Notice: Undefined index: id in /home/ft4user/ on line 3
  • Home
  • Strength in numbers: How the Global Landscapes Forum connects the land use community

Strength in numbers: How the Global Landscapes Forum connects the land use community

Notice: Undefined variable: id_overview in /home/ft4user/ on line 64
Posted by


The idea… sounded simple

Why don’t we bring together the key actors in land use to address urgent challenges and find solutions?

The starting point…was complicated

From 2007 to 2012, there was a stark division between the forest and the agricultural community. This found its expression in two separate special days, held on the sidelines of the UNFCCC COPs over several years.

Forest Day, was launched in 2007 at COP 13 in Bali, Indonesia, and Agriculture and Rural Development Day at COP 15 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The next Global Landscapes Forum: Peatlands Matter will take place on 18 May in Jakarta, Indonesia. Click here for more information

The solution… had to be promoted

Advocates on both sides of the—imaginary—trench started to harness the growing acceptance of integrated landscape approaches to merge the two into one bigger event. The landscape approach has been recognized as a useful framework for integrating measures to boost agricultural productivity and rural livelihoods, and the protection of forests, water and biodiversity. Landscape approaches embrace compromise amongst competing social, environmental, political and economic demands to produce multiple benefits from limited resources.

The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) leveraged its role as the lead center of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) to drive this concerted effort.

A first effort was made during COP 18 in Doha, when Forest Day was held back-to-back with the first ALL Day, under the shared theme of “Living Landscapes.”

The outcome… was impressive

The first Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Warsaw 2013 succeeded in introducing the landscapes approach to more than 1,200 climate and development policy makers. By focusing on breaking the silos that continue to exist between land use sectors, the Forum brought together more than 60 international organizations working in forestry, agriculture, mountains and watershed management, land use planning and human development.

After four years, the GLF, a well-known acronym among the hundreds of partners, has been established “as the global platform leading the debate on sustainable land use and forestry.”

FTA has co-financed all GLFs. FTA partners such as CIFOR, the World Agroforestry Centre, CIAT, CIRAD, CATIE and Bioversity International have been key actors throughout the years, hosting discussion forums and side events as well as sharing information and advocating in their communities of practice.

The reward… international recognition

In November 2016 at the UNFCCC COP 22 in Marrakesh, the German government committed to host the GLF for the next four years.

In Marrakesh, more than 5,500 people from 95 countries connected in person and online to forge solutions to the planet’s greatest climate and development challenges through sustainable land use.

The high point of the event was the commitment by the German government and GLF partners to support the long-term future of the Forum and its vision of reaching one billion people.

The history

Before this, the GLFs in Warsaw (2013), Lima (2014) and Paris (2015) had created strong momentum for productive cooperation between different sectors, agencies, governments and private businesses. The GLF is usually structured around five themes: Restoration; Financing; Rights; Measuring Progress; and Food and Livelihoods.

In 2015 and 2016 a second GLF, called The Investment Case, was held in London to focus on how to finance sustainable land use and landscapes.

The Investment Case brought together experts from the financial services industry with leaders from the corporate sector, government and academia to take investments into sustainable landscapes “to the next level”. It is meant to be a platform for experts to explore the role of private finance in enhancing livelihoods and landscapes across the globe. FTA is one of three supporters of this event.

Presenting FTA research…

In principle, practically all that was discussed at the GLFs pointed directly to FTA research, and many scientists presented FTA research:

… and more

From the start, GLF was conceived as a platform and avoided monopolizing the agenda for core FTA research coming from CIFOR as the lead Center. More and more partners outside of the research arena were encouraged to collaborate and bring in their issues and solutions: governments, business, civil society and development agencies.

Many CGIAR Centers outside of FTA (e.g. ILRI, IFPRI, CIP), and CGIAR Research Programs (CCAFS, WLE) participated in the GLF to drive home their message of integrated solutions to issues such as deforestation, global warming, sustainable and inclusive value chains, food security, water, indigenous people’s rights, gender and a greener economy.

And now?

Today, the GLF has become the world’s largest and only science-led multi-sectoral platform designed to produce and disseminate knowledge and accelerate action to build more resilient, climate friendly, diverse, equitable and productive landscapes. Its platforms connect diverse stakeholders; provide learning opportunities; allows people to gather and share knowledge; and accelerate action to produce sustainable solutions to complicated problems.

For 2017, four GLF events are planned: A Peatlands Matter conference in Jakarta on 18 May, a Restoration conference in Cameroon in September, an Investment Case conference in New York in October, and a Global Forum in Bonn in December.

By Kerstin Reisdorf, FTA Communications. 

Notice: Undefined index: id in /home/ft4user/ on line 3
  • Home
  • Altitude Matters: How elevation affects carbon and biodiversity in a warming world

Altitude Matters: How elevation affects carbon and biodiversity in a warming world

Notice: Undefined variable: id_overview in /home/ft4user/ on line 64
Drenched in rain and humidity, the massif is around 1,000 meters high and covered in an ancient forest that ranges from lowland to submontane cloud forest. Photo by: Christelle Gonmadje/CIFOR
Posted by


Environmental conditions vary with altitude, affecting temperature, soil type, rainfall and humidity. Photo credit: Ollivier Girard/Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

By Kate Evans, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Cameroon – In the south of Cameroon where the Congo Basin meets the Atlantic Ocean, there is a range of hills called the Ngovayang Massif.

Drenched in rain and humidity, the massif is around 1,000 meters high and covered in an ancient forest that ranges from lowland to submontane cloud forest. It is home to gorillas, chimpanzees, panthers, giant pangolins, and porcupines, as well as various rare bird species.

Very little was known about Ngovayang’s plant life until Christelle Gonmadje from the University of Yaounde and the French Agricultural Research Center for International Development (CIRAD) spent five months per year there over the span of her three-year PhD research, listening to gorillas growl and monkeys hoot as she set out 15 one-hectare permanent plots.

Across the Ngovayang Massif, Gonmadje identified 1,491 plant species, including 224 of high conservation value. She found 18 species endemic to this range of hills, which are found nowhere else.

“It is one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world,” she says. “In terms of species richness, it’s very important – perhaps one of the most important sites in Central Africa.”

In collaboration with scientists from a handful of other institutions, including the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Gonmadje also measured the above-ground biomass in the forest and analyzed its variation with altitude.

Drenched in rain and humidity, the massif is around 1,000 meters high and covered in an ancient forest that ranges from lowland to submontane cloud forest. Photo by: Christelle Gonmadje/CIFOR

Above-ground biomass refers to the total quantity of living matter found in the trees (but not in their roots or the soil). Biomass is crucial to helping scientists and policy makers determine how much carbon is stored in a particular forest.

Gonmadje and colleagues found that in Ngovayang, the above-ground biomass decreases at higher altitudes, driven by a change in the kinds of plants found at different heights.


The study is important, says Terry Sunderland, a senior scientist at CIFOR who also worked on the paper. This is because permanent plot studies in tropical forests have tended to focus on the lowlands.

“What Christelle’s research has shown, is that you can’t make huge generalizations about biomass in tropical rainforest without taking into account the contribution of altitude,” he says.

Environmental conditions vary with altitude – temperature, soil type, rainfall, humidity – and this influences what grows there.

“When you walk from the lowland to the high altitude, some species disappear, because they are not adapted to those conditions,” Gonmadje says. “So the bigger tree species disappear, and you have a shift in species composition.”

Fewer big tree species means less biomass and less carbon – at least above ground. A few other studies have found that at higher altitudes, a higher proportion of a tree’s biomass is stored underground.

Having accurate data on how carbon is stored in forests of different kinds is important for countries like Cameroon that hope to benefit from international efforts to mitigate climate change by reducing deforestation, such as REDD+.

Christelle Gonmadje and her team in the field doing research. Photo credit: Christelle Gonmadje/CIFOR

“To be competitive in carbon trading markets or REDD+ initiatives, countries which have tropical forests need to demonstrate that they have reduced their carbon emissions, and that means they need accurate knowledge of the quantity of carbon stock in their forests to start with,” says Gonmadje.

“With this information, policy makers can develop greenhouse gas management and mitigation plans and identify the steps they can take to maintain or increase carbon stocks. You cannot have these benefits if you do not have good, quality data on the biomass and carbon stocks.”


The research also highlights the importance of paying attention to altitude in a warming world.

“As global temperatures change and things get hotter, the altitudinal aspect of tropical ecology is going to play a huge role,” Sunderland says. “What Christelle is showing is basically the importance of plant composition with altitude and how that changes.”

“Coffee, for example, requires a very specific altitudinal and temperature range to grow, and soon it’s going to be too darn hot in the 600 to 1,000-meter range that it is currently grown in, so it’s going to move upward to higher altitudes.”

Many species requiring cooler temperatures will also need to make this shift, he adds. Some, however, won’t be able to adapt and might be lost.

“This will start affecting people everywhere when the price of their coffee goes from the average USD $3 a cup to USD $6. And in the long run, we don’t know which species can adapt, and which will die. It’s going to be a huge problem for many of our agricultural crops. Economically, it’s going to affect us enormously.”

For more information on this topic, please contact Christelle Gonmadje at or Terry Sunderland at

This research was supported by USAID, CIRAD, French Embassy (SCAC)

Notice: Undefined index: id in /home/ft4user/ on line 3
  • Home
  • Getting down and dirty in degraded lands

Getting down and dirty in degraded lands

Notice: Undefined variable: id_overview in /home/ft4user/ on line 64
CIFOR's SWAMP project works at peatlands restoration sites in various parts of Indonesia. Outside Dumai in Riau, one site is now planted with rubber trees, which local residents tap to make additional income. Photo: Deanna Ramsay/CIFOR
Posted by


CIFOR’s SWAMP project works at peatlands restoration sites in various parts of Indonesia. Outside Dumai in Riau, one site is now planted with rubber trees, which local residents tap to make additional income. Photo: Deanna Ramsay/CIFOR

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

Tropical peatlands are massive carbon sinks. But what happens when they are depleted of the water that sustains them, or subject to other land-use changes?

After fires raged in 2015 over Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia, in part due to the widespread draining of peatlands, these wetland ecosystems and their environmental significance catapulted to the center of global discussions.

“Protecting tropical peatlands is essential to combating climate change. By monitoring the emissions from degraded peat and the resulting fires, we now know just how important they are,” says Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) scientist Daniel Murdiyarso.

At one of Murdiyarso’s research sites in Riau – a swath of Sumatra now covered in oil palm – he is looking into what happens after peatlands are drained, burned and then subject to restoration.

But what that restoration looks like varies, as is how it is defined.

CIFOR’s SWAMP project uses a variety of measurements to better understand peatlands, their degradation and their restoration. Photo by Deanna Ramsay/CIFOR


“There have been few studies of restoration of tropical peatlands. Boreal, yes,” he says, an indication of why this work off a bumpy road from Dumai is so important, and cutting-edge.

According to Murdiyarso, the restoration question is a complex one, involving not just ecological processes but also socioeconomic ones that likely led to degradation in the first place.

“We need to involve the local community, and use local initiative in these landscapes,” he says, work that is necessary if we want to protect peatlands and prevent further degradation.

On peatlands in Indonesia – which is home to most of the world’s tropical peat – the first step is to block the canals that had served to drain the land of its moisture, enabling the water table to rise again.

But does this allow the peat to return to its original state?

Dendrometer bands measure tree growth, here on a rubber tree planted on degraded peatland. Photo by Deanna Ramsay/CIFOR

“Re-wetting peatlands has to be combined with re-vegetating the landscape,” Murdiyarso says, adding that the organic materials present in peat are often forgotten amid the bigger restoration picture.

In order to determine how peatlands degrade and how best to rehabilitate them, CIFOR scientists have established research sites in Sumatra and Kalimantan with partners, including the University of Riau, Palangkaraya University and government agencies. The emerging scientific evidence is being used to inform the country’s Peatlands Restoration Agency (BRG), as well as global climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies.


The work comprises a range of data gathering tasks, such as measuring carbon emissions, analyzing soil composition and monitoring tree growth.

A seven-hectare research site outside Tanjung Leban village in Bengkalis district, Riau, has peatland plots ringed by now-blocked canals, with watergates managed by the local community. The land is covered with a mix of peat swamp tree species, oil palm and rubber.

Sofyan Kurnianto, a PhD student at Oregon State University who works with CIFOR, researches water levels in intact and degraded peat.

