies, and adequate institutional and legal frameworks are essential, noted participants, but the public sector cannot power the sustainable landscape revolution alone.

For assistant secretary-general of UN Environment Satya S. Tripathi, there is no way around the fact that private finance and the private sector are going to play a key role in creating sustainable landscapes. “This is why we need to step out of our comfort zone and find ways to collaborate with private actors, even with those who are misbehaving, so we can get them on the right track,” he said.

The role of private finance was highlighted in an all-women finance plenary as well. We must accept that public investment has a role, said Jane Feehan from the European Investment Bank, but that the bulk of ‘green’ funding must come from private institutions and businesses.

Watch: Satya S. Tripathi at the Closing Plenary 2018

SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS MODELS

Tapping into the potential of sustainable business models and changing consumer behavior are some of the key approaches championed by researchers, governments and international organizations alike. Several initiatives are now emerging to push responsible production and consumption forward, greening both supply chains and mindsets. 

“For example, what makes a jurisdiction an attractive destination for companies that want to source sustainable commodities?” queried Gita Syahrani, head of the Sustainable Districts Association secretariat in Indonesia. “We are working to define these enabling conditions so our districts can green their supply chains for commodities such as rubber and palm oil,” she said. As part of this effort, they are collaborating with the Dutch sustainable trade initiative IDH in the creation of the Verified Sourcing Mechanism (VSM).

IDH’s groundbreaking mechanism, which will launch for consultation in July 2019, aims to verify the sustainability of an entire production area – such as a state or a district — so auditing each producer or commodity individually is no longer necessary. “Verified sourcing areas can drive progress because they provide a business model for sustainability that everybody can join,” said Willem Klaassens, IDH senior commodity trade specialist.

The same principle should underpin the restoration of forest landscapes, according to delegates from organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), CIFOR and the International Tropical Timber Association (ITTO). “Integrating forest landscape restoration with sustainable wood value chains can lead to greater overall benefits, including increased ecosystem services, forest products and employment opportunities,” said assistant director-general of FAO’s Forestry Department Hiroto Mitsugi.

Watch: Robert Nasi at the Closing Plenary GLF Bonn 2018

MAKING NATURAL CAPITAL COUNT

Nasi from CIFOR noted that the cost of inaction is much higher than the cost of investing – financially, and through other action – in landscape sustainability. “The world is losing an estimated USD 6.3 trillion to land degradation every year; yet, meeting the goal of restoring 300 million hectares of land by 2030 could have a return of USD 7 to 20 for each dollar invested.”

In a recent study, the World Bank tracked the wealth of countries taking into account built, human and natural capital. What they found is that natural capital accounts for an average of 9 percent of wealth globally, but up to 47 percent in low-income countries.

“This means that more efficient management of land resources is key to the sustainable development of countries,” said Karin Kemper, senior director for the Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice at the World Bank. To understand how countries become wealthier in a sustainable way, we need to go beyond their gross domestic product and take into account their natural capital.”

Better integrating landscape interventions into national economic development plans can make strides in changing consumers’ behavior; increasing the transparency of supply chains; and equipping producers to develop projects that are investment-ready and financially attractive.

Then there is the cross-cutting issue of rights, and “particularly, those of local communities and indigenous people, whose territories host 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity,” said co-convenor of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development Joan Carling.

In the face of a growing global population and climate change, implementing these and other strategies cannot wait, believes Stefan Schmitz, deputy director-general and commissioner for the One World – No Hunger initiative of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).”We need to empower people to achieve sustainable food systems, bearing in mind they live in spaces, not in sectors. We need to shift from thinking in sectors to thinking in landscapes.”

FROM INDIVIDUAL TO SYSTEMIC CHANGE

The GLF convened large organizations, but also shone light on individuals, young and old, who have braved disbelief and put their lives on the line to reclaim healthy landscapes around the world. Right Livelihood Award laureates Yacouba Sawadogo and Tony Rinaudo are two of them.

