Filling in the knowledge gaps: Scientists discuss research on better forest and tree management

Posted by


Better management and conservation of forests and of tree resources is one of the focus areas of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), involving some 25 scientists from Bioversity International, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD) and the Tropical Agriculture Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE). For an expert discussion on challenges and opportunities of this so-called FTA Flagship 2, Laura Snook from Bioversity International is joined by Manuel Guariguata from CIFOR, Jenny Ordonez, Alice Muchugi and Jonathan Cornelius from ICRAF, and Evert Thomas from Bioversity. Read the transcript of their discussion below.


Laura Snook (Bioversity): The focus of Flagship 2 is on the resource base of forests and trees that people depend on around the world. More than 1.6 billion people depend on these resources both for subsistence and for income. That includes foods such as bushmeat and fruits and other products from trees, and also fuel wood for cooking and grass for thatching. It’s been calculated that these wild resources are as important to people’s livelihoods as agricultural products, but they’re often overlooked. One of the challenges in tropical countries is that their populations are increasing at the same time as the resource base of woodlands and forests is declining. This is because forests and woodlands are being degraded or converted, or species are being overharvested. There’s also the challenge of access rights. Sometimes people can’t obtain resources from nearby forests or woodlands because the rights to those resources have been allocated to others. For example, in timber concessions in the Congo Basin, there are potential and real conflicts between concession holders and local villagers who depend on the same species both for non-timber forest products and to harvest and export as timber.

There’s a huge opportunity to better use those resources and to domesticate them. There are about 80,000 to 100,000 tree species in the world, and tens of thousands of them are used locally. Very little is known about most of them, though there are plenty of opportunities to learn more about how to sustain their availability or increase their availability and future options for tomorrow.

Our objective is to evaluate and promote technologies and policies for the better management of forests and woodlands and trees, and the resolution of rights to those resources. We analyze the response of trees and other resources to harvesting, climate change and other threats, and we develop strategies to address those threats, including conservation strategies to conserve the genetic diversity of those trees and make the resources available to users. We develop technologies and policy recommendations to sustainably restore forest ecosystems. We also produce training tools and promote capacity development by integrating researchers into our projects, as well as direct training, to enhance the ability of professionals in developing countries to address these issues.

Knowledge gaps

Laura Snook (Bioversity): Let’s start off our conversation with what kind of knowledge gaps we’re trying to address.

From my perspective, I think one of the knowledge gaps is that we’re dealing with so many species that grow in different places. There’s a lot of knowledge lacking about their characteristics, their diversity, even their status. Are they under threat? Are they widespread? How do their traits vary among populations?

This is, as I mentioned before, because most of these trees are not domesticated, and there’s a huge opportunity to do so, especially to gain some of the advantages that agriculture has gained by domesticating species. I mentioned that many trees are threatened by overharvesting or conversion. We need to understand the status of particular species of importance, and what can be done to sustain them or domesticate them, or prevent their loss. Also, forest and woodland management is extremely complex. Not only because there are so many species, but because there are so many situations under which forests are managed. Different tenure arrangements, different kinds of regulations, different incentive structures, including gender dimensions.

I know that my colleagues have more specific knowledge gaps that they’re addressing and that they’d like share. So, Manuel, why don’t we start with you? What are the knowledge gaps that you and your team at CIFOR are trying to address?