Peatlands are important carbon sinks, and part of the study of degraded peatlands involves monitoring carbon emissions, as is being done here. Photo by Deanna Ramsay/CIFOR

“Canal blocking will influence how much water the peat can store. The big question among scientists is – after restoration – how much that storage capacity changes,” he says.

Draining and re-wetting causes peat to shrink and expand, resulting in changes in surface elevation. To monitor these kinds of changes, several rod surface elevation tables (RSETs) were installed to monitor subsidence.

And, in a pioneering move, Ground Penetrating Radar was employed. The innovative survey technique involves transmissions to receiving antennas, and is frequently used to study boreal peatlands, but used here in tropical peatlands for the first time.


The work resulted in peat depth mapping of each land-use type, offering valuable information about these rich, muddy landscapes.

In Riau, this groundbreaking research – in both the literal and figurative senses – is developing the science to impact these policy processes and the restoration they steer. Scientists are also training others to continue this necessary monitoring, data analysis and interpretation work.

“Research on peatlands is very important in Indonesia, especially in Riau as it is the dominant landscape. Management is important, and mismanagement will have a big impact on human life and the environment,” said Sigit Sutikno, a professor at the University of Riau who was visiting the research site with his students.

In the shade of trees dripping with fresh rubber, scientists and scientists-in-the-making practiced soil coring, jabbing a spear-like instrument into loamy soil over and over and collecting portions in plastic bags to be taken back to a Bogor laboratory. They measured ground-level carbon stocks, placing a small device into specific plots of peat and noting the results. Dozens of dendrometers were carefully fixed around tree trunks both small and large, with litter traps to collect forest debris adorning the area in bright orange.

Sutikno researches the effectiveness of canal blocking for ground water. His peatland research includes modeling to both estimate and predict peat water levels.

“Hydrological modeling in peatlands is not easy because peatland hydrology is unique,” he says, adding that an important element is understanding how to mitigate the risk of fire.

Charred pieces of wood are scattered about the site in Riau, remnants of fires that burned there years ago. Now planted with rubber trees tapped by nearby residents to earn extra income, and oil palm trees in a plot managed by a local landowner, the restoration that is underway has definitely taken its own shape.

When asked the tricky question of how to define “restored” peatlands, Murdiyarso said simply, “The return of original species and water regimes.”

Whether this is possible is another question, but we know at least one species has returned – humans.

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and was supported by USAID and the US Forest Service.

Notice: Undefined index: id in /home/ft4user/ on line 3
  • Home
  • Collective forest tenure reforms: Where do we go from here?

Collective forest tenure reforms: Where do we go from here?

Notice: Undefined variable: id_overview in /home/ft4user/ on line 64
Photo by Achmad Ibrahim for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
Posted by


Photo by Achmad Ibrahim for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

By Anne Larson, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

The recent World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty, held this past March in Washington D.C., provided a unique opportunity to reflect on collective land tenure reforms not only from a research point of view, but also from that of governments.

The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) organized a South-South Exchange at the Conference, as part of its Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reforms. Seven government officials from Peru, Colombia, Indonesia, Nepal, Uganda and Kenya were invited to participate. These officials represented land offices from Latin America and forestry offices from Africa and Asia.

The Conference speakers and participants provided me with much room for thought on the subject of land tenure reforms, which I will outline below.

Overall, the topic of collective tenure reforms reminded me of that simple chromatography experiment in elementary school where you put black ink on a wet coffee filter and watch the colors of the spectrum emerge and spread.

The black ink represents the idea of forest reforms to recognize or grant rights to communities living in or near forests. Although some developing countries began to address such issues by the early 20th century – such as Mexico, which granted land (including forest land) rights to communities after the 1910-1917 revolution – the ink hit the wet coffee filter in a few key Asian countries (i.e. Nepal and India) in the late 1970s and for most countries after 1980. Others are just beginning to consider community forest rights.

Photo by Manuel Boissière for CIRAD and Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).


The result today is that some countries are still grappling with first-generation questions, while others have moved on to the other colors in the spectrum, including second and third-generation challenges.

The former were exemplified at the Conference in the frustrations of those who have been working on these issues for 10 to 20 years or more, who asked, “Haven’t we come further than this by now?”

But some countries are still questioning what types of rights (content, extent, duration), if any, communities should have over forests and/or forestland.

In fact, it is notable that even in the countries that have moved into second and third -generation questions, this first question is still relevant. It concerns new geographical locations, new rights and the relationship between land and forest rights.

In Colombia, as discussed during CIFOR’s Policy Roundtable at the Conference by Andrea Olaya, Principal Advisor to Colombia’s National Land Agency, this refers to new institutions emerging from the recent peace accords, as well as the demand for land from former combatants and displaced peoples in relation to existing rights.

In Indonesia, it refers to the new “asset agrarian reform”, as stated by Pak Hadi Daryanto, Director General for Social Forestry and Environmental Partnership at the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry. These reforms resulted in the return of the first 13,000 hectares of customary land to nine indigenous communities in January of this year.

Ronald Salazar, Director of Agrarian Property and the Rural Cadaster Office at Peru’s Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, pointed out that the distinction between forest rights and land rights in Peru leads to separate laws and government institutions. This is not uncommon among countries, and follows a logic that people in communities may find baffling, or outright oppose. For instance, indigenous activists in Peru are now demanding that their titles recognize “territorial integrity,” covering not only agriculture and pasture, but also forestlands.

This fundamental question about what rights for communities also concerns rollbacks to rights where new demands, or sometimes political and economic constituencies, threaten rights that had already been recognized, such as those behind economic reforms in Peru or Brazil.


The second-generation questions are about rights protection and livelihoods. Formal rollbacks are not the only challenges to tenure security. Even after formal recognition, communities need access to justice if rights are infringed upon or eliminated.

And even secure rights are not enough to secure livelihoods. As one government official said during a private forum: “Why do we have reforms if not also to improve livelihoods?”

At the Policy Roundtable, Krishna Prasad Acharya, Director General of the Department of Forests at Nepal’s Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation, said there are now 20,000 organized groups in Nepal, and forest area has increased from 39 percent to 44 percent, but more still needs to be done to support forest use and management.

At the same event, Gerardo Segura, Senior Natural Resource Specialist at the World Bank, highlighted the importance of removing barriers to communities for forest management.


Third-generation questions are focused on problems such as community differentiation, gendered outcomes and how to prevent elite capture at the community level – that is, assuring that livelihood improvements reach those most in need.

At the Policy Roundtable, Dr. Prasad noted that women leaders are emerging in community forestry in Nepal. Bob Kazungo, Senior Forestry Officer at Uganda’s Ministry of Water and Environment, spoke of the importance of affirmative action and a gendered approach.

On other panels, speakers expressed concern that reforms may be detrimental to women’s tenure rights. For example, researchers reported cases where rights were registered to men as household heads, whereas under customary systems both men and women had previously held rights.

Emilio Mugo, Director of the Forest Service at Kenya’s Ministry of Environment and Water, asked: “How do we address community leaders who, on the one hand, serve as custodians, but on the other, play the role of gatekeepers?” This question speaks to institutional strengthening as a way to fight elite capture.


The invited officials were quick to distinguish themselves as public servants, from the politicians who define policy direction and priorities. Dr. Mary Goretti Kitutu, Ugandan State Minister for the Environment, introduced herself on the Roundtable as “the only politician here” and stressed the importance of packaging information on tenure and linking it to development, in order to reach politicians. Dr. Daryanto highlighted the importance of having the budgets necessary for implementation.

When asked by the audience how officials should “insulate themselves from politics”, Dr. Mugo reminded them, “Everything you touch in natural resources is political.” This underscores the importance of building a community of practice and coalitions for change.

No country has addressed all forest demands from communities, and most still face competing claims or outright opposition to the recognition of collective forest tenure rights.

On the one hand, these three generations of questions suggest that countries are at different places and thus, research for impact needs to prioritize accordingly.

On the other hand, they highlight the importance of South-South exchanges and knowledge sharing. As some countries begin to address the multi-colored spectrum of challenges, mutual learning can suggest ways to address complex issues such as tenure security, livelihoods and gender from the beginning of reform processes, therefore increasing the potential for success.

For more information on this topic, please contact Anne Larson at
This research was supported by FAO, IFAD, EC and GEF

Notice: Undefined index: id in /home/ft4user/ on line 3
  • Home
  • Profiting from well-chosen tree species: improving the productivity of farming systems in Northwestern Vietnam

Profiting from well-chosen tree species: improving the productivity of farming systems in Northwestern Vietnam

Notice: Undefined variable: id_overview in /home/ft4user/ on line 64
Model exemplar landscape being established in Son la province. Photo: ICRAF
Posted by


By Ivanna Patton, La Nguyen and Ake E Mamo, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World Blog

Northwestern Vietnam is home to the three poorest provinces of the country, with a combined population of 3.4 million people and poverty ranging from 32% to 48% of households  across provinces.  There is a culturally diverse mix of communities comprising 30 ethnic groups but land use is dominated by maize production, largely sold for use as pig feed, on recently deforested slopes that are subject to high degradation rates.

In Son La province, for example, 65 000 ha of natural forest was converted to commercial maize cultivation between 2002 and 2009. In some areas shifting cultivation of upland rice, maize, soybean and cassava is still practiced but population pressures are shortening natural fallow periods, resulting in continuous cultivation with very little attention to erosion control measures exacerbating high economic and environmental risks.

Discounted cash flow (cumulative Net Present Value of agroforestry practices over a maize monoculture) calculated using production data from trials supplemented by information from mature trees and a 10% discount rate.

Most agricultural crops are grown as  monocultures on steep slopes, subject to soil degradation and declining crop yields. It is estimated from soil erosion measurements in farm trials, that typical erosion rates under maize monoculture in Yen Son district were almost 70 t ha-1 yr-1.

Agroforestry practices, involving contour planting of high value fruit and timber trees are a potential option for halting and reversing land degradation, improving ecosystem functions and enhancing the profitability of farming systems.

At the inception of the research reported here, agroforestry did not feature as an option in government policy at provincial or district level, and practical options for integrating trees on farms were not well developed in the region. There were only a few tree nurseries, generally producing germplasm of uncertain quality for a very narrow range of tree species. Farmers were further disadvantaged by low prices for products as a result of poor market access resulting from lack of infrastructure and market information, low and uncertain product quality along value-chains and lack of market links that affected the poorest disproportionately, leaving few livelihood options but subsistence agriculture.

Model exemplar landscape being established in Son la province. Photo: ICRAF

Recognizing the potential of agroforestry, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Vietnam, with support from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and CGIAR research programme on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry implemented a comprehensive 5 year (2011 – 2016) agroforestry research project with local partners to improve the performance of smallholder farming systems in Northwestern Vietnam.

 “We sought to increase the productivity of associated crop and livestock systems, leading to more diverse and sustainable production systems and better income from tree products.” Says Delia Catacutan, Head of the ICRAF Office in Vietnam. “The project took advantage of recent improvements in infrastructure which facilitate market access and increased livelihood opportunities.”

The project titled: ‘Agroforestry for livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Northwest Viet Nam (AFLi) had four specific and interconnected objectives. The first was to develop viable agroforestry practices for three altitudinal zones (<600 m.a.s.l., 600-800 m.a.s.l. and >800 m.a.s.l.), involving active engagement of local people in the design and testing of agroforestry options through on-farm trials.

The second was to improve the availability of high-quality germplasm to enable the expansion of agroforestry, addressing issues of germplasm availability, quality and multiplication. The third objective was to enhance market access and opportunities for adding value to agroforestry products and the fourth was to facilitate policy dialogues and develop extension methods for widescale promotion of agroforestry across the region.

The main assumption underpinning and being tested in this work was that integration of well-chosen tree species into the farming systems and landscapes of Northwestern Vietnam will make production systems more profitable, environmentally sustainable and resilient.

Late-fruiting longan with maize and forage grass system in Yen Bai Province. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/La Nguyen

“We built on existing agroforesty knowledge and ongoing research in North-West Vietnam, and put a strong emphasis on understanding the interactions between trees and livelihoods under different agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions in order to facilitate subsequent dissemination and adoption of agroforestry practices.” Says Dr La Nguyen, Project Leader of AFLi.

The project benefited from FTA’s global network of agroforestry research, specifically through introduction of successful sloping agricultural land technology from the Philippines and research on market development for agroforestry products and extension approaches from Indonesia and Cameroon.

