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  • Amazonia's best and worst areas for carbon recovery revealed

Amazonia’s best and worst areas for carbon recovery revealed

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10050176886_1a7ca4748d_zThe first mapping of carbon recovery in Amazonian forests following emissions released by commercial logging activities has been published in the journal eLife.

The findings suggest that, in some of the forests disturbed by logging, surviving trees may be more reliable for storing carbon emissions than newly ‘recruited’ trees (juveniles that naturally regenerate in the logged forests).

Amazonia, the largest tropical forest globally, holds 30% of the carbon stored in the earth’s forests. Logging releases a significant amount of this carbon — a key component of climate change – into the atmosphere, which is then recovered by surviving trees and new recruits.

The Tropical managed Forest Observatory is a product of partnerships within FTA. Click on image to see more.
The Tropical managed Forest Observatory is a product of partnerships within FTA. Click on image to see more.

No investigations of post-logging carbon dynamics have previously been carried out Amazon-wide. Now, researchers from the Tropical managed Forest Observatory, which forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, have created a unique modelling approach to estimate accurately how the different forest environments impact carbon changes in surviving and newly recruited trees during post-logging carbon recovery.

“We studied long-term data from 133 permanent forest plots from 13 experimentally disturbed sites across Amazonia to model the changes in the aboveground carbon stocks in the first decades after logging,” says first author and PhD student Camille Piponiot from UMR Écologie des Forêts de Guyane in Kourou, French Guiana.

“We looked at regional differences in climate, soils, and initial aboveground biomass within the forests and linked these with the changes in carbon stocks caused by both newly recruited and surviving trees to predict the carbon recovery potential Amazon-wide.”

Their model reveals that carbon recovery is highest in the Guiana Shield in northeastern South America, and also in the western regions of the Amazonian forests, due mainly to the high carbon gain of trees that survived logging activity. In contrast, recovery is lower in the south.

Unamat forest, Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios, Peru. Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR

Piponiot explains: “Forests of the Guiana Shield are generally dense and grow on nutrient-poor soils, where wood productivity is constrained by competition for key nutrients. Short pulses of nutrients released from readily decomposed stems, twigs, and leaves of trees damaged and killed by logging explain the substantial but limited-duration increase in the growth of surviving trees.

“In the southern Amazon, on the other hand, high seasonal water stress is the main constraint on carbon recovery. Stress-tolerant trees are generally poor competitors and this may explain the slower carbon accumulation in survivors in this region.”

Principal Investigator and senior author of the study, Bruno Hérault, from Cirad, adds: “As climate change continues, we can also expect to see increases in droughts and fires that will further disturb the Amazonian forests. Betting on newly recruited trees to store carbon in some of the forests disturbed by logging might be a risky gamble, as most of them are pioneer trees highly vulnerable to water stress. Trees that survive logging activities may therefore be more reliable in accumulating carbon in these disturbed forests.”

Hérault concludes: “While our study focuses mainly on carbon recovery after logging, our findings may also give useful clues to predict the forests’ responses to carbon loss from fires and other events brought on by climate change, which is ironically caused in part by mass disturbance and deforestation.”

The paper ‘Carbon recovery dynamics following disturbance by selective logging in Amazonian forests‘ can be freely accessed online. Contents, including text, figures, and data, are free to reuse under a CC BY 4.0 license.

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  • Second-growth forests: a boon for land restoration and climate change mitigation

Second-growth forests: a boon for land restoration and climate change mitigation

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By Madelon Lohbeck, originally posted at the Landscape Portal

Secondary forest in Chiapas, Mexico. Photo: Madelon Lohbeck
Secondary forest in Chiapas, Mexico. Photo: Madelon Lohbeck

The Bonn challenge aims to restore 350 million hectares of degraded land by 2030 of which currently almost 100 million hectares has been committed through various initiatives. Restoration is a global priority; not only to restore the productivity of degraded and unproductive land, but also because promoting tree cover will increase carbon uptake from the air into vegetation biomass and soil, contributing to climate change mitigation. The land area designated for restoration is huge and shows global commitment for the cause. But how does one go about restoring such vast areas, and, isn’t that very expensive?

As part of an international group of researchers, called 2ndFOR, we recently stressed the vital role of second-growth forest for land restoration and climate change mitigation. Second-growth forests are forests that regrow after nearly complete removal of forest cover for agricultural use. Second-growth forest has previously been put forward as a potential carbon sink but their potential for carbon sequestration has never been quantified at large scale. It turns out that these forests may teach us how to restore the land and take up vast amounts of carbon while working with nature, instead of against it. Our results were recently published in the prestigious journals Nature and Science Advances.

