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Putting the concept of the ‘landscape approach’ into action

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Foraged forest food on display at a local food fair in Luwingu, Zambia. Photo by Joe Nkadaani/CIFOR

“Landscape approaches” seek to provide tools and concepts for allocating and managing land to achieve social, economic, and environmental objectives in areas where agriculture, livestock, mining and other productive land uses compete with environmental and biodiversity goals. 

In this article, the Center for International Forestry Research‘s (CIFOR) James Reed and Terry Sunderland discuss getting these approaches off the ground with a new, five-year project.

Given the vast range of landscapes on this earth, we have yet to devise a singular definition of the landscape approach, but this is how we described the aim and purpose in a research paper back in 2013: The term can be as elastic as the changing and developing environments in which it’s meant to be implemented – a landscape approach is, inherently, a context-based process. As such, we assert there is not a single landscape approach, as is often presumed, but a wide range of landscape approaches that can be applied in differing geographical social and institutional contexts.

In an attempt to reconcile competing land use objectives, landscape approaches have increasingly become a dominant discourse within the conservation and development lexicon. It is now recognized that sectorial silos must be overcome to start down sustainable development pathways acknowledging interdependencies between sectors operating within multifunctional landscapes — and tropical landscapes in particular, which perpetually see gaps between knowledge and implementation and between policy and practice. Consequently, while the landscape approach discourse has continued to evolve, attempts at implementation — and particularly evaluation — in the tropics remain nascent.

Watch: FTA scientists feature in innovative series of talks on landscapes

Significant advances have been made in how we think about landscape approaches, be that in conceptual frameworks, methodological tools and resources, reviews of theoretical development and implementation, or operational guidelines. But putting them into action and monitoring progress has been a different story.

Now is the time to take this next step – to build on this momentum and see how landscape approaches can work on the ground. With all the talk about their potential, how are they put into action, and to what extent are they effective in achieving multiple objectives?

The German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) has recently funded CIFOR and partners to operationalize landscape approaches in three tropical countries – Indonesia, Burkina Faso and Zambia – over the course of five years. In this work, we seek not only to use landscape approaches to address challenges in communities in these countries, but also to observe the implementation process and local uptake of such approaches. We plan to convey our findings as we go along so that others can learn simultaneously from our work.

Read also: The concept and development of the ‘landscape approach’

Resin trees are seen in West Java, Indonesia, which is a common habitat for the Javanese monkey. Photo by Ricky Martin/CIFOR

OPERATION OPERATIONALIZE

Recent UN conventions for biodiversity, climate change and sustainable development have all called for more integrated and sustainable approaches to landscape governance. International policy dialogues are increasingly doing away with perceived antagonisms between sectors and facilitating greater engagement between forestry, food, water and energy, with an enhanced acknowledgement of the role of the private sector as well.

Yet, uptake of landscape approaches within the tropics has thus far been limited, which is likely in part due to a weak evidence base demonstrating effectiveness. A recent review failed to find a single definitive example of a landscape approach in the tropics, or at least reported in scientific literature. This is not to say that they do not exist, but perhaps that grass-roots efforts lack capacity or motivation to monitor progress and formally report findings.

This project will seek to address this gap as CIFOR and partners will assume a mediating role within landscapes in Burkina Faso, Indonesia and Zambia. With a particular focus on the contribution of biodiversity and a remit to engage policy, practice and people, we will facilitate multi-stakeholder platforms and identify linkages with existing institutional structures within each of the landscapes. Through working with existing frameworks and publicly available information (such as census, health and income data, and remote sensing imagery) we hope to further develop a model for scaling up our efforts easily adopted by governments, NGOs and other institutions.

Read also: Agroforestry offers pathways to sustainable landscape restoration

A MATTER OF TIME

The long-term nature of the funding is a crucial foundation for this effort, as it presents a rare opportunity to adopt the mindset of moving from “project to process” by examining and explaining how dynamic processes of social, political, economic and environmental interactions work over time within these landscapes. It allows us to learn deeply through diagnosis, rather than focus on generating immediate results within the rigid confines of a project framework.