FTA funds also enabled the project to respond both to farmer needs (through adding more diverse, multistrata practices to the range of options being evaluated) and opportunities to engage policy makers (through co-investment with provincial Departments of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARDs) to initiate a network of exemplar landscapes that showcase landscape transformation when agroforestry practices are adopted at scale in a given area).

This complementarity of flexible funds from FTA alongside the programmatic funding from ACIAR was important in ensuring that the research was locally relevant and that outputs were taken up at national and provincial levels.

At the end of the project in 2016, AFLi reported significant outcomes ranging from capacity strengthening, to economic, social and environmental benefits across the farming systems of Northwestern Vietnam.

Capacity outcomes: awareness, knowledge and skills. A key indicator measured against AFLi’s four project objectives is improving farmers’ awareness, knowledge and skills on establishing and managing agroforestry practices, including seedling/germplasm production and marketing. The project trained a significant number of stakeholders (lead farmers, extension staff and researchers) and raised awareness amongst key policy makers, who now provide a critical mass of expertise that can promote agroforestry practices across the region.

More than 2,000 people including farmers, extension workers and research partners were trained on different aspects of agroforestry including agroforestry design, tree pruning, seed and seedling production, and contouring. The introduction of farmer innovations from the Philippines including the pragmatic ‘ox back method’ for laying out contours rather than more cumbersome use of ‘A’ frames and the incorporation of cash crops in vegetation strips designed primarily to control erosion, were particularly valued by farmers.

A monitoring and evaluation survey showed that 73% of farmers in areas where training had been conducted knew the key elements required to implement agroforestry on farms, and were provided with adequate technical support from extension workers to establish agroforestry practices on their farms. The demonstration from the participatory farmer trials that agroforestry practices were a viable option in the region has raised awareness amongst policy makers leading to policy change at provincial and district levels (these are catalogued below), promoting and providing incentives for farmers to adopt agroforestry.

Through the development of a network of exemplar landscapes across the region in conjunction with provincial DARDs, it is anticipated that these trained farmers, research and extension staff will provide a critical nucleus of expertise to underpin widespread promotion of agroforestry – a strategy endorsed through ACIAR funding of a second phase AFLi project with a 60% higher budget than the first phase.

Economic outcomes: income and productivity.  Seven agroforestry options involving different combinations of fruit and timber trees with grass strips and maize were evaluated through participatory on farm trials over 3-4 years indicating higher productivity and profitability compared to maize monoculture. With most practices, net cashflow compared to maize monoculture was initially negative with investment costs greater than immediate returns, becoming positive after five years and then predicted to rise sharply (Figure 1).

For example, with longan-maize-forage intercropping, forage grass was the main income source in the first year, while income from maize started to pick up in the second year, and longan trees started to bear fruits in the third year and produce substantial yields from year five. Average annual incomes from the different agroforestry practices by their third year ranged from 16 to 38 million VND (700 – 1650 USD) ha-1 compared to an average of 12.5 million VND (544 USD) ha-1 for maize monoculture. There is also reduction in soil loss from agroforestry that could be valued at 5.7 million VND (250 USD) ha-1 which is the cost of replacing the NPK lost through erosion by purchasing fertilizer.

Discounted cash flow (cumulative Net Present Value of agroforestry practices over a maize monoculture) calculated using production data from trials supplemented by information from mature trees and a 10% discount rate.

Discounted cash flow (cumulative Net Present Value of agroforestry practices over a maize monoculture) calculated using production data from trials supplemented by information from mature trees and a 10% discount rate.

The trials show the potential for agroforestry to substantially increase household income in the medium term but also indicate that farmers, particularly those in cash-poor households, are likely to need financial assistance to establish agroforestry, that provincial governments are now beginning to provide through incentive schemes and input subsidy (see below). For households with livestock, the use of grass strips provides immediate benefit from the value of livestock fodder, also critical for controlling livestock grazing to prevent damage to establishing trees.

Farmers showed a preference for more diverse agroforestry options involving several tree species, creating more relisient production systems in the face of anticipated price fluctuations for different products. The potential areas suitable for agroforestry expansion are 495,000 ha across Son La, Yen Bai and Dien Bien provinces, and using S-shaped diffusion curves to predict adoption with different assumptions regarding policy incentives and uptake it is estimated that from 128 to 250 thousand households could benefit over a fifteen year period of promotion.

Social outcomes: building social capital and growing markets. A co-investment scheme to support the establishment of exemplar agroforestry landscapes was facilitated by AFLi through building social capital amongst farmers, between farmers and extension workers and researchers, and between project staff and provincial governments.

For example in Na Ban village in Mai Son district, around a third of the farmers initially volunteered to put trees on their farms with technical assistance provided by the Son La extension centre and co-financing from the provincial DARD. This resulted in 50 ha of agroforestry in a landscape about three times that size, creating a showcase for how agroforestry can transform people’s lives and their landscsape. Nearly all the farmers in the landscape are now interested in adopting agroforestry and the provincial DARDs are co-investing in establishing a network of six exemplar landscapes across the region as focal points for promting agroforestry.


The project also facilitated partnership-building with the private sector, to grow the market for son tra (Docynia indica) an indigenous fruit tree which is being domesticated and promoted within the AFLi  project. Farmers can earn high incomes from growing the fruit, but as more farmers adopt improved tree germplasm, supply will increase and market prices would be expected to fall unless the market for the fruit expands. To effect this the project worked with National Institute of Medicinal Material in Hanoi (NIMM) and the Tay Bac Tea and Special Food company to develop non-perishible products from son tra including dried tea and extract that suit the urban market in Vietnam as well as creating the potential for export. The project is now working with the district government of Bac Yen, local farmers and the food company, to secure sustainable supply of quality son tra fruits for the market at attractive prices for producers.

Environmental outcomes: Soil erosion trials have shown that agroforestry is far more effective in controlling soil erosion than monoculture practices.  Compared to maize monoculture system, for example, the longan-maize-forage grass system on the 3rd year, suggest a reduction in soil loss by up to 56%; 23% in teak-plum-coffee-soybeans-forage grass; up to 90% in acacia-longan-coffee-forage grass system; and up to 74% in acacia-mango-maize-forage grass system. Once the trees reached maturity stage and the grass strips have become stable, erosion can be expected to be 90% less to zero. Not to mention improvements in on-farm biodiversity, the more than 60,000 trees of 18 fruit and timber species, planted by farmers in exemplar landscapes and FDTs would have significantly increased tree cover in the landscape with carbon sequestration benefits.

Contributing to change: AFLi research had a key strategy of harnessing volunteerism, co-operation and co-investment in its expansion from trial agroforestry systems to the establishment of on-station and on-farm trials and the management and monitoring of those trials, including research on propagation of priority agroforestry species and small-scale nursery development. And then to enhancing market access for focus species then exploring value-adding opportunities by smallholders and facilitating links between producers and other market actors. The key outputs from the strategy were disseminated through farm cross-visits, farmer field days and training sessions held at the test sites, accompanied by regular impact assessments and policy dialogue.

Research findings were used to inform the communication strategies, policy dialogues, extension and expansion activities through workshops, media products, extension materials and training.  This also involved major dissemination efforts through a network of farmer demonstration trials (FDT) and agroforestry exemplar landscapes to demonstrate large-scale agroforestry adoption. Outcome mapping was used to document the influence of the project on policy processes.

Communication and dissemination through various means (TV shows, videos, fact sheets, conference presentations, photo exhibits, blog stories, policy dialogues and training events) were critical to increasing the project’s visibility.

The project produced seven videos, of which, two were nationally broadcast. It also produced 17 blog stories, eight international and Vietnamese journal articles, four working papers, 20 technical reports, 14 extension materials, a fact sheet, a policy brief, and two information brochures.  Knowledge was also shared across large networks throughout Asia via presentations in major conferences such as: (1) Conservation Agriculture in Southeast Asia; (2) World Agroforestry Congress; (3) Asia-pacific Farmer’s Association; (4) Southeast Asian Network for Agroforestry Education; (5) and ALiSEA (6). Several other projects have made field visits to see the AFLi project achievements as a direct result of the project’s growing popularity, such as those of the SUFORD-SU PROJECT in Laos PDR, the IFAD-Ha Tinh project on Sustainable Rural Development, and the USAID-funded Green Annamites project.

Government policies and alignment: Through documentation of policy dialogues and processes the project outputs can be shown to have been important in the development of several national, provincial and district level policy instruments. These include:

  1. Yen Bai provincial Resolution15/2015/NQ-HDND— with provision for financial support of 6 million VND ha-1 for individual households or group of households, to establish son tra-based agroforestry practices in Tram Tau and Mu Cang Chai districts.
  2. Yen Bai provincial Decision 27/2015/QD-UBND—One time financial support at 1 million VND ha-1 for individual households to establish sustainable maize cultivation on sloping land by planting grasses along contour lines to reduce erosion.
  3. Yen Bai provincial Decision 2412/QD-UBND—Support for “son tra development in Tram Tau and Mu Cang Chai districts for the period, 2016-2020”. This involves Increasing the total area of son tra plantation to 10,000 ha, improving the existing 3,820 ha son tra plantation through use of better germplasm and management, and son tra planting on 6,200 ha of degraded forest land.
  4. Minisrtry of Agricultural and Rural Development (MARD) Decision 2477/QD-BNN-HTQT, at national level which created MARD’s Agroforestry Working Group that was set up to:
  • Advise MARD on agroforestry development in Vietnam
  • Review, improve, and propose agroforestry-related policies
  • Cooperate with local provinces, national and international organizations to research and develop agroforestry options for adaptation and mitigation of climate change
  • Capacity building for national and local staff and mobilizing funding sources for sustainable agroforestry development
  1. MARD’s inclusion of agroforestry in the National Action Plan Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change of the Agriculture and Rural Development Sector (2008-2020).

The enactment of above policies plus alignment with the government’s numerous strategies toward rural development green growth, and climate change adaptation and mitigation (ie, Vietnam’s Green Growth Strategy) has and will continue to stimulate wide-scale adoption of agroforestry in the region and beyond.

Some lessons learned were that wider adoption of agroforestry requires a combination of bottom-up and top-down strategies. Bottom-up work was required to develop feasible options with farmers that suit their circumstances; but top-down action from government to sanction and support agroforestry establishement is required for widescale adoption of agroforestry by famers across landscapes where land use is driven by competing, often incentivized options operating together with land designation and regulation.

AFLi as it stands today brings new insights about how smallholder farmers make decisions related to tree planting and adopting new production systems in changing policy, market and environmental contexts. In addition to the relevance of these results to policy makers and extension services, the research findings also enrich the scientific literature on constraints and opportunities for agroforestry adoption and on drivers of land-use change in general.

AFli further contributes to research on the role of indigenous species for afforestation and mixing with conventional trees and crops in agroforestry systems, such as son tra (Docynia indica). New knowledge generated through the trials on propagation methods of this species, productive combinations with other species and its potential to contribute to soil conservation are cornerstones of its domestication. This combines with new insights from value chain research on the opportunities and limitations for diversifying and strengthening existing livelihood options through adding value to products from remote, disadvantaged rural areas.

Notice: Undefined index: id in /home/ft4user/ on line 3
  • Home
  • More than putting a price tag on the planet

More than putting a price tag on the planet

Notice: Undefined variable: id_overview in /home/ft4user/ on line 64
Putting a price tag on nature, really? Photo: Terry Sunderland/CIFOR
Posted by


Putting a price tag on nature, really? Photo: Terry Sunderland/CIFOR

By Suzanna Dayne, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

How do we calculate the worth of nature? What carries the highest value: the habitat of an endangered species, a local community’s traditional landscape, or a nation’s income from, say, timber exports?

Questions like these are what a team of researchers from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and partner institutions grappled with in their latest study.

The study makes the case for a ‘new school’ of ecosystem valuation practice that allows for the weighing of multiple values in making land-use decisions.

“Ecosystem valuation can be difficult and controversial, and classical economists have often been criticized for trying to put a price tag on nature,” says Dr. Sander Jacobs, a researcher at the Research Institute for Nature and Forest and a lead author of the study.

Jacobs says one of the issues is that when people talk about valuation, they usually think about money. But in ecological economics, the word takes on a much broader meaning.

“Valuing is what we all do, all the time, when making choices,” says Jacobs.