Manuel Guariguata (CIFOR): Thank you, Laura. We are looking at a few issues that relate to smallholder forestry and large-scale timber concessions – forest management across the tropics. In particular, we are assessing the extent to which forest certification as a conservation tool is actually working or not. Our tropical study aims at testing the assumption that forest certification for timber is inherently beneficial. So far, the evidence is scattered and there’s insufficient empirical evidence showing what are the real impacts of forest certification.There are many political and economic issues that need to be understood in order to assess the impact of certification. We are doing this in Indonesia, Gabon, Brazil, and Peru, and we’ve spent almost two years developing the baseline assessments needed to determine the right comparison of a given certified forest versus a given uncertified forest. Essentially, we’re characterizing forest management units in these countries. That’s typology in terms of size, degree of vertical integration, logging intensities, who is the owner, how long have they been certified, how many have lost certification, how many will gain it, how many tried to achieve certification. We’re finalizing a self-selection study that will help us to discern why a given concessionaire decided to get certified, which can be self-driven, or can be contingent on many variables such as accessing markets or gaining visibility.We’re also assessing the role of third-party certifying bodies, who go to the field and perform the accreditation process. And there’s a lot of variation across these certifying bodies and that adds noise to the issue of how exactly certification is working. Finally, we are undertaking a remote sensing analysis on forest certification outcomes, with very fine-grained statistical matching to see how much deforestation in certified concessions is being avoided vis-à-vis the right comparison of non-certified forests. After 20 years of the FSC being created, it’s time to assess in a very critical manner how much of these efforts – and we’re talking many millions of US dollars that have been invested so far – have really delivered on their promises.

Laura Snook (Bioversity): Manuel, thank you. It’s certainly very important work in terms of making sure the incentives out there are achieving the sustainable management that the world needs. Now let’s hear from Jenny, Jonathan and Alice at ICRAF. I know you’ve been working on the tree genetic resources conservation and use area. We’d like to hear more about the knowledge gaps you’re trying to address.

Jenny Ordonez (ICRAF): Working for ICRAF, we are more involved in the agroforestry spectrum of tree resources – trees on agricultural land. As Laura mentioned, these tree resources are incredibly important for the livelihoods of farmers because they provide different products, like fruits and timber, and construction materials. And it is suspected that, under increasing pressure on forest resources, it is also important to conserve the tree resources that we have on agricultural land.

But there are some ecological and institutional limitations to the conservation of tree resources on agricultural land, and we really have to assess these barriers in order to develop effective strategies. Given the current status of most of these agroforestry systems, in which you have low tree densities and very highly fragmented landscapes, it’s a question of whether we can conserve tree resources in the long term.

And that question is in line with what Laura was mentioning about knowing the reproductive biology of trees, knowing what kind of densities are compatible with the production of crops and trees, what kind of schemes or arrangements you need at the landscape level to keep these at populations viable for reproduction. Because we are not talking about forest patches, but trees combined with different crops and animal systems. That is a huge challenge, partly because of the limited information we have on species. For instance, just in Central America, we have over 500 species in different agroforestry systems, of which only 10 or 20 species are very well known. The rest is really, literally unknown. What are the characteristics of each species? What are the management options?

The Jatropha plant has a lot of potential uses for humans, but it is not domesticated yet.    Photo: Jeff Walker/CIFOR
The Jatropha plant has a lot of potential uses for humans, but it is not domesticated yet. Photo: Jeff Walker/CIFOR

Many of the species that are little known have important uses for farmers and may be interesting for farmers to keep on their farms. Which brings us to our second gap: there is a limited access to diverse sources of seed and other types of germplasm. There are very few programs for selection of tree materials and for keeping this germplasm in places where it is accessible for farmers.

Another gap is in terms of incentives. Currently, most of the regulation is focused on forest conservation – and with good reason – to limit deforestation. But the regulation that works for limiting deforestation does not work to foster tree management on farms. We need to show policy makers the importance of tree resources, and try to find effective policy mechanisms to increase the tree cover on these farms with sustainable management.

Finally, and I think this is one of the most important gaps, we are facing climate change. There is a lot of research about crops and the impacts of climate change on crops. It is expected that any climate change impacts on crops may also happen to trees, because trees also have specific environmental and climatic requirements. That might limit the distribution range or completely change the distribution of tree populations. The lack of understanding of climate change impacts on trees populations is exacerbated because of the limited information we have on these tree species and because there are so many. It’s not a matter of modeling one or two tree species – it’s hundreds of tree species, and that’s a real limitation.

So, what are we doing? We work heavily on the information part, on the generation of information about tree species. For instance, we are developing worldwide agroforestry databases. And we also have developed an information system called Switchboard, where you can access information about the functional attributes and uses of trees from forests and agricultural land. Basically, it’s a one-stop shop that allows you to search species in other different databases.