As such, over the course of the next five years, our research team intends to embrace two key components of the landscape approach philosophy. Firstly, we will think beyond typical project-cycle timelines and structures and become more fully established and integrated within the target landscapes.

Secondly, in contrast to many prior approaches, we will attempt to facilitate a truly trans-disciplinary approach to all activities, from design and implementation to governance and evaluation. Rather than having a preconceived agenda of what the landscape and its stakeholders should fulfill, we will engage with open minds and a suite of tools designed to enhance stakeholder engagement and action, assess divergence in stakeholder perception and objectives, and in turn generate an increased understanding of the landscape dynamics. Only then, can we build stakeholder capacity to make more informed choices, evaluate progress, and empower previously marginalized groups to more effectively engage in decision-making processes.

Ultimately, we hope that this process will not only contribute to a more robust evidence base for landscape approaches but also enhance stakeholder capacity and landscape sustainability within the target landscapes. A key objective is to work in tandem with landscape stakeholders to co-construct a shared learning platform that can improve our understanding of landscape dynamics in these countries. While we are not blind to the complex challenges of integrating conservation and development, we are committed to implementing and reporting on these landscape approaches and developing an inclusive dissemination strategy with our colleagues at the Global Landscapes Forum. We hope that both the positive and negative outcomes that emerge will contribute to our understanding of the conditions under which landscape approaches can develop and therefore inform future evidence-based research, policy and practice agendas.

By James Reed and Terry Sunderland, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Terry Sunderland at [email protected] or James Reed at [email protected].


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

This research was supported by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMUB)

 

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  • Putting the concept of the ‘landscape approach’ into action

Putting the concept of the ‘landscape approach’ into action

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Foraged forest food on display at a local food fair in Luwingu, Zambia. Photo by Joe Nkadaani/CIFOR

“Landscape approaches” seek to provide tools and concepts for allocating and managing land to achieve social, economic, and environmental objectives in areas where agriculture, livestock, mining and other productive land uses compete with environmental and biodiversity goals. 

In this article, the Center for International Forestry Research‘s (CIFOR) James Reed and Terry Sunderland discuss getting these approaches off the ground with a new, five-year project.

Given the vast range of landscapes on this earth, we have yet to devise a singular definition of the landscape approach, but this is how we described the aim and purpose in a research paper back in 2013: The term can be as elastic as the changing and developing environments in which it’s meant to be implemented – a landscape approach is, inherently, a context-based process. As such, we assert there is not a single landscape approach, as is often presumed, but a wide range of landscape approaches that can be applied in differing geographical social and institutional contexts.

In an attempt to reconcile competing land use objectives, landscape approaches have increasingly become a dominant discourse within the conservation and development lexicon. It is now recognized that sectorial silos must be overcome to start down sustainable development pathways acknowledging interdependencies between sectors operating within multifunctional landscapes — and tropical landscapes in particular, which perpetually see gaps between knowledge and implementation and between policy and practice. Consequently, while the landscape approach discourse has continued to evolve, attempts at implementation — and particularly evaluation — in the tropics remain nascent.

Watch: FTA scientists feature in innovative series of talks on landscapes

Significant advances have been made in how we think about landscape approaches, be that in conceptual frameworks, methodological tools and resources, reviews of theoretical development and implementation, or operational guidelines. But putting them into action and monitoring progress has been a different story.

Now is the time to take this next step – to build on this momentum and see how landscape approaches can work on the ground. With all the talk about their potential, how are they put into action, and to what extent are they effective in achieving multiple objectives?

The German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) has recently funded CIFOR and partners to operationalize landscape approaches in three tropical countries – Indonesia, Burkina Faso and Zambia – over the course of five years. In this work, we seek not only to use landscape approaches to address challenges in communities in these countries, but also to observe the implementation process and local uptake of such approaches. We plan to convey our findings as we go along so that others can learn simultaneously from our work.

