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  • New Open Access E-Learning Course: Gender and Inclusion in Forest Landscape Restoration

New Open Access E-Learning Course: Gender and Inclusion in Forest Landscape Restoration

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The world has set itself important objectives in terms of land restoration, under the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. But restoration should be as much about people as about ecosystems. There is today a growing recognition of the importance of adopting a people-centered approach to restoration, as promoted by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA).

People-centered approaches mean giving priority to gender and social inclusion in the implementation of global ecological restoration to avoid perpetuating marginalization, inequalities, and environmental degradation. Yet, despite international agreements and national and local commitments, barriers to enhancing equality and inclusion remain and continue to limit the opportunities and wellbeing of women and girls, as well as groups marginalized by ethnicity, socio-economic status, or other factors of discrimination. This also hinders reaching the restoration objectives themselves, and their sustainability.

A common challenge in enhancing gender and social inclusion in the field of forest and landscape restoration (FLR) is the lack of easily accessible, practical learning tools.

To address this FTA has developed an
open access E-learning course for stakeholders
engaged in forest and landscape restoration efforts

The Gender and Inclusion in Forest Landscape Restoration course aims to strengthen the skills and knowledge of FLR stakeholders about policies, approaches, and practices that strengthen integration of gender and social considerations in FLR. The goal is to help course participants find inspiration and practical guidance to contribute towards more gender-responsive FLR to generate equitable and sustainable restoration outcomes.

The e-learning course addresses the needs and priorities, as well as capacity and knowledge gaps, that emerged from an extensive consultation process with multiple restoration stakeholders including NGOs, national governments, research organisations and universities, and grassroots organisations. The course structure, design and functionality address these identified needs and priorities.

The course consists of five modules featuring relevant evidence, case studies, tools and good practices developed by FTA and partners, packaged in an accessible and interactive online learning format.

Each module is a certified training in and of itself, and therefore interested learners have the choice to complete one or more modules. The course is designed to be easily accessible to all: learners have the option to complete it online, off-line or on their mobile phone. Learners will have access to an extensive resource centre to assist with further learning. Each of the modules, which include videos, interactive exercises, and a guide, takes approximately 40 minutes to complete, with the five-module course requiring approximately 3 hours. The learning platform the course is hosted on, which requires participants to register and log in, allows learners to pick up the course where they left off, for a self-paced journey. A certificate of completion is delivered at the end of the full course and of individual modules.

It is hoped that the course will strengthen the capacity and knowledge of a range of actors to achieve more inclusive and equitable restoration initiatives.

Access the Gender and Inclusion in Forest and Landscape Restoration e-Learning course now!

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  • New partnership with Google Arts & Culture brings more visibility to trees

New partnership with Google Arts & Culture brings more visibility to trees

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Eight stunning digital exhibits to reduce humans’ “plant blindness” surrounding forests, trees and agroforestry

Forests and trees are allies in the fight to achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, but it is not always easy to see their contributions to livelihoods, ecosystems, food security and nutrition. On Dec. 9, FTA launches its partnership with Google Arts & Culture to bring audiences eight visually-engaging exhibits for forests, trees and agroforestry. The prestigious collaboration makes 10 years of forest-based research and impact more accessible to global audiences.

“As scientists, we were pleased to create exhibits with Google Arts & Culture, a new way to bring our important message to global audiences: trees are drivers of sustainable development,” said FTA Director, Vincent Gitz, “they are the cornerstone of our future.”

This work forms part of a larger Google collaboration with over 60 international organizations. Together, the partners aim to reduce “plant blindness” — the tendency for people to have difficulty empathizing with plants and the environment at risk.

Explore these eight exhibits from FTA and its strategic partners, featuring compelling images, Google Streetview, videos, key messages and infographics and find out more about our research!

A Global Partnership for Forests, Trees and Agroforestry

Learn more about FTA and the scope of its international work!

Access the story of FTA here!

The Forest Transition Curve

Explore the relationship between trees, humans and ecosystem services over time.

Learn about the Forest Transition Curve!

Trees on Farms

Find out how planting trees on farms (agroforestry) makes good business sense while also contributing to healthy ecosystems and food security and nutrition.

Read about the benefits of adding trees to farms!

Forest Landscape Restoration

Learn more about the 6 principles of FLR and the top 7 tree-planting misconceptions!

Did you know there are many ways to achieve FLR?

FTA Highlights of a Decade: From research to impact

This exhibit showcases FTA’s achievements over the past 10 years.

Access 10 years of research in a nutshell!

From Tree to Fork

Did you know that trees and forests are the key to the world’s future food security and nutrition? Learn more about how trees provide healthy foods, cultural traditions and jobs to people everywhere.

How many of these fruits have you tasted?

Ingenious Innovations

The tree sector is often perceived to be a low-tech world… time to change your opinions! Read up on these top 11 innovations that FTA and its partners have developed.

Innovations are at the core of forestry!

Roleplaying Agroecology

Play along as a smallholder farmer, policy maker and palm-oil plantation manager to learn more about the difficult decisions that we all need to make to protect our planet. What choices will you make?

Play along with us!


The full Google campaign with 60+ partner pages and curated exhibits will be released early next year, sensitizing more people to the vital role of trees for climate adaptation, biodiversity, food security and nutrition. Stay tuned for more!

This article was written by Daniella Silva.

This article was produced by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with ICRAF, the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • At GLF Climate, youth shared 13 sustainable forestry innovations for the Asia-Pacific region

At GLF Climate, youth shared 13 sustainable forestry innovations for the Asia-Pacific region

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More than ever, forests and trees are called upon to address the great global challenges of our times, among which are: climate change, deforestation, forest degradation, biodiversity erosion, poverty and food insecurity. Innovative technologies – including digital technologies, biological technologies, technical innovations in processes and products, innovative finance and social innovations – hold a huge potential to advance sustainable forest management and help address these challenges, globally and in the Asia-Pacific region. However, technology adoption has been slow and uneven in the region. As technology enthusiasts, forest guardians and forest managers of tomorrow, young people have a leading role to play in generating momentum and revolutionizing institutions from within to support the uptake and scaling-up of innovative technologies in Asia and the Pacific.

This is why, on Friday, 5 Nov. 2021, FAO and the CGIAR Research Programme on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) co-organized a session highlighting youth perspectives on innovative forest technologies. This event attracted over 400 attendees and was part of the GLF Climate hybrid conference, “Frontiers of Change.” “Instead of another meeting to exchange on the global and pressing issues, we wanted, during this event, to focus on innovative solutions and share a note of optimism and hope” said Vincent Gitz (CIFOR), FTA Director.

On behalf of FAO, Rao Matta, Forestry Officer, highlighted the important role innovation can play to make the forest sector more attractive to young people. He invited the youth to become “innovation champions,” to play a pivotal role in scaling-up innovative technologies, and to bring their unique forward-looking and out-of-the-box thinking perspectives to the discussion table. “FAO,” he said, “is fully committed to promote the visibility of youth and of their seminal work”.

During this event, FAO and FTA gave the floor to students and young professionals involved in the forest sector in Asia and the Pacific, to hear some of their ideas to unleash the potential offered by innovative technologies to advance sustainable forest management. 13 young people, aged 18–35, from nine different countries of the Asia-Pacific region who were selected by FAO and CIFOR after an open call for contributions presented their works in 3 minutes each.

Their talks illustrated, in various contexts, the huge potential of innovative forest technologies to advance sustainable forestry and sustainable forest management. Together, the guest speakers covered a broad range of topics, showing how technologies — both new and repurposed — can improve and facilitate monitoring and reporting, strengthen citizen engagement in forest monitoring and management and support process and product innovations in the forest sector in the Asia-Pacific region. These ideas are also inspiring globally and in other contexts.


The presentations gave way to a lively session of questions and answers with the audience. The back-and-forth discussions revealed some of the barriers to uptake and scale innovative technologies. These blockages include: (i) the limited internet connection in rural or remote areas; (ii) the high level of upfront investments that may be required for technology adoption, including for equipment, infrastructure development, capacity-building and involvement of local communities. Participants also noted that restrictive or rigid policies and regulations often lag far behind the quick evolution of innovative technologies, which can hamper their use and dissemination. For instance, current policies and rules may not allow the use of data collected by remote sensing methods in official statistics or as forensic evidence. Concluding this event, Rao Matta, indicated  that intensive, follow-up actions will be organized at country level, probably next year. Young experts will once again be invited to share their experience and views on sustainable innovations for the Asia-Pacific.

To access the 13 video presentations, please follow the links below:

Session 1: How can innovative technologies improve and facilitate monitoring?

  1. Shahrukh Kamran (Pakistan): Development, testing and implementation of insect-catching drones.
  2. Kyuho Lee (Republic of Korea): Drones for planning and monitoring forest ecosystem restoration: towards a forest degradation index
  3. Angga Saputra (Indonesia): Estimating tree height, canopy cover and tree diameter using unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology.
  4. Cecille de Jesus (the Philippines): Follow the water: advanced technologies for demonstrating forest-water-community relationships.
  5. Thuan Sarzynski (Vietnam): Google Earth Engine, an innovative technology for forest conservation.
  6. Marie Jessica Gabriel (the Philippines): Spatial Monitoring And Reporting Tool (SMART).

Session 2: How can innovative technologies facilitate the engagement of civil society, local communities, smallholders and youth?

  1. Sony Lama (Nepal): Forest Watcher: employing citizen science in forest management of Nepal.
  2. Nur Bahar (Malaysia): How to effectively engage youth in satellite-based tropical forest monitoring?
  3. June Mandawali (Papua New Guinea): Community Based Tree Nurseries in Ramu/Markham Valley of Papua New Guinea.

Session 3: How can innovative technologies support optimization of processes and products for sustainable forest management?

  1. Sanjayaraj Tamang (Nepal): Invasive species management in Nepal: a pathway to sustainable forest management.
  2. Clarence Gio S. Almoite (the Philippines): Building back Philippine biodiversity through geotagging mother tree species for modernized and mechanized forest nurseries.
  3. Prachi Gupta (India): Advances in the wood anatomical studies with innovations in microscopy.
  4. Deasy Ramatia (Indonesia): Binderless particleboard: production process and self- bonding mechanisms.
Download the PDF!

All of these 3-minute presentations have been developed in detailed scientific articles and gathered in a FAO and FTA co-publication entitled, Innovative forestry for a sustainable future. Youth contributions from Asia and the Pacific.

This youth publication is part of a broader roadmap jointly developed by FAO and FTA on innovative forest technologies in the Asia-Pacific region.

Click here for more information on this roadmap process.


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  • FTA's 4 events at GLF Amazonia 2021 "The Tipping Point" - review of the sessions!

FTA’s 4 events at GLF Amazonia 2021 “The Tipping Point” – review of the sessions!

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The Forests, Trees and Agroforestry research program to support 4 sessions at GLF Amazonia

The Amazon region, one of the most diverse areas on earth culturally and biologically and where the world’s largest humid-tropical forest lies, is transitioning from being a carbon sink to a carbon emitter.

This is bad news for the entire planet.

Conserving the Amazon rainforests requires the involvement of people of all ages, civil society organizations, practitioners, researchers, policymakers, financial and private-sector representatives, activists, individuals and other local and global actors.

Together, these groups have an opportunity to preserve and restore the biological and cultural diversity of the Amazon by combining local and global knowledge and solutions. Inaction is risky and could lead to accelerated global warming, compromised access to food and water for local communities, the proliferation of zoonotic diseases, decreasing nutrient input from the Amazon River into the oceans, biodiversity loss and disrupted spiritual practices for millions of people.

