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

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FTA communications

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

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

The FTA Highlights Series:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volume 1 – Introduction

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

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

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

The dot in the figure below represents our current situation.

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

 Making complex pathways easy to grasp

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download infographics

Vincent Gitz, FTA Director

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A new partnership for more sustainable and equitable food systems

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

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

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

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

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

Replay full event here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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