“Valuation in the broad sense is about assigning importance, and in an ecosystem context this means looking at how people value their environment – not only economically but also socially, culturally and ecologically.”

As the world responds to the challenges of climate change, and awareness grows about its severe social and environmental impacts, there is an urgent need to integrate nature’s diverse values more comprehensively and transparently in decisions and actions.

“Agencies in charge of protecting and managing natural resources must often make difficult decisions on land and resource use,” says Jacobs.

“Sometimes environmental and human needs can co-exist, but often there are trade-offs and leaving certain values out of such decisions can have a devastating impact on everyone.”

A timber yard with wood from the amazon, Quito, Ecuador. Photo by Tomas Munita for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).


For decades, there has been strong scientific debate between monetary and non-monetary schools of ecosystem valuation. In order to tackle current global challenges, a growing group of researchers argues that a new approach is needed – one that will balance ecological, socio-cultural and economic concerns, leading to better-informed and fairer decision making.

“We need a new culture, a new take on valuation,” says Jacobs.

“Everyone knows the main approach we have followed is a monetary approach, mainly because there are a lot of tools and methods for this, and there are a lot of economists around. But when confronted with real-life practice, a single-method approach is shown to be flawed. We found that what is needed is a new valuation school that takes a cohesive, inclusive approach, rather than pitching one [method] against the other.”

“We need decision makers to see the economic information and then say, ‘Interesting, but now I also need the social and ecological data to make a full evaluation,’” he adds. “And when you look at the reality – the real-life context where decisions are being made – decision makers are taking into account different values. They just need the balanced information.”


The researchers based their findings on more than two dozen valuation studies, covering subjects ranging from urban planning in France to impacts of fracking in Australia and social struggles in environmental conflicts in Colombia. These were presented together with the complete valuation school study in a special issue of the journal Ecosystem Services, complemented by theoretical underpinnings on valuation and a twin issue on shared values.

A key lesson drawn from the studies is that an integrated valuation approach is more widely accepted by decision makers, while a single-valuation approach – scientifically elegant as it might be – is often disputed, discarded, or simply ignored in practice.

Recent policy initiatives such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which assesses the state of biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides to society, were also considered in the study and found to take an integrated valuation approach that achieves positive results.

“What’s exciting about IPBES is that this is a politically legitimate assessment: governments, NGOs and indigenous people are all represented, and they agree on important conclusions,” says Jacobs.

“So this sends a strong message. For example, while scientists and NGOs already knew pesticides were hurting our bees, through IPBES it became a political fact that could leverage actions and can have a major impact on future policy decisions.”

IPBES is championing an integrated valuation approach in its global assessment on the values of nature, which will take into account these studies, as well as others being conducted around the world.

The IPBES assessment takes into account three ‘value dimensions’: the value of nature itself, regardless of its use to humankind; nature’s contributions to humankind; and the high quality of life that our relations with nature provide.

“It’s important that knowledge gaps in these three areas are filled,” says Jacobs. “But it is great to see that these concepts are being worked on and can be integrated into high-level policy documents.”


The study states that in order to have an impact beyond academic theorizing, ecosystem valuation researchers need to learn from real-world application of valuation methods, sharing successes and failures, and actively tailoring research processes to fit with reality on the ground.

“Of course, there are no silver bullets,” says Jacobs. “Scientists like to present them, but they don’t exist. We will have to adapt the methods to every single context, and this is a key message. There is no perfect template.”

In the end, he says, researchers need to ask themselves: ‘Who am I doing this research for, what will it be used for, and who will be impacted?’ To this end, researchers must be careful to include in their research the values of the entire range of stakeholders, particularly those at risk of being under-represented in decision-making processes.

“Valuation scientists need to go to the field and see the reality for themselves before even thinking about what method or expertise is needed. We need to involve all value dimensions and consider each one to inform decisions,” says Jacobs.

“We, as scientists, need to go beyond the theoretical. We need to solve real problems.”

For more information on this topic, please contact Sander Jacobs at
This research was supported by the Openness FP7 Project

Notice: Undefined index: id in /home/ft4user/ on line 3
  • Home
  • One number to rule them all: Can we agree on the extent of deforestation?

One number to rule them all: Can we agree on the extent of deforestation?

Notice: Undefined variable: id_overview in /home/ft4user/ on line 64
Photo: Thomas Munita/CIFOR
Posted by


Photo: Thomas Munita/CIFOR

By Peter Holmgren, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), originally published at Forests News

Deforestation is one of our key concerns in land use and forestry. Huge political and financial resources are directed toward reducing forest loss and balancing the multiple benefits derived from the world’s landscapes. Given the massive attention that deforestation attracts, it is surprising how difficult it can be to answer the seemingly simple question: How many million hectares are deforested every year?

I was recently invited to an expert panel organized by the Guardian, titled Forests soak up greenhouse gases, so how do we ensure their protection?. The stated objective of the session is “to discuss the resources needed to fight deforestation”. I think it is great to connect and contribute using modern communication technology instead of traveling to conferences, so I happily accepted.

As background* to the event, the Guardian states that “Every year, 18 million hectares of tropical forest – an area the size of England and Wales – are cut down. While “cut down” is an ambiguous description, the text that follows makes clear that this is in fact the deforestation we are to discuss on the panel.

“Interesting new number,” I thought. “Let’s see what the source is.”

The statement links to another Guardian article from January 2017, written by John Vidal: “We are destroying rainforests so quickly they may be gone in 100 years,” the headline warns. There is room for debate on that, but my objective is to find the number. And there it is: “Every year about 18m hectares of forest – an area the size of England and Wales – is felled.

Interestingly, this refers to all forests, not just the tropical forests referred to in the background to today’s event. This is significant, as we will see below. Also note the use of the word “felled”, which again draws an ambiguous link to deforestation. Meanwhile, the word “deforestation” is used eleven times in the text, so there is no doubt that this is the topic in focus.

Vidal’s article in turn links to a release by the World Resources Institute (WRI) from September 2015, related to an annual update of Global Forest Watch (GFW) statistics.

Cleared forest in the haze from forest fires. Photo: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR

This release starts: “The world lost more than 18 million hectares (45 million acres) of tree cover in 2014, an area twice the size of Portugal, according to new data from the University of Maryland (UMD) and Google released by Global Forest Watch. The data find that tropical forests are in the most trouble, losing 9.9 million hectares (24.5 million acres) of tree cover in 2014 – over half of the global total.”

So the “forest” in John Vidal’s article was originally “tree cover” in the study he referred to. GFW, using UMD data, indeed reports tree cover losses. It is well known among scientists that there can be discrepancies between tree cover data obtained using remote sensing and forest area data as determined through land-use or land-cover assessments — well described by WRI here. We must be careful in comparing datasets with different definitions and concepts — see, for example, my earlier article here. GFW data on tree cover loss should not uncritically be used as a proxy for deforestation.

The WRI release also tells us that about half of these tree cover losses (9.9 million hectares in 2014) were in the tropics; the rest occurred in temperate and boreal regions.

It turns out that the Guardian’s statement on deforestation is a number that is doubled compared with the source two clicks away, and that this is not a deforestation number in the first place.

The Guardian is not alone in this . I went through the 15 most recent World Economic Forum blog articles on forestry and found three different numbers used for annual global deforestation — 18, 15 and 5.2 million hectares — none of them corresponding with the 7.6 million quoted in the current Global Forest Resources Assessments (FRA) report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Now, why is it so difficult to reliably and consistently report global deforestation? There are at least five possible reasons, and sometimes they reinforce each other:

  1. Disagreement on and different use of definitions

Many civil society advocates have for decades found it worthwhile to claim that not all forests are forests. Planted forests, in particular, are disqualified in their view. This unwillingness to accept planted forests has hampered a shared understanding of issues, and has led to more complicated negotiations, for example on REDD+. Further, countries often have their own sets of definitions that need to be harmonized to fit international reporting. Finally, and perhaps most frustratingly, international processes and conventions have adopted different definitions, each fiercely defended by the respective bureaucracies. The latter issue has been addressed in a CPF initiative, but progress is slow.

  1. Limitations in data and measurements

Uncertainties and discrepancies also stem from poor measurement data. Remote sensing alone is often assumed to be a universal solution to data shortages, but the information content is shallow, ambiguous and generally incomparable across platforms. Field sampling provides better quality data, but investments in national inventories is expensive and lagging, and precision suffers when observations are few.

  1. Political purposes to exaggerate (or sometimes diminish) the problem

Deforestation has a problem-oriented focus. The tendency to exaggerate the problem, either in narratives or in quotations of facts, is not uncommon and not ultimately beneficial. Similarly, governments may underreport deforestation for political reasons. In FRA 2000, deforestation in Africa was found to be overestimated by a factor of two. The development of national forest reference levels for REDD+ is another interesting process in this context.

  1. Variations in methodologies coupled with academic/political ownership of different models

While UMD data have provided a long missing standard in remote sensing data, these are not a universal tool and are still evolving. With several academic groups developing proprietary models using different data, we are bound to have substantial discrepancies. In 2012, Winrock International and Woods Hole Research Center reported widely disparate numbers on global emissions from tropical deforestation. In the interest of stability in REDD+ negotiations, the results were later calibrated — a negotiation in itself.

  1. Low quality in source data control in published media

There is potential to improve quality in news reporting and in publication of research papers. Better quality research and reporting could help avoid the types of errors mentioned above. Even the World Bank, our leading provider of development indicator statistics, erroneously publishes deforestation data by country, when in reality these are net forest area changes, i.e. the sum of positive and negative (deforestation) trends.

We all want to, and must, curb deforestation. With ongoing uncertainty at a global level it will become difficult to know how much progress we are making, or where our successes lie. It would be useful if official institutions, in particular FAO with its mandate in this field, stepped up to work with all stakeholders on forest assessments to build stronger consensus.

At the end of the day, we share the objective and mission to reverse deforestation and support forest landscapes that are sustainable, profitable and equitable. In doing so we should make an extra effort to avoid communicating alternative facts.

*Edit: Since the publication of this article, the Guardian has updated their background document and now refer to “tree cover” instead of “tropical forest”.

Notice: Undefined index: id in /home/ft4user/ on line 3
  • Home
  • Connecting the dots between forests, water and climate

Connecting the dots between forests, water and climate

Notice: Undefined variable: id_overview in /home/ft4user/ on line 64
Left to right: Meine van Noordwijk, Chief Science Advisor of the World Agroforestry Centre, and Vincent Gitz, Director of the CGIAR Programme on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, talking with the audience in Bogor, Indonesia as part of the virtual symposium. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Riky Hilmansyah
Posted by


Forests play a critical role in the planet’s water cycle. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre

By Susan Onyango, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World Blog

More than 500 people from around the world tuned in on 21 and 22 March 2017 to Cool Insights for a Hot World, a virtual symposium to engage with scientists in a discussion about the links between forests, water and climate, on the International Day of Forests and World Water Day, respectively.

Scientists from the fields of biology, chemistry, climate science, geology, hydrology and social science, spoke with one voice in calling for greater attention to be paid to the vital role of trees in the water cycle. The functionality of trees is of great importance given forests’ ability to produce moisture that is then transported from one area to another by winds, eventually falling as rain far from its source and crossing national boundaries on the way.

That the geopolitical consequences of deforestation in one country can exert a serious impact on rainfall in another country did not go unnoticed.  The scientists recommended the establishment of regional bodies to manage ‘precipitation-sheds’, areas that generate moisture into the atmosphere, in order to mitigate potential conflict arising from mismanagement of the forests that make up precipitation-sheds.

Jointly hosted by the World Agroforestry Centre and the Center for International Forestry Research, the symposium explored the interconnectedness of  forests and water in addressing climate change, drawing on a recent study, Trees, forests and water: cool insights for a hot world. A key takeaway from the study showed that where rain is produced and where it falls both have wide a ranging impact on the security of water supplies and food production as well as the ability of nations to adapt to, and mitigate, climate change.

Left to right: Meine van Noordwijk, Chief Science Advisor of the World Agroforestry Centre, and Vincent Gitz, Director of the CGIAR Programme on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, talking with the audience in Bogor, Indonesia as part of the virtual symposium. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Riky Hilmansyah

Call to action

Forests and trees’ critical role in global, regional and national water cycles is second only to the influence of the world’s oceans. Yet, this is mostly left off global discourse on climate change, which largely focuses on forests and trees as carbon stocks and sinks as part of national actions to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

In an effort to address this omission, the scientists strongly endorsed the need for a global approach to both understanding the relationship between forests, climate and adaptation and to carry out more detailed climate research.  For more on the wider implications and recommendations for action, see Trees, water and climate: Cool scientific insights, hot implications for research and policy.