Sawadogo, known as ‘the man who stopped the desert,’ has devoted his life to restoring land fertility in his native Burkina Faso, inspiring many other farmers in this and other countries to do the same. “I gave up everything, all my time and belongings, to dedicate myself to the land. At 72, I only own a donkey and a cart. My one wealth is the forest I planted,” he said in the opening plenary.

Rinaudo, who is natural resources management specialist at World Vision, has been championing a restoration technique known as farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR). After working for decades with countries such as Niger, he came to a realization: “The first step to re-greening landscapes is re-greening mindscapes.”

The path may be long, but the thousands of organizations and individuals who participated in the GLF are already on their way.

By Gloria Pallares, originally published at GLF’s Landscape News.

For more on GLF Bonn 2018, read Landscape News’ highlights from Day 1 and Day 2.

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  • Special issue looks at forest governance interventions to promote sustainability

Special issue looks at forest governance interventions to promote sustainability

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A Brazil nut producer looks up into the trees in Madre de Dios, Peru. Photo by Yoly Gutierrez/CIFOR

What can 19 reviews assessing 1,200 research articles spanning over 3 billion hectares of land show about what works in forest governance interventions to promote sustainability?

It is widely agreed that effective governance is key to building and securing sustainability in forested areas, but the jury is still out over what that actually looks like.

There are “literally scores of different governance methods that people have tried to get improved outcomes,” according to Arun Agrawal, a professor at the University of Michigan.

“We don’t have a very good sense of which interventions work well, when they work well, and why they work well,” added Agrawal, a contributing editor on a new special issue of Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability (COSUST).

Each of 19 reviews in the journal aims to assess the degree of effectiveness of the environmental governance strategy they focus on, and the level of confidence information available. These interventions include, among others, REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), protected areas, community forests, concessions, tree plantation, forests under certification, private acquisition of land for conservation, and sustainable intensification.

Read the article: What is REDD+ achieving on the ground?

CRITICAL FACTORS

The issue provided an opportunity to explore commonalities among the different kinds of interventions – of which there were more than expected, Agrawal said. “Very often we think of these interventions as being quite different from each other, but when we look at what’s associated with the success of these interventions, we find there are a common set of factors.”

As such, in the issue’s introduction, the editors identify four criteria as critical to constructing effective governance for sustainability.

Collaborative relationships between different actors and decision makers is “central,” Agrawal said. Supportive policies, adaptive management, and responsive macro-institutional frameworks are also important.

“It’s so important to look at what is going on as things are being implemented, and learn from the intervention while it’s unfolding – not coming into the process with a fixed blueprint in your mind, but being willing to adapt while you’re implementing the intervention,” he said.

As such, clear monitoring systems and performance indicators are critical. It is also key to integrate learning from different kinds of evidence, and from overlapping interventions.

“Often it was not a single intervention that by itself led to positive outcomes, but it was effective in combination with others,” he said.

What does this mean for practitioners? “It’s not that everybody should follow the same template,” Arawal cautioned. “But keeping these factors in mind when you’re trying new things could well lead to better outcomes.”

Read also: CIFOR now hosts comprehensive REDD+ tool ID-RECCO

A converted agricultural area is seen in Madre de Dios, Peru. Photo by Yoly Gutierrez/CIFOR

THREE ‘I’S OF ENVIRONMENTAL GOVERNANCE

 The editors also identify three fundamental means for designing governance interventions related to natural resources: information, incentives, and institutions. In some interventions, actors managing or relying on forests use information to shape outcomes, assuming that with greater awareness, unsustainable behaviors may change.

For example, informing consumers about sustainably-harvested timber and zero-deforestation palm oil – and the degradation and conflict associated with their alternatives – is intended to influence buying behavior, thus increasing demand for sustainably produced commodities and prompting producer shifts towards practices and standards that align with these goals.

