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The power of science to halt deforestation

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A coffee plantation is pictured on a hillside in Lampung, Indonesia. Photo by U. Ifansasti/CIFOR
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A coffee plantation is pictured on a hillside in Lampung, Indonesia. Photo by U. Ifansasti/CIFOR

Science and research can offer significant contributions to halting deforestation and increasing the area of healthy forests around the world in a sustainable manner. 

With halting and reversing deforestation seen as key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the objectives of the Paris agreement on climate change, the Collaborative Partnership on Forests organized from Feb. 20-22 the conference “Working across sectors to halt deforestation and increase forest area” in Rome, to discuss ways of meeting these targets in the coming years with various actors and stakeholders.

The conference included a session on science and research coorganized by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), in which participants discussed how science-based innovations have the potential to revolutionize the way forests and landscapes are monitored and managed, provided such innovations are mainstreamed and made more accessible to users, including enabling their use in local languages.

The session’s panelists were Ambassador Hans Hoogeveen, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN; Daniela Kleinschmit, Professor of Forest and Environmental Policy at the University of Freiburg and Coordinator of IUFRO’s Division 9 on Forest Policy and Economics; Avery Cohn, Assistant Professor of International Environment and Resource Policy for the Fletcher School at Tufts University; Pablo Pacheco, Principal Scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR); and Christopher Stewart, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility for OLAM. Representing the organizers, IUFRO Vice President John Parrotta moderated the session and FTA Director Vincent Gitz contributed as a panelist.

Ambassador Hoogeveen introduced the session with a wake-up call for forests, the planet, and the people living on it. Science could play a crucial role in forming a clear message for the United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), and youth could also play a role in this, he suggested. Governments know that forests are important, the ambassador said, but they are often more focused on other pressing issues. Forests, therefore, must be placed among these most pressing of issues. One approach may be for science to make the business case for forests, which would encourage private sector involvement.

From the perspective of FTA, Dr. Gitz emphasized that science is promoting cross-sectoral coordination in three ways. First, science uncovers and shows links, relations and solidarities between sectors, in a way that cannot be ignored. Second, science cannot be disconnected from implementation. Science and research can provide evidence for stakeholders to understand the forces at play, and the suitability of options and solutions according to different contexts. Third, by the very process of constructing evidence, and in a solution oriented way, science and research create favourable conditions for coordination between sectors.

Fellow panelist Prof. Kleinschmit noted that deforestation was a challenge for science, as the causes and effects are complex, and analysis and finding solutions can be difficult. She highlighted the need to orchestrate and integrate scientific expertise with other forms of expertise in order to create solutions and policies that are sensitive to context. Prof. Cohn explained how evidence-based supply-chain initiatives could have a role in reducing deforestation, and tropical forest goods and services could contribute to development. Like Ambassador Hoogeveen, he also discussed the business case for forest conservation.

Dr. Pacheco highlighted the importance of the coproduction of knowledge, saying that research must be credible, legitimate and relevant — for science to be usable, we must adjust to the needs of stakeholders. We can build on new forms of governance, he suggested, and upon multistakeholder platforms on sustainability. Finally, Dr. Stewart discussed how those in the private sector define sustainability: a long-term supply of what they need. He pointed to the need for ways to better determine the value of different types of capital such as natural capital and intellectual capital, and suggested that forest and land management practices be reoriented so that we use only the interest on the natural capital, rather than the capital itself which is very often the case today.

Rice fields are seen in an agroforestry area of Lampung, Indonesia. Photo by N. Sujana/CIFOR

The panel concluded that there is a need to look at the interface between forests and other sectors, including how to link small projects with broad international commitments. If a disconnect exists between science and political dialogue, science needs to critically look at internationally agreed upon targets, and if actions are going in the right direction as well as creating strong alignment among targets. In fact, there has been considerable movement, especially in CGIAR, toward the improved alignment of science with targets determined at global and national levels. The SDGs are instrumental in that sense.

