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Webinar Report – Innovations to overcome barriers to access to finance for smallholders, SMEs and women

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FTA communications

Innovations to overcome barriers to access to finance for smallholders, SMEs and women

On September 14-18 and 21-25, 2020 the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) held Forest, trees and agroforestry science for transformational change, a 10-day online event. The decadal event exclusive to the FTA community, gathered over 600 registered participants: researchers involved in FTA from its 7 managing partners (The Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT, CATIE, CIFOR, CIRAD, World Agroforestry, INBAR, and Tropenbos International), as well as invited keynotes from external organizations. The conference showcased 179 abstracts (60% of which is in collaboration with FTA’s external partners), 14 keynote presentations, 54 live presentations, 62 asynchronous presentations, and 40 technical posters.

The FTA researchers from all over the world convened online to present the most exciting research results in the programme, exchange experiences and lessons learned, and reflect on the way forward for transformative change in the fields of forestry and agroforestry science.

All the material from the conference can be found on the dedicated portal

As a follow up from the FTA 2020 Science Conference, FTA and its managing partners are now releasing knowledge products, extracting the highlights from the conference and bringing them to the public. The aim is to inform and support concrete action on the ground, focusing on transformative science derived from FTA’s most innovative research lines.

From Science to Action!

One of the first products deriving from the FTA 2020 Science Conference is the new webinar series “From Science to Action”. Open to the public, these events offer a way to showcase the best outcomes from the research discussed and presented in the various themes of the conference, bring together perspectives from different stakeholders and donors, and gather feedback from the audience. Most importantly, these webinars are also an occasion to present concrete actions that derive from FTA’s research: tools, publications, results that can be used by a wide variety of stakeholders in their activities. On the 26th of November 2020 the webinar series proudly opened its season with a first one on “Innovations to overcome barriers to access to finance for smallholders, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), and women”, developed in coordination with Tropenbos International, who leads the FTA Priority 17 on Innovating finance for sustainable landscapes. The event can be replayed fully at this link.

Innovations to overcome barriers to access to finance for smallholders, SMEs and women

Over the years, the landscape approach has gained momentum and popularity in advancing interdisciplinary and holistic environmental management interventions. It has taken the center spot in discussions in international workshops, academic circles, and scientific debates as the go-to integrated approach in working towards sustainable use of forests, land, and other natural resources.

Much has been said about the landscape approach’s  merits, but scaling up its implementation is lagging. One of the reasons is the lack of access to finance. To address this, FTA works with Tropenbos International (TBI) on innovative finance for sustainable landscapes, focusing on ways to overcome existing barriers for smallholders, SMEs, and women, important landscape actors that are often missed in existing landscape investments. Bringing finance to vulnerable groups and understanding the flows of finance to and from a landscape is crucial to fully realize the sustainability of landscapes.

Michael Allen Brady, FTA’s flagship leader for sustainable value chains and investments, moderated the first webinar, which convened a mix of researchers, financial experts, and government representatives, and attracted around 200 participants, to tackle innovative financial schemes for sustainable land uses with smallholder involvement. The webinar was highly successful and it included 2 polls for further interaction and a lively debate through a Q&A panel chatbox. A number questions from the audience unfortunately went unanswered and thus the panel took on board them after the event and can be read in this document.

A product of an intensive 2-and-a-half-year consultative process, the latest report on ‘Innovative Finance for Sustainable Landscapes’ was launched at the webinar. The lead author of the report, Bas Louman of Tropenbos International (TBI), discussed common barriers that hinder large scale implementation of finance initiatives to transform landscapes. “Funds flow towards landscapes, but, in reality, only a small proportion reaches the field, and even less of that reaches communities and local farmers in small- and medium-sized farms,” Louman said. “We need to learn how to use finance better to transform and upscale our practices to become more sustainable,” he added.

Timeline for the production of the report, which included panel discussions at events, interviews, open consultations and a peer review.

FTA’s Working Paper #7  “Innovative finance for sustainable landscapes” developed with Tropenbos International [PDF]
The report digs deep into three relatively new financial instruments:

  1. Blended financethe strategic use of public or philanthropic development capital to mobilize additional external private commercial finance and can support SDG-related investment (pg. 19);
  2. Green bondsform of debt that links the generated funds to climate goals or environmentally friendly investments (pg. viii); and
  3. Crowdfunding pooling of small amounts of capital from a potentially large number of interested funders (pg. 44).