To underline the importance of being active in the Amazon region, FTA helped organize four events at the GLF Amazonia:

  • 21.09.21 – Farming with Trees: learning among Brazilian and Peruvian agroforestry farmers
  • 22. 09.21 – The transition to deforestation-free family farming in the Amazon as a strategy to reduce deforestation: the case of Peru
  • 22.09.21 – Facilitating spaces for women’s conservation organizations: Women’s solutions from the Amazon
  • 23.09.21 – What does Bioeconomy mean?

This news focuses on the Bioeconomy event, but all 4 are available on YouTube and can be replayed (links below).


Is there in fact one “Amazonian” bioeconomy?

In one of the most engaging sessions at GLF Amazonia, over 270 attendees heard different stakeholder voices from across the Amazonian region. The purpose of the session was to confront the increasingly voiced concept of “bioeconomy” to local realities and needs. “Most people don’t know what a bioeconomy is,” said José Neto, an Indigenous youth from Ygarapé, Brazil. “This is because of lack of awareness. It is important to put this term in context.”

A circular bioeconomy is an economy powered by nature — it emphasizes the use of renewable natural capital and focuses on minimizing waste and replacing the wide range of non-renewable, fossil-based products currently in use. Circular bioeconomies offer the opportunity to transform our land, food, health, and industrial systems. In countries of the Global South where people depend on forests for their livelihoods, bioeconomies could make for more sustainable local landscapes and new income opportunities. FTA promotes forest-based bioeconomies, a subsector of the circular bioeconomy concept, which focuses on the transformation of our current system through the conscious use and re-use of forest materials.

In addition to the lack of awareness from stakeholders, different understandings of ‘bioeconomy’ exist. During the event, representatives from Indigenous communities, youth, entrepreneurs, academics and policymakers discussed the regional interpretations of ‘bioeconomy.’

“We organized this session to reflect on the question, “what is bioeconomy” and to try to understand the different perspectives of the region,” said session-moderator Roberto Waack, President of the Uma Concertação pela Amazônia, Coalizão Brasil Clima, Florestas e Agricultura.

The major challenge in these different understandings is synchronizing the implementation of pro-bioeconomy practices. “In the last 30 years we have advanced a lot in this field [bioeconomy], but we have never been good at balancing the environment and economy,” said Danilo Fernandes of the Núcleo de Altos Estudos Amazônicos (Naea) and Universidade Federal do Pará (UFPA). He further added that there are multiple factors to consider.

Local and Indigenous perspectives on national efforts to implement a bioeconomy were also shared during the session. Angélica Rojas of the Fundación Para La Conservación Y Desarrollo Sostenible (FCDS) los departamentos de Meta y Guaviare shared that, in Colombia, bioeconomy signifies “natural.” “[It means] there is an ability for the people to have and live from the products that are available from the different ecosystems.”

Meanwhile, in Peru, Karina Pinasco of the Amazónicos por Amazonía (AMPA) expressed the need to shift towards a “neutral country.” She said, “in 2020, we have deforested 4500 ha of land. Decision-makers are myopically focused on drug trafficking, land grabbing and corruption.” At the national level, bioeconomy is a potential tool to enhance the production of food and restore the environment while also providing income and livelihoods. Achieving bioeconomy targets could eventually help solve the persistent issues of deforestation.

The event’s panelists also raised the need to have a reality-check and to put bioeconomy in the context of social injustices and denial of human rights in the Amazon. “How do we talk about bioeconomy and deforestation when there are pressing issues about human rights — when Indigenous peoples and activists are killed?” asked Ivaneide Bandeira Cardozo of the Kanindé Ethno-environmental Defense Association.

Download the PDF!

The differing perspectives on bioeconomy show that there is no use in trying to force an all-encompassing “Amazonian bioeconomy” concept; locally-designed bioeconomy approaches differ from place-to-place, even though the principles remain the same globally. To address conflicting views and misunderstandings on the concept of bioeconomy, ongoing initiatives in the Amazon are converging towards common frameworks. These frameworks and other issues are developed in the session’s White Paper.

What is clear is that, without compromising human rights and social justice, there is a huge opportunity for bioeconomy approaches to address the pressing environmental challenges. Context-specific bioeconomies could create new value chains using forest-based products and services that generate more local profit — a win-win situation, if properly implemented.

What are the most effective paths to promote socioenvironmental development in the Amazon?  

How do we ensure “bioeconomy” is more than just another fashionable idea? Following the theme of GLF Amazonia, this session discussed the issue from the inside out. Bioeconomy negotiations need to be diverse and encourage meaningful participation “We need to have a more participative discussion. It should be multi-level, multi-actor,” said Pinasco.

Some of the most important actors for a successful bioeconomy are Indigenous peoples. Respecting on-the-ground, local and traditional worldviews was the loudest call-to-action from this session: “We need to value the Indigenous views. We need to rethink how we move forward with bioeconomy so as not to neglect the voices of the Amazonians,” said Neto.

Developing an economic model that respects the integrity and decisions of Indigenous communities is the most pressing challenge to advance bioeconomy approaches in the Amazon. “We cannot just focus on monetary benefits,” said Cardozo. “It is against Indigenous values. There should be a certain degree of respect for nature.”

Integrating Indigenous and local voices in decision-making processes is key for capacity development. When local organizations and institutions are strengthened, they could help communities better manage their territories. “We need to develop skills and materials that could help us in providing mature and informed decisions in relation to the value chains that are developed,” said Pinasco.

Tapping into the potentials of alternative forest resources, such as bamboo, was also raised by Noelia Trillo, CEO of Forest Bambu. “We see bamboo has a possibility of recovering soil to address the degraded lands in the Amazon. It gives us a number of alternative resources.”

“A bioeconomy should consider social and environmental factors while respecting Indigenous and local perspectives,” Trillo added.


Replay the full session –>


FTA’s other 3 sessions also can be replayed here below!


Drawing from farmers’ experience on practical solutions to sustainable farming that can be scaled up, this session brought farmers’ cooperatives and NGOs from Brazil and Peru and discussed their learning on how to continue farming and making money while also restoring ecosystem functions and enhancing biodiversity on degraded lands.

FTA and its partners are strong proponents of agroecological approaches that support food production, restoration and climate change adaptation. Agroforestry, dubbed as “agroecology on steroids” by principal scientist Fergus Sinclair – paved the way to more recent involvement, for the upscale of agroecology – has enormous potential as a nature-based solution for sustainable land management. This is true, not only in the Amazon, but in most parts of the world. FTA scientists also believe that these initiatives would only become successful if stakeholders are meaningfully participating.

In this session, solutions and practices that reconcile social and environmental goals and factors for their success and challenges in implementation were presented by the Brazilian and Peruvian agroforestry farmers themselves.

Replay the full session –>



 The transition towards Zero Deforestation farming has been a huge undertaking. In this session, actors both from the farm-level and at the policy-level were able to share challenges and opportunities of deforestation-free import regulations to reduce deforestation in regions where commodities are produced by smallholder farmers, such as coffee and cocoa in Peru. This session explored how to minimize the risk that commodities associated with forest loss enter EU’s market and how, from companies to government and farmers, actors along the value chain are planning to meet compliance to regulations, the challenge, and the risks.

The session also solicited thoughts from farmers and practitioners in identifying strategic elements of the policy and institutional context to support the process at scale. It examined priorities to generate those conditions and progresses so far. One issue discussed is how regulatory mechanisms, depending on the implementation, can be both enabling and impeding the success and scaling up of agroforestry practices.

Replay the full session –>


Women are integral in the success of Amazonian conservation. Here, the session reported preliminary lessons learned from gender inclusive initiatives that have increased women’s participation in conservation and development in the Brazilian, Colombian and Peruvian Amazon. These cases cover a diverse collection of indigenous, Afro-descendant and peasant women from across the region. The hour and a half-long session facilitated a discussion of findings from multiple grassroots efforts where women increased participation in natural resource decision-making, gained more secure access to natural resources, or improved benefits from natural resource management.

The women in the Amazon are diverse in terms of settlements, age, class, ethnic background, descent, etc. Most of the women also take forest and land-based roles in the community and are holders of traditional knowledge. In spite of their diverse backgrounds, they often face the same challenges of political barriers, cultural and social bias, lack of capacity and resources, lack of trust and lack of collective awareness, and lack of sources of loans, education, and affirmative action.

Replay the full session –>

This article was written by Maria Paula Sarigumba.

This article was produced by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with ICRAF, the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Reference genome of the shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa), a tool for predictive breeding - Interview with scientists!

Reference genome of the shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa), a tool for predictive breeding – Interview with scientists!

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If you live in the Global North, chances are the word ‘shea’ may not ring too many bells.

Best known outside of Africa for shea butter, which is widely used to make chocolate as well as many cosmetics, the shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) is an evergreen flowering tree found across the African continent, from Senegal in the west to the foothills of the Ethiopian highlands in the east.

It also provides millions of households with a highly nutritious cooking oil, as well as a vital source of income, with its supply chain almost entirely controlled by women. But shea tree numbers have been declining for decades due to land use conflicts, putting many of these livelihoods in jeopardy.

FTA has been conducting research in genomics since its founding as part of Flagship 1: Tree genetic resources and several research priorities, including restoration, plantations and tree crop commodities, and enhanced nutrition and food security.

A recent study, published in Frontiers in Plant Science, explores new methods to reverse the decline of shea tree populations by improving the species through the use of genomics.

FTA spoke with two of the paper’s authors: Iago Hale, Associate Professor in Agriculture, Nutrition, and Food Systems at the University of New Hampshire and the paper’s lead author, and Prasad Hendre, a genomics scientist at World Agroforestry (ICRAF).

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Why have shea tree numbers have been declining?

 IH: The main factors have to do with land use change. The shea tree is a dominant species in the parkland ecosystems where it occurs. The problem is that these are very stressful environments: it’s hot, there are long periods of droughts, and so these trees take decades to mature.

There’s a substantial opportunity cost in letting a tree grow slowly over decades, especially when there are competing land uses that would pay off much more quickly.

One example is the conversion of parklands to agriculture, for crops like mangoes and cashews, which happen to be largely controlled by men. So, not only does it threaten shea tree numbers, but it also potentially undermines economic opportunities for women.

Another threat lies in the fact that shea wood makes really good charcoal. So, if you’re a farmer, do you wait 20 years in the hope that a volunteer shea tree of unknown quality will eventually produce nuts, or do you cut it down and immediately get some income from turning it into charcoal? In situations of unclear land tenure, the calculus favoring short-term returns becomes even stronger.

PH: Most shea trees occur in the wild and are not planted by humans. As new volunteer seedlings establish themselves, they’re immediately cut because there are better uses for the land. Ultimately, there are much shorter-term economic opportunities that shea simply can’t compete with. So, the motivation behind this project is: how do you improve the performance of shea in the landscape so that it can actually compete?

Your project aims to tackle these challenges by developing improved varieties of shea using genomic analysis. What exactly is genomic analysis, and what are its potential benefits? 

PH: With genomic analysis, we are trying to understand how the traits we see – the phenotype – are linked to or determined by an individual tree’s DNA. There are regions in the genome that control how genes behave and thus directly control these traits – for example, butter quality, butter yield, the number of nuts, and the number of fruits produced by each plant.

And just to be very clear, genetically improved varieties are not genetically modified. We are not talking about taking a gene from one plant and putting it into another. This is a traditional breeding method, but using modern, faster and more efficient tools.