Researchers are convinced of the potential of so called second-growth forests in mitigating the effects of climate change. Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT
Researchers are convinced of the potential of so-called second-growth forests in mitigating the effects of climate change. Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT

We reported on the enormous grow-back potential of tropical forests in Nature. From the analysis on 1500 forest plots from 45 sites across Latin America we concluded that carbon uptake is surprisingly fast in these second-growth forests: After 20 years, these forests had recovered 122 tons of aboveground biomass per hectare. This corresponds to an uptake of 3.05 tons of carbon per ha per year, which is 11 times the uptake rate of old-growth forests.We also found that the rate of regrowth differed dramatically across the study sites and that this rate is larger in areas with higher rainfall. A map is provided of the grow-back potential of second-growth forests across the Latin American tropics.

Biomass resilience map of the Latin American tropics showing the predicted aboveground forest biomass (AGB) attained 20 years after abandonment of agricultural use. Picture credits: Nature Publishing Group.

In Science Advances we reported what this regrowth potential implies for climate change mitigation. The area of second-growth forests in Latin America is substantial: 240 million ha, which is 28% of the lowland forest area. Assuming that 100% of this second-growth forest is able to persist and grow over the coming 40 years, there will be an additional 31.1 petagrams of CO2 stored over that time period, which is enough of offset the carbon emissions from fossil fuel use and industrial processes in these countries in the past 21 years. What is remarkable is that this huge amount of carbon uptake does not require any costly tree planting or loss of farmlands. This is exclusively based on natural forest regrowth and only requires protection of the second-growth forests present.

So, working with nature provides us with a low-cost and effective solution for restoring large areas of land and mitigating climate change. To do so, second-growth forests should be left to regrow, which only works if there is some form of protection (e.g. fencing, fire-breaks). Forest regrowth is not a quick fix, it takes many decades and the carbon benefits accumulate over long time scales. At the same time, adequately protecting mature forests is vital for climate change mitigation. Mature forests do not take up carbon as fast as second-growth forest but they have large amounts of carbon stored in both biomass and soils. If mature forests are not adequately protected, carbon-uptake gains by second-growth forest may be in vain.

As the world looks for efficient and affordable ways to restore degraded land and combat climate change these findings tell us that forest regrowth clearly deserves more attention among (inter)national policy makers than it has received so far. Rather than working against nature we should work with nature; natural regrowth is a cheap and nature-based solution with a tremendous carbon mitigation potential.

Madelon Lohbeck is a scientist with the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi and Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Her work forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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  • From the Congo to the Amazon, hunters speak the same language

From the Congo to the Amazon, hunters speak the same language

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Research suggests hunters in the Congo Basin face similar issues to hunters elsewhere. Photo: Ollivier Girard / CIFOR.
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By Barbara Fraser, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Although continents apart, hunters in the forests of Africa and Latin America can learn from each other’s experiences in wildlife management and the use of bushmeat, according to experts from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

“In both the Congo and the Amazon, millions of people depend on wild species for food, and hunting and fishing provide a large percentage of nutrients,” said John Fa, senior research associate at CIFOR and coordinator of the Bushmeat Research Initiative.

In addition to hunting to feed their families, hunters in both the Congo and the Amazon Basins sell some of the wild meat they catch. The income provides a buffer against crop failures or other economic crises, as well as money for household expenses, health care or school fees.


But wildlife management is crucial to make sure that hunting—or rather, overhunting—does not have excessive negative consequences for ecosystems, Fa said.

For example, overhunting of a certain animal species could reduce the scattering of the seeds of plants on which it feeds, gradually decreasing the number of those plants and, therefore, the food supply.

“Changing the vegetation changes the food supply, which affects the animal species that can survive in that landscape,” Fa said.

Overhunting can be controlled if hunters know how much game their communities are harvesting, said Nathalie Van Vliet, a senior researcher at CIFOR.

“The problem is that hunters know how much they or their neighbors harvest, but not what others harvest, so they don’t know how much the community harvests as a whole,” she said.


Community monitoring can fill that gap. In parts of Africa and the Amazon, hunters are armed not only with shotguns, but also with notebooks or cell phones to record information about where and what they hunt and conditions in the forest.

In Namibia, where hunting—including trophy hunting—is an important source of both income and food for communities, game guards keep detailed records that allow community conservancy committees to monitor impacts and adjust quotas, according to Greenwell Matongo of WWF Namibia.

Matongo was among a group of researchers, government officials and hunters who met in Leticia, Colombia, in October 2015, to discuss regulatory changes for legalizing the sale of bushmeat in Colombia.

Hunters in the Ticoya Indigenous Reserve or resguardo near Leticia, along the Amazon River where the borders of Colombia, Brazil and Peru converge, are experimenting with a cell phone app to help them track wildlife.