These innovative financial structures have potential to increase landscapes investments. However, challenges remain for smallholders for tapping into these financial sources. As manifested by the audience reaction to the first poll, more than 80% of them stated that these financial instruments alone are not sufficient or will only partially help overcome the current barriers. The equation is more complex.

Before initiating the discussions, the audience was treated to a poll for the following question: To what extent do you think that the discussed innovative finance structures (green bonds, blended finance, crowd funding) address the barriers for local farm and forest producer organizations to access finance? These were the results:

Participants of the webinar voted on the extent of the effectivity of the three financial instruments (green bonds, blended finance, and crowdfunding) in addressing the barriers encountered by smallholders in accessing finance.

Risk – both on the investors and investees side – is clearly one of the greater barriers in allowing financial flows in landscape management. How big are these risks, who should bare them, and as Felix Hoogveld of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands asked: “If you blend public and private finance, how do you share the risks? How do you come to a reasonable and fair balance of risks?” “It is a negotiation,” Louman said. “Together, different actors should have a mutual understanding of each other’s business, what are reasonable business risks, what are additional risks due to entering into a relatively unknown business, and how much risks is each party willing to take,” he replied.

Another obstacle for smallholder groups is the literacy of farmers and SMEs about these financial instruments. “(It is a) challenge for a lot of investors and banks to finance farmer producer groups who do not have a credit history or are too risky for a traditional credit perspective,” said Ivo Mulder, head of the Climate Finance Unit of UN Environment Programme. There is a need to support farmers in strengthening their financial literacy in order to improve their presentation of business cases to financial institutions.

Financial regulations and capital requirements are also barring smallholders. “The longer-term investment loans, which all tie to sustainable landscapes, are extremely unattractive for financial institutions to look at,” Eelko Bronkhorst of Financial Access commented. “Simply because they are multi-year and therefore the capital allocation is risky,” he added.

Currently, there are pilot initiatives on innovative risk strategies such as the interventions illustrated in the report of Guatemala’s Association of Forest Communities of Petén (ACOFOP) and the forest company Komaza in Kenya, which both yielded positive results. But more need to be documented and promoted.

A second poll was then conducted to understand the audience’s point of view on the important steps for effective sustainable landscapes.

Most of the participants to the webinar thought that designing locally appropriate financial instruments, similar to what ACOFOP did in Guatemala, is the most important step to follow through for sustainable landscapes finance.

Designing a mechanism of blended finance, which incentivizes behavior change, and looks at the gender lens to modify investors’ perceptions and assessing opportunities, has been at the center of Impact Investment Exchange (IIX) work. “Instead of regarding women as a risky investment, we are actually able to show that their involvement in economic activities invested in mitigates risks. And we do this through data,” Chien said. By changing investors and companies’ perspectives and practices, IIX can tap financial opportunities and make them more inclusive to smallholders. “We connect the back streets to the wall streets,” Chien added.

Developing diverse investment portfolios with different levels of risk was also suggested. “(Usually) we look at only one crop, such as oil palm, rubber, rather than investing in a series of crops in the same area,” Louman suggested. “(Considering multiple crops) could spread the risks of investments and different asset forms.”

Presenting agroforestry as a ‘business’ case is reflective of this diverse portfolio. But for this to be successful, other mechanisms should be looked into, such as payment for ecosystem services (PES). “When you combine agriculture with planting trees, then actually those farmers are also producing public goods. When there is no PES, it would be even harder to achieve a kind of rate of return.”, said Busink.

The crucial role of governments in facilitating finance for sustainable landscapes was also highlighted in the conversation. “One thing the governments could think of is to ask for a percentage of the capital be directed to farmer producer groups,” Mulder said. Governments are integral in addressing fundamental issues in the landscapes, such as tenure insecurity, which implicates financing. “What is the long-term prospect for them (the farmers) to make investments, if you’re not sure that the land is yours after five years,” Busink said.

“Speaking the same language” is one of the recommendations. “So much gets lost in translation,” Bronkhorst said. “If we can find a way to translate our work into a simple business case to start… that could be a very practical approach,” he added. Collaborations with existing institutions that could act as intermediaries are seen to fill this gap. Farmers and SMEs should be put in a position to understand precisely what investors have to offer, with all the implications, while financers should take into consideration the culture, expectations, needs and methods of their future investees.

The momentum and the drive to unlock capital and investments for sustainable landscapes are getting stronger. With a new GEF project – Green Finance for Sustainable Landscapes, Mulder presented an opportunity to tap private capital from banks and financial institutions. “The finance case is (still) weak” Mulder said. “But we aim to increase financial, time-bound commitments,” he added.