IH: There are countless examples of crops that have been radically improved without the use of genomics: we’ve had centuries of crop improvement through traditional approaches like cross-breeding. You can do that for crops that have very short generation times, but with the shea tree, we are unable to improve it following traditional approaches simply because of the time taken for it to mature.

Where genomics comes in is by assembling collections of diversity of shea and examining their phenotypes. By genetically “fingerprinting” those trees, we can start to make associations between important traits and the underlying DNA. Now, we can walk up to a young seedling, bring it into a lab to look at its DNA, and assess its potential – without having to wait 15 years.

PH: We call it predictive breeding. Genome analysis gives us a tool to predict the performance of an individual even before it is sown in the field.

IH: With predictive breeding tools, we have a way of supporting rational decision making, which seedlings to keep, which ones to cull. We envision a future in which a farmers will be able to say, ‘Actually, I’m going to keep that tree over there because it’s likely to produce significantly more fruit than that one over there.’

These genetic tools also provide a much more accurate way to assess genetic diversity in the landscape because they enable you to be much more strategic in sampling populations.

The idea of “genetic fingerprint” is fascinating, but what does it actually mean?

IH: When we talk about “genetic fingerprinting” what we mean is using DNA sequencing to “see” what versions of shea’s naturally-occurring genes any given tree possesses. Some of these versions, or alleles, of genes are desirable and some are undesirable, from a production standpoint. Given a nice biodiverse collection of mature shea trees to work with, genetic sequencing and its underlying analytical methods help us see the potential in new seedlings before they mature.

Is there any analogy we could provide to exemplify this type of work better?

IH: Yes! Let’s say you’d like to visit a certain city you’ve never been to before and not spend countless hours driving random directions in hope of landing there. For this task, you need a map. Such a map, coupled with landmarks and road signs, are the tools needed to efficiently navigate and reach your destination. In a similar way, if you want to ascertain if a certain tree carries natural versions of genes that are desirable for end uses, you need a reference genome (the map) and genetic markers (the landmarks or signposts). By creating a reference genome for the species Vitellaria paradoxa, the shea tree, we have developed and made available a navigation tool for use by the whole shea improvement community.

How is this technically done?

IH: We extract DNA from plant tissue (usually young leaves) and sequence it. Although DNA exists as very long, coherent molecules in living cells, it gets all chopped up into very small fragments during extraction. So the sequences we obtain are more like pieces of a labyrinthine puzzle that we then have to assemble using computational techniques that fall under the discipline of bioinformatics. Once assembled as best as we can into the long chromosomes found in living cells, we have the so-called “reference genome”. Further work with the sequencing of expressed genes (mRNA) allows us to annotate the genome, essentially identify and locate the genes themselves.

In total, this annotated genome would be the map in the analogy before.

Sticking with the analogy, once you have an accurate map, once you know the full lay of the land, you then have the ability to navigate from one place to another with only a very small subset of information on that map. A simple set of directions: turn left, go 5 miles, turn right, you’ve arrived!

PH: That’s right. In a genome, so-called “molecular markers” serve as the very abridged signposts in the larger map. We may find that only 2 or 3 regions of the genome explain the lion’s share of difference in shea butter quality among trees. Having the full map allows us to identify those regions, “see” their status with a few strategically chosen markers, and then characterize other trees (e.g., trees in a farmer’s field) with just those few markers. In other words, the analytical burden when applying the information in practice is a mere fraction of the analytical burden needed when creating the map in the first place.

So the “tool” generated by this study is the roadmap of the shea genome!

IH: Exactly. Only with this map in hand can we begin characterizing the genetic makeup of any given shea tree. Thus our reference genome is the thing that enables the genetic fingerprinting and predictive breeding mentioned earlier.

You use existing, mature trees to understand the genetic underpinnings of traits of interest. Once this is done, you can select for improved trees, whether in a breeding program or naturally occurring in the landscape. And this selection is possible because it is based on their genetic make-up (something that can be assessed at the time of germination) rather than their phenotype (something you have to wait decades for).

This opens up an opportunity to breed a species that takes a very long time to mature – and to invest in these improved varieties to address urgent challenges like land use change, climate change, and so on.

So then, why has there been so little work on developing genetically improved shea varieties so far – and what can we do about it?

IH: One main reason is the generation time. By and large, there haven’t been the right incentives for long-term investment in this species. But again, with genomics, the hope is to be able to accelerate the time frame in which we can develop the species so that it becomes viable to work on.

PH: There’s also another reason: the donor angle. It’s difficult to attract a donor – an institution, organization or funding agency – that’s ready to invest over a long-term period. Who is ready to invest for that long without seeing the outcome? Unfortunately, there are few donors who want to invest in trees.

IH: This is where shea has a lot of opportunity because there’s a robust export market and economy around it. In the chocolate industry, for example, there is vested private interest in realizing improvement with the shea tree. So, I think there’s an opportunity with public-private partnerships where it isn’t just donors and foundations that are interested, but there’s also business interest and profits to be made from seeing this tree improved.

What are the main implications for local communities in the Sahel, now that the Shea tree reference genome is available?

IH: I think it’s premature to talk about impact right now. Ultimately, we’ve created a tool, and it’s really going to fall on national programs throughout the Shea Belt and institutions like CIFOR-ICRAF and other partners in the region to use it.

We put the tool into a bit of preliminary use, looking at shea butter quality and doing some initial positing of candidate genes that probably play an important role in that characteristic. The results were promising. We’re quite confident in the quality of the tool that we’ve created, and we’re seeing good insights into how we may be able to use it to select the traits of interest.

PH: We also have the African Plant Breeding Academy to ensure that there’s a critical mass of early- and mid-career plant breeders working in African institutes who have been empowered to use these tools in their breeding programs.

But above this formal training, we need to be creative and think of innovative ways that have not been taught. It has to involve not just breeders and genomics; it has to happen in the farmers’ fields. That’s something that we’re working on at the moment: how can we incorporate everything and work with farmers in a participatory way?

IH: Those are the folks who are really on the front lines and who are going to see the implementation and impact of these tools. Although I’m proud of the work and I’m happy it’s published, if it is not taken on by the farmers and breeders in the field, it will ultimately have no impact.

The immediate follow up question then is: how transferable is this technology to farmers?

IH: It’s not transferable in the sense of farmer’s making direct use of the reference genome, looking at gene sequencing and pounding out bioinformatics programming on farm. But it is transferable in the sense that it enables the application of these methods (targeted genetic characterization) in an efficient way to tree populations of interest, whether they are growing on farm or on a research station. We just need to link the people to the technology.

Bear in mind that farmers are already relying on organizations such as FTA and CIFOR-ICRAF to provide them “plus” materials, so this work is inscribed in an ongoing collaboration. As much as we are sensitive to the disruptions new technologies can have vis-à-vis power and agency of practitioners, I believe it is fair to view our work here as simply providing more information (a better lens) by which to select promising material.

Think about it: at the moment, farmers are selecting trees blindly. For those who actively plant seedlings, genome-enabled breeding and selection is a revolution: it gives them predictive power!

So how can a farmer on the field actually access this technology?

PH: In practice an end-user (farmer, breeder, etc.) would send a small tissue sample (e.g. a hole punch from a leaf) to a central lab and receive the marker data for that sample within 4-6 weeks. This is orders of magnitude faster than waiting for a tree to reach reproductive maturity. Such data could then be used to support decision making around which trees to keep and which to cull. For programs that work to grow and distribute shea seedlings to growers, a strategic marker screen could be used to select against those seedlings with the lowest predicted potential, thereby realizing a net gain in the landscape.

So, the opportunity is now available, but it is critical for us to get the word out and provide the support so that it can be applied and implemented at scale.

–> Read more about the FTA’s work on genomics:

Revised by Ming Chun Tang and Fabio Ricci.

This article was produced by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with ICRAF, The Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.


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  • FTA highlights of a decade: Ten years of forests, trees and agroforestry research in partnership for sustainable development

FTA highlights of a decade: Ten years of forests, trees and agroforestry research in partnership for sustainable development

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The Collaborative Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (CRP-FTA), one of the world’s largest research-for-development partnership, is completing a 10-year cycle as a CGIAR CRP. As a legacy of its work and to define the agenda for the years ahead, FTA is now launching a series of publications to set the spotlights on the program’s main results and achievements from 2011 to 2021.

“FTA Highlights of a Decade” series includes 18 chapters that illustrate FTA work and its impacts across a range of issues of critical importance for people and for the planet. The broad-ranging topics in the series showcases FTA’s evidence based work and impact orientation. FTA work, representing an investment of about USD 850m over a decade, was supported by CGIAR funders and bilateral projects.

The FTA Highlights Series:

  1. Introduction: Ten Years of Forests, Trees and Agroforestry Research in Partnership for Sustainable Development
  2. Tree Seed and Seedling Systems for Resilience and Productivity
  3. Conservation of Tree Biodiversity and Sustainable Forest Management
  4. Forest and Landscape Restoration
  5. Food Security and Nutrition
  6. Wild Meat
  7. Trees on Farms to Improve Livelihoods and the Environment
  8. Biomass, Bioenergy and Biomaterials
  9. Improving Rural Livelihoods Through Supporting Local Innovation at Scale
  10. Sustainable Value Chains and Finance
  11. REDD+: Combating Climate Change with Forest Science
  12. Adaptation to Climate Change, with Forests, Trees and Agroforestry
  13. Multi-Functional Landscapes for Sustainable Development
  14. Governing Forests, Trees and Agroforestry Landscapes for Delivering on the SDGs
  15. Advancing Gender Equality and Social Inclusion
  16. Capacity Development
  17. Monitoring, Evaluation, Learning and Impact Assessment
  18. The Way Forward

This list represents the order of the volumes in the series and not the time sequence of publication.

These highlight publications aim to illustrate the work of FTA in demonstrating the importance of forests, agroforestry and trees to give ways to the sustainable development agenda. When forests, trees and agroforestry are effectively used, managed and governed, they do improve production systems, ensure peoples’ food security, enhance livelihoods and help address climate change.

Each item in the series has two purposes. First, to showcase the research work of FTA and its partners, the influence of the program to deliver effective technical, social and institutional innovations for a range of stakeholders, including decision makers at the local, national and international level, connecting policy and practice. Second, in telling the story of FTA work on a topic, to shed a special “FTA” light on each topic’s story and its – often quite significant – evolution during a decade.

The topics of the volumes were chosen based on the operational priorities of FTA and the whole series is written by FTA scientists, elaborated under the overall guidance of an editorial committee and the oversight of the FTA Independent Steering Committee.

The first highlights to be released are the Introduction, Highlight No. 1, and the volume on Forest and Landscape Restoration (FLR), Highlight No. 4.

Volume 1 – Introduction

FTA’s work aims to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. This means impacting positively the life of those estimated 1.6 billion people that depend on forests and trees for their livelihoods. But more broadly the ambition is to be relevant for every people on the planet, as in a way or another, we are all connected to trees and forests.

If the history of humankind is 300 thousand years old, the history of trees and forests is 300 million years old. But humanity has a complex relationship with trees. Our growing population shares the planet with approximately three trillion trees, which represents almost half of the trees present on the planet at the start of human civilization. Part of the reason for this tree loss is due to agricultural lands expanding. The more people there are, the more crop, livestock, fish, timber the world needs to grow, the more space it needs for cities and infrastructures. Does this necessarily need to be done at the expense of forests, and at the expense of trees in farming systems and of trees in landscapes?