By becoming citizen scientists, hunters gather data that are valuable to their communities and to researchers, said Brian Child, associate professor in the geography department and the Center for African Studies at the University of Florida.

“People love it—it’s so empowering. They love learning, they love doing graphs, they love understanding what the data are saying, they love presenting it back to communities,” Child said of community-based wildlife monitoring.

“That’s where the real gain is—in the communities themselves becoming paraprofessionals and collecting, analyzing and responding to data,” he added.


Although both the Amazon and Congo Basins include expanses of tropical forest that is home to bushmeat hunters, the two regions differ in some significant ways.

The Congo Basin has less than half as much dense forest—1.6 million square kilometers, compared to 3.9 million square kilometers in the Amazon—and more than twice as many inhabitants as the Amazon.

Research in the past seemed to indicate that substantially more bushmeat is consumed in the Congo Basin than the Amazon. According to one rough estimate from 2010, bushmeat consumption in the Congo basin totaled about 3.2 million tons in one year, compared to just under 1 million tons in the Amazon.

But that estimate and others like it are extrapolated from relatively little data, some of which is old, Van Vliet said. More recent studies show that people continue to consume bushmeat even after moving to cities from rural areas, but further research is needed to understand how consumption patterns change, she said.

Community wildlife management is crucial for adapting to changing circumstances, said Van Vliet, who works with hunters in Colombia and Gabon who are designing hunting management plans.

“The hunters in Gabon realized that they needed to set limits on the hunting of partially protected species in their area,” she said. “The question was where to set the limit, because they did not have data showing how much would be sustainable.”

Van Vliet suggested an adaptive management plan, which would begin by setting the limit at the amount currently being harvested. The hunters would then monitor the impacts and adjust the plan as necessary.

“The problem was that no one knew how much they harvested as a community,” she said. “A community monitoring system provides important information to fill in those gaps.”

The hunters in Gabon—who set a limit of 30 bush pigs a year, based on data showing that they had hunted 28 in 2014—are using a monitoring system similar to one used by hunters in the Ticoya resguardo, which is in the southernmost corner of Colombia, near the Amazon River.


Van Vliet would like the two groups of hunters to be able to learn from each other’s experiences.

“They face similar challenges,” she said. “I think there are fewer differences between a hunter in Gabon and a hunter in the Amazon than a hunter in Gabon and a city dweller in Gabon.”

While meeting with hunters during a recent trip to Gabon, Van Vliet received messages from hunters in the Ticoya resguardo via the smartphone app WhatsApp, and began to think about ways in which the two groups might be able to communicate.

“The problem is language, but they could exchange photos,” she said.

The hunters in Gabon were especially interested in how the hunters in Colombia managed fruiting tree species to attract certain animals.

“They said they felt wildlife was farther away now than in their grandparents’ day,” she said of the Gabon hunters. “They said that could be due to hunting or to logging, which sometimes removes trees that bear fruit.”

The African hunters were intrigued by the idea of planting some of those tree species closer to their villages to attract animals, as communities in the Ticoya resguardo had done.

“I think these exchanges are very useful,” Van Vliet said. “I learn a lot from looking at these different situations, and I think they would, too.”

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  • Reserves need tweaks to withstand Amazon fire threat

Reserves need tweaks to withstand Amazon fire threat

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Photo: Jos Barlow/Lancaster Environment Center
A forest fire in the Brazilian Amazon. Photo: Jos Barlow/Lancaster Environment Center

By Samuel Mcglennon, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Nearly one million square kilometers of land in Brazil are currently designated as ‘Sustainable Use Reserves’ (SURs).

However, a new study shows that these reserves are failing to address one of the Amazon’s biggest threats- fire.

“Our research reveals that these reserves don’t affect the timing, frequency or density of fires that occur within them,” said Rachel Carmenta, lead author of the study and a scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

“In the context of extending fire seasons globally, and continued regional development, there is some urgency for efforts to improve the performance of sustainable use reserves.”

Evaluation of the performance of reserves in the Amazon previously used metrics of deforestation that largely ignored the dynamics before and after reserve creation. For this reason, there are limited studies today that explicitly focus on ‘Sustainable Use Reserves’, despite the fact that they are proliferating.

What’s more, while indigenous reserves are often characterised by low population densities, SURs can be created in areas adjacent to modest population centers.

“By their very nature, ‘sustainable use reserves’ have people living within them when they are created,” said Carmenta. “These are often people practicing small-scale agriculture, so reserves have a dual objective to promote conservation while also allowing sustainable livelihoods to continue.”

Fire is inextricably linked to each of these objectives because many people’s livelihoods within the reserves are based on smallholder agriculture, in which fire plays a central role.