IUFRO underscores the importance of platforms bringing together science with policymakers, the private sector and other stakeholders. Such platforms are key for increasing mutual understanding, aligning research priorities with the needs of stakeholders, enhancing uptake and implementation. There are many examples of substantive, transformative knowledge available in research that can be transferred and scaled up for greater impact.

FTA gives priority support to research that engages with stakeholders from the ground up, including civil society and the private sector. This engagement is multifold — on work priorities, problem statements, research questions, elaboration of research protocols and the best use and uptake of results. Creating mechanisms that engage research with stakeholders is also needed because much of the evidence and data are in the hands of stakeholders: communities and the private sector.

At both IUFRO and FTA, we believe that the very process of constructing evidence in a solution-oriented way can be a pathway for increased coordination between sectors. Science itself needs to be cross-sectoral in its approaches, as this can facilitate various sectors getting on board. We expect that the implementation of the SDGs will encourage such approaches.

By IUFRO Vice President John Parrotta and FTA Director Vincent Gitz. 

For more details about the Halting Deforestation conference, view the conference program or watch recordings of the plenary sessions.

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

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  • Woman on a mission: Pushing for rights and a seat at the decision-making table

Woman on a mission: Pushing for rights and a seat at the decision-making table

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A woman plants gnetum in Lekié, Cameroon. Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
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A woman plants gnetum in Lekié, Cameroon. Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

Rural women face a range of challenges across the environmental sector, including in forestry and agriculture. This has motivated the African Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests (REFACOF) to improve the situation by securing women’s tenure rights to land and forests.

Ahead of International Women’s Day, the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’s (FTA) Gender Research Coordinator Marlène Elias sat down with REFACOF President Cécile Ndjebet to discuss the network’s successes and challenges, as well as her views on the role of FTA research in supporting transformative change for REFACOF members, their communities, and their environments.

Elias and Ndjebet spoke on the sidelines of the recent ‘Working across Sectors to Halt Deforestation and Increase Forest Area – from Aspiration to Action’ conference, organized by the Collaborative Partnership on Forests on Feb. 20-22, 2018. FTA supported the coordination of 10 of the total 16 thematic sessions at the conference, including leading the organization of a session on stakeholders, for which Ndjebet was a panelist, and co-organizing a session on science and research.

Cameroon-based Ndjebet is an agronomist and social forester who has been involved for many years in gender mainstreaming and advocating for women’s rights. She coordinates REFACOF – which was created in 2009 with 10 countries, and now covers 17 across Central Africa, West Africa and Madagascar – in the push for greater consideration of women’s activities and in aiming to influence policies and practices for greater gender equality.

Read more: FTA at CPF international conference

Watch: Cecile Ndjebet mobilizes mangrove restoration project on Cameroon coast

What does your network aim to achieve for the environment and for women’s lives?

Women’s lives and humanity depend on the quality of our environment. In our network, we aim to improve the environment as a whole, but we also think we should contribute to climate change mitigation, so we address climate change issues and try to improve the livelihoods of communities.

We want to improve the quality of the environment through activities in the field, on the ground, through the enabling environment, policies and legal arrangements, and with the development of livelihood activities. If we aim at improving the environment so we can address climate change, we need to contribute to decreasing deforestation and forest degradation but we also need to improve our agricultural practices and techniques. Of course, we also need to work with other actors to combine our efforts and tools.

A rural landscape is pictured on the outskirts of Yaounde, Cameroon. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

For example, women in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana or the Gambia are very much engaged in tree planting. They are working to improve the forest area, the forest surface, mangroves; they are involved in sustainable agricultural practices; they are also involved in education, information sharing and training among themselves.

Those who have more expertise in particular areas or issues train others. They also mobilize communities in general (men, women and youth) to increase consideration and awareness of the issues of climate change.

Read more: Women left on sidelines of decisions about forest management

What challenges have you confronted and what have been your successes?

Let me start with successes. The first one is having women on board – making sure women participate physically where decision-making occurs. We have started in a few countries, especially in REDD+ processes, to understand that if women are absent, things will fall on them. So we organize women at the very local level, subnational and national level to take part in REDD+ processes in some countries. We have realized that when women are part of decision-making processes they can really have a voice. They can voice their issues, and advocate and lobby to have their issues taken into account.