FTA’s vision is that humankind can change the direction of its development trajectory to avoid a doomsday scenario, and towards a pragmatic path of sustainability that balances productivity and preserves the integrity of the environment. We call this path a “sustained agility”, where productivity is carried out in harmony with nature.

The dot in the figure below represents our current situation.

Underpinning the “sustained agility” scenario is a fine understanding of what trees and forest can bring to a range of challenges, if these resources are properly managed, and if the right governance is in place. Whether it is about the future of cities, of our energy system, of material resource systems, of our food systems, of our landscapes, and of our climate, forests, trees and agroforestry are – almost always – an ingredient to our most promising solutions. They are the key to our future.

 Making complex pathways easy to grasp

One of the pillars of the FTA program is the forest transition curve (the red line in the figure below) – whose very definition was coined by FTA scientists, and now worldwide known. Looking at the totality of the world landscapes at a certain point in time reveals a quite complex set of land-use patterns. But a new light is shed when we look at these patterns through time: the curve enables us to better understand and anticipate the consequences (both positive and negative), over time of economic development on forests, land use and the environment. It also enables to figure out the levers of action to prevent degradation of ecosystems and improve overall productivity and ecosystem services.

The “forest transition curve,” depicting the different stages of forests, after human anthropocentric activity. Different restorative activities such as native habitat conservation, natural forest regrowth, commercial tree plantations, woodlots, enrichment plantings, and agroforestry systems may be implemented across this transition, along with soil restoration and conservation measures (adapted from CGIAR 2011). More on restoration in our FTA Highlight No.4.

Compared to annual crops, trees have the particularity to force anyone to consider, inherently, the time dimension. What you do to forests now, will impact you for decades. The decision to plant a tree today, to organize differently your farm system with trees, is a decision that has consequences through time. An intervention that contains trees is therefore always a “change” on top of an evolution (in time). A change, on top of another change. This is why FTA uses the language of ‘Theory of Induced Change’ (leverage points, intervention) over a ‘Theory of Change’ (the forest transition curve representing the “baseline” evolution of the system due to various social-ecological processes and their drivers). This distinction clearly allows to identify leverage points to modify pathways of change and development, through context specific action.

Analytical framework for understanding people (centre) in landscapes interacting with livelihoods and policies, as part of a process in time where today’s options lead to tomorrow’s choices; ES = ecosystem services.

Download the volume! [PDF]
FTA, the collaborative Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry program is coming to an end in 2021 as a CGIAR CRP. However, it has depicted for itself a clear way forward, to include new, innovative, large-scale, and long-term research. The partnership has grown, it has energy, it is ready for another decade, towards 2030.

Download the Introduction to learn more about FTA’s efforts in 10 years of research in partnership. And stay tuned for more highlights! Each one will allow you to discover or rediscover – through FTA “eyes” – milestones in the forests, trees and agroforestry research advancement. A way to read about how knowledge, linked to peoples’ buy-in and power, well used can really make a change for our global agenda in sustainable development!

Download infographics

Vincent Gitz, FTA Director

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  • Agroecology takes center stage at the UN Food Systems Summit 2021

Agroecology takes center stage at the UN Food Systems Summit 2021

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Wild coffee nursery in Yangambi - DRC. Photo by Axel Fassio/CIFOR
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Held on 23 September, the UN Food Systems Summit 2021 saw over 200 commitments from all constituencies after engaging with hundreds of thousands of people from around the world ready to act and transform the global food system.

One of the Summit’s strongest outcomes and commitments to action is the Coalition for the Transformation of Food Systems Through Agroecology, already signed by 19 countries (Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Spain, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and others) and nearly 30 organizations, including Agroecology Europe, Biovision, CIFOR-ICRAFCIRADUNDPUNEP and many more.

The video prompting organizations and member states to join the Coalition, which sits under the Transformative Partnership Platform on Agroecology (TPP) umbrella, has been featured at one of the Food Systems Summit’s plenary sessions, which can be accessed directly on the Summit’s website (Session 1 – Multi-stakeholder Commitments and Constituency Voices, at 1:12:40) or on Vimeo.

Agnes Kalibata, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Food Systems Summit 2021, underlined the importance of the Coalition as one of the game-changing approaches to building more sustainable food systems that benefit both people and the planet.

Join the initiative!

Originally posted on GLFx.

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  • A Feminist approach to Restoration - Interview with Marlène Elias

A Feminist approach to Restoration – Interview with Marlène Elias

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Marlène Elias, FTA Gender focal point being interviewed on Zoom
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Land degradation costs the global economy up to USD 10 trillion per year – or around 17 percent of gross world product. World leaders have recognized the problem and are now turning their attention to restoring the Earth’s degraded and deforested landscapes. The U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which launched in June and will run through 2030, will ramp up efforts to combat land degradation across the globe.

But although the Decade will be driven by the latest biophysical science, a team of scientists has argued that policymakers need to pay greater attention to social and political considerations as well.

In a special issue of Ecological Restoration titled “Restoration for whom, by whom: Exploring the socio-political dimensions of restoration”, the scientists make the case for exploring these dimensions through the lens of feminist political ecology. The issue, reported on by IFPRI, The Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT, EurekAlert! and also picked up by Mongabay, features 11 studies examining the issues of equity and inclusion in ecological restoration.

We recently spoke with Marlène Elias, FTA’s Coordinator of Gender Equality and Social Inclusion who was co-guest editor of the special issue. Together with Deepa Joshi and Ruth Meinzen-Dick, Marlène is also authoring the introductory Perspective “A Feminist Political Ecology of Restoration” contained in the Special Issue.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

In this important new article, you and your colleagues speak about “social and political dimensions of restoration.” Could you explain what you mean in simple terms?

We’re essentially talking about the politics, the power relations and the social relations that underpin restoration.

Often, because restoration is a field dominated by the natural sciences, it focuses more on the ecological aspects. What we’re trying to do is center people in that field. There have been several efforts to do that, but they often focus on the economic aspects, or they speak about participation and stakeholder engagement without really engaging with the power, politics and relational aspects of restoration. So, that’s what we’re trying to bring to the fore.

Woman working on her plot of land, Riau Province, Indonesia.
Photo by Aris Sanjaya/CIFOR

Can you give any examples, either positive or negative? Are there any correlations you would like to underline?

If we ignore power relations around who captures the benefits and plan interventions without thinking carefully about how resources are allocated and who participates in restoration projects, we run the risk of elite capture.

For example, one of the papers in the special issue talks about farmer-managed natural regeneration, and how interventions may ultimately benefit village chiefs and founding lineages the most, as they tend to have more privileged rights to land. So, it’s important to carry out a careful analysis of tenure and power relations among community members to prevent this elite capture.

The same goes for gender relations. If you’re not looking carefully at how labor is allocated within households, and you ask households to be in charge of providing labor for restoration, particularly unremunerated labor, then women could end up putting in labor without benefiting from it. The benefits might instead be directed to heads of household, who tend to be predominantly men in most of the contexts we work in.

So, if you don’t consider power relations and the norms that distribute labor and decision-making rights and responsibilities, and the distribution of benefits, you will run into skewed outcomes where the costs and benefits of restoration are not equitably distributed.

Restoration is one of the key FTA research domains, we have been working on those issues and developing innovations since day 1. For example, we recently released an options-by-context typology for people-centred nature-based land restoration through agroforestry. This typology can help linking knowledge with action in people-centric restoration in which all actors are brought to the table sharing responsibilities and roles. At the end of the day, empowerment of resource users and managers, including within multi-stakeholder processes,  is the key component to successful restoration practices.


You use the term ‘feminist political ecology perspective.’ Why have you defined it as ‘feminist’, and what are the linkages to the historical feminist movement? How does it differ from mainstream ecological approaches?

Feminism has been linked to natural resource management issues in the past, and essentially centers the discourse on equality and equity issues. That’s precisely what we’re trying to do here. Specifically, feminist political ecology has many different dimensions, but we refer to three key dimensions that help us push our thinking forward in terms of how we conceptualize and practice restoration.

We mention the importance of thinking through power relations and also of looking at those relations at various scales to contexualize what’s happening from the local level to political and economic contexts and structures. We’re also really stressing the importance of taking that analysis and putting it in a historical perspective: what happens now is not detached from a historical trajectory in terms of power relations and political and economic contexts; and it has to be understood within that trajectory.


Restoration is inherently context-specific, but the points raised in your paper are universal as they deal with human rights. How can we reconcile that? Should we suggest that everyone should taking a feminist stance, or should we tailor our approach to the context?

What we’re proposing is more in line with a reflexive practice of restoration. We’re not saying that it will look the same when applied in different contexts, but we’re saying that the issues we raise do matter across the board. Thinking about power relations, scale and historical trajectories matters in any context. But how they will look once you carry out an analysis and engage with those issues is going to be contextually specific. I don’t think there’s necessarily a tension there; it’s really about applying that thinking in a reflexive and contextually-specific way.


What should you do when social norms are hindering or don’t comply with a feminist FLR approach? When would you advocate for a top-down approach (policies, laws, etc.) versus a bottom-up approach (e.g. knowledge, information, behavioral change)?

Change is usually a function of both top-down and bottom-up approaches. Big change is often initiated from people coming together, organizing and calling for change, which policy change then supports and reinforces. It’s not a linear process – it’s very iterative, so ideally, change should be supported through both approaches.

What we really try to emphasize in the special issue is that it shouldn’t be only a global agenda that dictates what happens on the ground. Instead, the agenda should be set by the priorities and aspirations of people who are directly engaging with and impacted by restoration. That’s where context specificity really matters. So, it’s about policies supporting self-directed change and creating an enabling environment to allow that self-directed change to thrive.

Restoration can improve but also pose risks to rural women’s livelihoods. Farmer in a manioc field, Lukolela, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

Do you think this paper fills a void in the current global discussion in FLR? What do you hope to achieve with the release of this special issue?

Yes, what’s exciting about the issue is that it’s brought so many people together around it. We’ve continued collaborating after this issue, so we’ve now produced an article that’s under consideration in another journal that looks at 10 people-centered rules for socially sustainable restoration. It essentially takes key learnings from across the special issue papers and organizes them as a set of actionable principles for restoration in terms of centering it on people and on the human and socio-political aspects of restoration.

So, that’s been quite exciting, and I hope that the combination of the special issue, the paper and all of the communications and outreach around them will have an impact. It comes just after the launch of the U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which we’re trying to contribute to with the timing of this special issue. It’s been in the works for two years, but having it come out now is quite exciting. We’re hoping that it can be picked up and can contribute to the ongoing discourses and debates around restoration, many of which are now better integrating human and social considerations than in the past.

But as we point out in this special issue and subsequent paper: it’s not easy. It’s very complex; it’s very messy, and there are several reasons why it hasn’t been done in a systematic way. But there are definitely efforts made in that direction. We have to view all of these contributions and steps along a bigger trajectory, but we hope that it pushes us along.


Is there anything else you’d like to add?

This special issue and paper go beyond just thinking about restoration. They apply to everything we work on at FTA: the thinking and the approach can be applied more generally to natural resource management and to working in forestry and agroforestry landscapes. So, the hope is that it will also feed back into other discussions that are relevant to FTA and all those working in that area.


Revised by Ming Chun Tang

The special issue on ‘Restoration for whom, by whom: Exploring the socio-political dimensions of restoration’ is a collaborative initiative conducted under the umbrella of the CGIAR Research Programs on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry; Policies, Institutions, and Markets; and Water, Land and Ecosystems.