Comparisons in space and through time

Carmenta and her colleagues thus set out to disentangle the landscape determinants of fire in reserves (i.e. location factors) from the actual policy change of reserve creation on fire density.

“We first examined the frequency of fires within reserves compared to the buffer zones and the extent to which landscape factors like population density determined fire events,” she said. “Our findings show that the landscape factors are the most important determinants of fire.”

While verifying their findings, the scientists realized that they could take a further analytical step- one that is rarely used in analyzing reserve performance.

“What we did was use temporal data sets to create a ‘before and after’ comparison by analyzing fire patterns in areas before they became reserves and then compared them to ensuing fire patterns,” said Carmenta.

“Ultimately, we showed that the act of creating reserves does not have an impact on fire patterns. Instead, what is more important are the other factors like population density and connectivity.”

This means that as far as fire management is concerned, where one places a reserve is actually more important than the actual act of designating one.

Tweaking fire management

When the scientists set out to analyze the performance of reserves with respect to fire, they thought that they might find evidence for shifts towards less risky burns following reserve creation. They collected information on rainfall events and fire and examined whether there was evidence towards less risky burns (i.e. burns decoupled from peak dry days) after the reserve was established.

What they found was surprising.

“Reserve creation did not induce any shift towards improved fire management by SUR residents [i.e. in the form of less risky burnings],” said Carmenta.

The study’s findings show the asymmetry of the relationship between reserves and fire. Fires remain one of the greatest threats to the reserves and their inhabitants, yet they currently have no discernible impact on fire management within their boundaries.

While reluctant to offer solution options that are not evidence-based, Carmenta says there are relatively simple things that can be done to improve the situation.

Part of what’s missing is relevant weather forecasts and information on climatic conditions.

“These might not be needed every year, but in dangerous years like El Niño years, a targeted provision of this information could be really valuable.”

Carmenta also sees a role for rural extension services in helping reduce smallholders’ reliance on fire-based agricultural techniques.

“Smallholder fire use is a long-established practice and so far, the policy and legislation used to manage and control fires in the Amazon have not managed to fit the local realities and context in a way that allows for policy uptake at the local level.

“Smallholders need better extension services to help them gain access to the technology, knowledge and capacity to take up agricultural practices that rely less heavily on fire. But it’s difficult to imagine these services being rolled out across the entire Amazon, so it will be necessary to prioritize between the level of fire risk and interventions that can be done quickly, cheaply and effectively,” she said.

Reserves at risk

The study shows that ‘Sustainable Use Reserves’ clearly need further attention.

“The big message for governments is that these reserves really aren’t performing when it comes to reducing fire threats,” said Carmenta.

What’s more, the determinants of fire risk identified by the study show that reserves will require more support in future.

“We find that the reserves most at risk have two common characteristics: higher population densities and greater connectivity, in particular by rivers.”

With a planned network of roads extending throughout the Amazon, greater terrestrial connectivity will prove increasingly important.

New lines of enquiry

The study used relatively novel methodological approaches to arrive at its findings. Even the decision to focus on fire is a key point of differentiation between this and previous studies, which used hunting or deforestation as proxies for determining reserve performance.

Another key contribution of this study was its ‘before and after’ comparison model, which enabled a glimpse of the changes – or lack thereof- that follow the policy change of reserve creation.

“Previous studies by in large didn’t use a temporal approach when exploring the impacts of reserves,” said Carmenta. “It would be great to use this approach to analyze the performance of other reserves, or expand research to include a comparative analysis across the reserves of the tropics all around the world.”

“We hope this study will highlight our concern over methods that didn’t take a ‘before and after approach’, which is helpful when assessing reserve performance borne by reserve creation as distinct from the landscape determinants of reserve performance,” she added.


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

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  • Bushmeat on the wedding menu

Bushmeat on the wedding menu

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Colombian women preparing bushmeat like deer and boruga (Agouti paca). Photo: Barbara Fraser/CIFOR
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Colombian women preparing bushmeat like deer and boruga (Agouti paca). Photo: Barbara Fraser/CIFOR
Colombian women preparing bushmeat like deer and boruga (Agouti paca). Photo: Barbara Fraser/CIFOR

By Jack Hewson, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

New study examines how bushmeat is evolving from forest to garden hunting, and from a food staple to a wedding delicacy in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Getting married can be an anxious affair. One may worry about different sets of friends or family getting along, or if your best man drinks one glass too many and gives an inappropriate speech. Any number of embarrassments might befall you.

In the Amazonian cities and towns of Ecuador, an additional concern is proving that you can provide enough dishes made from bushmeat during the wedding to satisfy the expectation of all invitees, particularly those of your close relatives.

