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  • FTA Highlight No. 3 - Conservation of Tree Biodiversity and Sustainable Forest Management

FTA Highlight No. 3 – Conservation of Tree Biodiversity and Sustainable Forest Management

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FTA communications

Millions of people in the tropics derive benefits through the management of tree species diversity, and from the genetic variation within these species, in forests and farmland. People depend on trees for food, medicine, fuel, tools, fodder for livestock and shade.

Conserving and sustainably managing forest biodiversity, including forest genetic resources (FGRs), is critically important.  Trees provide ecosystem services such as soil and water conservation, carbon sequestration, pollination, and mitigation of the effects of natural pest predators.

Insights on diversity are critical to understanding the domestication and dispersal of tree species, managing their genetic resources and setting conservation priorities.

Previously, conservation of FGRs centred on in situ approaches, and in particular in national parks and forest reserves. The design and location of these conservation areas are rarely driven by genetic principles. FTA has characterized the genetic diversity of tree species to assist both conservation actions and sustainable management.

Data on tree species supports management of FGRs and resilient forest landscapes, including in the Amazon.

As part of “FTA’s highlights of a decade,” a new series focusing on the programme main results since inception in 2011, FTA is now publishing the volume on Conservation of Tree Biodiversity and Sustainable Forest Management. The publication outlines the relevance and impact of FTA’s work in this research domain at the global level and how it contributed to shape some of the key stakeholders’ agendas.

It illustrates how FAO’s Global Plan of Action to implement a global monitoring system for FGRs benefitted from FTA’s support, integrating our analysis of vulnerability of tree species. FTA also contributed to FAO’s State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture. Biodiversity’s role in supporting both environmental and dietary sustainability are summarized in a global report.

As a result of FTA’s work, the 12th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) called for increased attention to native species and their genetic diversity in conservation and restoration.

FTA scientists have also designed various approaches to track forest degradation. Although the issue receives considerable global attention in policy processes, there is no generally accepted way to define or measure it. FTA provided better understanding of the complex dynamics at play, paving the way for improved policies to address the phenomenon at different scales.

Participatory monitoring approaches reviewed by FTA scientists found that information produced through collaborative learning was used more often in decision making related to forest management than evidence-based information was.

The publication discusses a number of case studies and arguments for better understanding FGRs in the global context.

FTA’s work in Guatemala in community forestry has shown it can reconcile management with conservation of both forests and FGRs, while providing livelihood benefits. In Burkina Faso research has shown how gender norms affect tenure patterns related to the highly valuable tree species Parkia biglobosa or néré. FTA researchers also studied how to increase women’s participation in inclusive management of native fruit trees in Malaysia and India.

In northwestern Peru and southern Ecuador, local ecological knowledge showed great potential in selecting tree species that need to be conserved or restored. Collaborations with local and indigenous people have been critical in understanding biodiversity dynamics at the intraspecific level.

Although adequate genetic diversity is a precondition for successful forest landscape restoration (FLR), restoration projects worldwide typically use seed and seedlings of limited genetic diversity. FTA provides tools for better better integrating FRGs in FLR.

The publication illustrates the relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem services, and between biodiversity and carbon. It points to how trees on farms (TonF) make a critical contribution to biodiversity conservation in agricultural landscapes, especially with the current shift from collection of NTFPs to agroforestry systems, which requires an assessment of all the benefits that rural people obtain from various tree species.

Finally, the publication analyzes the links between logging (selectively managed vs illegal) and forest biodiversity and spotlights the Tropical managed Forests Observatory (TmFO), an FTA innovation that brings together 18 research institutions in a global network that cross-correlates and analyses data from tropical logged forests over 600 sites. The TmFO database helps users understand the long-term effects of deforestation and forest change on ecosystems.

FTA also contributed to setting up the Global Timber Tracking Network, which promotes the use of innovative tools to identify tree species and determine the geographic origin of traded wood, such as analyses of DNA samples from timber to detecting potential illegal logging.

Download the publication to find out more about FTA’s work on biodiversity and how critically important it is to conserve and sustainably manage forest biodiversity (including forest genetic resources, or FGRs) to address climate change issues, food and nutrition security, livelihood opportunities and forest ecosystem resilience.