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  • Cut less, leave longer: decades of data show we are over-exploiting tropical rainforests

Cut less, leave longer: decades of data show we are over-exploiting tropical rainforests

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We are logging more than can be sustained by tropical forests. Plinio Sist, Fourni par l'auteur
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Tropical rainforests currently cover 1070 million hectares of the world’s surface. More than 90% of them are located in three regions: Central Africa, in the Congo Basin; South America, mostly in the Amazon; and in Southeast Asia, in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.

It is estimated that 400 million hectares of these forests are currently given over to timber production. But our research over many decades shows the rules that govern timber harvesting in tropical forest – currently based on logging intensity and cutting cycle – do not allow for the long-term recovery of the timber volume being harvested from these ecosystems.

These observations question the very foundations of the so-called “sustainable management” of these forests, and indicates that we will see further degradation of the planet’s last timber-producing tropical rainforests. It is therefore urgent that we seek out new sources of timber. Natural forests alone will not be able to meet current and future demand.

The principles of tropical silviculture – the management of forests to meet the needs of diverse groups and industries – must also be completely revised.

No time to recover

Timber harvesting in tropical forests concerns only a very small number of trees of commercial interest: one to three trees per hectare in Africa, five to seven in the Amazon, and eight in Southeast Asia. Just a few species, including ipe, cumaru, okoumé and sapelli are exploited worldwide.

Among these, only the largest trees of more more than 50 to 80 cm in diameter are felled and harvested. The forest is then left to rest, generally for 25 to 35 years, depending on a specific country’s legislation. These rest periods, known as “rotations”, should theoretically allow the forest to recover the stock of harvested timber.

But our data shows that, in reality, these resting periods are vastly underestimated.

Since the early 1980s, CIRAD and its partners have set up experimental plots to monitor tropical forest dynamics in order to assess the effects of selective logging on the reconstitution of the timber stock. This information now allows us to simulate the trajectories of exploited tropical rainforests according to the harvesting intensity, but also other variables – including rainfall and soil type.

Using this information, we calculated the reconstitution of a forests’s biomass, the commercial volume of timber and the evolution of biodiversity within the Amazon basin to highlight significant differences within the same region.

We found that, in general, the rotation times of 25-35 years in force in most tropical countries are insufficient to fully reconstitute the timber volume removed. On the other hand, biodiversity and biomass seem to recover fairly quickly within 20-25 years, after which more than 80% of biodiversity remains at the level of the pre-harvest level.

Unsustainable production

In the Brazilian Amazon, current forest protection legislation is based on a 35-year cycle, with an harvesting intensity of 15-20 m3 per hectare and an initial proportion of commercial species of 20%. At this rate, and considering a harvesting area of 35 million hectares, the level of production cannot be maintained beyond one harvesting cycle of 35 years, and will then decline each year until the resources are depleted.

Only by reducing harvesting intensity by half and a 65-year cutting cycle would ensure sustainable and constant timber production; however, in this situation, only 31% of current demand could be met.

In Southeast Asia, the cutting cycle period is 20 to 30 years, and logging intensities in primary forest, on average 80m3 per hectare, can exceed 100m3 per hectare. But data from forest dynamics monitoring indicate that only an intensity of 60m³ per hectare every 40 years would ensure sustainable and consistent production over time.

Finally, in Central Africa, the recovery of the stock of timber removed 25 years after logging is only 40%, suggesting a recovery of barely 50% over a 30-year rotation.

A new system for harvesting timber

The idea behind tropical silviculture, designed more than half a century ago, is that natural tropical forests are capable of producing timber in a sustained manner. In light of our results, this position must be completely revised.

The monitoring of tropical forests dynamics after logging shows that, in most tropical countries, they will not be able to meet the growing market demand for timber within 30 years, according to the rules established by forestry legislation.

In the vast majority of cases, true sustainability would require a considerable reduction in the harvesting intensity and a significant increase in the duration of logging cycles, which compromises the economic sustainability of selective logging in the current legislation system.

Natural tropical forests can no longer be perceived as a simple source of timber: the environmental services they produce should also be taken into account. For example, we could consider pricing timber from natural forests higher than that from plantations, with intended use linked to the higher quality of their wood. This higher price would increase the economic profitability of timber harvesting in natural forests, while plantation wood could be used for less noble purposes.

There is an urgent need to promote diversified tropical forestry now, combining timber production from natural forests, mixed plantations, agroforests (human-created forest systems with a multi-level vegetation structure similar to natural forests), and secondary forests (those regenerated on deforested areas left to be abandoned).

The rising international interest in tropical forest restoration under the Bonn Challenge – a plan to restore 350 million hectares of deforested land by 2030 – or the very recent proclamation of the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), are both opportunities to implement this new approach in the tropics.

But no new system aimed at sustainable timber production will be successful without also introducing effective policies to combat illegal logging and deforestation, which continue to supply the timber market at lower costs and compete with any logging system aimed at long-term sustainability.

By Plinio Sist, member of the FTA Management Team

Originally posted on The Conversation »

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  • From governments down to local realities: Sentinel communities in the Congo Basin

From governments down to local realities: Sentinel communities in the Congo Basin

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Aerial view of a Transition Forest area in Bokito, Cameroon. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR
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If it wasn’t for mankind chopping down trees, you get the sense that tropical rainforests around the world would be doing quite well.

According to the recent Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020 published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, deforestation is decreasing – but is still an inconceivable 4.7M hectares per year. Global Forest Watch reports that in 2019 we lost enough tropical primary forest to cover an area nearly the size of Switzerland.

This is disastrous news – but it’s not like we humans are chopping down trees for fun. Yes, standing forests absorb our carbon emissions and regulate our weather – but for hundreds of millions of people around the world, felled forests are our factories and our farms.

Nowhere are the competing human needs to both expand and exploit forests more apparent than in the Congo Basin.

Sprawling over no fewer than ten countries in Central Africa, the Congo Basin is an almost unimaginably enormous area. It’s bigger than India. 80 million people depend on its woodlands and wetlands for their livelihoods. Imagine the entire population of Germany living in a forest: that’s the Congo Basin.

It’s a wonder that any trees are still standing in the Congo Basin at all. The pressure on these forests is immense, from supporting those growing local communities, to supplying timber and cocoa for national and international markets, while keeping up with the rapacious demand for the precious minerals buried deep in the soil: essential components for the device on which you’re reading this story.

Yet stand those trees must. A recent study published in Nature estimates that the Congo Basin rainforests absorb 370 million metric tons of the planet’s carbon emissions every year – making them a more important sequester of carbon than even the Amazon.

That’s why, when an international collaboration of scientists launched an urgent health check of the world’s forests, they made sure to come to the Congo Basin. The Congo Basin, with its ancient forests butting up against twenty-first century development, is the very definition of a Sentinel Landscape. The third for which the CGIAR Research program on Forests Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) has produced a report after a 10-year research, the other two being the Nicaragua-Honduras site and the Borneo site.

A closer look at the Congo Basin

The CAFHUT Report [PDF]
Located in Cameroon, the scientific partners of the Central Africa Humid Tropics Transect Sentinel Landscape (CAFHUT) carefully analyzed four sites where the pressures of urban development, population growth and forest commercialization are rapidly changing the landscape.

Denis Sonwa was the coordinator of the CAFHUT Sentinel Landscape and lead author on the recently published stocktaking report: “The CAFHUT area was chosen to represent the different ecosystems and socioeconomic conditions in the Congo Basin in such a way that we can learn what are the drivers of deforestation, what forest models could be developed and what institutions could be useful as we develop responses to reduce/stop/reverse the anthropological ecology footprint on forest and natural ecosystems.”

The four sentinel study sites were chosen to represent different points along the forest transition curve:

  1. Mintom: a transition zone between mature old growth forest and logged-over forest, with a mixture of forest concessions, including community forests, but also the largest expanse of undisturbed tropical rainforest in Cameroon. The opening of a major road in the area has brought access to markets and promises more radical change in the near future.
  2. Lomie-Kongo: an area composed of degraded mature forests, where concessions, community forestry and timber exploitation are influencing the forest structure. Lomie-Kongo is very sparsely populated and the inhabitants are primarily subsistence farmers without easy access to markets.
  3. Ayos: a more degraded peri-urban landscape, where vegetation is characterized by gallery forests surrounded by swamp forests of raffia. A well-established road network provides access to large markets and ensures economic investment in cocoa, coffee and oil palm plantations.
  4. Bokito: a forest-savanna or deforested landscape, where successful reforestation means farmers can grow cash and subsistence crops, including cocoa and oil palm. Good road access means that locals can sell their produce more profitably at larger markets.
Position of the four sites along the forest transition curve

From soil to satellite: Why Sentinel Landscapes matter

All eight of the world’s Sentinel Landscapes, from the Amazon to the Mekong, use the same underlying methodology. Land health data collection, for example, uses the respected Land Degradation Surveillance Framework and, in Cameroon, 1280 soil samples from 640 plots were taken and sent for analysis to the Soil-Plant Spectral Diagnostics Laboratory at World Agroforestry (ICRAF) in Nairobi, Kenya.

Socioeconomic information is gathered using a combination of primary and secondary research. This means boots on the ground: in the CAFHUT Sentinel Landscape, researchers held focus group discussions and surveyed 927 households in 38 villages across all four sites. The granularity and consistency of the research means that the results are comparable across the world and the data can be exploited by everyone from farmers to politicians.

Soil analyses and advances in tree domestication are evidently vital for individual farmers looking to increase yields of their cocoa plantations today. Meanwhile, socioeconomic research into the value chains of non-timber forest products (NTFP) and crops such as bush mango kola nuts or safou can help farmers diversify their income for tomorrow.

But the significance of the Sentinel Landscape goes far beyond the concerns of local farmers. “It’s a multi-strata system,” Sonwa says, “from the national arenas considerations down to the local realities. The Sentinel Landscapes project is a good opportunity to bring science and policy together. The data provides an overview of the situation before they can move ahead.”

Cameroon is signed up to the United Nations REDD+ programme, which pays governments for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. This funding is increasingly urgent. According to a 2020 study published in Nature, the world’s rainforests are absorbing less carbon than they were in the 1990s. Rising global temperatures and harsher and more frequent droughts hamper the forests’ carbon absorption capacity and, by 2030, the trees of the Congo will soak up 14 percent less carbon than they did in the early 2000s.

At a certain point – perhaps as soon as the next decade – our tropical forests could become carbon sources instead of sinks. At the moment, projections of the disastrous impact of climate breakdown are predicated on the world’s forests continuing to mop up our excess carbon emissions. If that assumption proves false, then… It’s fair to say that research like the Sentinel Landscapes becomes an existential necessity.

“The Congo rainforest is the most important on the African continent,” Sonwa adds, “so the Sentinel Landscape data is important for the international community as well.”

“Substantial contributions”

Peter Minang is Principal Science Advisor for the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and one of FTA’s Flagship leaders. He’s been working on the landscapes of the Congo Basin for 25 years.

“Although it was building on work we were already doing,” Minang says, “the CAFHUT Sentinel Landscape was about developing databases and learning whether we were making progress in the sites on a landscape scale. It was extremely important.”

Minang continues: “I think there is enough evidence in CAFHUT that our partners were able to make substantial contributions, collect data and advance knowledge and awareness – and to some extent make an impact on those landscapes.”

Ten years of CAFHUT research has identified three key land management issues in the Congo Basin:

  1. reducing deforestation and forest degradation;
  2. raising people out of poverty; and
  3. improving cocoa and other tree commodity agroforestry systems.