We develop databases more locally and regionally for the trees and agroforestry systems in Central America, to try to collect specific information about functional traits and specific uses for the trees. Also, we are working on suitability mapping to assess the scenarios of climate change for selected species which are currently used in agroforestry systems – and which might have a very good potential in the future.

I would now ask Jonathan to give us some other examples of what we’re doing on the conservation of tree resources.

Jonathan Cornelius (ICRAF): Okay, thanks Jenny. I thought, Laura, it was interesting in your introduction when you talked about the multiplicity of species and the problems that poses in terms of priorities and actions. And I think there are a couple of research questions around that. To be truthful, I’m not aware of how well these are being addressed at the moment by academics in different places. But one question that I think is interesting is, to what degree do we have to go down to the species level when we talk about in situ conservation?

Are there particular cases or systematic cases of taxa or species that get left out, if we take an ecosystem or habitat-based approach to genetic conservation? Related to that, if we look at tree genetic resources – are there species that are particularly vulnerable to genetic erosion? There was an interesting paper about 10 years ago that looked at the dangers of erosion of effective population size in natural populations, and it turns out in most cases that risks were fairly low for various ecological reasons. But when you go into the agricultural landscape, things might not be the same. So you can see certain species which do really well in that environment, such as the weedy species, which can even become invasive.

But what are those other species that, due to their life history traits, are obviously vulnerable? I think those can be identified. I did a small analysis looking at seed distribution and pollen distribution as they affected the potential for long distance migration, which of course affects the degree to which genetic drift can be offset by migration.

One tool in testing those two complementary life history traits would be to look at those species that have both short distance pollination and short distance transport of seeds. All other things being equal, they are more likely to be affected adversely by forest fragmentation because they are more likely to become genetically isolated, i.e. they are likely to be more threatened. Which is why they may be more important for genebanks. But of course, there are a host of other criteria to take into account.

That’s just one knowledge gap, which allows us to look at ecosystem level conservation for species as well as within species conservation – and also ways of prioritizing vulnerable species, which would allow us to narrow down that list of thousands of species to the ones that we’re most interested in.

We’ve had some talks with Alice about approaches to species prioritization for gene banks, i.e. what should be prioritized to get the most conservation benefit from a given investment. But I think it would be interesting to become a bit more systematic in that way. Not just with the gene banks, but in our general efforts for genetic conservation. Particularly given that we, as centers, don’t aspire to look at every individual species, but rather to come up with the tools and approaches that help others to take actions to deal with this problem, to prevent the loss of genetic diversity of trees.

Laura Snook (Bioversity): Thank you, Jonathan. That’s very useful. And I think it takes us right to Alice, because as you mentioned she’s actually working on tree conservation, and that does require prioritization. So Alice, please tell us more about what you’re doing with conservation and use of tree genetic resources.

Alice Muchugi (ICRAF): I think the main issue is something which you and Jenny have covered quite well: prioritizing species, noting that we have so many species that we need to focus on in the tropics. And right now the activities that we are undertaking for the gene bank are specifically concentrating on food trees – fruit trees and fertilizer trees – not timber and medicinals, because of the gene bank funding conditions.

So far, ICRAF has been focusing on fruit and fertilizer trees. Photo: Bioversity International/N. Hegde
So far, ICRAF has been focusing on fruit and fertilizer trees. Photo: Bioversity International/N. Hegde

But, the main issue with conservation is that we know the rate at which we are losing forests, and that there isn’t a lot of institutional conservation from national governments, especially within Africa. But what do we collect if we don’t know the diversity that exists? Will the forests or the trees still be in existence by the time we realize that a certain key diversity was important?

In our case, species prioritization has mainly focused on our domestication projects, and the species we have focused on are the ones that have been part of key research projects. So far, we have about 200 species in the ICRAF gene bank collection.

Laura Snook (Bioversity): So Alice, what are the knowledge gaps that you are trying to address?

Alice Muchugi (ICRAF): The issue of diversity – species diversity and intra-species diversity coverage – to ensure that what we are going to keep in the gene bank is diverse enough. And this is being done through genetic characterization, morphological, and nutritional; although at a very low level because of the funding.