Read also: The concept and development of the ‘landscape approach’

Resin trees are seen in West Java, Indonesia, which is a common habitat for the Javanese monkey. Photo by Ricky Martin/CIFOR

OPERATION OPERATIONALIZE

Recent UN conventions for biodiversity, climate change and sustainable development have all called for more integrated and sustainable approaches to landscape governance. International policy dialogues are increasingly doing away with perceived antagonisms between sectors and facilitating greater engagement between forestry, food, water and energy, with an enhanced acknowledgement of the role of the private sector as well.

Yet, uptake of landscape approaches within the tropics has thus far been limited, which is likely in part due to a weak evidence base demonstrating effectiveness. A recent review failed to find a single definitive example of a landscape approach in the tropics, or at least reported in scientific literature. This is not to say that they do not exist, but perhaps that grass-roots efforts lack capacity or motivation to monitor progress and formally report findings.

This project will seek to address this gap as CIFOR and partners will assume a mediating role within landscapes in Burkina Faso, Indonesia and Zambia. With a particular focus on the contribution of biodiversity and a remit to engage policy, practice and people, we will facilitate multi-stakeholder platforms and identify linkages with existing institutional structures within each of the landscapes. Through working with existing frameworks and publicly available information (such as census, health and income data, and remote sensing imagery) we hope to further develop a model for scaling up our efforts easily adopted by governments, NGOs and other institutions.

Read also: Agroforestry offers pathways to sustainable landscape restoration

A MATTER OF TIME

The long-term nature of the funding is a crucial foundation for this effort, as it presents a rare opportunity to adopt the mindset of moving from “project to process” by examining and explaining how dynamic processes of social, political, economic and environmental interactions work over time within these landscapes. It allows us to learn deeply through diagnosis, rather than focus on generating immediate results within the rigid confines of a project framework.

As such, over the course of the next five years, our research team intends to embrace two key components of the landscape approach philosophy. Firstly, we will think beyond typical project-cycle timelines and structures and become more fully established and integrated within the target landscapes.

Secondly, in contrast to many prior approaches, we will attempt to facilitate a truly trans-disciplinary approach to all activities, from design and implementation to governance and evaluation. Rather than having a preconceived agenda of what the landscape and its stakeholders should fulfill, we will engage with open minds and a suite of tools designed to enhance stakeholder engagement and action, assess divergence in stakeholder perception and objectives, and in turn generate an increased understanding of the landscape dynamics. Only then, can we build stakeholder capacity to make more informed choices, evaluate progress, and empower previously marginalized groups to more effectively engage in decision-making processes.

Ultimately, we hope that this process will not only contribute to a more robust evidence base for landscape approaches but also enhance stakeholder capacity and landscape sustainability within the target landscapes. A key objective is to work in tandem with landscape stakeholders to co-construct a shared learning platform that can improve our understanding of landscape dynamics in these countries. While we are not blind to the complex challenges of integrating conservation and development, we are committed to implementing and reporting on these landscape approaches and developing an inclusive dissemination strategy with our colleagues at the Global Landscapes Forum. We hope that both the positive and negative outcomes that emerge will contribute to our understanding of the conditions under which landscape approaches can develop and therefore inform future evidence-based research, policy and practice agendas.

By James Reed and Terry Sunderland, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Terry Sunderland at [email protected] or James Reed at [email protected].


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

This research was supported by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMUB)

 

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  • The concept and development of the 'landscape approach'

The concept and development of the ‘landscape approach’

An agroforestry parcel in a restored area, part of the Cultivando Água Boa restoration program in Brazil. Photo by Y. Guterrez/CIFOR
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Pressure to manage the world’s resources responsibly for people, biodiversity and the climate has perhaps never been so intense. In this context, the landscape approach, which has grown in popularity in land management circles in recent years, may hold critical importance.

