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Finding effective ways to ensure sustainable supplies of forest-risk commodities

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Shea nut processing in Burkina Faso. Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
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Cross-sectoral jurisdictional approaches offer promise  

The increased consumption and production of a range of raw material and commodities, so-called “Forest-risk commodities” such as palm oil, soy, cocoa, coffee, rubber, timber and beef, contributes significantly to global tropical deforestation and forest degradation.

As both global and domestic demand grows for such commodities, they constitute one of the biggest threats to forests, leading to tree and vegetation removal – often due to burning – biodiversity loss and the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Often their cultivation through large industrial-scale estates can also pose threats to the livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

How to secure the sustainable production and consumption of such commodities, without impinging on forests, is therefore a key challenge for public and private actors. But acting on commodities and value chains to reduce deforestation is complex because of several factors.

First, value chains can be very long or complex, making the link between production and consumption very distant. Second, the way production chains, logistics and markets are organized make products difficult to trace, making attribution and accountability difficult. Third, how these value chains operate within landscapes is often not controlled either at the value chain or the landscape level. How public and private actors can effectively work together in landscapes and along value chains is key to solving these problems.

Cable system to transport oil palm harvest in San Martin, Peru. Photo by Juan Carlos Huayllapuma/CIFOR

Expansion of trade in forest-risk commodities led to increased pressure from civil society organizations, consumers, international banks and shareholders of consumer goods companies to develop and implement a diverse array of instruments and tools to promote sustainable or deforestation-free sourcing, and as a way to reduce their exposure to reputational, financial and regulatory risks. Multi-stakeholder platforms and commodity roundtables also emerged, in response to criticisms of government failures.

FTA’s new Working Paper  “Reviewing initiatives to promote sustainable supply chains” focuses on on forest-risk commodities [PDF]
Researchers at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), France’s International Cooperation Center in Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD) and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) through the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) have conducted a comprehensive review of initiatives to promote sustainability including recent “hybrid” initiatives that involve governments at the national or subnational levels to create a better enabling environment for the private sector.

The multiplication of sustainability initiatives has also been driven by the growing complexity and diversity of conditions under which agri-food and timber supply chains operate. Private sector actors increasingly define and monitor their own sustainability performance by using certification standards or by developing their own procedures and criteria.

More recently, a discernible shift from supply-chain-based or sectoral approaches toward landscape or jurisdictional approaches has been seen as a way to meet sustainability goals. However, the growing complexity of policy regimes results in ambiguities and can lead to trade-offs between gains and losses. The findings of the FTA review suggest that many aspects of complex policy regimes are not yet well understood by policymakers, scientists or the public.

Amongst the supply-chain based and sector-based approaches, Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS), are market-driven mechanisms introduced to ensure that social economic and environmental sustainability issues are addressed in the production, processing and trade of agricultural and forestry commodities.

“Although VSS have been widely adopted, they have come under greater scrutiny in recent years and are often associated with high transaction costs (usually transferred to the end-consumers), the need to meet increasingly complex sustainability and legality standards, the exclusion of smallholders, the frequent lack of any premium for certified products and weaknesses in compliance,” said Andrew Wardell, a principal scientist with CIFOR.

The scientific evidence on the economic, environmental and social outcomes of tropical forest certification is encouraging although regional differences do occur. Take, for example, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which since the early 1990s ensures that the chain of custody for production, transformation and sales of timber complies to specific voluntary, third-party audited standards, including covering sustainable forest management and avoiding deforestation.

“There is no doubt that the FSC has achieved a great deal of progress, but it’s not an unqualified success,” said Marie-Gabrielle Piketty, a researcher with CIRAD and a joint author on a review of FSC in Brazil. “Like most sustainability standards, it faces the classic dilemma of balancing stringency needed to ensure the sustainability of FSC-certified forest management, while becoming more inclusive.”

As a result, new public and private commitments have emerged to reduce deforestation and include initiatives based on either sectoral approaches with a focus on supply-side interventions, or mixed supply-chain and territorial approaches at the jurisdictional level. Government-led regulations can guide the private sector to ensure greater third-party accountability and reduce reputational risk.