Another way of designing interventions is to recognize the cost of adopting more sustainable behavior, and thus provide incentives that aim to absorb this extra cost, and in so doing, enable the behaviors they are seeking to promote. This is the philosophy behind programs like REDD+ and other payments for ecosystem services (PES) approaches. Alternatively, interventions may use institutional change to impose costs and sanctions on people enacting unsustainable behaviors. For example, government agencies may enact fines or prison sentences on those caught cutting down trees in protected areas.

In reality, most forest governance interventions use a combination of all three methods, although with different amounts of emphasis on each.

In one of the review articles led by CIFOR scientist, Amy Duchelle it is clear that while REDD+ programs are centered on incentives, in practice they involve a “customized basket of integrated interventions,” which also require information-sharing and institutional change to promote behaviors that help restore degraded areas and keep forests standing.

Arawal and his colleagues hoped initially to be able to make quantitative claims about the number of hectares successfully protected through each kind of intervention. But given that each situation requires its own bespoke mix of interventions, evaluating impact at wider scales is extremely challenging. What’s more, the reviewers found that in most cases the data that exists is too “patchy” to make generic claims, Agrawal said — a serious concern given the pressing nature of the work involved.

For example, in the REDD+ review, Duchelle was “surprised by the lack of studies on the forest and land use outcomes of REDD+, as well as the rare use of counterfactual approaches to evaluate impacts of any kind.” She and her co-authors concluded that “recent research has not yet measured up to the importance of REDD+ in terms of scope, depth, and analytic sophistication,” and stressed that “as forest-rich countries refine their climate action plans post 2020, there is an urgent need for more reliable evidence on the impacts of REDD+ to date to guide their choices.”

By Monica Evans, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Amy Duchelle at [email protected] or Arun Agrawal at [email protected].


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

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  • Unpacking 'sustainable' cocoa: do sustainability standards, development projects and policies address producer concerns in Indonesia, Cameroon and Peru?

Unpacking ‘sustainable’ cocoa: do sustainability standards, development projects and policies address producer concerns in Indonesia, Cameroon and Peru?

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Sustainable cocoa has attracted considerable attention. However, stakeholders in cocoa development may differ in their understanding of sustainable cocoa, their interests and actions taken in advancing sustainable cocoa. This article analyses cocoa sustainability at nested scales and analyses to what extent sustainability standards, policies and development projects address sustainability concerns and contribute to ecosystem services. The analysis is based on literature reviews and key informant interviews in Sulawesi (Indonesia), Ucayali (Peru) and Centre Region (Cameroon). Producers in all three countries shared concerns of price volatility, weak farmer organizations and dependence on few buyers. Producers in Sulawesi and Centre Region compensated low returns to cocoa production by diversification of cocoa systems. Public and private development actors were concerned with low production volumes. Research has so far focused on biodiversity loss, which differed depending on the cocoa sector’s age in a country. Policies and development programs in all countries have focused on cocoa sector expansion and productivity increases, irrespective of smallholder needs for economically viable farming systems and existing market structures resulting in little bargaining power to farmers. Sustainability standards have spread unevenly and have converged in compliance criteria over time, although initially differing in focus. Recently added business and development criteria of sustainability standards can potentially address farmers’ concerns. Competing interests and interdependencies between different actors’ responses to concerns have so far not been openly acknowledged by public and private sector actors.

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  • Secrets of the Mutis Honey Hunters

Secrets of the Mutis Honey Hunters

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In the Mount Mutis valley in West Timor, Indonesia, there lives a people with a tradition of hunting. They do not hunt deer or wild boar, but honey. As a non-timber forest product, Mount Mutis honey provides supplementary income for its harvesters’ livelihoods. And because honey production relies on a healthy forest environment, there is an extra economic incentive to ensure protection of the ecosystem it depends on.

Originally published by CIFOR.