So what is it all about? According to a definitive research paper, the approach seeks to provide “tools and concepts for allocating and managing land to achieve social, economic, and environmental objectives in areas where agriculture, mining, and other productive land uses compete with environmental and biodiversity goals.”

Watch: Developing and applying an approach for the sustainable management of landscapes 

It asks us to take a step back and look at land management holistically, through the lenses of a range of disciplines, and with an eye to the bigger picture and the longer term. “Landscapes can’t be managed as a project,” explains Terry Sunderland, Senior Associate at the Center for International Forest Research (CIFOR) and professor at the University of British Columbia. “They can only be really managed as a process.”

CIFOR scientist James Reed emphasizes the importance of multiple scales when analyzing landscapes from this perspective: “Whatever the unit of analysis is, we’re trying to consider what’s happening at the scale below and the scale above as well. So that includes global commitments, and how they filter down to national and landscape-level implementation.”

SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW

Is this approach new? Yes and no, says Sunderland. Certainly, it represents a marked shift from project-based approaches and rigid disciplinary boundaries that have pervaded the sector in the past. But in other corners of the world, the guiding principles may well be anything but novel.

“Currently there are two billion people living and working in very complex landscape mosaics,” says Sunderland. “Most of these people are farmers. Seventy percent of the world’s food is generated from such landscapes.”

So while some might see the landscape approach as just another Western paradigm being imposed on the world’s farmers, the reality might be the reverse.

“People who live and work in these complex landscapes already live and work in a holistic manner,” says Sunderland. “They understand the complexities of the different land uses within their landscapes. And I think that’s what needs to be harnessed, the bottom-up approach.”

Policy frameworks are important, he acknowledges, so that ground-level holistic management can be integrated with activities at higher scales. “But I think the real impetus is going to be coming from those two billion people living and working in these complex landscapes,” he says. “So we have to focus on how we can harness that energy and that perspective.”

Reed highlights the importance of participatory, collaborative processes to bring about these ends: bringing stakeholders together to discuss their needs and aspirations for particular landscapes, and trying to build consensus about their management.

“The idea is that through regular dialogue processes we can develop more solutions that enable people who are losing to benefit more,” he says, “and create more winners within each landscape.”

An agroforestry parcel in a restored area, part of the Cultivando Água Boa restoration program in Brazil. Photo by Y. Guterrez/CIFOR

FUNDING FOR THE FUTURE

The approach aligns well with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which favor broad, integrated processes. But recent studies have shown that there’s a significant gap between the funding that’s available and that which is required to actually make these global commitments a reality – to the tune of up to seven trillion dollars.

“It’s going to require transformational changes in policy and in finance investment strategies,” says Reed. “Currently we’re way below this level of investment for producing sustainable landscapes.”

As Sunderland adds, most funding is on short-term cycles, which don’t fit well with the longer-term commitments required from a landscape approach. “So if we want to move from project to process, we have to find mechanisms in order to fund that.”

Watch: Generating science and solutions

MOVING RIGHT ALONG

Still, Sunderland is pleased about the progress of the landscape approach agenda thus far, and optimistic about its potential for the future. “It’s already starting to happen,” he says. Silos are breaking down, and overarching commitments like the SDGs take holistic approaches, acknowledging interconnection.

He cites the example of the EAT Foundation conference in Indonesia last year, which focussed on the pressing issue of feeding the world’s people a healthy and nutritious diet, while staying within safe ecological limits. “And five ministries from Indonesia were represented!” he exclaims. “All talking to each other about how to transform the food system in the Asia-Pacific region. Now that’s progress! That wouldn’t have happened two or three years ago.”

“We often hear talks about a paradigm shift, and the need for transformational change,” says Reed. “But we can’t expect it to happen overnight. Progress is happening, and it’s going to take time, but we’re moving in the right direction.

By Monica Evans, originally published by CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Terry Sunderland at [email protected] or James Reed at [email protected].


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

This research was supported by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department for International Development (DFID).