At the local level, the planting of trees is an immediate action easily available to householders, farmers and urban dwellers, one that contributes to cooling the Earth through the moisture released by trees through evapotranspiration. Tree-planting need not wait for global agreements to be in place, the scientists noted.

The symposium was organized under the aegis of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. Participating scientists included David Ellison (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences), Cindy Morris (French National Institute for Agricultural Research), Michael Marshall (World Agroforestry Centre), Aster Gebrekirstos (World Agroforestry Centre and Erlangen University), Meine van Noordwijk (World Agroforestry Centre and Wageningen University), Jan Pokorný (ENKI, Czech Republic); Douglas Sheil (Norwegian University of Life Sciences), Victoria Gutierrez (WeForest), Daniel Murdiyarso (Center for International Forestry Research and Bogor Agricultural University) and Elaine Springgay (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).

Learn more about forests and trees and their role in the water cycle



Notice: Undefined index: id in /home/ft4user/ on line 3
  • Home
  • Soil management and land restoration vital to meeting climate change and sustainable development targets

Soil management and land restoration vital to meeting climate change and sustainable development targets

Notice: Undefined variable: id_overview in /home/ft4user/ on line 64
Landscape in restoration in Abreha Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/ Ake Mamo
Posted by


Landscape in restoration in Abreha Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/ Ake Mamo

By Susan Onyango, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World Blog

Land degradation impacts the health and livelihoods of about 1.5 billion people worldwide. Further, the annual costs associated with land degradation worldwide is estimated to be US$ 231 billion as measured in terms of loss productivity and the costs to due to loss of ecosystems services.

Given that the state of the environment and food security are strongly interlinked in tropical landscapes, the increasing need for land for food production, urbanization and other uses pose several threats to sustainability in the long term. There is increasing recognition that more integrated approaches to ecosystem health assessments are needed to meet the targets of the 2030 Agenda, including SD 15.3 on combating desertification and restoring degraded land and soil. In addition to systematic and reliable biophysical and socio-economic assessments, stakeholder engagement with evidence is crucial.

The Global Symposium on Soil Organic Carbon, hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,  FAO, in Rome, Italy from 21-23 March 2017, brought together more than 300 participants to act on worldwide ambitions to preserve soil organic carbon and re-carbonizing degraded soils. The objective of the symposium was to review the role of soil and soil organic carbon in the context of climate change and sustainable evidence, and to build scientific evidence that will contribute to the IPCC Assessment Reports and reports to UNFCCC, UNCCD and on the SDGs.

Leigh Ann Winowiecki, soil scientist, and Tor-Gunnar Vågen, senior scientist, at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) presented advanced analytics on soil carbon accounting and highlighted integrated approaches for stakeholder engagement with evidence using ICRAF’s SHARED approach, a demand driven, tailored and interactive engagement process. Their presentation,  “Spatial assessments for the mapping and monitoring of soil organic carbon: Using stakeholder engagement processes”, co-authored by Constance Neely, Sabrina Chesterman and Mieke Bourne, demonstrated the integration of land and soil health maps with socio-economic datasets. Kenya’s Turkana County Government’s Resilience Diagnostic and Decision Support Tool was developed using a similar approach.

“We have established maps of soil organic carbon for the continent of Africa and are creating a large systematic database of soil organic carbon across the tropics. These maps can be used for prioritizing initiatives and baseline assessments for carbon accounting.” Leigh Ann Winowiecki, World Agroforestry Centre

Tor-Gunnar Vågen, senior scientist at the World Agroforestry at the Global Symposium on Soil Organic Carbon. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Leigh Ann Winowiecki
Tor-Gunnar Vågen, senior scientist at the World Agroforestry at the Global Symposium on Soil Organic Carbon. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Leigh Ann Winowiecki

Winowiecki and Vågen‘s  presentation highlighted the advanced spatial mapping analytics available at the Centre’s GeoScience Lab. The analysis is supported by the project, Restoration of degraded land for food security and poverty reduction in East Africa and the Sahel: taking successes in land restoration to scale, funded by IFAD and the European Commission.

Symposium participants also engaged in discussions on maintaining and/or increasing soil organic carbon stocks for climate change mitigation and adaptation and the SDG 15.3 on land degradation neutrality, and on managing soil organic carbon in soils with high organic content.

A scientific document highlighting the role of soils and soil organic carbon management in meeting the climate change and sustainable development agendas  will present an overview of state-of-the-art soil organic carbon monitoring, measures to maintain and enhance soil organic carbon, and recommended methods for monitoring and reporting soil organic carbon.

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

Also see:

Presentation – Spatial assessments for the mapping and monitoring of soil organic carbon: Using stakeholder engagement processes

Vågen, T-G., Winowiecki, L.A., Neely, C., Chesterman, S., and Bourne, M. 2017. Spatial assessments for the mapping and monitoring of soil organic carbon- Using stakeholder engagement processes, a paper presented at the Global Symposium on Soil Carbon, Rome, Italy, 21-23 March 2017.

Vågen, Tor-G., Winowiecki, L., Tondoh, J.E., Desta, L.T. and Gumbricht, T. 2016. Mapping of soil properties and land degradation risk in Africa using MODIS reflectance. Geoderma.

Global Symposium on Soil Organic Carbon website

Project website: Restoration of degraded land for food security and property reduction in East Africa and the Sahel: taking success in land restoration to scale

World Agroforestry Centre Landscapes Portal 

Blog: Put soils first, African Soil Seminar concludes

For more information, contact Leigh Winowiecki at the World Agroforestry Centre:

We thank the European Commission and IFAD for financing the project, Restoration of degraded land for food security and poverty reduction in East Africa and the Sahel: taking successes to scale.

Notice: Undefined index: id in /home/ft4user/ on line 3
  • Home
  • Trees, water and climate: Cool scientific insights, hot implications for research and policy

Trees, water and climate: Cool scientific insights, hot implications for research and policy

Notice: Undefined variable: id_overview in /home/ft4user/ on line 64
Eko Prianto
Posted by


Amazon, Brazil. Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT

By Vincent Gitz, Director, CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, and Meine van Noordwijk, Landscape Research Leader, CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

FTA recently organized a two-day virtual symposium entitled Trees, forests and water: cool insights for a hot world to share live online the findings of a recent review paper by David Ellison and 21 other scientists, including four from FTA, and discuss their implications for research and policy.

The findings shed brand new light on the role of forests and trees in the climate debate.

Also read: Cool insights for a hot world

Since Rio 1992 and the climate convention, climate policy has put a “mitigation” sticker – ­with the associated pressure – on forests and land use for their role in climate, emphasizing the carbon stored in forests and peat soil, and the capacity of trees to sequester carbon.

This triggered a lot of scientific work and publications, including by FTA scientists, on the best pathways to strengthen the role of forests and trees in climate mitigation. Attention was given to integration with other dimensions (‘cobenefits’ and ‘safeguards’) beyond carbon measures, especially social and economic dimensions.

It also triggered many debates, in science and in policy, as to whether or not this was the right approach, such as the recurrent debates about land-use and forestry-related loopholes in the necessary climate action in the energy sector.

Photo: Eko Prianto/CIFOR

However, this perspective on forests and climate change might well change radically. And the change may not come from carbon, but from water.

What is this new light? The findings of the review, with the level of confidence of underlying scientific evidence – assessed in the symposium – are the following:

  1. Trees influence local temperature through high transpiration rates, and remote sensing and infrared tools exist for visualizing this effect (very high confidence).
  2. Forests recharge atmospheric moisture and regional evapotranspiration responds to tree-cover transitions (very high confidence).
  3. Vegetation and trees influence cloud formation and trigger rainfall via bioprecipitation effects (high confidence).
  4. Historical evidence from tree rings and their isotopic composition shows decadal variation and local influences of land use on local rainfall and climate (medium confidence).
  5. Rainbow (atmospheric) water bookkeeping combined with prevailing winds shows continental-scale teleconnections on all tropical continents. Forests enable cascading transport of water vapor over distant locations, and therefore rain, far from the sea (high confidence).
  6. Forests, as biotic pumps, attract air and moisture flows, and the loss of forests can create a tipping point turning wet climates to dry climates (medium confidence).
  7. Trees and forests can improve groundwater recharge, with the existence of an optimum level of tree cover for that effect (high confidence).
Vegetation and trees influence cloud formation and trigger rainfall via bioprecipitation effects. Photo: CIFOR

To sum up: forests and trees are drivers of key mechanisms that govern the water cycle, atmospheric moisture, precipitation and climate at the local, regional and continental levels. In other words, forests and trees can help manage the water cycle not only from the well-known watershed perspective, but from a precipitation-shed perspective, with key implications for climate regulation. Geopolitical implications are huge: Who has the right to influence rainfall elsewhere? Yet, that happens every day, according to the new hydroclimate paradigms.

So what?

Altogether, these findings have significant implications for policy and action, and for research – particularly for FTA research – and what it can do or the tools it can provide to inform and underpin this new agenda.

Climate research

The first implication is for climate research itself, to better understand “where does rain come from?” with a priority challenge of better incorporating the above processes in general circulation models. This would inter alia lead to the improvement of the projection of precipitation and its variability, and to a better estimation of the magnitude of the effects by which forests – and land use – contribute to the processes that determine winds and rain in different regions. We need to better quantify the extent of relevant hydroclimatic relations between trees, forests and climate.

Climate March in New York 2014. Photo: Kate Evans/CIFOR

Climate policy

In climate policy, it calls for a threefold change of narrative:

  • Carbon sequestration and mitigation, rather than being the main focus, are to be seen as cobenefits of climate action in landscapes.
  • Adaptation of forests is important, but even more important is the role that forests and trees will play for the adaptation of agriculture, food security, water security and livelihoods, as well as to avoid ecosystems experiencing tipping points.
  • The top-down policy perspective on forests (their role in the global carbon cycle, absorbing the world’s excess CO2) is shifting to a bottom-up policy perspective (their role in the water cycle and in localized climates).

This triple change of narrative calls for research to look into integrated approaches to revisit the currently segregated mitigation-versus-adaptation frameworks (including related procedures and funding), especially from the perspective of the implementation of the NDCs, many of which include a range of targets for sustainable forest management, including afforestation, reforestation and forest restoration.

It will further interrogate REDD+ and call for research to help establishing measurable metrics to quantify the role of forests with regard to adaptation benefits on different scales, from local and national to regional and continental. More broadly, it will call on research to assist in the refinement of existing and new climate change policy frameworks, building on the adaptation article (Article 7) of the Paris Agreement, in order to ensure synergies with and within the SDGs.

Land restoration in Ethiopia. Photo: Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

Importantly, it will also put back the mitigation focus on fossil fuels and the energy sector, contributing to ending the often counterproductive land carbon “loophole” debate, while at the same time giving even more emphasis to the roles of land use, forests and trees for climate regulation.

Land restoration

These findings can help better understand – or avoid mistakes on – what to plant where and how or what natural regeneration to assist. They provide a hydroclimatic rationale over and above the current carbo-climate metrics of performance for tree-based landscape restoration.

They call for research to provide more information on plant functional attributes (as a source of nucleating particles for biological generation of rainfall) across climates and ecozones. They also call for research to provide tools that include a hydroclimatic perspective for stakeholders to better assess the costs and benefits of action including not only downstream benefits, but also those beyond the watershed, downwind, complemented by economic and social analysis.

Integrated landscape policies

Here the question is how to organize land use on different scales for water and climate. More effective, tailored information (including maps, transfer functions, remote sensing and visualization tools) on the location-specific nature of atmospheric moisture, rainfall and their sources can lead to improved integrated water, land and climate policies in the forest-rural-urban continuum.

Photo: CIFOR

This would lead to water policies going beyond the watersheds, toward “precipitationsheds.” Research should look into what institutional mechanisms and incentive schemes would account for such land/water teleconnections, and remote impacts from where actual land use, tree planting or removal decisions are made.