The domestication team has also looked into the genetic+environment interactions with a few species provenance trials undertaken in several locations. That is important because, before we introduce or distribute seeds or other planting materials to locations different from their locations of origin, it’s important to know how they will survive and grow in different regions.

Laura Snook (Bioversity): Very good. Thank you. I’d like to move on to Evert, who has been working on restoration with Bioversity.

Evert Thomas (Bioversity): Thank you, Laura. We have been working on restoration since 2010 at Bioversity. And what we’ve seen is an increasing interest in restoration as a tangible solution for many of the environmental crises we’re seeing today. The biodiversity loss, climate change, desertification – that’s on one end. But also, it is increasingly seen as a means to boost rural development.

This is reflected in pledges made by countries to restore vast areas of land, in particular to meet Aichi Target 15 of the strategic plan of the Convention on Biological Diversity. This seeks that by 2020, the world restore 15 per cent of all degraded land. That is approximately 300 million hectares, which is enormous, unprecedented. And we have very little time left to meet the goal. Luckily, successful methods to restore most types of degradation are now available. But in order to achieve restoration goals in a resilient manner, it is crucial to select appropriate planting material. This is important because if seed sources are not matched to the site or they’re not genetically diverse enough to survive and regenerate on site, particularly in light of climate change, then the restoration investment will not succeed. And this is what has happened in many cases in the past – failure.

There are two main considerations in the selection of appropriate germplasm to ensure that the trees that one plants now will become the healthy forests of tomorrow. First, the material needs to be site adapted – and here we also need to take into account the effects, or the expected impacts, of climate change. We need to make sure what we plant today will also be able to regenerate and survive in 50 years’ time.

This requires climate modeling in a similar way to what was described by Jenny, and we’re collaborating with ICRAF on this. This is one important consideration. The other one is that material needs to be genetically diverse enough, meaning that the planted material must come from broad genetic stock. And this is important to ensure the availability of sufficient genetic building blocks for recombinations to occur and allow natural selection of the individuals that are best adapted, especially in light of climate change. A broad genetic basis is also important to enhance the capacity for resistance to pests and diseases as well as droughts and other extreme conditions.

The last issue I want to mention is that we are still lacking good indicators to monitor the resilience of restoration investments. The success of most restoration activities has been measured in terms of the number of trees planted – and maybe the survival of trees until the first year. In many cases, it doesn’t go further than that. We need good indicators at the intraspecific level that can tell us about the likelihood of long-term survival of restored tree populations.


Laura Snook (Bioversity): Thank you, Evert. Our next point is to talk about outcomes. Now, of course, the term ‘outcomes’ as all of us in the CGIAR know, means not an output or a product of our research, but the use of that product or the adoption of that product by another player in the world who is in a position to make change on the ground.

I’d like to mention a couple of outcomes in FTA Flagship 2 research led by Bioversity. For example, we carried out a research project in the Congo Basin on ways to safeguard access to non-timber resources by villagers who live around timber concessions. We did an extensive amount of research on the products that people collected, where they collected them, what the impact of logging was on the density of these species, and how important these species were for the nutrition of local populations. Ultimately, we were able to get the Commission on Forests in Central Africa (COMIFAC) involved in helping us turn our research results into policy recommendations. And then we developed policy briefs on the basis of those jointly agreed conclusions, with COMIFAC and the ministries of forestry in the three countries where we work. COMIFAC has distributed those policy briefs, and we hope that the countries of the Congo Basin who are members of COMIFAC will take action to implement some of those suggested recommendations and policies.

Another example is that, as a result of some of the work on restoration that Evert has been involved with, Bioversity co-authored a review of genetic considerations important in ecosystem restoration using native tree species. This was then co-published with FAO as part of the process of developing the report on the State of the World’s Forest Genetic Resources and Global Plan of Action. This knowledge has been shared in various fora, including with the CBD, who put out a call that due attention should be paid to both native species and genetic diversity in conservation and restoration activities by Parties to the Convention and other governments. This was the first time that such a call had been actually integrated into a decision of the Convention on Biological Diversity. We hope that will lead to a wide recognition of the importance of these aspects to restoration.