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  • Developing and applying an approach for the sustainable management of landscapes

Developing and applying an approach for the sustainable management of landscapes

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Departing CIFOR scientists Terry Sunderland and James Reed from the Center for International Forestry Research’s (CIFOR) Sustainable Landscapes and Food Systems team spoke on the sidelines of the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF), held from Dec. 19-20 in Bonn, Germany. The pair shared their findings so far on developing and applying a ‘landscapes approach’ for sustainable management of landscapes to benefit the people who depend on them.

Originally published by CIFOR.

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  • Integrated landscapes approaches: From theory to practice

Integrated landscapes approaches: From theory to practice

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  • Research team looks at changing landscapes, from forests to food

Research team looks at changing landscapes, from forests to food

A woman picks edible leaves. Photo by M. MacDonald/CIFOR
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A woman picks edible leaves. Photo by M. MacDonald/CIFOR

New work challenges conventional wisdom on agricultural expansion.

The growing demand for food — demand that is expected to double by 2050 — has led to widespread agricultural expansion, primarily at the expense of forests.

It is estimated that between 1980 and 2000, more than half of new agricultural land across the tropics was developed on forested land and a further 28 percent opened up on secondary forestland. Despite this expansion and significant progress made to reduce hunger, the UN estimates that more than 840 million people worldwide remain hungry and undernourished.

Food security is increasingly linked to a range of sectors such as biodiversity, conservation, maintenance of ecosystem services, food production, sustainable livelihood provision, and climate change mitigation.

Numerous theories have been put forward that aim to find a balance between food security, conservation and livelihoods. But do these ideas work?

Twenty scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and partner institutions representing a range of disciplines set out to answer that question.

Led by CIFOR scientist Terry Sunderland, the team looked at six pantropical landscapes, in Zambia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Bangladesh, to find out what is actually happening on the ground.

“We wanted to challenge conventional wisdom that as economies and people develop, we have to transition from forest to agriculture to manufacturing and service industries and assume the outcomes are always positive,” says Sunderland.

Food security is increasingly linked to a range of sectors such as biodiversity, conservation, maintenance of ecosystem services and food production. Photo by M. MacDonald/CIFOR

“We wanted to test if that is actually the case, particularly for rural dwellers, and if it really has a net benefit in the longer term,” he adds.

Sunderland says the research team wanted to get a broader perspective on the impact of this transition to agriculture in these forested areas. So they took a wider approach, looking at not only socio-ecological aspects but socio-economic factors as well.

“We found that it is not a linear process. This transition impacts in the short term and in the long term. It affects the environment, health, diet and social and cultural impacts too,” he says.

ONE SIZE DOESN’T FIT ALL

One of the strongest points that came out of the study is that when you look at rural communities in changing landscapes, you need to not only examine each factor, but how each relates to its specific circumstances. Sunderland says one of the problems is that people often generalize when it comes to the lives of local people living in these rural areas.

“We tend to come out with sweeping statements about forest dependence, forest reliance and diets and so on, but it really it depends on a whole range of other externalities like culture and economies, so the local context is really important,” says Sunderland.

One surprising finding emerged in Ethiopia, for example, where the scientists found that people who lived further away from the forest were actually poorer because they didn’t have access to fuel wood.  These communities were forced to burn manure as fuel instead of putting it on their crops.

“This situation led to decreases in crop yields and grazing lands and that led to these communities becoming considerably poorer,” says Sunderland.

One example of relying on assumptions comes from Indonesia, where there is the general argument that oil palm does great things for the local economy. Sunderland says that may be the case, but that this point has been oversimplified.

When the researchers spoke with oil palm workers they found a huge dietary transition from a very varied, nutritious diet, often from forest foods, to a very simplified diet that relies on sugar and fats.

“It’s an ‘instant noodleization’ of diets of sorts. When people have a bit more money in their pockets they tend to buy pre-packaged food. It’s a status thing, too. And it is these things that are usually never thought about,” says Sunderland.