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  • Nutrition and trees in sub-Saharan Africa: Jennifer’s secret

Nutrition and trees in sub-Saharan Africa: Jennifer’s secret

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Not even Jennifer’s children know where she hides the chikanda. Why? The small, brownish orchid tubers are highly valued as a cultural delicacy among the Bemba people who live in the Luwingu district of northern Zambia. Overharvesting of chikanda for sale is an important issue in East and southern Africa, but local women have a way to harvest it sustainably. Jennifer explains why chikanda is so important in her culture.

Between 2013 and 2017, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) conducted a research project called ‘Nutrition and Trees in sub-Saharan Africa’ in five sites across several countries, looking at the contribution that forests and trees in landscapes make to the diets of mothers and their young children. One of these sites was in Luwingu, in northern Zambia. At the end of the project, women from different villages came together to showcase their recipes of traditional foods in a food fair hosted by Zambia’s Ministry of Agriculture and CIFOR.

This video was produced by CIFOR.

This project was funded with UK aid from the UK government. This research is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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  • Financing farmers: Can funds for oil palm help save our forests?

Financing farmers: Can funds for oil palm help save our forests?

A worker wheels a barrow of oil palm fruit. Photo by Icaro Cooke Vieira/CIFOR
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Oil palm fruits in Jambi, Indonesia. Photo by Iddy Farmer/CIFOR

Palm oil: people love it, hate it or maybe just use it without even knowing. The controversial vegetable oil is found in thousands of consumer products from soap to lipstick, frozen pizza, ice cream and even fuel.

World demand continues to increase rapidly and is placing pressure on forests, mainly in Indonesia. But, for now, the profitable commodity is here to stay. So what can be done to reduce the pressure on forests?

Efforts are ongoing to stop the rapid destruction of tropical forests through more sustainable business practices. In 2004, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was launched with the vision to “transform markets to make sustainable oil palm the norm”. Pressure from activists on big corporations that use palm oil in their products has also had some impact, leading them to make commitments to sustainable supply and zero deforestation.

Most action to date has focused on how large palm oil companies do business but increasingly, concerns comprise what the implications are for smallholders, and how smallholders can capture greater benefits from engaging in palm oil supply chains.

In Indonesia — one of the biggest palm oil producing countries alongside Malaysia — up to 40 percent of the land used to grow oil palm is cultivated by smallholders who farm, on average, just 2 hectares each.

The sustainability of the palm oil sector has also triggered Indonesian government efforts to improve the policy environment for inclusion of smallholders, and channeling resources for them to improve practices in management and replanting. There is also an ongoing effort to strengthening the national standards for sustainable palm oil (ISPO).

Read more: Towards responsible and inclusive financing of the palm oil sector

Three teams of researchers from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) as part of its work under the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) and from partner institutions have produced a series of infobriefs looking at how smallholders can improve their lives and, at the same time, protect remaining forests. The major challenge, according to their findings? Money.

“Oil palm provides more economic benefits to smallholders than other crops, and it’s expanding,” says Pablo Pacheco, a Principal Scientist at CIFOR. “Yet smallholders have to adopt more sustainable practices. Research has to contribute to this, and identify options for them to improve their practices, as well as identify what resources are needed to make that change happen.”

“That’s where financing comes in, and becomes an important key resource for smallholders to be able to access,” he adds.

THE REPLANTING CHALLENGE

A worker wheels a barrow of oil palm fruit. Photo by Icaro Cooke Vieira/CIFOR

The Indonesian government estimates that a total of 175,000 hectares of oil palm farmed by smallholders needs to be replanted each year, and this alone creates major challenges for farmers. 

Hans Harmen Smit, global coordinator for palm oil at the Netherlands Development Organization (SNV), one of the partner organizations, was part of the team that examined current finance practices. Their focus was on Indonesia and Malaysia, which together account for about 85 percent of total global palm oil production. Smit says that without proper financing, farmers only replant when they can afford to.