Finally, I wanted to mention a project that took place for five years and ended in 2010 on the conservation and use of Central Asian fruit tree diversity. We carried out an impact study five years ago on that project, which had objectives in the policy arena as well as in the arena of practice. We found that the project had contributed to livelihoods – people had increased their production of wild fruits for consumption by 11 per cent and they had increased their sales of wild fruit by 8 per cent. The index of diversity on farms had increased 39 per cent, even 61 per cent in some cases. And the extent of land dedicated to the cultivation of wild fruit species had increased 5 per cent. This is in addition to policy changes in the five countries in Central Asia that were involved in this, to actually integrate the conservation of wild fruit tree species into their policies.

I will move on and let someone else talk about some of the outcomes that have resulted from their research within FTA since we started in 2011… Jonathan, why don’t we start with you?

Jonathan Cornelius (ICRAF): Jenny has talked about some progress with databases and the work just beginning with climate modeling. But I think, for that, the outcomes are some way down the road yet. What I’d like to mention is something that Evert was talking about – the 20×20 Initiative, i.e. that some Latin American countries have pledged to restore 20 million hectares of degraded land by 2020. I think that initiative provides an opportunity for FTA to contribute to major outcomes. We have been discussing this with colleagues in the World Resources Institute, which is one of the organizations involved in promoting restoration. We need to think about how each of our organizations could contribute.

Laura Snook (Bioversity): Alice, tell us, have you had any important outcomes in the last few years?
Alice Muchugi (ICRAF): In terms of the vegetation and suitability maps that Jenny talked about, which are decision support tools, they are already being used by some of our partners and NGOs in their activities. From the gene bank perspective, a good outcome is that we have the field gene banks located in several countries where we partner with national governments. These have been receiving a good response, and our partners realize the importance of genetic resources conservation. In a few cases, national partners have added other species not originally included in the field gene banks. So we see that as a positive influence on our national partners.
Laura Snook (Bioversity): Thank you, Alice. Manuel, I know you’ve been involved in the flagship since the beginning, and I’m sure you have some outcomes that you’d like to share with us. Please go ahead.

Manuel Guariguata (CIFOR): Our outcomes were made through the focus on multiple forest use, particularly in the context of a very extensive forest system, which includes Brazil nut trees, a very important non-timber forest product that generates a lot of income for thousands of families in the Western Amazon. That includes Bolivia, Acre in Brazil, and Madre de Dios in Peru. We’ve been trying to optimize the harvesting of both timber and Brazil nut in these forests, which are dominated by so-called Brazil nut concessions, which are 40-year concessions over certain areas of forests that are granted to traditional users. These were first allocated in 2001.

The issue is that the concession system was not designed as a multiple use system, even though timber trees co-occur with Brazil nut trees across all these concessions, which amount to a million hectares in total. So there are biophysical, institutional and regulatory dimensions that need to be adjusted to optimize multiple use.

We’ve been looking at issues of land tenure overlaps, since there are tremendous land use conflicts in these concessions. The concessions are underlain by mineral concessions, there is agricultural titling on top of them, and there are other incompatible uses, at least on paper. So one of the messages we provided as a result of our research is that the regional government of Madre de Dios (in Amazonian Peru), would have to work really hard to clean up land use overlaps to reduce land conflicts. And they have been taking this information very seriously. We have not yet reached the level of outcome per se. But I’ll talk about that in a moment.

Brazil nut harvesting. Photo: Gabriela Ramirez Galindo/CIFOR
Brazil nut harvesting. Photo: Gabriela Ramirez Galindo/CIFOR

Another study that we just finished was a biophysical one, looking at the extent to which you could harvest timber without compromising Brazil nut production. It was a very large-scale study, almost 4,000 hectares of continuous forest. Many, many trees were mapped and production assessed in an individual fashion, and assessed in relation to the logging mosaic in these Brazil nut concessions. Logging is permitted – let me make that clarification – but at very low intensities. And our results point to biophysical compatibility – that is, both Brazil nuts and timber can be harvested from the same concessions. We are now at the stage of disseminating these results. But one other issue that we have been looking at is the extent to which the excessive norms and regulations on Brazil nut harvesting and transport really impede sustainable use. Brazil nut harvesters are subjected to immense bureaucratic hurdles, which in the end do not really make management more efficient nor more effective.