He says food security shouldn’t be counted just in calories, but should also include people’s actual diets and hence nutrition.

THE MILLION-DOLLAR QUESTION

So, how do we maintain economic growth and food security without ruining the environment?

“What this study is saying is it’s not about keeping people forest-dependent, but it is keeping people cognizant of the fact that forests play an important role in food security, for example in terms of ecosystems and their impact on forest agriculture,” says Sunderland.

He says once you are on the ground you quickly realize that many of these concepts such as land-sharing and land-sparing, are often more conceptual than anything, and imply a “grand design” at the landscape scale that simply is not there. He says there is a need to really get down to the complexities of these landscapes.

A Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) site is seen in Tigray, Ethiopia. Photo by M. Edliadi/CIFOR

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Over the years, critics have asked: how are you going to feed the world if you don’t have massive agricultural expansion across landscapes?  But the research shows it is not a question of ‘either/or’. Forests and trees have a key role to play.

The new study references previous research which estimates that over 1.3 billion people utilize forests, and that trees and forested landscapes generate significant income for local people who could earn as much from foraging forests and wild lands as from cultivating crops.

“There is now evidence of a clear dichotomy between the environment and food security. So it’s not as black and white as it seems,” says Sunderland.

Sunderland says that the impact on landscapes from climate change emphasizes this message, so there is a need to help farmers diversify in the future and do more with what they have.

“Farmers who are growing eight different types of crops are much less likely to suffer from the environmental or economic impact of climate change, as opposed to a farmer who is growing just wheat and he happens to have a catastrophic year and everything is lost,” he says.

The researchers also looked at aid projects that were being implemented in their research areas. These projects focused on issues like agriculture, sustainability and livelihoods, and lasted for a relatively short time, from three to five years.

“That’s great for short term, but not the long term. So we are advocating moving away from projects to more process-oriented interventions and even understanding how landscapes change over time and why,” says Sunderland.

Moving forward in this research, the team recognizes is a great need to take a multi-disciplinary approach — when social scientists work together with environmental scientists you get a much better outcome, Sunderland says.

“There’s no silver bullet. There’s only a complex reality and you really have to get a grasp on it to move on. We need to understand these landscapes before we can manage them,” he concludes.

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

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


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

This research was supported by the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

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  • Forests as food: New report highlights important relationship between forest landscapes and healthy diets

Forests as food: New report highlights important relationship between forest landscapes and healthy diets

Forests are a crucial source of nutritious food for a myriad of rural communities around the world. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR
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Forests are a crucial source of nutritious food for a myriad of rural communities around the world. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR

It’s a bit ironic that while wild foraged ingredients are increasingly popping up on Michelin-starred menus around the world, the communities who have traditionally subsisted on these foods are consuming them less and less.

Baobab fruit and bush mango for vitamins and minerals; bushmeat for fats and micronutrients; bamboo shoots for fiber; ferns for complex carbohydrates and various essential oils — these are just a few of the nutritious and diverse food sources that have long been staples in the diets of rural communities living in and around forests.

But as deforestation and plantations replace them, less access to forests coupled with newfound income means that these natural pantries aren’t being used the way they once were.

Sustainable Forestry and Food Security and Nutrition, a new report commissioned by the Center on World Food Security (CFS), to which the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) contributed knowledge and science, takes a deep look at the interplay between sustainable forestry and food security and nutrition — a topic that has, up to this point, lacked the focus of substantial socialized research.

A High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) consisting of scientists and specialists on food security and nutrition used information gathered from forest landscapes worldwide to test the hypothesis that the sustainable use of forests leads to better health and diets of communities within their proximity.

Read also: High Level Panel of Experts launches landmark report on sustainable forestry

In Sindri village, Burkina Faso, baobab fruit is called Monkey Bread. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR

QUALITY AND QUANTITY

“By 2050, there will be an estimated nine billion people in the world,” says FTA scientist Terry Sunderland, who is also Principal Scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and head of the HLPE team.