“The problem is, once they replant, they have to wait three years at least for the new plantation to become productive, and during that time they have no income,” he says.

Smallholder income from oil palm varies. On average, smallholders with around two hectares of land can earn a gross monthly income of US$290 to US$400.

Researchers say that without financial support, farmers do not have the resources to replant year after year on the same plot, and so they tend to move to peatlands and forested areas, “slash and burn” the land, and plant the only crops available to them, which are often low-quality varieties.

Smit points out that in Malaysia, the sector has better systems in place for replanting, and smallholders can more easily obtain financial support. In Indonesia, there is the Crude Palm Oil (CPO) Fund that supplies replanting loans, but it is often difficult to access, especially for smallholder farmers with limited funding.

“The lesson learned here is that saving for replanting is often not done as it should be. The government needs to engage more and manage programs to help farmers save for replanting,” says Smit.

He adds that one of the main problems is a lack of available information for financial service providers (FSPs) to evaluate the lending risks and set appropriate interest rates. He says the loans are often too small on an individual level, and this makes the loan origination costs too high compared to their value.

“We need to start by supporting better data collection on the cash flows of smallholders. Once this data is available, we can create investible portfolios for investors,” says Smit.

Read more: The long and winding road to sustainable palm oil

FUNDING THE GAPS

A couple works together on a plantation. Photo by Icaro Cooke Vieira/CIFOR

The researchers also identified major gaps between existing credit schemes and what farmers actually need. Addressing this could pave the way for more sustainable palm oil for smallholders.

One key finding was that lenders who do offer credit only provide it in the short term. But what smallholders actually need is both working capital and credit in the long term for replanting and financing other management practices.

“Most lenders also don’t have schemes that take into account the fact that oil palm farmers don’t make any money in the first three or four years, so they can’t make payments at this time unless they find additional sources of income, which is difficult,” says Pacheco.

Another issue is repayment of loans. When ‘tied’ farmers, who are under contract with oil palm plantations, access funds through a cooperative, profits from their harvest are used to pay back their loans. But when individual farmers seek loans, they have to pay back in cash.

Smallholders trying to access loans also face major challenges when trying to meet the requirements of most FSPs.

“Sometimes they don’t have savings accounts or own the land, so they can’t provide collateral,” says Pacheco.

Pricing of the fresh fruit bunches (FFB) produced by oil palm can also be a challenge for farmers. FFB prices are set by governments and oil palm companies, and tied farmers are paid more than independent farmers.

But there are ways to help smallholders overcome these challenges. Incentives and technical support to meet sustainability requirements, land tenure security, and support for FSPs to assess and manage risks, and build the capacity of smallholder organizations, could all have an impact, the research finds.

FINDING SUSTAINABLE FINANCE

Most of the financing for major palm oil companies comes from FSPs based in Asian countries like Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. And on the whole, these do not employ adequate environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies, the research suggests.

“American- and European-based FSPs’ policies are more advanced, but even they don’t fully address how financial resources can be better channeled to smallholders,” says Pacheco.

He warns that there is the danger of a two-tier marketplace developing: one in Asia, where there is less consumer pressure for sustainable palm oil, and a second focusing on US and European markets that have adopted more sustainable practices.

INVESTING IN PEOPLE

Pacheco says the future of smallholders holds a real dilemma. If they become more integrated into the existing supply chain, more productive, use better practices and have access to good financing and markets, they are likely to become more and more dependent on supply chains and companies for their livelihoods.

“You want smallholders to improve system practices, their knowledge of fertilizers, harvesting and so on, but without losing their freedom,” says Pacheco.

It all comes down to how farmers are empowered to negotiate prices, conditions with companies and so on, he adds.

“For me, social empowerment is critical, and I think that needs to be included in the debate. Up to now, the focus has been on efficiency, sustainability, less impact on forests — and not enough attention has been given to empowering these important players, the smallholders, who are trying to reap as much benefit as possible in the market,” he concludes.