In 2021, FTA will be bringing its technical expertise into consolidating its partnerships with UNEP, IIX and Financial Access, amongst other institutions, to accelerate the financing of landscape initiatives for sustainability. “We have an issue of urgency here,” Vincent Gitz, Director of FTA, underlined. “There is plenty of money for investments. Now is an opportunity to find how that could reach the bottom of the pyramid”, he said.

FTA and Tropenbos’ newly launched report Innovative finance for sustainable landscapes “is a wonderful way to set the stage for future collaborations,” Chien concluded.


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  • What’s in it for gender researchers when it comes to UN Women’s gender and SDGs report?

What’s in it for gender researchers when it comes to UN Women’s gender and SDGs report?

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A woman and her father-in-law pick up a permit to collect fuelwood in the Chisapani Community Forest, Nepal. Photo by Chandra Shekhar Karki/CIFOR

UN Women’s 2018 flagship report on gender and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offers a framework to monitor each of the 17 SDGs from a gender perspective, and takes stock of their performance to date. 

In a two-part series, Bimbika Sijapati Basnett, gender coordinator for the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) gender scientist, analyzes the report and its implications for the CGIAR gender research community. Sijapati Basnett recently published a brief evaluating this role.

With this article, she reviews the strengths and limitations of the UN Women report – Turning promises into action: Gender equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – for gender researchers wishing to contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The highest echelons of the United Nations have hailed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as “a victory for gender equality” [1]. Concerns are mounting, however, over how the SDGs will be interpreted and implemented, and whether they will make a difference to the lives of women and girls the world over.

The UN Women 2018 flagship report offers a framework to monitor each of the 17 SDGs from a gender and social inclusion perspective, and it takes stock of that performance to date.

The report calls for greater collaboration among governments, researchers and women’s rights organizations to realize the 2030 Agenda. How? By tracking progress against the goals, identifying achievements and gaps, and highlighting implementation challenges and opportunities.

Read more: UN Women’s evaluation of gender in the SDGs – What’s the role for the CGIAR?


Turning promises into action: Gender equality in the 2030 agenda for sustainable development

The report makes a strong case for leveraging data, evidence and analysis, to inform the duties and performance standards of those in positions of power, and to help assess compliance and enforcement of sanctions and remedies where required.

“The ultimate test for the 2030 Agenda will be whether the SDGs are achieved by 2030” (43).

The report’s excellent assessment of the current ‘Global Indicator Framework for the Sustainable Development Goals’ offers strategic entry points for CGIAR (and/or gender researchers outside of CGIAR) to address current limitations in data, methods and analyses. The Global Indicator Framework comprises 232 indicators to track and monitor progress against the SDGs. The Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development is the inter-governmental body responsible for developing and providing technical support for implementation of the framework. The UN Women report also offers conceptual, methodological and policy directions for future CGIAR research.

Some key messages and highlights from the report are listed below.

Strategic entry points

Although gender equality matters to all 17 goals, the current Global Indicator Framework is inadequate for gender responsive monitoring of the SDGs because:

  • Only six of the 17 SDG goals are gender sensitive (SDGs 1, 3, 4, 5, 8 and 16); five goals are gender sparse (SDG 2, 19, 11, 13 and 17) and the remaining six are gender blind (SDGs 6, 7, 9, 12, 14 and 15).
  • The available gender data presents gaps.
  • There is inadequate investment and funding for additional or quality data collection.
  • Data collection methodologies present deep biases (e.g. censuses, labor surveys).

Upon assessing all 54 gender-specific indicators and analyzing one indicator per goal in detail to illustrate progress, gaps and challenges to date, the report calls for: “serious analytical work that sharpens our understanding of how to capture, measure and monitor meaningful change for women and girls” (73).

The report suggests this gap is particularly clear in new and emerging areas, such as understanding the gender implications of climate change.

Commitment to intersectionality

The report highlights that focusing on women as a group is insufficient to measure progress. Gender inequalities only acquire meaning and significance when they interact and intersect with other social relations. Many women and girls face multiple forms of discrimination – e.g. accessing resources, services and opportunities – based on aspects of their identity that differentiate them from more advantaged groups. It is critical to move beyond averages and to identify and compare how the most marginalized fare on key well-being markers in relation to other groups.

Through four country study summaries (see Chapter 3), the report shows how average aggregate figures on women’s wellbeing often mask significant variations across regions, ethnic, racial and income groups. This is a considerable departure from previous reports that had given lip service to ‘differences among women’ and treated women as a group (UN Women 2014; Asher and Sijapati Basnett 2016).