“For this reason, wedding planners have to be connected to sophisticated network of suppliers and to know how to request bushmeat using cell phones and even apps to an illegal product of great cultural significance among Ecuadorian Amazonians,” said Miguel Pinedo-Vasquez, the leading author of a recent study on bushmeat conducted under the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.


This is bushmeat... Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
This is bushmeat… Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

Modernity has brought less reliance on the forests for Ecuador’s urban and rural population in Amazonia, with many migrating to the cities for work.

When it comes to protein, farmed poultry and livestock are now more regularly consumed, but bushmeat has retained its traditional value for social events, particularly weddings.

Overhunting of large-bodied game and the illegal nature of bushmeat meat are incentives for managing game species (particularly small-bodied species) in production landscapes dominated by smallholder agriculture fields, fallows and forest patches.

“We found that the risk of declining on game populations results more from the loss of habitat and the growth of road networks and other infrastructure that is putting humans closer to populations of game species, even within protected areas,” Pinedo-Vasquez said.

The Napo province is rapidly undergoing a transition to a more mosaic landscape. Today, it boasts the highest urban population density and road infrastructure of any province in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

These changes have had significant impacts on species in areas now more easily accessed by forest hunters, with large-bodied game being significantly depleted. Pinedo-Vasquez and his colleagues have found that the decline of game populations in forests have emerged as an incentive for managing game species in agriculture landscapes and for practicing garden hunting.

What’s more, women become hunters, particularly of small-game species that are managed or protected in fallows, fields, or their house gardens.

...and this as well. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
…and this as well. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

While there have been no known extinctions in Amazonia due to the bushmeat trade, there are concerns that unsustainable hunting could prompt local extinctions, particularly of large-bodied species. Such risk seems to be reduced by integrating game management in production landscapes, as is the case of the Napo province.


To promote sustainable practices and lessen the impact of hunting, Pinedo-Vasquez’s research offers a number of recommendations including: greater coordination between conservation organizations and rural communities, the targeted conservation of depleted species, and monitoring of off-takes coordinated between law enforcement and hunters.

“Crucially, there needs to be engagement with smallholders and indigenous peoples – on a household scale and on a landscape scale,” Pinedo-Vasquez said.

“On a landscape scale, people have to get together and decide when to hunt and what to hunt. Hunting is not a random thing; it’s an issue of local governance.”

For instance, local people are actively enforcing rules governing garden hunting while they are increasingly less interested in enforcing rules governing forest hunting, particularly in areas near or within protected areas.


By comparison, Pinedo-Vasquez’s research suggests that less severe measures are required in Ecuador, and he actually recommends three “Rs” for sustainable hunting and bushmeat procurement in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

First, “recognize” the process and patterns of changing landscapes for bushmeat, including the decline of forest hunting and increase of garden hunting. Also recognize the dependence shift from large-bodied to small-bodied game species of bushmeat. Recognize as well that there are more women than men hunters.

Secondly, “regulate” and monitor the sale of bushmeat by species and origin.

Finally, “replicate” the experiences of sustainable game management and the enforcement of rules controlling the hunt, sale and consumption of bushmeat. Certification might be an incentive for replicating good practices in the Amazonian Ecuador. The urban tradition of featuring bushmeat on the wedding menu could be an incentive for the sustainable hunting and sale of bushmeat.


With lessening of concerns for the survival of Ecuador’s indigenous fauna, Pinedo-Vasquez himself has tried the local bushmeat cuisine.

“While the tradition of eating bushmeat is local, it’s a globalized society. The preparations that people come up with are very varied. You could have peccary with Japanese sauce,” he said.

“I’m really surprised how television has influenced the preparation of bushmeat, but has not eliminated it from the tradition.

“On a recent research field trip, a guy gave me some dried meat with cabbage and it was delicious. When I asked him where he got the recipe from, he said he had learnt it from a British cooking show.

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  • Understanding wildlife hunting means knowing people, animals and the numbers

Understanding wildlife hunting means knowing people, animals and the numbers

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Boy selling the rodent agouti in Guyana. Photo: Manuel Lopez/CIFOR
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Boy selling the rodent agouti in Guyana. Photo: Manuel Lopez/CIFOR
Boy selling the rodent agouti in Guyana. Photo: Manuel Lopez/CIFOR

By Deanna Ramsay, originally posted at CIFOR’s Forests News

For many living in rural parts of the world, hunting wild animals offers both a vital source of protein and extra cash. In Cameroon, that work can result in additional annual income of €80, according to a recent study.

Defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2011 as, “The harvesting of wild animals in tropical and sub-tropical countries, for food and for non-food purposes,” bushmeat hunting is simultaneously mundane and a hot topic.

In a keynote speech titled “Wildlife: A forgotten and threatened forest resource” at the annual Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) meeting, CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees, and Agroforestry director Robert Nasi discussed the bushmeat issue in the Congo and Amazon basins.