Now there is a process of drafting a lot of norms and regulations related to a multitude of non-timber forest products. This derives from the new or recent forestry law which was passed in 2012. So we are putting a big package together and we hope that policy will be modified based on the kinds of results that I mentioned – that deal with the biological, the normative, and the more regulatory aspects of multiple use of forest lands. We know for a fact, as you could read in CIFOR’s annual report of 2012, that our Policy Brief on land use overlaps was heavily consulted by the Ministries – particularly the Ministry of Environment. And also by the national agency that deals with fiscalization and law enforcement of forestry resources.

So, it hasn’t yet resulted in policy change on paper, but the information we know has been used by policy makers in Peru. And the overall goal of our work in this area is to change the split between a focus on timber on one side and non-timber forest products on the other. We are trying to change the mindset of foresters, academics, policy makers, and practitioners, to show them that they need to start thinking in a more integrated way. And it’s not easy. It’s very intuitive that if these products coexist over large areas, something should be done that addresses them together. But it involves a lot of work in terms of dissemination and policy briefs, and also you need to reach out at the very local level in order to influence the authorities which, in the end, are the ones that are going to be the most influential in generating policy change at the local level.

Laura Snook (Bioversity): Thank you, Manuel. Very important work and certainly relevant to a lot of forests in the world where multiple kinds of products are harvested. Evert, I know that a lot of your work is in the very early stages. Perhaps you may not have outcomes yet to report on, but if you’d like to talk about that aspect, please do.

Evert Thomas (Bioversity): Yes, thanks Laura. Indeed, as the project only started last year, we haven’t reached the stage of outcomes yet. However, I can elaborate a bit on the outcomes we expect to see after the project ends. The objective of our project in Colombia is to help restoration practitioners in the selection of appropriate planting material, meaning appropriate species choices and also the appropriate seed sources for those species. The project is focusing on tropical dry forest, which is one of the most endangered ecosystems in Colombia, and has been declared as a national priority for restoration and conservation.

We have multiple objectives in the project. At the national scale, our objective is to develop a tool that allows practitioners in a very user-friendly manner to take decisions on what species to use and where to get the seed. There are 900 different tree species in the Colombian tropical dry forest, so it is important to have tools that can help practitioners with the identification of subsets of species that best match the conditions of the planting sites and the restoration goals. For the selection of germplasm, we’re looking at the impact of climate change. We’re also looking at what the future use of the forest will be, because species choices will be different if the use is for commercial production as compared to biodiversity conservation. We’re also looking at functional and genetic diversity aspects. Last but not least we are making a compilation of all existing propagation protocols we can find to make sure that when we recommend the use of a particular species for restoration, knowledge exists on how to propagate it.

So, how do we want to generate outcomes? Well, we are working closely with the Alexander von Humboldt Institute, a Colombian national research institute that is one of the country’s leaders in ecological restoration. The Humboldt Institute is ideally placed to leverage use of the knowledge and tools our project will generate. They will be able to promote their use among restoration practitioners in the country, because they maintain a wide network of different governmental and also non-governmental actors in the restoration arena.

Another thing we are talking about with them is the use of this tool in projects that receive public funds. For example, obliging such projects to use this tool to ensure that adequate attention has been given to the selection of good germplasm suited to the restoration site. And we also have the intention to link the tool or the knowledge the project will generate to the Colombian law on compensation for biodiversity loss that requires that if one damages biodiversity, one has to compensate through restoration. This could, for example, be done by promoting or obliging companies or people who have to compensate for biodiversity loss to use the tool in the planning phase and the selection of germplasm for restoration.

So, this first expected outcome is really at the national level – across the entire country. But, on the other hand, we’re also working at a more regional or local level. We are working in an area where the biggest hydroelectric power dam of the country is being built at this moment. Because of the building of the dam, some 4,000 hectares of tropical dry forest will be lost. So the dam builder is obliged, through this law of compensation for biodiversity loss, to restore approximately 13,000 hectares of tropical dry forest. This dam builder is a co-sponsor of the project and we want to work together with them to make sure that, in the restoration of the 13,000 hectares, they will plan well ahead and select appropriate germplasm.