This is also the first time that a high-profile global report has engaged seriously with feminist concerns with ‘intersectionality’ in a substantial way. While intersectionality has long been considered a ‘gold standard’ for analyzing experiences of identity and oppression in feminist and gender theories, scholars have been concerned that ‘gender’ and ‘gender inequalities’ are simplified, both in policy and practice (Nash 2008; Arora-Jonsson 2014; Ihalainen et al. 2016; Colfer et al. 2018).

Read also: Making sense of ‘intersectionality’: A manual for lovers of people and forests

Spotlight on structural barriers to gender equality 

The report devotes two chapters to structural barriers to gender equality: eliminating all forms of violence against women (Chapter 5); and addressing unpaid care and domestic work (Chapter 6). The Millennium Development Goals, predecessors to the SDGs, were heavily criticized for omitting these dimensions of inequality (see Razavi 2016, Chant and Sweetman 2012, Kabeer 2003).

Chapter 6 of the report highlights that women perform the vast majority of unpaid and care work across the world. The distribution of such work remains the same, despite women increasingly joining the labor force through formal employment.

Policies and interventions aimed at empowering women economically (e.g. through greater involvement in value chains, financial literacy and new livelihood opportunities) must go hand in hand with initiatives to reduce women’s paid and unpaid work burdens, recognize their work and redistribute it within the family, as well as among families and wider institutions.

Policies and accountability

The report clearly highlights what actions are needed, as well as who should be responsible for implementation and accountable for action/inaction. It suggests that governments should prioritize universal systems that are financed and used by everyone, and simultaneously target efforts towards ensuring access for historically excluded groups. This approach offers a stance on a long-standing debate within social policy on ‘universal’ or ‘targeted policies’ for addressing poverty reduction and social inequalities (see Mkandawire 2005).

The report also highlights that governments are primarily responsible for implementation, because other actors cannot be held accountable in the way that governments can (see Chandhoke 2003). The report seeks to temper current enthusiasm around the private sector’s role in realizing the SDGs, drawing attention to the fact that private businesses are not yet bound by any global set of rules on business and human rights, and their actions do not always align with objectives of sustainable development and gender equality (Kabeer 2017).


A couple in a peatland area in Indonesia. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

The report also presents pitfalls and limitations from a methodological, conceptual and policy application perspective.

Methodologically, the report mainly privileges quantitative methods over qualitative and mixed methods. The risk here is to imply that any research seeking to monitor the 2030 Global Agenda must comply with pre-existing national datasets (such as national census data and demographic health, labor and living standard measurement surveys) rather than additionally taking advantage of the wide variety of other research available.

Conceptually, Chapter 3 on ‘Moving beyond the averages’ provides only lip service to the risks of using pre-existing categories to identify who the marginalized are and what sustains their marginalization. The chapter does not adequately consider the reality that ‘targeting the poor and the marginalized’ is an inherently political and contested process. Likewise, it presents just one methodological approach (the ‘inter-categorical approach’, see McCall 2015 or Colfer et al. 2018) for examining the intersection between gender and other axes of social difference.

Chapter 6 on ‘Unpaid and care work’ demonstrates this report was written by a committee of writers who do not always write with one voice; this makes the report lack coherence in many places. As such, while most of the chapters point to knowledge and data gaps, Chapter 6 reads more like a definitive guide on how to address women’s unpaid work and care burdens. Likewise, the report’s overall stance against the private sector or corporations is rather dogmatic, and does not offer a realistic way of engaging with them and/or holding their actions to account.

On the question of the potential impact of such reports, the report was published by UN Women rather than by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development or the UN Statistical Commission for the Global Monitoring of 169 SDG Targets. It is therefore unclear whether (and if so, how) the analyses and recommendations offered by the report will inform broader SDG monitoring efforts. Given the global scope of the report, the findings only provide broad brushstrokes of key challenges and opportunities. They must be validated through national and locally relevant monitoring, too.

Despite these limitations and the subsequent need to interpret it with caution, the report is an impressive first attempt at taking stock of performance against each SDG from a gender and social inclusion perspective. It also calls for more concerted SDG monitoring efforts by different actors, including research organizations.

In an upcoming article, I will outline how CGIAR can play a meaningful role in contributing to future efforts to monitor SDGs from a gender and social inclusion perspective.

By Bimbika Sijapati Basnett, originally published by the CGIAR Collaborative Platform for Gender Research

Notes: [1] Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN Women) in UN Women 2018, 18

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