Food security

This research gives a new perspective on the role of forests and trees from continental to farm scale for food production and food security. Here research should strive for a better understanding of the decadal scale variation in rainfall and its origins (oceanic/terrestrial), to contextualize current climate and yield variability and support landscape-level ‘climate-smart’ options.

It can document and quantify the role of forests that generate rainfall in teleconnected but distant areas (including “bread baskets”). Finally, on a more local scale, it can provide new insights on how to integrate trees and forests in agriculture/crop systems.

Photo: World Resources Institute

Sustainable Development Goals

A last domain relates to the achievement of the SDGs. Expanding our interpretation of the development targets to embrace the concept of a land-food-water-energy-climate-biodiversity nexus on the landscape scale could provide a better point of reference than existing segregated policies. Research should provide operational insights on the use of forests and trees – fully embracing their relationship with water – in achieving and connecting the SDGs. It should aim for actionable, concrete and easy-to-grasp solutions for multiple objectives, and guidance on forests, trees and land-use options are part of them.


It is not often in research that efforts lead to considering possible “changes of theory” and such-wide ranging implications. The next challenge for research is both internal and external: for us to better quantify and assess the magnitude of these relations, providing clarity about uncertainties and validity domains (including on the diversity of local-specific situations), and to avoid oversimplification.

This will enable us to pursue our quest for strengthening the knowledge base, while being credible enough not to delay the opening of new avenues for action, with clarity on current evidence, (un)certainties, and policy and development implications.

Notice: Undefined index: id in /home/ft4user/ on line 3
  • Home
  • Improving sustainable cattle production in the Brazilian Amazon

Improving sustainable cattle production in the Brazilian Amazon

Notice: Undefined variable: id_overview in /home/ft4user/ on line 64
Roads and cattle farming are two major drivers of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Photo by Kate Evans for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
Posted by


Roads and cattle farming are two major drivers of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Photo by Kate Evans for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

By Pablo Pacheco, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

The successful Brazilian experience in slowing down deforestation in the Amazon has captured a lot of attention in the global arena, but serious concerns linger about its possible resurgence.

While it is important to strengthen public and private arrangements to reach zero deforestation, or at least to stabilize it at relatively low absolute levels, more attention needs to be placed on the actions necessary to facilitate the transition from a zero-deforestation model to one of territorial sustainability.

This is the focus of a recent infobrief produced by scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the French Agricultural Research Center for International Development (CIRAD)  and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) in the context of the TerraCert Project, which is implemented in the Municipality of Paragominas in the State of Pará.

The paper’s main argument is that while constraining deforestation expansion on farms is a necessary condition, it is not enough to facilitate the adoption of more sustainable land uses and production practices at the farm and landscape levels — both of which are essential to increasing territorial sustainability in the Amazon.

Aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest, near Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas. Brazil. Photo by Neil Palmer/CIAT for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Much of the current debate on the slowdown of deforestation and territorial sustainability has to do with improving the sustainability of cattle ranching, which is seen as the main culprit of forest loss in the Amazon. Pasture expansion is responsible for more than two-thirds of the total accumulated deforestation in this region. Deforestation is generally associated with large and medium-scale ranching, but it also involves smallholders.

In light of this evidence, common thinking suggests that halting deforestation while simultaneously supporting the intensification of cattle production (i.e. allowing more intensive agriculture to replace low productive pasture lands) and promoting integrated crop-livestock-tree farming systems could constitute effective ways to support more sustainable landscapes in the Brazilian Amazon.

Up until now, a governance approach combining public policy and private initiatives has been effective in slowing down deforestation, but it has been unable to support a transition to more sustainable production systems. Building on current successes in reducing deforestation, new steps are necessary to achieve territorial sustainability. These require combining institutional arrangements and sociotechnical options.

New technical intensification models must be identified for low-productivity systems in degraded lands and adapted to the biophysical, social and technical conditions of the Amazonian landscapes. But since multiple constraints inhibit the uptake of these intensification options, reversing them requires that all constraints be addressed in a coordinated way.

Based on our research, we suggest three sets of actions to support making that vision a reality by involving the use of adapted production technologies, adopting monitoring systems that empower local actors, and implementing new public-private institutional arrangements.

Keys to slowing down deforestation

It is now a known fact that efforts to enforce environmental regulations coupled with commitments from soy traders and the meat packing industry has helped to reduce deforestation. A critical step was the adoption of the Agreement for the Adjustment of Conduct (TAC) by which the meat packing industry agreed to enact stricter controls on their suppliers, forcing them to follow state regulations. This agreement was followed by another one signed between three major meat packing groups and the NGO Greenpeace with similar terms to those agreed under the TAC, but with the added layer of control mechanisms over indirect suppliers.

In addition to these two agreements, other types of initiatives to support progress toward more sustainable intensification of cattle ranching have also emerged in the Brazilian Amazon based on the understanding that decoupling cattle ranching development and deforestation requires embracing cattle intensification and low-carbon development.

One group of initiatives is trying to establish guidelines, standards and pilot projects to support the intensification of cattle ranching, while another group is now seeking to provide the necessary incentives for farmers to embrace these improved farming systems.

The expansion of extensive cattle ranching has generated large areas of low-productive pasture. These lands are prime candidates for pasture intensification, and different initiatives have emerged to do that. EMBRAPA has proposed two main models: 1) Integrated crops-livestock-trees systems 2) The Good Practice Program for intensive pasture management. Additionally, several private pilot initiatives, as well as others promoted by NGOs, are implementing intensive systems in experimental farms with diverse outcomes.

One main consideration in the implementation of these systems is financing. Farmers are limited financially to uptake improved farming systems. To remedy this, the Brazilian government has developed a large credit plan for financing low-carbon agriculture called the Agricultura de Baixo Carbono (ABC) Program. However, the reach of this program is still limited, and farmers face difficulties meeting its requirements, specifically in regards to land titling. In addition, commercial banks are constrained since they face relatively high financial and reputational risks when financing economic activities in the Amazon.

Challenges for sustainable ranching

Sustainable cattle ranching in the Brazilian Amazon cannot be limited to reducing deforestation linked to the increased intensification of direct suppliers of the meatpacking companies who are mainly large-scale producers. Instead, it should aim to improve land, pasture and other economic assets to achieve a reduction in deforestation, while also enhancing the social, economic and environmental performance of cattle ranching production systems (i.e. the restoration of environmental liabilities).

So far, the meat packing industry has upheld their commitments with the government tracing their direct sources of supply, but it is becoming difficult to control indirect suppliers. While large-scale direct suppliers follow high production standards, indirect suppliers, including medium-scale and smallholder farmers, should also play by the same rules.

The Brazilian Amazon also holds significant potential for biomass production (much higher than other Brazilian regions) especially for the production of forage, grains, perennial crops and timber. The proposed technical production models aim to maximize land productivity with relatively high costs of labor, equipment and inputs, and are very demanding in knowledge and labor quality. For this reason, these models risk increasing environmental impacts linked to the massive use of chemical inputs. Also, it is likely that a large number of less resource-endowed farmers will not be able to adopt these production models.

Moreover, intensification processes tend to occur in more fertile and accessible lands, which are not necessarily the degraded lands in most need of recovery. Degraded pastures are unlikely candidates when it comes to paying for costs and delivering the economic returns demanded by the currently promoted intensification systems. Alternatives have not been sufficiently explored that might be better adapted to degraded lands, small-sized farms, and taking advantage of existing natural resources in the Amazon region. These alternatives are more compatible with the concept of agroecology, in contrast to the high-input models.

Aerial view of Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas. Brazil. Photo by Neil Palmer/CIAT for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Linking sustainable ranching to territorial sustainability

Achieving sustainability in the Brazilian Amazon’s agricultural frontiers requires not only public-private institutional arrangements aimed at enforcing compliance of environmental laws, but also incentives and reward systems that facilitate the uptake of improved production practices, thus fostering a transition from production systems that negatively affect natural resources to systems that use natural resources more efficiently. Three complementary actions may contribute to achieving this goal:

1) Developing and operationalizing adapted technologies

Focusing on technologies with the potential to better utilize the existing natural resources in the Amazon (i.e. soil fertility, hydric resource availability) instead of using massive chemical inputs. This approach has the potential to support a large number of less resource-endowed farmers rather than only a handful of large-scale well-capitalized cattle ranchers, and is adapted to vast areas of degraded land. An essential aspect to consider is the spatial configuration of these systems at the landscape scale, which should match the location of natural resources in order to build eco-efficient landscapes.

2) Implementing monitoring frameworks that empower local actors

Assessing progress towards the achievement of sustainable cattle intensification must be part of broader territorial performance monitoring — not only to assess progress, but also to identify the factors limiting such progress. Jurisdictions capable of measuring progress in their performance to show that they are doing their part in improving sustainability will likely be more attractive to investors. This can help prioritize public interventions (i.e. land regularization, public credit lines). This process, however, requires important collective action.

3) Fostering institutional arrangements that embrace territorial approaches

Public and private agreements to reduce deforestation and achieve sustainable cattle intensification have to be conceived as part of efforts to improve territorial performance in sub-national jurisdictions, like municipalities. It is at this level that achieving sustainability (including social inclusion, gains in productivity and the maintenance of environmental services) can be better specified. Additionally, territorial approaches have the potential to articulate efforts from a diverse range of actors, and can trigger partnerships to stimulate technical and institutional innovations and mutual learning.

These three actions — aimed at improving the uptake of adapted eco-efficient technologies; monitoring and certifying the progress of territorial performance towards sustainability; and enhancing institutional arrangements to trigger innovation and mutual learning — are the constituent pieces of an approach aimed at achieving territorial sustainability in specific jurisdictions. Different players are already investing efforts in this direction. Let’s keep working together to make territorial sustainability a reality.


CIFOR in collaboration with CIRAD and the Working Group on Sustainable Beef (GTPS) is organizing the session “Territorial approaches to reduce deforestation and support sustainable supply in the Amazon” at the Second General Assembly of the TFA 2020. This session will host a discussion about ongoing experiences to reduce deforestation while supporting production intensification by embracing territorial perspectives. It will discuss the advantages and limits of the different territorial approaches, and highlight main issues that require further consideration from the perspective of different stakeholders. The session will be held on 20 March, from 16:00 to 17:30 at the Hotel Royal Tulip Brasilia.

For more information on this topic, please contact Pablo Pacheco at

Notice: Undefined index: id in /home/ft4user/ on line 3
  • Home
  • Interview on tenure reform: Lessons from the Global South

Interview on tenure reform: Lessons from the Global South

Notice: Undefined variable: id_overview in /home/ft4user/ on line 64
Reforms around the world are putting resource rights in the hands of communities and local governments. Photo: CIFOR
Posted by


Reforms around the world are putting resource rights in the hands of communities and local governments. Photo: CIFOR

Interview with Anne Larson, Senior Scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Over the past two decades, a global trend has seen increasing recognition of the rights of communities and local governments to manage their own resources, particularly in developing countries. An ongoing study by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) has followed this process across Asia, Africa and Latin America, finding key lessons for successful tenure reform.

The latest findings and their implications will be discussed this week at a South-South Policy Dialogue held on the sidelines of the World Bank Land and Poverty Conference in Washington, DC. Ahead of the event, Forests News sat down with Anne Larson, a Principal Scientist at CIFOR and team leader of the Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reform, to hear her thoughts.

Can you tell us more about the upcoming South-South Exchange?

We’ve done a couple of these exchanges in the past. This time we have government representatives coming from six countries where we conduct our research – from Indonesia, Nepal, Uganda, Kenya, Colombia and Peru. The idea is, on the first day, that we will be able to meet each other in person and discuss expectations for the week. And at the end of the week, we’ll be able to have a discussion about what was learned, what’s new, what’s changed. We will have time to address questions, doubts, ideas, together with a few key resource people who work on this topic.

During the week, the invited officials will be able to attend presentations and will also present their own country experiences on the implementation of tenure reforms during our Policy Roundtable on Tenure Reform Implementation. Our research team is also presenting papers on several panels, based on the field research findings. And on the last day, we are giving a Master Class on Reform Implementation and Tenure Security.

The advantage of doing this in parallel with the World Bank conference is that it allows us to draw on the resources of the many people who will attend, from all over the world. The week is a huge learning opportunity, but it also gives us the opportunity to discuss as a group, highlight our research and raise questions with practitioners.

What do you hope to achieve from the event?