Another point – it has been calculated that to restore what will be a total of 17,000 hectares as a consequence of building will generate employment for approximately 5,000 people over the next 10 years. This is an area where employment is very scarce anyway, so this really is an interesting new opportunity for rural development. I’m only talking about the initial phase of planting and monitoring, including replacing dead seedlings. But, after this, the forests that will be established will be used for production. So many of these 5,000 people are likely to be able to continue in the forestry sector in the area. And I think I’ll stop here. Thank you.

Future activities

Laura Snook (Bioversity): Thank you, Evert. You’re certainly doing some very interesting work that I hope will be a model for the way restoration will be done in the future with this great opportunity, in light of the 20×20 and the Aichi targets and the Bonn Challenge targets for restoration of degraded land.

So let’s think about the future. We are currently involved in delivering on our extension proposal for 2015 and 2016, where we have various outcomes that relate to the kinds of projects we’ve heard about. That is to say diversified forest management, conservation and better use of tree genetic resources and forest restoration.

We have research ongoing on community forestry in Mesoamerica. That’s a joint activity between CATIE and Bioversity. We hope to evaluate in that project to what degree community forestry for timber production is a useful win-win strategy for rural development, livelihood improvement, and the conservation of biodiversity – both at the forest level and at the intra-specific diversity level of trees. This research is looking at aspects of sustainability and viability of the tree populations harvested. Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) is one of the species that’s being evaluated. We have other kinds of research projects underway that will be completed in the next couple of years, both in Central Asia, following up on the fruit tree research I mentioned earlier, as well as research on the future production potential of natural forests.

Diverse collecton of cacao being selected for gourmet chocolates. Photo: X. Scheldemann/Bioversity International
Diverse collecton of cacao being selected for gourmet chocolates. Photo: X. Scheldemann/Bioversity International

In addition to continuing to work on the areas we’ve mentioned, I think that there will be an additional expansion. For example, working more on fruit trees and tree crops. We’ve done work on the conservation and use of cacao diversity; we continue to do work on cacao. But, in fact, overall the FTA program does relatively little work on tree crops. There’s some work in another flagship on oil palm, but most of the work there is focused on how to reduce the negative deforestation resulting from conversion to tree crops. So, there seems to be a big potential to work more on tree crops, which are very important sources of income. And of course ICRAF is already working on trees which are important to farmers’ livelihoods, but there are probably opportunities to do more on various kinds of tree crops – rubber and others that are currently not addressed by the CGIAR, in addition to cacao, coffee, and others.

Another area that we think needs to be emphasized more in the future is wood supply. At the moment, many countries are meeting their demand for wood through deforestation. Because, in fact, the production of their natural forests is insufficient to meet local or domestic demand and they have not established timber plantations at the level to meet that demand. So the current, ongoing conversion of forests to oil palm or other agricultural uses is providing a windfall of timber resulting from clearing. There’s now been a pledge to zero deforestation that many countries have made, which means the opportunity to fill that gap between demand and supply from conversion will be closed.

This means it’s extremely important to understand more about the level of demand in developing countries. Demand for wood, including fuel wood, but also timber for other purposes – construction, possibly even pulp for paper. And unfortunately the information about that demand is lacking because the FAO statistics only deal with certain categories of demand, and industrial levels of a certain minimal size, whereas much of the consumption is based on informal channels and small scale users that don’t meet the minimum size. So there’s a lack of knowledge – this is another big knowledge gap on the part of developing countries – as to the actual consumption and demand for wood and their potential production, either from natural forests or from plantations or from agroforestry systems or from trees on farms.

So this is a new area that Flagship 2 will be entering into in the next phase, with the involvement of all of our centers, all of whom bring something to bear either in understanding the demand – helping to quantify the demand or helping to develop tools to help countries quantify that demand; and in terms of evaluating sources of supply and their potential costs and benefits, as I mentioned. Wood supply could be from agroforestry, from plantations, from natural forest management, or from remnant trees on farms. These are some of the areas we think need additional research in the future. And I would leave it open to whomever would like to add anything that they think needs to be mentioned in terms of future research priorities.