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

For more information on this topic, please contact Pablo Pacheco at [email protected].


This research was conducted by CIFOR in partnership with Profundo, the International Center for Applied Finance and Economics (InterCafe) at the Bogor Agricultural University (IPB), the Netherlands Development Organization (SNV) and Financial Access (FA).

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

This research was supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the project “The Role of Finance in Integrating Oil Palm Smallholders into Sustainable Supply Chains.”

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  • Financing farmers: Can funds for oil palm help save our forests?

Financing farmers: Can funds for oil palm help save our forests?

A worker wheels a barrow of oil palm fruit. Photo by Icaro Cooke Vieira/CIFOR
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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Oil palm fruits in Jambi, Indonesia. Photo by Iddy Farmer/CIFOR

Palm oil: people love it, hate it or maybe just use it without even knowing. The controversial vegetable oil is found in thousands of consumer products from soap to lipstick, frozen pizza, ice cream and even fuel.

World demand continues to increase rapidly and is placing pressure on forests, mainly in Indonesia. But, for now, the profitable commodity is here to stay. So what can be done to reduce the pressure on forests?

Efforts are ongoing to stop the rapid destruction of tropical forests through more sustainable business practices. In 2004, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was launched with the vision to “transform markets to make sustainable oil palm the norm”. Pressure from activists on big corporations that use palm oil in their products has also had some impact, leading them to make commitments to sustainable supply and zero deforestation.

Most action to date has focused on how large palm oil companies do business but increasingly, concerns comprise what the implications are for smallholders, and how smallholders can capture greater benefits from engaging in palm oil supply chains.

In Indonesia — one of the biggest palm oil producing countries alongside Malaysia — up to 40 percent of the land used to grow oil palm is cultivated by smallholders who farm, on average, just 2 hectares each.

The sustainability of the palm oil sector has also triggered Indonesian government efforts to improve the policy environment for inclusion of smallholders, and channeling resources for them to improve practices in management and replanting. There is also an ongoing effort to strengthening the national standards for sustainable palm oil (ISPO).

Read more: Towards responsible and inclusive financing of the palm oil sector

Three teams of researchers from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) as part of its work under the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) and from partner institutions have produced a series of infobriefs looking at how smallholders can improve their lives and, at the same time, protect remaining forests. The major challenge, according to their findings? Money.

“Oil palm provides more economic benefits to smallholders than other crops, and it’s expanding,” says Pablo Pacheco, a Principal Scientist at CIFOR. “Yet smallholders have to adopt more sustainable practices. Research has to contribute to this, and identify options for them to improve their practices, as well as identify what resources are needed to make that change happen.”

“That’s where financing comes in, and becomes an important key resource for smallholders to be able to access,” he adds.

THE REPLANTING CHALLENGE

A worker wheels a barrow of oil palm fruit. Photo by Icaro Cooke Vieira/CIFOR

The Indonesian government estimates that a total of 175,000 hectares of oil palm farmed by smallholders needs to be replanted each year, and this alone creates major challenges for farmers. 

Hans Harmen Smit, global coordinator for palm oil at the Netherlands Development Organization (SNV), one of the partner organizations, was part of the team that examined current finance practices. Their focus was on Indonesia and Malaysia, which together account for about 85 percent of total global palm oil production. Smit says that without proper financing, farmers only replant when they can afford to.

“The problem is, once they replant, they have to wait three years at least for the new plantation to become productive, and during that time they have no income,” he says.

Smallholder income from oil palm varies. On average, smallholders with around two hectares of land can earn a gross monthly income of US$290 to US$400.

Researchers say that without financial support, farmers do not have the resources to replant year after year on the same plot, and so they tend to move to peatlands and forested areas, “slash and burn” the land, and plant the only crops available to them, which are often low-quality varieties.