So far, engagement with policy makers and practitioners in multi-stakeholder forums and exchanges has shown strong potential for raising awareness of the impacts of, and barriers to, reform implementation across different socio-political and historical settings, as well as the impacts of reform on livelihoods and sustainability. These engagements have been aimed also at encouraging debate and discussion on the types of tenure reforms being implemented, and their effects on tenure security.

To better understand the institutional frameworks for implementation in study countries, we have administered short surveys to the government representatives directly involved. This will be the topic of our roundtable discussion: CIFOR will present some preliminary cross-cutting findings, and government officials from six countries will be able to contribute based on their specific experience with implementation.

Can you give some more background about tenure, and how it relates to rights and resources?

Tenure refers to the content, or substance, of rights and to the security of rights. It refers to rights from different points of view, to overlapping rights and sometimes to conflict. Understanding rights requires an understanding of history and of power relations. In addition, a focus on ‘rights’ alone only tells part of the story: not all rights can be exercised, and not all of those who gain access to resources have rights.

Among other things, recognition can be very empowering to the people who have their historic rights recognized, such as indigenous peoples. Nevertheless, this may be short-lived if there is not accompanying support (rather than obstacles) to resource access and management. That is, it is not enough just to earn the right to call the land or forest their own, people also need to be able to use it – in some cases management regulations are very restrictive, and in other cases people need technical support, tools and financing, to be able to make the best use of resources to improve their livelihoods.

What is driving tenure reform across the Global South?

There are a number of factors leading to reform. Some are broader dynamics, like the end of authoritarian regimes and attention to decentralized governance more broadly, others are country-specific. A study of the history of reforms in Peru, for example, found that changes in favor of indigenous land rights have often occurred in response to moments of crisis. In Indonesia and Peru, the state as a whole has supported community rights when it was ideologically disposed to do so, or when it was strongly encouraged to by social action or political calculation, sometimes in response to conflict. It also appears that donor funding can help the cause of communities.

Does tenure reform lead to more sustainable land management?

Research is mixed and the results depend on many different factors besides just who owns or manages the forest. There is certainly evidence that under the right conditions, forests can be not only well managed for resource sustainability but also provide for local livelihoods and wellbeing when they are in the hands of local people. However, it is also important to note that indigenous people or local communities may have rights, by law, to land and forests that should not necessarily be conditioned on whether they will manage those forests well. Sometimes these are two separate issues.

What are the common challenges to reform?

Challenges range from resistance and opposition to deficits in human, technical and financial resources at all levels, as well as broader governance problems, such as weak rule of law. Reforms require overcoming resistance to indigenous and community rights from multiple arenas, for example: those who believe natural resources should be managed by the state for the greatest public good; development interests that support large-scale private investment and see granting resources to communities as taking them out of production; and conservationists who fear local people will over-exploit resources and prefer models such as ‘parks without people’.

These particular perspectives or worldviews combine with more questionable opposition due to competition for control over resources, and biases such as racism, to stack the deck against rights recognition. Overcoming the obstacles to recognition and respect for legitimate community rights requires coalitions for change and a clear understanding of the roots of opposition.

What lessons can be learned from experience?

There are no ‘magic bullets’ for securing recognition and respect for legitimate tenure rights for local communities. There are, however, many ways to support tenure reforms and their implementation that will increase the likelihood and sustainability of success, and the contributions of tenure security to effective and equitable natural resource governance.

We’ve found specific challenges related to community dynamics, for example, to do with gender. Preliminary findings show that women have a very low participation in the drafting of reform processes, while men dominate the formalization or implementation process across the studied countries. In Indonesia, Uganda and Peru, women are less informed about reform implementation and outcomes, this has important implications in terms of the realization of rights.

In general, we have found that having a strong, evidence-based understanding of the existing challenges to recognition of tenure rights is essential for designing strategies to overcome them. This includes the challenge of building coalitions and supporting grassroots organizations and social movements; designing a clear roadmap, with communities, for implementation; supporting the enabling conditions for improvements in livelihoods and effective and sustainable resource management; and monitoring progress to adapt to and confront new challenges.

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and was supported by GEF, FAO, EC and IFAD.

Notice: Undefined index: id in /home/ft4user/ on line 3
  • Home
  • Peter Holmgren: Splitting hairs over splitting wood

Peter Holmgren: Splitting hairs over splitting wood

Notice: Undefined variable: id_overview in /home/ft4user/ on line 64
Village children collect firewood for cooking fuel, Tianlin County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China. Photo by Nick Hogarth for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
Posted by


Village children collect firewood for cooking fuel, Tianlin County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China. Photo by Nick Hogarth for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

By Peter Holmgren, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

The past month has seen a fierce international and academic debate flare up again over the large-scale use of wood to produce energy, notably in Europe. When we agreed on “Forests and Energy” as the theme for this year’s International Day of Forests on 21 March, we had no idea that there would be such a timely opportunity to share how forests and biomass can deliver crucial energy to support the livelihoods of billions of people, and at the same time provide major opportunities for our climate-smart future.

Bioenergy is energy produced from biomass and waste. The share of bioenergy in the global energy mix has been about 10% over past decades – about double that of the nuclear energy supply and five times that of hydro energy, from a baseline of 2014. The majority of bioenergy comes from wood and plants, often in the form of by-products from agriculture or forestry production. Some 2.6 billion of the world’s poor (equal to 40% of the global population) depend on traditional forms of bioenergy for cooking, heating and income, making it a major factor for livelihoods and food security worldwide.

An earlier controversy arose over the links between liquid biofuels and food security (see, for example, studies by FAO, IFPRI, IIASA and CFS). Liquid biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, constitute a small fraction of bioenergy use. While the use of liquid biofuels has increased in recent years, it remains only about 0.5% of all energy consumed (see statistics here). Biofuels became popular in government policies, first to improve domestic energy security and later also as a means to reduce climate impact. Liquid biofuels are particularly useful in the transport industry, and some recent studies show they could have unexpected climate benefits. But considerable subsidies offered for the production of biofuels have led to questions over undue competition with food production on lands suitable for agriculture. These have impacted food prices and food security. Socioeconomic, ethical, environmental and rights-based arguments were raised at the 2008 Food Summit in Rome. Policies around liquid biofuels remain contentious, although there are expectations that new technology using non-food feedstock, such as cellulose, can provide new opportunities.

The extent to which food production is a limiting factor for food security can, of course, be debated. One reflection is that during more food-insecure times in history, we used a much higher proportion of agricultural land and produce than today to feed our means of transportation – namely, oxen and horses. That said, policies that pay out subsidies for otherwise unprofitable biofuel production need to be well scrutinized for efficiency, as well as unfair competition with food.

A more recent controversy has flared over the use of wood biomass for large-scale energy production, as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Large-scale policies and subsidy schemes, for example by the European Union, have been at the center of attention.

A 2013 article in The Economist argued that the political decisions made to increase biomass in the EU energy mix are causing havoc in the wood market, including by raising competition with traditional forest industries. The question was raised as to whether it is wise to use taxpayers’ money to fuel this development. In addition to concerns over subsidy efficiencies, the article ends by stating that wood energy is worse than coal when it comes to an immediate impact on the climate, and reference is made to scientific findings. Fittingly, the subtitle of the article is “Environmental lunacy in Europe.” This “dirtier than coal” notion was introduced in an advocacy paper by the UK Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and created an argument that seems to have struck a chord with the media.

Other major NGOs have also given considerable space to criticizing biofuels and bioenergy, including the World Resources Institute (WRI). Arguments cover both the food security aspect as well as limited climate benefits. There is a tendency to generalize and politicize – concerns over “global competition for land” and “dedicating land for bioenergy” point to large-scale, mono-objective assumptions that create a false dichotomy between bioenergy and all other land-based benefits.

Then, a month ago, a Chatham House report reignited the debate. Like previous inputs, the paper argues that the EU subsidy scheme is a bad use of taxpayers’ money, that the climate benefits are negligible, and that using wood for energy is generally unsustainable and should not be characterized as renewable. The report was contested by 125 signatories of a response from the International Energy Agency, who argued that the analysis and assumptions were incorrect based on at least three major concerns. The debate has since continued to engage academics, activists and policy makers.

So what to make of this heated debate? One gets the impression that otherwise credible media and institutes take surprisingly strong and polarized positions against bioenergy. Is there a way to reconcile these views so as to support a sustainable, climate-smart future?

It would appear that the bioenergy debate needs a broader and more long-term perspective. Focusing only on subsidy schemes and the associated accounting related to greenhouse gas emissions to meet policy targets in the next few years does not provide a holistic picture of a future that we may want to aspire to. If we, for example, aim at a fossil-free, net-zero emissions future further down the line, we have to look at how the biological systems can continue to supply food and energy in integrated ways. And further, we can’t address emissions in isolation, but must develop pathways where climate benefits go hand in hand with improved prosperity and food security for the world’s poor. We should then embrace that bioenergy has a huge role to play for the foreseeable future. And we have to acknowledge a major potential for technology development to serve a bio-based economy, where energy will continue to be an important by-product. These aspects were discussed at a recent international workshop at CIFOR.

A woman drives a cart of firewood back to Zorro village, Burkina Faso. Photo: CIFOR

One common argument is that it is better to leave trees standing than to burn them. This is a very appealing idea, but it is only correct with a short time horizon, and if you don’t see the forest for the trees, so to speak. Forest management implies, among other things, that forest productivity is maintained, while allowing for a sustainable harvest of trees for a multitude of purposes, including energy as an important product. This can lead to extraordinary results over the long term. In Sweden, the standing forest biomass has doubled over the last 100 years, and the sustainable harvest has also doubled. Active forestry can therefore deliver more carbon sequestration, more renewable energy, and more economic value, simultaneously! These are the types of long-term goals and perspectives we need to establish before haggling over the effects of short-term policies.

That said, there are also problematic issues, mainly with traditional forms of bioenergy such as fuelwood and charcoal. Perhaps most notable are the health problems caused by indoor air pollution, to which is attributed an estimated 4.3 million premature deaths in 2012 – a level of calamity that dwarfs current or predicted consequences of overall climate change. Further, working conditions in traditional bioenergy value chains, such as charcoal, are often poor and risky. Unsustainable harvesting of wood resources for bioenergy has led to the degradation of vast expanses of land in some countries. Emissions of soot and pollutants can cause hazards for communities. All of these are serious matters that must – and can – be addressed, but must not, in my view, be used to generally condemn bioenergy and wood energy as important ingredients in our sustainable energy mix and integrated land-use systems.

We need a balanced, long-term and holistic vision of how forests and trees can increasingly provide renewable, clean, efficient and modern energy, supporting livelihoods and a sustainable future worldwide. This is a big part of the solution.

Notice: Undefined index: id in /home/ft4user/ on line 3
  • Home
  • Decoding deforestation in Brazil and Bolivia

Decoding deforestation in Brazil and Bolivia

Notice: Undefined variable: id_overview in /home/ft4user/ on line 64
An aerial shot shows the contrast between forest and agricultural landscapes near Rio Branco, Acre, Brazil. Photo by Kate Evans for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
Posted by


An aerial shot shows the contrast between forest and agricultural landscapes near Rio Branco, Acre, Brazil. Photo by Kate Evans for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

By Pablo Pacheco, Coordinator of Flagship 3 of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Recently, I came across a much publicized article in The New York Times about the impact of two of the world’s biggest grain traders, Cargill and Bunge, on deforestation trends in the agricultural frontiers of Brazil and Bolivia. Since we have entered an era of private commitments to deforestation-free supply chains, this article shows that there is still a way to go for some companies to improve their performance.

Deforestation estimates in 2016 from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) indicate a resurgence of deforestation in the Amazon, and deforestation hotspots identified by the Word Resources Institute suggest increasing pressure on the savanna forests in the Cerrado region, a biodiversity-rich ecosystem. Additionally, while there are no official deforestation estimates in lowlands Bolivia, it has remained at high levels, according to Terra-I. This suggests a need to examine the culprits.

Cattle farming is a major cause of deforestation in Brazilian Amazon.Photo by Kate Evans for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Don’t miss the forest for the trees

The article mentioned above discusses a new report by the environmental campaign organization Mighty Earth that identifies deforestation in Brazil and Bolivia linked to Cargill and Bunge. Drawing on satellite imagery and supply-chain mapping information processed by the Stockholm Environment Institute, the article makes the case that new large-scale forest-clearing by Bolivian and Brazilian farmers for soybean production is associated with the demand from these two American-based food giants.