“The use of wild animals as a resource for local people is an exceedingly important issue, and generally overlooked. The hunting and eating of wild animals is widespread, essential and socially acceptable, but is de facto criminal activity in most countries,” he said.
Stall selling bushmeat. Photo: Manuel Lopez/CIFOR
Selling bushmeat. Photo: Manuel Lopez/CIFOR

With the recognition that millions around the world use wild animals for food and income, and that such practices can negatively impact biodiversity, researchers are focusing on the extent of people’s dependence, looking at quantifying matters such as wildlife harvest numbers, consumption amounts and the accrued financial benefits.

Round numbers

Generating appropriate data on extraction from the wild helps elucidate the importance of wildlife for poor people, as well as contribute to necessary conservation work.

“Some groups argue that conservation of areas is bad for local people. It is possible to achieve a balance, but better data are required to establish how both protection of biodiversity and the needs of people can be made compatible,” said John E. Fa, a senior research associate at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and coordinator of CIFOR’s Bushmeat Research Initiative.

Guyana offers a lot of bushmeat such as this Aposematic hawkmoth caterpillar (Isognathus sp.) with an uncharacteristically long tail. Photo: Manuel Lopez/CIFOR)
Guyana offers a lot of bushmeat such as this Aposematic hawkmoth caterpillar (Isognathus sp.) with an uncharacteristically long tail. Photo: Manuel Lopez/CIFOR

Better access to information and research data is required across fields and disciplines. Taking this into account – and that for hunting what little information available is dispersed – there is now a resource that collates datasets on subsistence hunting and related practices from around the globe called OFFTAKE.

At ATBC, Bushmeat Research Initiative member Lauren Coad discussed the database – which she helped to develop – that aims to provide accurate information on the harvest of wild animals and to inform policy.

“Bushmeat research has been mainly site specific and gathered by NGOs and academics. This data needed to be brought together, and we are continuing to add to it,” she said during her talk, which focused on bushmeat consumption figures in Central Africa.

In recently published research in International Forestry Review, seconded CIRAD scientist at CIFOR Guillaume Lescuyer and Robert Nasi looked at another side of the bushmeat equation, determining the financial (i.e. trade) and economic (i.e. self-consumption) benefits derived from bushmeat from the full range of actors in Cameroon.

There are an estimated 552,000 people in the country who hunt for income, subsistence and a combination of both. Lescuyer and Nasi calculated a net financial benefit of hunting in rural areas as €10 million a year and a net economic benefit of €24 million.

“People have not been that interested in the question of quantifying the importance of bushmeat. That is why we decided to do a financial analysis – this has not been done before in Cameroon, and our findings are powerful,” Lescuyer said.


Lescuyer and Nasi found that local hunting was rewarding, with a profit margin of approximately 22 percent. They also determined that the annual turnover of the bushmeat sector is much higher than previous official assessments at close to €97 million, with the contribution to Cameroon’s GDP as substantial as the mining sector.

Equipped with figures indicating the economic significance of the practice for the rural poor and local and national economies, the question emerges – are such practices sustainable?

Some say no. But, as bushmeat discussions can revert to familiar debates that position conservation against livelihoods, numbers, again, are vital. Having studied bushmeat for decades, Fa said measuring sustainability is a difficult task.

“One problem is we know very little about tropical animals and their biology, including reproduction. Even if you have abundant data on the species out there you also have to know the fluctuations in how many animals a hunter gets per day,” he said. And, the consumption figures that emerge often vary in comparison to extraction numbers. These discrepancies mean more studies on tropical animals and human practices are needed, Fa said.

Too legit

Honoring both concerns, researchers are recommending a combination of on-the-ground changes and government policy steps. “Up to 80 percent of rural households in central and western Africa depend at different levels on bushmeat for their daily protein requirements and essential income. A blanket ban on the trade would endanger both humans and wildlife,” Nasi said.

Developing alternative protein sources in rural areas, working to reduce demand in urban areas and enforcing bans on exports has been advised. “Alternative meats could be a good way of deterring people from eating bushmeat, but that is more likely in big cities because they don’t rely on it,” Fa said. Fostering the consumption of other proteins is a long-term goal, but addressing urban consumption is key in the short-term, Lescuyer said.

At ATBC in Montpellier, Nasi discussed the problem of bushmeat exports to Europe, advocating for better law enforcement. “You can walk five minutes from here and I can bring you back a duiker leg from a small grocery. There is no reason why anyone in Europe should be eating bushmeat.”

For researchers, it is time to use the hard numbers and data emerging to clarify a complex issue. “There has been a one-way view for the last 25 years without success. It is time to try something else. It is time to legitimate the debate around bushmeat,” Nasi said.