Alice Muchugi (ICRAF): I wanted to comment on the issues I addressed earlier on diversity coverage. Gene banks do not have money set aside for research, so we need more collaboration with other centers to carry out the necessary research. Of course, through gene bank conservation funding, we undertake characterization for accession identification. But we are hoping that in the next phase we can focus more on underutilized genetic resources, especially within Africa, doing research to look at the diversity of valuable traits within those species. It would be very valuable to do additional research in that area and it would complement the African Plant Breeding Academy of the African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC) at ICRAF.
Laura Snook (Bioversity): Thank you, Alice.

Manuel Guariguata (CIFOR): In the context of what’s next and more specifically in the context of restoration, one thing we really need to look at is the upscaling issue. The huge challenges and international commitments are large scale. Restoring at the national level, at least in developing countries, is also large scale. I’m not saying large in terms of contiguous pieces of land, because the upscaling issue deals also with governance issues and with land tenure issues.

Monitoring the success of the 20X20 inititiave is one challenge scientists are facing. Map: World Resources Institute
Monitoring the success of the 20X20 inititiave is one challenge scientists are facing. Map: World Resources Institute

There are a lot of bottlenecks that need to be considered and researched in the context of these huge commitments which, as we know, are gaining a lot of traction. So, one thing that we need to think about carefully is, what are the main governance challenges that impede successful restoration at the country level? If you think at the national level, specifically in countries which have a lot of geographical and social and cultural variation, these issues need to be addressed. From what I see, countries are signing these aspirations to restore large areas of land. But, so far, we have not seen serious analysis of other dimensions besides the important dimension of planting and planting material.

So, that’s one thing that we need to be aware of and think forward. Also the issue of monitoring. I mean, we can see lots of deficiencies on how exactly these big commitments are going to be monitored and what exactly are the most cost effective variables to look at. Brazil has a lot of indicators, and, from an academic standpoint, that’s probably fine. But for other types of actors, we need to develop or at least test options on how to effectively monitor the effectiveness of restoration practices.

And one other thing that’s needed is defining standardized baselines, because that goes hand in hand with the monitoring issue. I don’t see too much thinking on, how to measure in five, 10 years time whether restoration was done well or not. And there’s not too much thinking in many of the countries, at least in Latin America, that have perhaps signed these big commitments, on how to really design an appropriate baseline in order to be able to say something in the future about what was achieved.

Laura Snook (Bioversity): Very good points. Thank you, Manuel. Evert, did you want to add something more about restoration?

Evert Thomas (Bioversity): I just wanted to make reference again to the recently adopted 20×20 Initiative. It was initially launched during the Global Landscapes Forum organized by CIFOR in Lima, Peru, in late 2014. All the points raised by Manuel are extremely relevant and they are being discussed in the context of this initiative.

The initiative aims to support countries to meet the restoration goals they have set for themselves. Because this is unprecedented and because the scale is so huge, the countries themselves are in need of support on governance issues, on monitoring issues, and on seed supply.

There are two centers (CIAT, Bioversity) that are already formally part of the 20×20 Initiative. CATIE is also there, and I’m sure there is also a role for CIFOR and ICRAF. So, I believe that the 20×20 initiative presents an excellent opportunity for FTA to join forces and to show our complementary strengths, to assist countries in all these different areas where they need support.

Laura Snook (Bioversity): Very good point. And I think that is a very good way to wrap up. It’s only been a few years since FTA started, and yet we have learned much more about the relative strengths of our different centers and the opportunities to bring different perspectives and different expertise together to address major issues. And I think you have just described this, within the framework of restoration, in which the centers can bring pieces together and in combination help address a major global challenge. This is what we like about being part of FTA. And as we look forward, we will probably be even more effective in bringing our efforts together to address the big challenges that the world faces with regards to sustaining forest and tree resources that rural people and the globe depend on around the world. Thank you all for joining us today.

Back to top

Sign up to our monthly newsletter

Connect with us