It is interesting to note that companies like Cargill and Bunge still buy soybeans originating from forestlands converted to agriculture and fail to implement due diligence procedures to verify their origin. In some cases, these purchases directly trigger soybean expansion across Brazil and Bolivia’s frontiers. Cargill and Bunge have argued, in their defense, that their role is minor, and that deforestation is a complex issue that requires all major buyers — not just them — to get involved.

While it is useful that environmental groups like Mighty Earth track how company supply chains are ‘contaminated’ by ‘dirty supply’, it would be more helpful if they could place these trends within a wider context. This would foster more practical and durable solutions, because even if these two soybean traders stopped buying soybeans from the Matopiba region in Brazil and the eastern lowlands in Bolivia, it is likely that deforestation would continue to expand in both of these regions.

In this sense, the New York Times article fails to provide an in-depth understanding of the complex dynamics shaping these two agricultural frontiers, and misleadingly mixes two very different situations. Moreover, while the article refers to deforestation trends in the Amazon, it looks mostly at the Cerrado areas, where a greater pressure associated with agricultural expansion is taking place.

To its credit, the article does highlight two important trends that have been perceived by academics yet hardly studied until now: 1) Efforts to contain deforestation in the Amazon have shifted to the Cerrado areas; and 2) Efforts to contain deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon have placed pressure on other countries, mainly in Bolivia and Paraguay’s deciduous and dry forests. In these regions, different regulations governing conversion of forests apply less rigid standards than in the Amazon.

Two main issues came to my attention while reading this article. The first is the clear limits of the soy moratorium, since it only applies to the Amazon region. The second is how easy it remains for companies to circumvent their sustainability commitments when playing around with specific national regulations that still allow for forest conversion. But what is most interesting in our current times is that companies have to now face the reality of their own commitments under the scrutiny of civil society.

The two companies blamed as culprits of deforestation argue that they have a relatively low share in total soy supply originating from the regions under scrutiny. Cargill sources 8 percent from Bolivian municipalities and Bunge sources 20 percent from Matopiba, Brazil. Thus, slowing deforestation has to go beyond the actions of just these two companies. More action should be required to revise the land-use and forest conservation regulations in the Cerrado areas.

Governments, not just companies, need to step up

What I found thought-provoking in this article were the views expressed by Stewart Lindsay, Bunge’s vice president for global corporate affairs: “One company alone cannot solve this issue … a positive step would be for more companies to adopt zero-deforestation commitments, apply controls to block crops grown in illegally cleared areas from entering their supply chains, report publicly on progress, and invest millions of dollars to support sustainable land-use planning efforts.”

His perspective is correct, but it falls short. It is correct in the sense that deforestation is a complex issue that cannot be solved by one single company, especially as the largest share of deforestation is not necessarily driven by soy, but from pasture expansion, which the domestic markets absorb an important portion of. Pasture is still the largest source of deforestation in both Brazil and Bolivia.

While it is important that the article highlights the pressure placed by Mennonites on forests for the production of soy sold to Cargill, much of the deforestation in lowlands Bolivia is currently related to the expansion of pasture for cattle production in the Chiquitania. This, of course, is not related to any transnational company, but to a growing national demand for beef associated with land speculation. Unfortunately, the government of Bolivia has not been able to adequately control this process.

Thus, institutional agreements between governments, industries and retailers in the domestic market have an important role to play in abating deforestation. Brazil is the poster child for this in terms of drastically reducing deforestation in the Amazon region. However, these agreements constitute a double-edged sword given the effects they can have on excluding certain suppliers like medium-scale farmers and smallholders who cannot adopt the improved production practices required by traders and end-buyers.

Something that is becoming more perverse in Brazil, and even more so in Bolivia, is that agricultural frontiers continue to expand under more complex land-use interactions. Over time, producers are facing more difficulties to keep yields and production volumes up, due to more intense and longer dry-spells caused by climate change. This is having adverse impacts on overall production, but banks and insurance systems often do not take into account climate change-related variables.

In addition, production models promoted by transnational trading companies and backed by environmental NGOs that tend to spare forests are resulting in the expansion of more intensive production systems based on large-scale and highly intensive use of chemical inputs. This is in opposition to more integrated and agro-ecological production systems that could take better advantage of the natural resources existing in the Amazon and Cerrado regions, and could better preserve them.

In conclusion, while it is important to continue discussing ways to achieve zero deforestation in supply chains with the help of traders and buyers, it is also important to look at the role of governments to provide guidance on clearer regulations and enforcement methods in ways that apply uniformly across different regions. More attention should be placed on innovative options to manage more sustainable agricultural frontiers, and to create schemes that answer the needs of all stakeholders involved.

Notice: Undefined index: id in /home/ft4user/ on line 3
  • Home
  • FTA events: Save forests, or lose the rain

FTA events: Save forests, or lose the rain

Notice: Undefined variable: id_overview in /home/ft4user/ on line 64
Wet season view across the Madre de Dios river, Puerto Maldonado, Peru. Photo by Kate Evans for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
Posted by


By Kate Evans, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Marking World Water Day on 22 March, we are highlighting the essential links between forests and water. For more on this topic, check in to the live stream of the virtual symposium ‘Cool insights for a hot world’, hosted on 21-22 March 2017 by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA).

New research has revealed a multitude of ways in which forests create rain and cool local climates, urging a closer look at forests’ capabilities beyond just climate change mitigation.

In a recent paper, 22 researchers from as many diverse institutions, call for a paradigm shift in the way the international community views forests and trees, from a carbon-centric model to one that recognizes their importance in cross-continental water cycles, as well as at the local scale.

“People are used to hearing the idea that forests are really important, but we now have a much deeper insight into why the loss of forest cover can have such a huge impact on water availability- especially for people downwind,” says study co-author Douglas Sheil from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

“The links are so much stronger than people previously thought. And if policymakers and land use planners are not aware of that, that’s a huge shortfall in decision making.”

So what exactly do we now know about forests and water?

Wet season view across the Madre de Dios river, Puerto Maldonado, Peru. Photo by Kate Evans for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Forests help raindrops form

Every day, forests replenish the supply of water vapour in the atmosphere. They draw up water through their roots, and release it from their leaves via transpiration. Along with evaporation from oceans and other water bodies, this is what drives the water cycle and charges the atmosphere with water vapor.

“The process is so powerful that it can be seen from space,” says co-author David Gaveau from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). “If you look at satellite images [above] of the Amazon, central Africa, or Southeast Asia, you can see these flashes of water vapor bubbling up.”

“We use the phrase ‘lungs of the planet’ all the time, but here you can really see this natural rhythm of forests actually breathing water vapor into the atmosphere.”

Recent studies have shown that as much as 70 percent of the atmospheric moisture generated over land areas comes from plants (as opposed to evaporation from lakes or rivers) – much more than previously thought.

In addition, new research has revealed that forests also play a key role in water vapor actually forming clouds and then falling as rain.

Trees emit aerosols that contain tiny biological particles – fungal spores, pollen, microorganisms and general biological debris – that are swept up into the atmosphere. Rain can only fall when atmospheric water condensates into droplets, and these tiny particles make that easier by providing surfaces for the water to condense onto.

Some of these plant-based microorganisms even help water molecules to freeze at higher temperatures – a crucial step for cloud formation in temperate zones.

“These particles are incredibly important for the occurrence of rainfall in the first place,” says the study’s lead author David Ellison, from Ellison Consulting and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.  “If they’re missing, rainfall might not occur, or will occur less frequently.”

Trees can actually increase local water availability

Though the accepted orthodoxy is that trees remove water from catchments, and that planting trees reduces water availability for local people, another “game-changing” study has turned that assumption on its head.

“In a water-short environment, where people are digging their wells ever deeper because the groundwater is disappearing, it was believed that there’s a trade-off between planting trees and the water people need,” says Sheil. “A lot of donors have avoided supporting tree-planting in arid parts of the world because they see this as a conflict.”

But research conducted by Ulrik Ilstedt from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, one of the study’s co-authors, has shown that in dry landscapes, trees (at some densities) can actually increase the availability of water, by assisting with groundwater recharge.

“What Ulrik has showed is that in the drylands of Africa, if you start planting trees you get an initial rise in the amount water in the landscape, because the trees actually use less water than the amount of additional water they allow to infiltrate through the soil,” Sheil says.

Tree roots – and the animals they attract like ants, termites and worms – help to create holes in the soil for the water to flow through.

“It’s pretty exciting,” says Sheil. “In huge areas of Africa, people can now start to plant trees. If you’re only interested in carbon, there are still lots of carbon benefits,” he says. “This is a win-win in every sense.”

Forests cool locally and globally

In tropical and temperate regions, forests cool the earth’s surface.  It’s not just that they provide shade – the water they transpire also cools the air nearby.

“One single tree is equivalent to two air conditioners, and can reduce the temperature by up to 2 degrees,” says study author Daniel Murdiyarso, from CIFOR.

Maintaining tree cover can therefore reduce high temperatures and buffer some of the extremes likely to arise with climate change, the authors say.

The effect can even be seen in urban environments, says Gaveau. “We all feel it – if you go to the park on a hot day, and you go under a tree, you’ll feel the cooling effect.”

Forests may draw moisture into the heart of continents

The authors also draw attention to a recent theory that proposes that forests create winds, bringing rain into the heart of continents – and that without continuous forest cover from the coast to the interior, rainfall would drastically diminish.

The ‘biotic pump’ theory includes physical mechanisms not present in current climate models, and still hasn’t been proven, but scientists from CIFOR believe it is credible.

The model proposes that forests generate low atmospheric pressure, sucking moist air inland from the ocean, creating a positive feedback loop.

“One value of this theory is that it allows us to explain how we can get really high rainfall in the interior of continents – the Amazon Basin in South America and the Congo Basin in Africa – when the original source of water, the ocean, is so far from where the rain is falling,” says Sheil.

Another of the study’s authors, Dominick Spracklen, has previously showed that across most of the tropics, air that has passed over extensive vegetation in the preceding few days produces at least twice as much rain as air that has passed over little vegetation – showing the immediate effect of deforestation on rainfall patterns.

Forests affect water availability downwind – not just downstream

The atmospheric moisture generated by forests doesn’t just stay in the local catchment. In fact, most of it is blown by prevailing winds into other regions, countries, or even continents.

“The more that you remove forests and other vegetation cover from terrestrial surfaces, the more you damage that cross-continental water transport,” says Ellison.

That has geo-political consequences that are not yet well understood.

“We want people to start to think in terms of ‘upwind and downwind’ dynamics. Where does your water come from, and how much does the catchment basin that you’re a part of contribute to downwind rainfall?”

“If you’re a land-use planner or a water management planner, what happens if you remove forests? How does that impact people downwind? If you’re in a catchment with a declining water supply, how might you influence that through upwind interventions?”

These questions require extensive collaboration between countries, new institutional frameworks that don’t currently exist, and new ways of thinking about water catchments.

For example, an international partnership called the Nile River Basin Initiative currently only includes the countries that are part of the actual Nile catchment basin and use its water, Ellison says. But the central African countries where the rain comes from are not involved.

“So then the question becomes, who should be involved in the management of a catchment basin, if the source countries for the moisture are somewhere else? How can they be included? Can you get them to recognise that what goes on in their country may be closely connect to what happens in yours?”

“You can easily understand how this leads to dilemmas,” he says.

A call to action

The link between forests and climate is intuitive, and easily understood by everyone, says Gaveau. “When you look at the morning mist rising from a forest, you see that forests are transpiring water vapor. If you sit under a tree on a hot day in a city, you’ll feel cooler.”

“At the moment, the nexus between forests and water is sort of treated as a co-benefit to the carbon story, but it should be front and center. Carbon can seem abstract to many people, but a glass of drinking water – that’s a tangible thing.”

Given the mounting scientific evidence for just how strong this connection is, the study’s numerous authors have issued a “call to action”.

We need a new way of looking at forests that prioritizes water, they argue – even within the global climate change framework.

Protecting forests to ensure access to water will inevitably also increase carbon storage, mitigate climate change, and have other immediate benefits, says Murdiyarso.

“If you are talking about carbon, you will see the results in 15, 50, or 100 years. But we see these cycling processes of water every day.”

“Hopefully, this approach can shift the paradigm, and the course of the debate on climate change adaptation and mitigation.”

Back to top

Sign up to our monthly newsletter

Connect with us