Smit points out that in Malaysia, the sector has better systems in place for replanting, and smallholders can more easily obtain financial support. In Indonesia, there is the Crude Palm Oil (CPO) Fund that supplies replanting loans, but it is often difficult to access, especially for smallholder farmers with limited funding.

“The lesson learned here is that saving for replanting is often not done as it should be. The government needs to engage more and manage programs to help farmers save for replanting,” says Smit.

He adds that one of the main problems is a lack of available information for financial service providers (FSPs) to evaluate the lending risks and set appropriate interest rates. He says the loans are often too small on an individual level, and this makes the loan origination costs too high compared to their value.

“We need to start by supporting better data collection on the cash flows of smallholders. Once this data is available, we can create investible portfolios for investors,” says Smit.

Read more: The long and winding road to sustainable palm oil

FUNDING THE GAPS

A couple works together on a plantation. Photo by Icaro Cooke Vieira/CIFOR

The researchers also identified major gaps between existing credit schemes and what farmers actually need. Addressing this could pave the way for more sustainable palm oil for smallholders.

One key finding was that lenders who do offer credit only provide it in the short term. But what smallholders actually need is both working capital and credit in the long term for replanting and financing other management practices.

“Most lenders also don’t have schemes that take into account the fact that oil palm farmers don’t make any money in the first three or four years, so they can’t make payments at this time unless they find additional sources of income, which is difficult,” says Pacheco.

Another issue is repayment of loans. When ‘tied’ farmers, who are under contract with oil palm plantations, access funds through a cooperative, profits from their harvest are used to pay back their loans. But when individual farmers seek loans, they have to pay back in cash.

Smallholders trying to access loans also face major challenges when trying to meet the requirements of most FSPs.

“Sometimes they don’t have savings accounts or own the land, so they can’t provide collateral,” says Pacheco.

Pricing of the fresh fruit bunches (FFB) produced by oil palm can also be a challenge for farmers. FFB prices are set by governments and oil palm companies, and tied farmers are paid more than independent farmers.

But there are ways to help smallholders overcome these challenges. Incentives and technical support to meet sustainability requirements, land tenure security, and support for FSPs to assess and manage risks, and build the capacity of smallholder organizations, could all have an impact, the research finds.

FINDING SUSTAINABLE FINANCE

Most of the financing for major palm oil companies comes from FSPs based in Asian countries like Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. And on the whole, these do not employ adequate environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies, the research suggests.

“American- and European-based FSPs’ policies are more advanced, but even they don’t fully address how financial resources can be better channeled to smallholders,” says Pacheco.

He warns that there is the danger of a two-tier marketplace developing: one in Asia, where there is less consumer pressure for sustainable palm oil, and a second focusing on US and European markets that have adopted more sustainable practices.

INVESTING IN PEOPLE

Pacheco says the future of smallholders holds a real dilemma. If they become more integrated into the existing supply chain, more productive, use better practices and have access to good financing and markets, they are likely to become more and more dependent on supply chains and companies for their livelihoods.

“You want smallholders to improve system practices, their knowledge of fertilizers, harvesting and so on, but without losing their freedom,” says Pacheco.

It all comes down to how farmers are empowered to negotiate prices, conditions with companies and so on, he adds.

“For me, social empowerment is critical, and I think that needs to be included in the debate. Up to now, the focus has been on efficiency, sustainability, less impact on forests — and not enough attention has been given to empowering these important players, the smallholders, who are trying to reap as much benefit as possible in the market,” he concludes.

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

For more information on this topic, please contact Pablo Pacheco at [email protected].


This research was conducted by CIFOR in partnership with Profundo, the International Center for Applied Finance and Economics (InterCafe) at the Bogor Agricultural University (IPB), the Netherlands Development Organization (SNV) and Financial Access (FA).

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

This research was supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the project “The Role of Finance in Integrating Oil Palm Smallholders into Sustainable Supply Chains.”


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