“In response to the growth in global population and incomes, and to the evolution of diets, a continuation of recent trends would imply global agricultural production in 2050 to be significantly higher than present. However, with the findings of this report we would hope such expansion would take into account the critical role of forests and trees for food security and nutrition.”

As the research goes to show, this means mitigating pressures from the increasing demand for timber and wood products in order to help communities — largely rural and smallholder farmers — conserve their forests and continue using them as food sources in a sustainable way.

The natural biodiversity of forests leads to more variation in diets, which results in better nutrition rather than simply increasing caloric intake.

“At CIFOR, our research found that people living in proximity to forests and tree-based landscapes have better diets than their compatriots, regardless of poverty,” says Sunderland. “Wild vegetables, snails, numerous other sources of micro-nutrients and proteins are incredibly important and cannot be underestimated.”

In addition to the direct foods they provide, forests also have immense effects on the sustenance of agriculture in their proximity. They host the pollinators that help many of our agricultural crops reproduce. They also help purify water, support grazing livestock, provide traditional forms of medicine and healthcare and supply wood – the primary source of fuel for one-third of the world’s population. Without energy for cooking, food would be far less palatable and water would remain unsterilized.

A migrant bamboo farmer prepares bamboo shoots in a plantation before they are fermented, dried and sold to a local processing factory in Tianlin County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China. Photo by N. Hogarth/CIFOR

However, the positive effects of forests on agricultural production can lead to a tricky paradox. As plantation cash crops such as oil palm and wheat thrive, more money is put into the pockets of local communities, allowing them to purchase rather than grow or gather their food.

This can often result in their replacing produce with simple carbohydrates, refined sugars, and trans-fats – a dietary transition that isn’t accompanied by dietary education. More modern renditions of food sovereignty, in other words, can lead to unhealthier diets.

“This is a very strong trend all over the world — this middle class aspiration and the fast food obsession,” says Sunderland. “In Indonesia, for example, incidents of stunted growth is very high due to poor diets.”

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

A less obvious but no less important goal of this report is to break down the barriers between the agricultural, forestry, nutrition and conservation communities and increase cross-sector collaboration in order to best tackle this issue. The HLPE report will hopefully encourage experts from different fields to harmonize their research, knowledge, and policy goals.

“If we’re serious about global food security, we can’t ignore the role of forests and trees in direct provisioning. We want the nutritionists to understand the importance of forests and trees, and we want the forestry community to understand why and how trees contribute to nutrition.”

Furthermore, when looking at forests as a major source of sustenance for local communities, it leads to the fact that denying or limiting communities’ access to them directly correlates to their access to food and water. This raises major issues of human rights with regard to food access.

“The right to food is enshrined in almost every [multilateral] agreement since 1945,” says Sunderland. “If we’re generating evidence that forests are really important to the provision of food and nutrition, how can we justify preventing people access to them?”

Read also: What’s causing the holdup in REDD+ results-based finance?

This perspective will ideally help escalate the findings of this report — which will be further discussed at the Association of Tropical Biology Conference held this week in Merida, Mexico — to influence global initiatives, such as the Sustainable Development Goals and REDD+.

But first and foremost, it aims to change conventional wisdom about food security and forests. Rather than being in competition with one another, the two are more critical to the other’s existence than we previously thought.

By Gabrielle Lipton, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

The Sustainable Forestry and Food Security and Nutrition report was commissioned by the Committee on World Food Security.

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


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

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  • High Level Panel of Experts launches landmark report on sustainable forestry

High Level Panel of Experts launches landmark report on sustainable forestry

Project Team Leader Terry Sunderland presents during the HLPE report launch at FAO Headquarters. Photo ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano
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The HLPE launches its latest report at FAO Headquarters in Rome, Italy, on June 27, 2017. Photo ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

The High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) launched on June 27 a landmark report on sustainable forestry for food security and nutrition (FSN). The HLPE is the independent science-policy interface of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security (CFS). It provides a comprehensive evidence base for the political, multistakeholder discussions at the CFS.