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  • Amazon land tenure study wins top award

Amazon land tenure study wins top award

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The Unamat forest, Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios, Peru. Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR
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By Kate Evans, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

The Unamat forest, Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios, Peru. Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR
The Unamat forest, Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios, Peru. Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR

Two scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR),Peter Cronkleton and Anne Larson, have received the top award from the journal Society & Natural Resources for a 2015 article on land tenure in the Amazon, which forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

Their paper was judged the most ‘Outstanding Article’ of 2015 for its “innovative and meaningful contribution to the study of society and natural resources and its promise to be influential over time.”

The CIFOR article explored land tenure in a variety of forest communities in Ecuador and Peru – some indigenous, some settler, some with communal land title, some with individual title – and found that these diverse groups shared some surprisingly similar views on land tenure security.

Why did it win?

“The article presents an iconoclastic view of the effectiveness of land titling and questions the clear dichotomy usually drawn between individual and communal property,” says Cronkleton.

A very influential school of thought – known as the ‘property rights school’ and promoted especially by Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto – advocates for the wholesale formalization of land ownership through individual titles, even in areas traditionally governed collectively, with the assumption that this will guarantee tenure security and other benefits associated with property.

The CIFOR article explored land tenure in a variety of forest communities in Ecuador and Peru. Photo: CIFOR
The CIFOR article explored land tenure in a variety of forest communities in Ecuador and Peru. Photo: CIFOR

The CIFOR study, however, showed reality is more complex. It found that communities can’t be neatly categorized as ‘individual’ or ‘collective’ – some villages with individual land titles in the study areas displayed forms of collective behavior and land allocation, and vice versa. It also found that formal titling is only the start – it isn’t the only thing that gives people secure rights to their land.

“We showed that in the absence of strong institutional governance, land titling, while important, isn’t sufficient on its own,” Cronkleton says.

“Land titling is often promoted with the assumption that government will be present to provide sufficient institutional support to allow smallholders to benefit from land rights.”

But in remote areas of the Amazon, local and regional governments often have little influence, Larson says. Smallholders can be multiple days’ travel from government offices. In practice, it’s often very difficult to have the title modified when land is divided among siblings, or transferred to another person when it is sold.

Aerial view of Amazon rainforest, Peru. Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR
Aerial view of Amazon rainforest, Peru. Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR

“So the idea that the State is present and is going to solve everything and titles are going to be kept up to date, and that the State really matters, is just a fiction,” Larson says.

“In fact, people were often quite happy with any legal document – in a lot of cases what they had in hand was not a full title but a kind of provisional document that was supposed to be renewed, but they had not even bothered.”


The award-winning study analysed four Amazonian landscapes in Ecuador’s Napo province and Peru’s Ucayali region.  The sample encompassed 21 indigenous and mestizo communities with a mixture of individual and collective property titles. The authors interviewed more than 300 people about their forest and natural resource use and perceptions of land ownership.

What came through strongly across the communities, Cronkleton says, is that while people tend to see formal title as the desirable ideal, there are two other factors that also give people a sense of tenure security: having strong social networks and being a member of an established community, and demonstrating ownership by occupying and using the land.

“Both of these additional factors are seen as very important in legitimizing people’s claim to own a piece of land, even if it’s titled,” Cronkleton says.

This last point has important implications for deforestation. Demonstrating land use is frequently construed as cutting down the trees in order to plant crops.

In addition, in Peru, all forests remain State property, though people are allowed to use them – a situation that creates perverse incentives, Cronkleton says.

“As an unintended consequence of this approach, remnant forest patches are seen as unused, and thus unclaimed, making them ripe for occupation by others,” he says.

“Your typical small farmer in the Amazon would like to have forest patches and regenerating forest on their land. Sometimes policy-makers make that very complicated – often with the misguided notion that they’re taking steps to conserve forests.”


These questions are particularly relevant in Peru, which has just elected a new president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

For decades, the free-market ‘property rights’ view held sway in Peru, but recent government and donor-funded initiatives have supported indigenous communities to recognized and title communal land.

That could now be at risk, Larson says, depending on the priorities of the new government. “To return to some idea that universal individual private property is better for the future of Peru would be a big step backwards,” she says. “It’s really important to recognize the importance of communal lands to the future of forests as well as to the future of indigenous culture.”

Policymakers also need to acknowledge the complexity of forest-dwelling communities, Larson and Cronkleton agree. “If you make broad generalizations about what these properties are and how they function, you’re likely to misunderstand the factors that are influencing people’s behavior,” Cronkleton says.

There is also a need to strengthen government institutions and make it easier for people to use and modify their land titles once they’re granted. “We’re not saying that titling isn’t important. We’re saying that absent these other types of institutions and absent a real effort to take into account how people allocate and distribute land and are utilizing resources, it’s unlikely to be successful,” he says.