We have succeeded in influencing the way things are done. Now in the countries where we are, even the government knows that REFACOF said: “we need at least 30 percent women – please make sure women are on board”. You can see it in REDD+ documents like Readiness Preparation Proposals, national strategy documents, emission reduction documents. This is something we are really proud of and have to encourage: having women on board during decisions, planning, and implementation.

A market gardener is pictured near Lake Bam in Burkina Faso. Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

I would also like to share what we are doing with traditional chiefs and parliamentarians. To contribute to reforms in some countries, we needed to build strategic alliances. We understood that the challenges women are facing are not always because of a lack of policies or bad policies. Sometimes policies are neutral: they do not themselves exclude women. We do need more specific women-oriented policies, but the problem also lies in the practices, and these are linked to our cultural behavior.

So we understood this and realized that it was very important for us to work with traditional chiefs. We have started showing them where problems lie with customary law and where it is important for them to bring changes, because if women have secure access to land and to forests and forest resources, this will bring more value to all they are doing, and it is families and society that will benefit from that.

Then, we participated in forest and land reform processes. Of course, nothing is completely done, but at least we have succeeded in working with parliamentarians. When we submitted our advocacy document, we asked them to support it because the parliament is a key body in our country – drafting laws and making sure the law has a meaning for us. We have succeeded in doing that. Building on strategic alliances is key for women to achieve the change we are aiming at.

But we have challenges. The first one is insecure tenure, and the second one is funding. Women are doing a lot with so little and even that little is difficult to have and to mobilize. Women need resources to get more engaged, to improve our environment, to address climate change – and that is really lacking.

Also, when policies are neutral, most of the time women are left out at the time of implementation. So we have to work for gender-responsive policies and legal regulations to have ‘men and women’ clearly stated in the policy. If we only say ‘all Cameroonians, all citizens’, with our traditional way of doing things the women will be left behind. But if the policy says men and women, we only have to sensitize our male partners to this – and ask where the women are. It makes it less complex.

Read more: ACM levels the playing field for women and men in forest-adjacent communities

What role can FTA research play in supporting REFACOF and efforts to improve women’s lives and the environment?

Children collect bananas in Cameroon. Photo by Terry Sunderland/CIFOR

I have a lot of expectations from researchers. Research should work to document what women are doing and share it worldwide. Our actions are local, but the impact is very high. If we put all the actions together, the impact is huge. If I have 200 women’s associations and each one restores 1 hectare of forest, we are at 200 hectares.

We need research to look at the social aspects of reforestation and the role of rural women: How can we document and value that role and what are the rewards? I would be very happy to see rural women recognized very openly at this type of conference, and that their role in addressing climate change in a specific area is recognized.

I went to Guatemala and met members of women’s associations and networks there. When I was talking with those rural women, I realized that whether African, Asian or Latin American, women are the same. They are facing the same challenges, the same problems. So how can we make it possible for them to share what they are experiencing across countries, across regions? Research can document, value and promote these experiences — and share worldwide. We need research to understand the why and the how of women’s involvement in environmental protection activities.

We also need research to help women technically, to succeed with what they are doing. When they plant trees, sometimes the survival rate is very low because of the techniques and tree species they are using. Research could look at how to improve the techniques and materials to ease women’s work.

Something very important is linking women at local, national, regional and global levels. Women’s situations are improving because we have networks like REFACOF and others in our regions. REFACOF is aiming at having a rural women’s platform that can take the lead on activities or concerns or issues at this type of forum. Not only talking on their behalf, but REFACOF can build women’s capacities in leadership, negotiation and advocacy so they can bring their issues to the highest level possible, at global level debates.

We are looking forward to the implementation of the newly adopted UN Strategic Plan for Forests (2017-2030), and hoping that rural women will have a place and a share in the implementation of the work program that will be developed.

Read more: Gender equality and social inclusion

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


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