Poverty, as Denis Sonwa says, is one of the “key drivers” of deforestation. This means that any attempt to curb the logging rights of farmers and smallholders must simultaneously offer them an alternative livelihood.

At one of the sentinel sites, Bokito, the sustainable conversion of savanna grasslands to cocoa agroforestry helps resolve all three land management issues – at least partially.

Anything but timber: routes out of poverty

Bokito lies 150km from Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon. The landscape is forest-savanna or totally deforested. Poverty is a problem for local communities and contributes to drive deforestation, as farmers seek more fertile lands. Deforestation is itself a problem for local biodiversity as well as being one driver of the global catastrophe we all share: climate breakdown.

One of the problems with forests is that they aren’t directly profitable for local communities, whereas, as Peter Minang says, cutting down trees to plant cocoa is. “That automatically makes standing forests less competitive,” Minang says. “Outside timber, which is itself a forest degradation activity, there is a big question about how to make the forest directly productive.”

Aside from cocoa, one solution is for farmers to harvest non-timber forest products (NTFP), including fruit trees, nuts, medicinal plants and even insects such as maggots. But it’s not always easy to cash in on NTFPs as ICRAF scientist Divine Foundjem Tita explains: “Non-timber forest products are now more valuable for farmers, but the farmers are not always connected to the markets.”

That’s why, eight years ago, the CAFHUT partners helped link farmers to traders so that they could sell their NTFPs. The impact on communities has been “significant” according to Foundjem Tita, especially for women.

“During the school term, women take advantage to collect products and sell them,” Foundjem Tita says. “They can earn $100-1000 USD per year. This is significant.” In a country where GDP is only $3206 USD per capita, it certainly is.

“It’s about building connections, trust and relationships between collectors and traders,” Foundjem Tita says. “The money helps send their children to school, buy books for the kids—or participate in festivals like Christmas. It is very significant.”

Muscling in on ‘women’s cocoa’

As communities find alternative solutions, the economic landscape is changing. Historically, harvesting and selling NTFPs was women’s work. “They even call NTFPs ‘women’s cocoa’,” Foundjem Tita says. “But once the market starts increasing, more men start competing.”

Men are muscling in on the business. “Some men buy at a low price from women and sell high to traders,” Foundjem Tita says. “In one area, men now control 30 percent of the NTFP market.” As profitable as they have become, NTFPs will never be the whole solution. “They won’t completely eradicate poverty,” Foundjem Tita says. “But they will help farmers and have become a major income source for some.”

Nevertheless, Foundjem Tita believes that NTFPs could be more of a success story. In Cameroon, the sale of all forests products is regulated by a system of permits. These permits were designed to help preserve forests and regulate the supply of timber, but the authors of the report state that the procedures to obtain such permits for NTFPs are “complex, costly and beyond the capacity of most traders in agroforestry tree products, who are often operating at a small scale.”

“There are a lot of transaction costs in selling NTFPs, especially for communities who have to travel to the city,” Foundjem Tita says. “The consequences are high: it means that they end up selling locally without permits for a lower price.”

However, these legal roadblocks are well known and Foundjem Tita is optimistic that they will be corrected, as the government concludes its decade-long review of the law.

Driving deforestation

The most infamous causes of deforestation and forest degradation in the public imagination is logging, particularly illegal logging done without permits or accountability. But, as Peter Minang explains, it’s not so simple.

“Legal and illegal logging go together,” Minang says. “Once concessions are given, the people doing the logging don’t keep to the area where the legal concession was granted. A lot of the logging is not compliant with any traceability or accountability mechanism, so you have a lot of illegal logging.”

But the problem is not limited to logging companies overreaching their authorization. “Once a logging company opens the road,” Minang says, “illegal loggers can walk in with their chainsaws and take what they want. If there was no road, they wouldn’t have access.”

Illegal logging might loom large in the headlines, but Minang explains that the biggest driver of deforestation “by far” in the CAFHUT Sentinel Landscape is actually agriculture: cocoa, oil palm and, to some extent, rubber. Indeed, the stocktaking results found that the total area dedicated to the cultivation of palm oil is expected to double by 2030 compared to baseline of 2010. Meanwhile, cassava, groundnuts and maize were discovered to be the main drivers of cropland expansion.

This growth can only mean further deforestation. For example, the CoForTips project led by Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD) found that deforested areas in Mindourou and Guéfigué in the Bokito subdistrict are predicted to increase twofold over the next decade, compared to 2000–2010. And, recently, that deforestation is being pushed from a surprising direction.

Middle class guilt

Historically, there have been two types of agricultural foresters in the Congo Basin: local smallholders who manage 1-2 hectares for subsistence and national or international companies who open up 100 hectares of forest. But there’s a new game in town.

“In the last ten years, there has been a new trend of middle level local investors,” Minang says. “Imagine Peter sitting here realises that oil palm is good business. Instead of having 1-2 hectares as a local farmer, I come back as an elite and open up 20 hectares.”

These middle class investors have made their money in the city and club together to buy medium-sized plots of primary forest to turn into cocoa and oil palm plantations.

“If it was only smallholders, there wouldn’t be a problem,” Minang says. “They can’t expand too much: 1-2 hectares, maybe 3-4 hectares if you’re a really great family man,” he explains. “There is some evidence that this middle level is a growing driver of deforestation compared to the past.”

Power to the people

One obvious way to stop deforestation is to pay people to protect the forests. In conservation terms this is called ‘payment for ecosystem services’ and Cameroon has trialled carbon payments on a small scale.

“The pilot studies have had very mixed results,” Minang explains. “One of the big problems with payments is that they can dis-incentivize conservation in nearby places. Unless you do it at scale, payments can be counterproductive and this means that you can’t draw conclusions from pilot studies.”

But Minang is optimistic: “I think payments for ecosystem services is the future and it is important to scale up those payments to see whether they would actually work.”

One solution that has been tried at scale is community forestry. The 1994 Community Forest law was introduced in Cameroon to help local communities become financially sustainable while also conserving the forest.

“Community forestry is a key feature in this landscape,” Minang says. “It’s still thin, but there is some emerging evidence that community forestry can improve livelihoods and support the forests so that they are not susceptible to logging or intrusive farming.”

The benefits are clear. “Some communities have been able to get drinkable water,” Minang says. “Some are using the proceeds from community forestry to put roofs on schools, build football pitches and equip health centres.”

Help needed!

But community forestry isn’t working as well as it could be. Critics argue that most of these community forests are in secondary forests, which means that there isn’t much timber to be harvested and the community have to peddle in the much less profitable NTFPs – made even less profitable by the expenses of the permit system.

According to Peter Minang, communities need a lot more help. “On top of the list is improving the enterprise abilities of farmers: marketing, cooperatives and financing for the improvement of cocoa, food crops and NTFP – that’s one major part,” he says.

“The other part is the sustainable intensification and diversification of agriculture,” Minang continues. “Once you get farmers to produce more on a smaller piece of land, hypothetically you won’t get people clearing forest. People are clearing because they are going for more fertile lands.”

 “The third part is enabling forest practise, making sure there are better policies for forest conservation, payments for ecosystem services and community-based management for forests. These are big areas for solutions to conservation of the landscape.”

The cocoa agroforestry solution?

Could cocoa agroforestry be the solution? As well as being a valuable cash crop, according to ICRAF’s Alternatives to Slash and Burn report, well managed cocoa plantations can maintain up to 60 percent of the carbon stock of primary forest. This is an improvement on the carbon capture of other food crops and represents hope for the heavily degraded savannah.

In a 2017 study published in Agroforestry, Denis Sonwa and his co-authors also found that the amount of carbon captured by cocoa agroforestry varies hugely depending on how the plantation is managed. For example: a cocoa plantation mixed with timber and NTFPs tree species stores more than twice the carbon of either an intensively-managed cocoa plantation, or even a cocoa plantation mixed with high densities of banana or plantain and oil palm.

Cocoa agroforestry is one of the dominant land uses throughout the Congo Basin. That means that advances in cultivation have the potential for huge knock-on benefits for both farmers and forests. Six projects in the CAFHUT Sentinel Landscape were focussed on improving cocoa agroforestry in terms of both yield and farmer incomes, while also reducing forest clearance for agriculture.

So are these projects delivering results for the three key land management issues in CAFHUT?

Peter Minang runs through his end of term report for the cocoa agroforestry interventions in Bokito: “Improving the livelihoods of the cocoa farmers by increasing cocoa productivity and helping communities in terms of NTFP? Excellent,” he says. “Reducing the carbon emissions of the cocoa farms? Of course – because of tree planting and the trees that are being kept.”

“However, we cannot 100 percent say that the project hasn’t increased deforestation in any way,” Minang concludes. “To get the results you want, you have to improve cocoa production and stop illegal logging. We think there is a weakness on the enforcement side.”

Two out of three ain’t bad?

Unfortunately, Bokito’s two out of three is about as good as it gets in the CAFHUT Sentinel Landscape. “I don’t think there are any places where they are getting it right,” Minang says. “Standards of living are still low and deforestation is increasing.”

“There has been some improvement in the productivity of cocoa, but because there are few alternative jobs in the city, people will always need to cut down trees to survive,” Minang continues. “I can guarantee you now with Covid-19 that there are people leaving the cities and going back to the countryside because there are more opportunities in the forests than in the city.”

Foundjem Tita agrees. “A more holistic approach needs to be developed to deal with deforestation and degradation, logging, cocoa agroforestry and other programmes like NTFPs.” he says. “In order to improve farmers’ livelihoods we will need a basket of solutions.”

Denis Sonwa is looking ahead to how the Sentinel Landscape data can be used for the good of both farmers and forests. “The information needs to be presented in a format that is understandable and digestible to those who are taking the decisions,” he says.

Despite the Congo Basin’s prominence as a global carbon sink, a 2019 CIFOR study found that over 2008–2017, Congo Basin forests received the least funding (USD 1.7 million) of the tropical zones, compared with the Amazon Basin (USD 5.1 million) and Southeast Asia (USD 8.1 million). There is scope and opportunity for donors to increase funding in the region: by mapping out the scale of the problems of poverty and deforestation in the cocoa-rich agroforestry of the Congo Basin, the data of the CAFHUT Sentinel Landscape can make a real difference by helping to source private funding for research.

“Take the chocolate companies, for example,” Sonwa says, “they’re now moving to what we call a zero deforested value chain.” Since 2017, investment from some of the world’s biggest chocolate and cocoa companies, including Mars, Guittard and Mondelēz, has been helping to fund both conservation and livelihoods in the forests of the Congo Basin.

It’s exactly this kind of international cooperation that our global forests need, as Denis Sonwa says: “from national arenas considerations down to the local realities”.


By David Charles. This article was produced by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with ICRAF, The Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.


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Webinar Report – Innovations to overcome barriers to access to finance for smallholders, SMEs and women

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Innovations to overcome barriers to access to finance for smallholders, SMEs and women

On September 14-18 and 21-25, 2020 the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) held Forest, trees and agroforestry science for transformational change, a 10-day online event. The decadal event exclusive to the FTA community, gathered over 600 registered participants: researchers involved in FTA from its 7 managing partners (The Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT, CATIE, CIFOR, CIRAD, World Agroforestry, INBAR, and Tropenbos International), as well as invited keynotes from external organizations. The conference showcased 179 abstracts (60% of which is in collaboration with FTA’s external partners), 14 keynote presentations, 54 live presentations, 62 asynchronous presentations, and 40 technical posters.