“It is going to take more than titling programs to improve governance in some of these areas. There needs to be more effort to understand and accommodate the livelihoods of rural people.”

Peter Cronkleton and Anne Larson won the “Rabel J. Burdge and Donald R. Field Outstanding Article Award”, named for the founding editors of Society & Natural Resources.

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Peruvian forest communities trying to benefit from REDD+ to sell certified timber

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Illegal logging is a concern for Peru's forest communities. Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR
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Originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Illegal logging is a concern for Peru's forest communities. Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR
Illegal logging is a concern for Peru’s forest communities. Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR

Research on REDD+, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, plays a big role in the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). In this blog, Barbara Fraser takes a look at the struggles of indigenous communities in Peru who want to protect their forest and found that they view REDD+ positive, but are more focused on their concerns in every day life.

For Carolina Barbarán, leader of an indigenous Shipibo Konibo community near the Ucayali River, protecting local forests is a major concern – because here, in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon, the future of forests is the future of the people.

“A big threat comes from illegal loggers who steal our timber,” says Barbarán, as she enumerates the challenges she and her community face.

“They can sneak in because the managed forest is too far from the village for us to monitor closely.”

Such illegal activity undermines not only the local environment but also the local economy, which depends on forests and forest products.

Which is why villagers and supporting organizations are always looking for new approaches for conserving the forests and increasing their incomes – including the mechanism known as REDD+.


The villagers try to make a living from all forest products. Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR
The villagers try to make a living from all forest products. Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR

Since 2012, Barbarán’s community has been involved in a REDD+ project led by the non-profit Association for Research and Integral Development (Asociación para la Investigación y el Desarrollo Integral, AIDER).

The basic idea of REDD+ is to place a monetary value on the carbon emissions that are saved through avoided deforestation.

AIDER runs initiatives in seven regions in Peru, where communities create forest management plans and obtain certification for their timber, as a way of reducing deforestation and generating carbon credits in return.

Yet the effectiveness of REDD+ for conservation and livelihoods remains unclear.

To learn more about its impacts, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) has been conducting research in the four sites, as well as in four nearby control sites. The research forms part of CIFOR’s six-country Global Comparative Study on REDD+, which looks at a total of 23 such initiatives around the world.

Through household questionnaires and community focus groups, villagers explained how they make a living, their access and rights to land, how they manage land and forests, the extent of deforestation, and their involvement in REDD+.

The study found that understanding and support for REDD+ varies among communities, according to CIFOR’s Dawn Rodríguez-Ward, who supervised the field research.

“Villagers do tend to see REDD+ projects as a long-term avenue for controlling deforestation in the region,” she says.

“But our research also found that villagers often feel they have more immediate concerns.”


Local people look to timber certification. Photo: Nathan Russell/CIAT
Local people look to timber certification. Photo: Nathan Russell/CIAT

The Shipibo-Konibo communities that live along the banks of the Ucayali River are some 35–120 km from the nearest markets in Pucallpa, with boats as their only form of transport. Their lives revolve around the river and its fluctuations.

CIFOR’s research found that they try various means of generating income from their forests and land.

“Diversification of their livelihood activities is vital because of the seasonal flooding that drowns crops but brings fish-spawning runs,” says CIFOR field assistant Medardo Miranda.

For a few months a year, villagers grow crops such as bananas and cassava. What the families do not eat themselves, they sell to the traders who pass by on wooden boats.

Outside of these months, they take advantage of game, fish, crops, timber and other forest products that are available at different times of the year.

But selling surplus crops is not very profitable – and so leaders seek alternatives.

Carolina Barbarán sees a future in certified timber management and REDD+ as ways to increase community income and, she hopes, curb illegal logging.

Barbarán says about 50 families in her district of Callería participate in timber management in about 3,800 hectares of forest, with a quota for each family.

Yet managing their land brings its own challenges.

“Our monitoring committee tries to protect against illegal logging and fishing, but it lacks money for equipment and gasoline, and villagers complain that the task of patrolling takes them away from farming, fishing and other livelihood activities,” Barbarán says.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of REDD+ will depend on whether AIDER is able to find buyers for carbon credits, especially among companies in Europe.

If successful, that will be the next phase of AIDER’s REDD+ project, says Pío Santiago, AIDER’s coordinator in Ucayali.

It remains to be seen whether the communities in the Ucayali River Valley will be able to sell carbon credits, but the REDD+ projects and other activities have helped them think about additional ways of producing an income.

“It’s important to reinforce the concept of forest management from an integral standpoint,” Santiago says.

“The forest offers many possibilities, from environmental services to other services that are still unknown or poorly understood.”

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