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  • New kid on the block in Indonesia’s timber export industry

New kid on the block in Indonesia’s timber export industry

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Women assemble a sofa in Jepara, Central Java, Indonesia. Photo by M. Usman/CIFOR
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Women assemble a sofa in Jepara, Central Java, Indonesia. Photo by M. Usman/CIFOR

Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) licensing is like an anak sholeh — a good and pious child — according to several speakers at a recent national policy dialogue held in Jakarta, Indonesia.

From forests to workshops, marketplaces and homes, Indonesia’s timber products form a long and complex supply chain, which FLEGT is helping to regulate and strengthen.

The country’s timber exports are valued at US$11 billion annually. Thanks to its timber legality verification system known as SVLK and the subsequent issuance of FLEGT, with which businesses can export timber and wood products to the European Union with greater ease, the government expects furniture exports to increase significantly.

Indonesia is the only country in the world to have implemented the licensing so far, giving its furniture a competitive advantage in an increasingly discerning market as consumers pay more attention to the issues of a green environment, illegal logging, deforestation and sustainable production.

Watch: Policy dialogue: CIFOR cohosts FLEGT talks in Jakarta

Speakers pose with tokens of appreciation made from SVLK-certified wood following one of the sessions at the National Policy Dialogue in Jakarta. Photo by M. Edliadi/CIFOR

However, issues remain in the widespread implementation of FLEGT in Indonesia, especially among small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

The recent policy dialogue, cohosted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) on July 13, tackled the topic of FLEGT licensing and supporting SMEs to access global markets.

The dialogue brought together scientists, government representatives, local furniture producers and community leaders to discuss challenges for SMEs to meet FLEGT requirements; a strategy to maximize the impacts of the license on SMEs; and the role of province and district governments to ensure the legality of SME production.

Read more: Indonesia’s timber going green – and global

Ida Bagus Putera Parthama, Director General of Sustainable Forest Management at Indonesia’s Forestry and Environment Ministry, said the initiative stemmed from an effort to eliminate illegal logging, and a desire to “stop the stigma attached to Indonesia about illegal wood.”

He described the license as “a good boy that the whole country has been waiting for” and said “everyone should support it.”

“The final outcome we expect from the system is to increase our market share, competitiveness of products, revenue for communities and in the end improve the livelihoods of those involved,” Parthama explained.

Charles-Michel Geurts, deputy head of the EU Delegation to Indonesia and Brunei, speaks at the National Policy Dialogue in Jakarta. Photo by M. Edliadi/CIFOR

Charles-Michel Geurts, deputy head of the EU Delegation to Indonesia and Brunei, concurred. “The world is looking to Indonesia,” he said. “Anak sholeh is a role model; everybody likes him [and] wants to adopt him.”

However, some business people voiced concerns. Jepara Small-Scale Furniture Producers Association (APKJ) representative Sulthon Muhamad Amin said that while medium and large companies may not be lumbered with the requirements, the costs associated with the licensing were too onerous for small-scale workshops. Thus, some still preferred to partner with exporters in the local market rather than become exporters themselves.

Sulthon later said small businesses must change this mindset. However, he questioned how this could happen, stating that many small-scale businesses had never heard of FLEGT.

Despite dissemination efforts, local administrations must be more proactive in providing assistance to small businesses, Sulthon said. “If an SME is like a small boy being led by a mother, it doesn’t mean he can be given the information and then left alone.”

Read more: Brexit rattles Indonesia’s timber trade prospects with Europe

FTA scientist Herry Purnomo of CIFOR speaks at the National Policy Dialogue. Photo by M. Edliadi/CIFOR

FTA scientist Herry Purnomo of CIFOR, whose work looks at furniture value chains, said SLVK promoted a balance between economic progress and environmental conservation. The system was not only driven by the EU’s system, he explained, as advancing people’s economies through participation and in an environmentally friendly manner was also mandated by the country’s Constitution.

In line with this, sustainable value chains and investments to support forest conservation and equitable development are a key part of FTA’s work.

Purnomo also echoed Sulthon’s thoughts, saying small-scale businesses faced different issues to big companies. Thus, local administrations should be more active in maximizing the benefits of FLEGT licenses for SMEs.