The FTA researchers from all over the world convened online to present the most exciting research results in the programme, exchange experiences and lessons learned, and reflect on the way forward for transformative change in the fields of forestry and agroforestry science.

All the material from the conference can be found on the dedicated portal

As a follow up from the FTA 2020 Science Conference, FTA and its managing partners are now releasing knowledge products, extracting the highlights from the conference and bringing them to the public. The aim is to inform and support concrete action on the ground, focusing on transformative science derived from FTA’s most innovative research lines.

From Science to Action!

One of the first products deriving from the FTA 2020 Science Conference is the new webinar series “From Science to Action”. Open to the public, these events offer a way to showcase the best outcomes from the research discussed and presented in the various themes of the conference, bring together perspectives from different stakeholders and donors, and gather feedback from the audience. Most importantly, these webinars are also an occasion to present concrete actions that derive from FTA’s research: tools, publications, results that can be used by a wide variety of stakeholders in their activities. On the 26th of November 2020 the webinar series proudly opened its season with a first one on “Innovations to overcome barriers to access to finance for smallholders, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), and women”, developed in coordination with Tropenbos International, who leads the FTA Priority 17 on Innovating finance for sustainable landscapes. The event can be replayed fully at this link.

Innovations to overcome barriers to access to finance for smallholders, SMEs and women

Over the years, the landscape approach has gained momentum and popularity in advancing interdisciplinary and holistic environmental management interventions. It has taken the center spot in discussions in international workshops, academic circles, and scientific debates as the go-to integrated approach in working towards sustainable use of forests, land, and other natural resources.

Much has been said about the landscape approach’s  merits, but scaling up its implementation is lagging. One of the reasons is the lack of access to finance. To address this, FTA works with Tropenbos International (TBI) on innovative finance for sustainable landscapes, focusing on ways to overcome existing barriers for smallholders, SMEs, and women, important landscape actors that are often missed in existing landscape investments. Bringing finance to vulnerable groups and understanding the flows of finance to and from a landscape is crucial to fully realize the sustainability of landscapes.

Michael Allen Brady, FTA’s flagship leader for sustainable value chains and investments, moderated the first webinar, which convened a mix of researchers, financial experts, and government representatives, and attracted around 200 participants, to tackle innovative financial schemes for sustainable land uses with smallholder involvement. The webinar was highly successful and it included 2 polls for further interaction and a lively debate through a Q&A panel chatbox. A number questions from the audience unfortunately went unanswered and thus the panel took on board them after the event and can be read in this document.

A product of an intensive 2-and-a-half-year consultative process, the latest report on ‘Innovative Finance for Sustainable Landscapes’ was launched at the webinar. The lead author of the report, Bas Louman of Tropenbos International (TBI), discussed common barriers that hinder large scale implementation of finance initiatives to transform landscapes. “Funds flow towards landscapes, but, in reality, only a small proportion reaches the field, and even less of that reaches communities and local farmers in small- and medium-sized farms,” Louman said. “We need to learn how to use finance better to transform and upscale our practices to become more sustainable,” he added.

Timeline for the production of the report, which included panel discussions at events, interviews, open consultations and a peer review.

FTA’s Working Paper #7  “Innovative finance for sustainable landscapes” developed with Tropenbos International [PDF]
The report digs deep into three relatively new financial instruments:

  1. Blended financethe strategic use of public or philanthropic development capital to mobilize additional external private commercial finance and can support SDG-related investment (pg. 19);
  2. Green bondsform of debt that links the generated funds to climate goals or environmentally friendly investments (pg. viii); and
  3. Crowdfunding pooling of small amounts of capital from a potentially large number of interested funders (pg. 44).

These innovative financial structures have potential to increase landscapes investments. However, challenges remain for smallholders for tapping into these financial sources. As manifested by the audience reaction to the first poll, more than 80% of them stated that these financial instruments alone are not sufficient or will only partially help overcome the current barriers. The equation is more complex.

Before initiating the discussions, the audience was treated to a poll for the following question: To what extent do you think that the discussed innovative finance structures (green bonds, blended finance, crowd funding) address the barriers for local farm and forest producer organizations to access finance? These were the results:

Participants of the webinar voted on the extent of the effectivity of the three financial instruments (green bonds, blended finance, and crowdfunding) in addressing the barriers encountered by smallholders in accessing finance.

Risk – both on the investors and investees side – is clearly one of the greater barriers in allowing financial flows in landscape management. How big are these risks, who should bare them, and as Felix Hoogveld of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands asked: “If you blend public and private finance, how do you share the risks? How do you come to a reasonable and fair balance of risks?” “It is a negotiation,” Louman said. “Together, different actors should have a mutual understanding of each other’s business, what are reasonable business risks, what are additional risks due to entering into a relatively unknown business, and how much risks is each party willing to take,” he replied.

Another obstacle for smallholder groups is the literacy of farmers and SMEs about these financial instruments. “(It is a) challenge for a lot of investors and banks to finance farmer producer groups who do not have a credit history or are too risky for a traditional credit perspective,” said Ivo Mulder, head of the Climate Finance Unit of UN Environment Programme. There is a need to support farmers in strengthening their financial literacy in order to improve their presentation of business cases to financial institutions.

Financial regulations and capital requirements are also barring smallholders. “The longer-term investment loans, which all tie to sustainable landscapes, are extremely unattractive for financial institutions to look at,” Eelko Bronkhorst of Financial Access commented. “Simply because they are multi-year and therefore the capital allocation is risky,” he added.

Currently, there are pilot initiatives on innovative risk strategies such as the interventions illustrated in the report of Guatemala’s Association of Forest Communities of Petén (ACOFOP) and the forest company Komaza in Kenya, which both yielded positive results. But more need to be documented and promoted.

A second poll was then conducted to understand the audience’s point of view on the important steps for effective sustainable landscapes.

Most of the participants to the webinar thought that designing locally appropriate financial instruments, similar to what ACOFOP did in Guatemala, is the most important step to follow through for sustainable landscapes finance.

Designing a mechanism of blended finance, which incentivizes behavior change, and looks at the gender lens to modify investors’ perceptions and assessing opportunities, has been at the center of Impact Investment Exchange (IIX) work. “Instead of regarding women as a risky investment, we are actually able to show that their involvement in economic activities invested in mitigates risks. And we do this through data,” Chien said. By changing investors and companies’ perspectives and practices, IIX can tap financial opportunities and make them more inclusive to smallholders. “We connect the back streets to the wall streets,” Chien added.

Developing diverse investment portfolios with different levels of risk was also suggested. “(Usually) we look at only one crop, such as oil palm, rubber, rather than investing in a series of crops in the same area,” Louman suggested. “(Considering multiple crops) could spread the risks of investments and different asset forms.”

Presenting agroforestry as a ‘business’ case is reflective of this diverse portfolio. But for this to be successful, other mechanisms should be looked into, such as payment for ecosystem services (PES). “When you combine agriculture with planting trees, then actually those farmers are also producing public goods. When there is no PES, it would be even harder to achieve a kind of rate of return.”, said Busink.

The crucial role of governments in facilitating finance for sustainable landscapes was also highlighted in the conversation. “One thing the governments could think of is to ask for a percentage of the capital be directed to farmer producer groups,” Mulder said. Governments are integral in addressing fundamental issues in the landscapes, such as tenure insecurity, which implicates financing. “What is the long-term prospect for them (the farmers) to make investments, if you’re not sure that the land is yours after five years,” Busink said.

“Speaking the same language” is one of the recommendations. “So much gets lost in translation,” Bronkhorst said. “If we can find a way to translate our work into a simple business case to start… that could be a very practical approach,” he added. Collaborations with existing institutions that could act as intermediaries are seen to fill this gap. Farmers and SMEs should be put in a position to understand precisely what investors have to offer, with all the implications, while financers should take into consideration the culture, expectations, needs and methods of their future investees.

The momentum and the drive to unlock capital and investments for sustainable landscapes are getting stronger. With a new GEF project – Green Finance for Sustainable Landscapes, Mulder presented an opportunity to tap private capital from banks and financial institutions. “The finance case is (still) weak” Mulder said. “But we aim to increase financial, time-bound commitments,” he added.

In 2021, FTA will be bringing its technical expertise into consolidating its partnerships with UNEP, IIX and Financial Access, amongst other institutions, to accelerate the financing of landscape initiatives for sustainability. “We have an issue of urgency here,” Vincent Gitz, Director of FTA, underlined. “There is plenty of money for investments. Now is an opportunity to find how that could reach the bottom of the pyramid”, he said.

FTA and Tropenbos’ newly launched report Innovative finance for sustainable landscapes “is a wonderful way to set the stage for future collaborations,” Chien concluded.


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ShadeMotion software improves crop yields in Latin America

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For over 13 years, the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’s partner, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE), has developed and improved ShadeMotion, an open-source software application that models tree shade. The year 2020 marks a significant milestone in the scaling of the application.

ShadeMotion informs tree-planting practices to improve crop quality and yields and supports climate adaptation of both farm and agro-ecosystems.

Read the full story »

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FTA Kunming Conference – Results

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In person participants to the FTA Kunming Scientific Conference. Photo: World Agroforestry/Austin Smith
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On 22–24 June 2021, the CGIAR research program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) organized the FTA Kunming International Conference 2021, which explored the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in enhancing diverse and sustainable landscapes.

All videos from the conference can be accessed here:

“Conserving and managing biodiversity is indispensable to the future of the planet, and conserving and planting trees is a concrete investment for future generations,” said Vincent Gitz, Director of FTA and a facilitator at the conference.

The FTA Kunming Scientific Conference was a hybrid event, with scientists either gathering in Kunming or connecting via Zoom. In the picture, Vincent Gitz, the FTA Director, speaking through Zoom to the plenary. Photo: World Agroforestry/Austin Smith

“Forestry and agroforestry exemplify the contributions of biodiversity and agrobiodiversity to sustainable and resilient landscapes, to a green and circular economy, and to sustainable agriculture and food systems for healthy diets.”

Hosted both virtually and in Kunming, China in cooperation with the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the Research Institute for Resource Insects, Chinese Academy of Forestry (CAF), the event provided an extensive set of recommendations for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, as well as the upcoming 15th Conference of Parties to the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 15), which will also be held in Kunming in October 2021.

Xu Jianchu, principal scientist at ICRAF and professor at the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, speaking live in plenary and being broadcast via Zoom to all the participants. Photo: World Agroforestry/Austin Smith

Featuring a diverse lineup of speakers including scientists, practitioners, policymakers and members of civil society, the conference covered six main themes: trees for agroecology and circular agriculture, tree diversity, trees in the framework of the CBD, mountain ecosystems and food security, assessing benefits of landscape restoration, and trees for a circular green economy.

“Plants are the green wedge between plenty and poverty, between enlightenment and stagnation,” said Razan Al Mubarak, Managing Director of the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund. “They provide the building material, the charcoal, the forage, the food and the medicine – and as such, their conservation, restoration and rehabilitation is existential to our survival.”

Climate change, environmental degradation and resource depletion have triggered the collapse of advanced civilizations in the past – and ours could be next unless we urgently change our trajectory, warned CIFOR Director General Robert Nasi.

“The average lifespan of a civilization is about 340 years,” said Nasi, “and if we consider that our current civilization started during the Industrial Revolution, we are probably not far from our expiry date unless we do something.”