The launch marked the first time that the CFS discussed the contributions of forests and trees to world food security, and how to enhance them. This is a very significant debate at UN level.

The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) welcomes this report, and is proud to have significantly contributed to its elaboration by providing science and knowledge. The project team leader for the report, Terry Sunderland, a Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) scientist, is also a research cluster leader for FTA.

Forest and trees: key to food security and nutrition

FTA Director Vincent Gitz speaks during the launch of the HLPE report at FAO Headquarters in Rome. Photo ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

The report presents a very compelling argument for the contribution of forests across the four major dimensions of food security and nutrition, which are availability, access, utilization and stability.

Forests and trees contribute directly and indirectly to food security and nutrition in many ways: the provision of food, primary energy (wood fuel for cooking), employment and income, and ecosystems services such as water regulation, soil protection, pest control pollination, and protection of biodiversity, which are all critical for sustainable food security and nutrition.

In addition, they play an important role in climate change mitigation at the global level, and adaptation at the local level, particularly in certain areas of the world and especially for those communities, often the most marginalized, that rely on forests for their livelihoods.

A new perspective, beyond arbitrary divides

A novelty of this report is that it goes beyond and leaves behind the traditional and somewhat arbitrary divides and distinctions between forest types and definitions, toward a more holistic approach to the roles of forests and trees, and the diversity of situations and roles of trees in landscapes, agriculture, farms and food systems, as key contributors to sustainable development, food security and nutrition.

Recommendations

The report makes 37 recommendations, grouped under the following seven headings, which pave the way for an action agenda on forests and trees for food security and nutrition:

  1. Rapporteur Francois Pythoud (left to right), FAO Deputy Director-General Climate and Natural Resources Maria Helena Semedo, HLPE Chairperson Patrick Caron, CFS Chairperson Amira Gornass, Project Team Leader Terry Sunderland and HLPE Coordinator Nathanael Pingault launch the report at FAO Headquarters. Photo ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

    Develop and use policy-relevant knowledge on the direct and indirect contributions of forests and trees to FSN

  2. Enhance the role of forests in environmental processes at all scales without compromising the right to adequate food of forest-dependent people
  3. Support the contributions of forests to improve livelihoods and economies for FSN
  4. Promote multifunctional landscapes for FSN that integrate forests and trees as key components
  5. Acknowledge the importance and strengthen the role of forests and trees in enhancing resilience at landscape, community and household levels for FSN 
  6. Recognize and respect land and natural resource tenure and use rights over forests and trees for FSN
  7. Strengthen inclusive forest governance systems across sectors and scales for FSN

Implications for the research agenda, and for FTA

This report, at the same time as taking stock of the breadth of existing knowledge on the role of forests and tree-based systems for FSN and their potential contribution to reducing global hunger and malnutrition, also highlights the need for further data collection and analysis that will enable the case-by-case assessment all of these contributions, whom they benefit, and at which geographical and temporal scales.

Project Team Leader Terry Sunderland presents during the HLPE report launch at FAO Headquarters. Photo ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

The HLPE report also shows the need for a better understanding of the drivers of change, and of the dynamics at play in landscapes — all areas that are at the heart of FTA research.

Situations are very diverse, socio-economical contexts are very different, and this shows the need for options-by-contexts to make the most of this potential. In FTA, we have good examples of what works, and how this can work in partnership for impact.

FTA can provide the evidence and tools to generate, pilot and, with partners (governments, the private sector, foresters and farmers), to scale-up and scale-out a range of solutions, according to a diversity of contexts.

We look forward to the discussion and the expressions of need in relation to research that will be discussed in the CFS policy convergence process, which will lead to decisions at the upcoming CFS 44 plenary on October 9-13, 2017.

We will use the results of that process to inform FTA’s future research priorities, and to fine-tune these to the needs of stakeholders for even greater relevance, legitimacy and effectiveness in the work we do.

By Vincent Gitz, FTA Director.


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