“We should also think about the domestic market, not only about the EU market,” Purnomo added. “Maybe we need to use SVLK more in domestic procurement processes.”

Taking note of Indonesia’s status as the first country to have FLEGT licenses, the scientist said environmental awareness would continue to grow, including in other emerging markets across the region such as Korea and Singapore. “Later it will be very difficult for us to catch up.”

For business people, exporters and consumers, FLEGT is a new kid on the block worth getting to know.

By Hannah Maddison-Harris, FTA Communications and Editorial Coordinator. 

Related publications

This work forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). We would like to thank all donors who supported this work through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.

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  • Illegal logging: A Russian nesting doll

Illegal logging: A Russian nesting doll

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Photo by Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR.
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Photo by Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR.
Photo by Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR.

By Pablo Pacheco, Paolo Cerutti and Robert Nasi, originally posted at CIFOR’s Forests News

Illegal logging might appear to be a simple story: A bad guy chopping down trees to make a big profit without obtaining any permission from local authorities or local communities, thus causing great harm to both people and the environment.

For most urban dwellers, particularly Westerners, cliché images come to mind of far-away scorched forests and scores of proud indigenous men, women and children, together with magnificent animals, left homeless by this brutal act.

And someone, somewhere, living la dolce vita on a hefty bank account hidden away in some fiscal paradise, along with content, corrupt public officials benefitting from bribes that have allowed the transport and trade of this illegal timber.

Illegal logging, however, is far more complex than this simple narrative! The tale above might be a popular one, but it is misinformed. Before measures can be taken to curb illegal logging, a lot of preliminary work is needed to further assess the activity’s causes, complex dynamics, impacts and trade-offs.

That was the mission behind a new report conducted by a team of more than 40 scientists led by Professor Daniela Kleinschmit. The report was launched at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP13) in Cancun, Mexico, in December 2016. It was published as a Rapid Response Assessment under the auspices of the International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO) and the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF).

The report sheds light on several layers of complexity surrounding illegal logging, helping us clarify where and when interventions are needed to combat it, as well as to identify cases where preventive cures can be applied.

Illegal logging is not a simple straightforward issue; rather it is like a Russian doll containing layers within layers. If we concentrate only on the exterior, we are unlikely to understand what is happening and to make a real difference.

Below, we share our insights as we peel back some of those layers (in no order of importance):

Photo by Sofi Mardiah/CIFOR.
Photo by Sofi Mardiah/CIFOR.


Definitions are important. So, let’s peel off the first layer. Research has shown that under the banner of illegal logging exist two very different groups of people: those living in and near forests who harvest trees to maintain or improve their livelihoods, and those entering forests without proper permits and authorization to cut and sell valuable timber at a profit.

Many interactions exist between these two groups. Often, the latter group buys timber harvested by the former group. ‘Small fish’ vs. ‘big fish’, or need vs. greed, with the latter almost systematically exploiting the former.

We can equate the ‘small fish’ to the local populations (traditional farmers, local immigrants, indigenous people). They often have access to small-sized plots, and in some cases, they control collective lands and make use of artisanal tools to harvest trees and to process timber (i.e. axes, hand or chainsaws).

Some among these ‘small fish’ may evolve into specialized loggers, but they will be considered ‘informal’ players because their activities are generally invisible to national economies. No matter what we call them, in the vast majority of cases, it is almost impossible for these local forest users to harvest timber legally.

This is because the current laws only pertain to a particular model of forest harvesting: industrial, large-scale and resource-intensive logging destined for international timber markets. So, calling these forest users ‘illegal’ loggers would infer that they are willing to break laws when in fact, these laws rarely exist.

For this reason, let’s be clear about who should be the target of efforts to curb illegal logging. We must recognize that there are both ‘big fish’ and ‘small fish’ involved. The report urges more research to be done on the networks of illegal logging and the various diverse players involved.

If you are someone with decision-making power and you are in a rush, or under pressure to act on illegal logging, at least apply this precautionary principle: make sure you avoid harming the livelihoods of smallholders, artisanal loggers and their families. They aren’t the criminals. They either lack the means to comply with the current, convoluted regulations, or the laws do not apply to their particular form of timber harvesting.