Across more than 100 scientific sessions and poster presentations, speakers proposed a series of headline recommendations to conserve the world’s plants and forests and harness their benefits:

  1. Protect forests and acknowledge their contributions to biodiversity conservation, climate action and sustainable food systems
  2. Support forest and landscape restoration
  3. Promote the transition to agroecology
  4. Recognize and promote the benefits of biodiversity
  5. Leverage the full potential of trees on farms
  6. Mainstream orphan crops into cultivation
  7. Support innovations in knowledge, technology and institutions for resilient mountains
  8. Mainstream biodiversity in climate discussions and policy
  9. Promote the production and consumption of fruits, nuts, vegetables and mushrooms, and leverage the potential of insects as a resource
  10. Understand, recognize, support and draw lessons from Indigenous and traditional culture and food systems
  11. Harness the potential of forests, trees and agroforestry in the transition to a circular bioeconomy
  12. Promote instruments that facilitate the joint consideration of landscapes and value chains


Speakers emphasized the critical need to forge strong partnerships across sectors and disciplines to address the multifaceted ecological crisis. “What we really need are bridge-builders,” said Ranjit Barthakur, founder of the Balipara Foundation in India.

Ranjit Barthakur speaking via Zoom to the plenary. Photo: World Agroforestry/Austin Smith

“We need people in the funding world who understand enough about technology – and who understand enough about conservation to get two groups to work together.”

A prime example is ecolabelling, according to ICRAF Director General Tony Simons.

“Likely within two years’ time, many food manufacturers will be putting labels with CO2 data on their food packets,” Simons predicted, “and all of the datasets, methods, approaches, protocols and standards that scientists and development partners are working on will enable them to report that in a meaningful way.”

“Countries, companies, civil society groups and even individuals need a lot of guidance when it comes specifically to biodiversity and the way that we manage land use and resources and connect them to our prosperous societies and habitats.”

Barthakur also pointed to the important role of technology in facilitating conservation, from genomics and remote sensing to satellite navigation and artificial intelligence, though he warned that humans must continue to take the lead.

“Technology can help us tremendously by focusing on what we save and how well we’re doing,” he said, “but it can never take the place of the courageous action of all of us to try and save humanity. Politicians and businesses have to finally wake up to the biodiversity challenge.”

By Ming Chun Tang. This article was produced by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with ICRAF, The Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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Adapting to a changing climate with forests and agroforestry

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Article originally posted on Forest News.

The impact of a forest reaches far beyond its perimeter


Over the years, the climate crisis has demonstrated an inevitable impact on humanity. The rising temperature brings consequences such as rising sea levels, more frequent extreme weather and severe heatwaves, with for instance 1.6 billion people at risk of flood in 2050 around the globe, according to the United Nations.

It is widely known that forests and trees, while greatly impacted by climate change, also provide solutions to this ever-challenging problem. In a recent publication titled Addressing forestry and agroforestry in national adaptation plans, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), provide a guideline for countries to involve forests, trees and agroforestry in their National Adaptation Plan (NAP) to deal with climate change.

National adaptation plans are the main vehicle for a country to identify vulnerabilities and construct policies and measures to address these vulnerabilities to climate change in the middle and long term, according to Alexandre Meybeck from FTA, a co-author of the publication.

The potential for forests and trees to mitigate climate change has long been acknowledged.

“When people talk about forests and climate change, we very spontaneously think about mitigation and the role that forests play to reduce climate change impacts, like by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere,” Meybeck said. However, not many discuss their adapting ability to the changing climate and increasing human pressure. This adaptation dimension not only determines trees’ mitigation potential, it also has positive spillover effects, enhancing other sectors’ adaptation to climate change, according to the publication, which is also available in Spanish, and

The ability of forest ecosystems and trees to mitigate and adapt to climate change also depends on numerous policies related to land planning, water management, energy, development and agriculture, often under the authority of different institutions. It is also important to acknowledge the role of forests and trees both in urban settings as well as rural, since the impact of forests expands far beyond its perimeter, for example, because of its water-regulation function. Therefore, the inclusion of the forest and agroforestry sector in NAP is crucial.

In 2019, FAO and FTA co-published a framework that assessed the vulnerability of forests and forest-dependent people to climate change, a natural companion to the recent NAP publication.

“In fact, National Adaptation Plans are the main vehicle for a country to identify vulnerabilities, and construct policies and measures to address the vulnerabilities to climate change in the middle and long term,” Meybeck said. “The publication is very much about how to support these processes of involvement of different sectors, different stakeholders, different value chains into the whole national process.”

It is, of course, no simple business, said Julia Wolf, natural resources officer at FAO, who is also a co-author of the publication.

Adapting forestry, agroforestry and trees in the NAP requires a long-term perspective from the actors involved, legal frameworks and enabling environment.

Making matters more complex, adding forests and agroforestry may conflict with numerous national interests and the allocation of resources in the countries.

“There’s a lot of technical guidance out there; we have a lot of climate data, but I think the principal matters we need to look at are really climate finance and governance, because ultimately, the ownership question and the possibility of a country to go beyond business-as-usual is linked very strongly to power relations and governance questions in countries,” Wolf said.

Listen to the in-depth discussion with Alexandre Maybeck and Julia Wolf in this episode of Let’s Talk Trees podcast.

Related publications:

By Anggrita Cahyaningtyas and Fabio Ricci. FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with Bioversity International, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR, ICRAF and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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A new partnership for more sustainable and equitable food systems

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Agroecology Transformative Partnership Platform just launched at a side event at the 48th Plenary of the Committee on World Food Security

Food production is the world’s leading cause of biodiversity loss. It also accounts for about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions and causes widespread degradation of the land and water resources upon which it depends.

But could we redesign our food systems to work with nature, rather than against it?

Enter agroecology, a science that applies the principles and concepts of ecology to farming, making the most of nature’s resources without damaging or depleting them. It includes adopting practices that mitigate climate change, limit impacts on wildlife, and hand a key role to farmers and local communities.

A new initiative aims to spearhead the transition to agroecology. On 3 June, the Agroecology Transformative Partnership Platform (TPP) was launched at a side event of the 48th Plenary of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS 48). More than 460 people followed the discussions from 56 countries and posed questions to representatives from some of the nations implementing agroecological transitions.

Replay full event here

Initiated by the CGIAR research programme on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) and the French Republic via research institutions CIRAD, IRD and INRAE, and with its secretariat at ICRAF, the Agroecology TPP will accelerate uptake of agroecology by addressing knowledge and implementation gaps, coordinating the work of key partners, and providing evidence to inform policymakers, practitioners and donors.

“If we are to preserve the health of our planet and ensure human sustainability, governments the world over must not hesitate to adopt bold policies,” said His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka Gotabaya Rajapaksa, one of several high-level speakers at the launch. “Such policies should support ecological conservation, help combat the loss of biodiversity and enable people to achieve their economic aspirations in more sustainable ways.”

Sri Lanka recently banned imports of artificial fertilizer and agrochemicals as part of a “long-needed national transition to a healthier and more ecologically sound system of organic agriculture,” said President Rajapaksa, adding that the Sri Lankan government will be supporting farmers and agribusinesses in the agroecological transition through subsidies and the purchases of paddy at guaranteed prices.

Listen to the full statement of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President of Sri Lanka

CFS chair Thanawat Tiensin initiated the CFS48 plenary the day after by thanking the President of Sri Lanka for his statement at the Agroecology TPP side event. President Rajapaksa’s statement was replayed in full at the plenary to kick off the country statements following the adoption of the policy recommendations around the HLPE report. IFAD vice president Dominik Ziller, speaking on behalf of the IFAD president, described the HLPE (2019) report as “an essential reference to those seeking to meet the SDGs”.

France, meanwhile, is supporting countries in the Global South in adopting agroecological practices. Prior to funding the TPP, it contributed EUR 600 million at the launch of the Great Green Wall accelerator, which it hosted in Paris, to combat desertification in the African Sahel. In November 2020, France also hosted the Finance in Common summit, which launched a new coalition of public development banks led by IFAD to improve access to finance for smallholders and small-scale agribusinesses.

“For France, it is urgent to transform our current systems towards sustainable and resilient food systems that allow everyone access to quality, healthy, safe, diversified and sustainably produced food,” said Ambassador Céline Jurgensen, France’s permanent representative to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“France calls for a paradigm shift so that an agroecological approach can replace the Green Revolution of recent decades to meet the climatic, environmental and social challenges that we all face today in both the North and the South.”

Other panelists included representatives from Switzerland and Senegal, who highlighted the role of international institutions and projects in facilitating the transition to agroecology in the buildup to the U.N. Food Systems Summit (26–28 July).

“Thirty years ago, organic products had hardly any access to the market,” said Pio Wennubst, Ambassador for the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the U.N. in Rome. “Now 20% of the food consumption in Switzerland is organic-based production.”

“All the knowledge we developed in Switzerland cannot be simply transferred the way we did in the past with positive intentions. We need another connectivity, another way to discuss and connect with the world on these issues.”

Senegal, for example, is working with FAO to reduce chemical pesticide use through the Integrated Production and Pest Management Programme, which has also increased yields by around 40%.

“Senegal encourages all participants because it is not easy to promote new technologies, said Papa Abdoulaye Seck, Senegal’s ambassador to Italy, in a statement delivered by advisor Madiagne Tall. “But by raising each other’s awareness, we will all become aware of the need to deepen such approaches.”

Civil society actors also featured at the launch, including representatives of indigenous people’s organisations and social entrepreneurs from Paraguay and Kenya, who presented initiatives on farming practices, local and indigenous knowledge and voting on pesticide bans.

The TPP builds on a series of major dialogues and reports, in line with the 13 agroecological principles and policy recommendations from the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) of the CFS. It works across eight domains in partnership with a core group of institutions including FAO, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Biovision, CGIAR, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), AFA, AFSA and the governments of France and Switzerland.

The TPP’s approach consists of four steps, said Elisabeth Claverie de Saint-Martin, director general for research and strategy at CIRAD. “To tackle knowledge gaps, first gather the best scientists around an unsolved issue. Second, define a common methodology. Third, apply to a wide diversity of situations and contexts; and fourth, try to generate useful knowledge, both specific to the contexts and generic.”

This approach has already been applied to a growing portfolio of projects across Asia, Africa and Latin America, she added, referring to a France-funded TPP project that aims to evaluate the socioeconomic viability of agroecological practices across Africa.

“As it goes forward, the TPP will contribute to creating a level playing field for agroecological approaches to be taken up,” said Fergus Sinclair, chief scientist at CIFORICRAF and co-convener of the TPP and project team leader of the HLPE report.

“The TPP will embrace the complexity needed to transition to co-created locally relevant agriculture and food systems, and enable the horizontal integration across sectors and vertical integration across scales required to translate national and international commitments under the UNFCCC, CBD, UNCCD and AFR100 into meaningful action on the ground.”

“The contribution of agroecological approaches to achieving the 2030 agenda by applying locally adapted solutions for agri-food systems that are environmentally sustainable and economically fair and socially acceptable is increasingly recognized. That is why the FAO conference requested the further integration of sustainable agriculture approaches, including agroecology, in FAO’s work,” said Ismahane Elouafi, Chief Scientist at FAO. She then concluded the event with these inspiring words: “Through the newly established transformative partnership platform that you presented on agroecology, FAO will actively engage in inclusive collaboration with different stakeholders to transform agri-food systems for better production better nutrition, a better environment and a better life, and leave no one behind.”

Get involved by joining the TPP Community of Practice on GLFx.

By Ming Chun Tang. This article was produced by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with ICRAF, The Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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