We require accurate numbers about the ratios and volumes of illegal logging. Estimates are needed per sector, product, species, region and country, as well as for the whole international timber market. And we need them to be as precise and as detailed as possible, in order to avoid mixing up the ‘big fish’ and ‘small fish’.

Many countries now collect primary data about timber harvesting, processing and exports, but this data is often incomplete, recorded in multiple units (a problem that gets more significant as the types of products increase), and by different ministries. Even when this data exists, it is often hard to access since a thick layer of secrecy generally surrounds it.

Because smallholders and artisanal loggers often do not officially exist in the national statistics or, worse, they are considered criminals in the eyes of the law, in most timber-producing countries their activities are simply not recorded. In this way, they remain invisible.

But considering local forest users as criminals is an excuse for thousands of public officials, including the police and armed forces, to continue (illegally, of course) to collect millions in bribes from smallholders and artisanal loggers.

So now let’s peel off a second layer. There is an uncontested need for better data on the timber that is being produced and exported. Luckily, a few efforts are already underway like the Independent Market Monitoring run by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO).

There is also an urgent need for data on timber that is produced and consumed domestically. Limiting information to export markets would greatly hamper our capacity to understand and find solutions for the thousands of smallholders and artisanal loggers supplying timber to domestic markets, which research has shown tend to be even more dynamic than export-destined markets.

Many important problems like deforestation and forest degradation, distributional issues linked to timber markets, and associated social effects such as elite capture and corruption, are related to timber harvesting that supplies these two different markets. Both markets are strongly connected, and comprise a mix of both legally and illegally-sourced timber.

Although the illegal logging sector is hidden by its very nature, more comprehensive, transparent and interconnected knowledge about the legal logging sector would help shed light on the dark spots that will result from its assessment from production zones to end-markets.

After all, logs need to be transported by large trucks, boats and containers (accompanied by hefty financial transactions) before they can become complex consumer products like furniture. Often, the best way to hide illegal logs is in plain sight, among incomplete or altered data on legal timber transactions.


This will likely constitute our most contentious reflection, and it is the most difficult one to write about. When we conduct research about artisanal loggers, it reveals different ways in which these people conduct their work- something that can be used against them, leading to further criminalisation and loss of jobs and livelihoods. Yet, if the previous layers have diligently been peeled off (including the clarity of objectives and better data), we can unravel one additional layer of the complex illegal logging Russian nesting doll.

In most countries, notably timber-producing ones, forest crimes are not crimes at all. This means that illegal forest acts (of which illegal logging is just one) are not actually sanctioned under criminal law. This severely hampers national and international efforts to fight this behavior because it greatly limits the tools that law enforcers can use.

Why is it so difficult to incorporate illegal logging into criminal law? Based on the findings of the report, two key points come to mind.

First, it is high time to break the silos that are usually applied to forest or environmental management in national politics. For unfathomable reasons, there seems to be an unspoken agreement that forests as a policy issue belongs to the ministry in charge of forest and/or environment. No one else has a say in it.

And so these ministries feel entitled to take final, and often obscure, decisions on everything including: who has the right to access the land and resources, what constitutes the best land-cover and land-use, technical specifications applied to activities on those lands, payments that can or cannot occur, the monitoring of activities (or, in most cases, lack thereof) and, ultimately, even the sanctioning of activities and the negotiation of sanctions.

Only rarely are the ministries best placed to take these decisions consulted or integrated into the decision-making process. Ministries of agriculture, territorial administration, mines, finance and, of course, justice, are rarely part of the “forest game”. This is unfortunate, as they have an important role to play that stretch beyond the current capacities and mandate of forest-related ministries.

Secondly, timber is not an edible product. This dramatically alters the behavioural consequences of consumers. Despite the shocking images that NGOs use in their campaigns against illegal logging, buyers along the timber value chain (processing companies, retailers, wholesalers, and final consumers) pay less attention to an illegal piece of wood than they would to food or medicine produced illegally that could have harmful effects on their health.

However, if we care about the long-term health of humanity on this planet, we should start asking more questions about origin and production processes when we purchase timber products. Request immediate, clear and transparent responses, or else move onto another shop that can provide them. This will help make life better for both smallholders and those fighting the war against illegal logging

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