Timber processing in Yaoundé – Cameroon. Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

Similarly, environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are increasingly engaged as intermediaries to help companies address social and environmental risks in the supply chain, and to support sub-national governments in meeting their sustainability commitments.

“We need greater transparency to ensure that companies aren’t just paying lip service to environmental sustainability initiatives, but that they can substantiate claims that deforestation has been reduced,” Wardell said.

FTA’s brief on FLEGT-like approaches for West and Central Africa Cocoa’s sustainability [PDF]
To this end, the Accountability Framework initiative (Afi) developed a global disclosure system which aims to stimulate ethical supply chains by tracking progress toward eliminating deforestation and other forms of ecosystem conversion from corporate supply chains. Uptake and compliance challenges remain and Afi released a baseline for 2020 in an effort to improve disclosure for deforestation-free supply chains.

Some state-led interventions can be effective. For example, the European Union Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade action plan (FLEGT), restricts imports of unsustainably produced and illegal timber. The European Commission is currently exploring ways to enforce a Due Diligence based regulation for other forest-risk commodities. Nevertheless, the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF), a voluntary public-private commitment to halve deforestation by 2020 will be missed and meeting its 2030 target of ending deforestation will require an unprecedented reduction in the rate of annual forest loss, according to a recent assessment.

Seeking solutions

Jurisdictional approaches, which align governments, businesses, non-governmental organizations, social organizations and local stakeholders in specific areas around common interests in land-use governance, are now often considered to have the most potential. They can ensure and provide incentives for sustainability compliance across a whole geographic area, a key issue which value-chains or sector-based approaches fail to address, or often only partially address given the existence of spatial leakage (when some areas in a landscape are not compliant) or sectoral leakage (when some value chains in a landscape are not covered by a sustainability scheme). Some of these initiatives have been developed around the notion of enhancing regulatory frameworks and enforcement, while others constitute partnerships for improving the uptake of good practices for a specific commodity within wider land-use planning and service provisions schemes. Others involve de-risking schemes for financial actors when they invest in forest-risk landscapes or constitute wider partnerships to advance sustainability at the jurisdictional level.

Soy beans, Santa Cuz, Bolivia. Photo by Neil Palmer / CIAT

“Some corporate actors are actively developing place-based solutions not only as a risk management strategy to delink their supply chains from deforestation, but also to benefit from longer term investments in the sustainability of the landscapes or jurisdictions on which their sourcing depends,” said Pablo Pacheco, global forests lead scientist at WWF.

“We shouldn’t focus only on the negative consequences associated with the expansion of forest-risk commodities, but also contribute to the development of a more positive agenda, which supports livelihoods and local people’s rights, protects nature and restores forests in addition to slowing deforestation,” he added.

“Trying to bring together disparate people to achieve common goals isn’t easy because supply chains and jurisdictional governments have different priorities,” Wardell said.

“Several teams – and some through FTA – have started to better highlight some possible impact pathways and shortcomings of jurisdictional approaches, but empirical knowledge remains incomplete,” Piketty said. “Lessons from existing case studies need to be systematized.”

“There’s a clear need to better understand how interactions between state regulations and non-state sustainability initiatives can combine supply chain management and jurisdictional approaches to stimulate wider uptake of improved practices by smallholders,” Wardell said.

“As well, determining how to evaluate impact is a key challenge, due to the many variables that come into play, thus research and science will continue to have an important role to play,” he added.

This article was written by Julie Mollins.

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


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  • Insecurity, COVID-19 hit women-led shea sector on eve of Africa free trade deal

Insecurity, COVID-19 hit women-led shea sector on eve of Africa free trade deal

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After they are roasted and crushed, the shea nuts are ground into a fine paste by women in Burkina Faso. CIFOR/Ollivier Girard
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Article originally posted on Forest News.

Emphasis on agri-business exports puts small-scale producers at risk

Women have dominated shea production and sales for centuries in West Africa, managing trees, gathering nuts, roasting and crushing kernels to create rich butter used in cooking, cosmetics and medicines.

This women-led shea market value chain now faces increasing uncertainties on various fronts, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A deteriorating security situation in Burkina Faso has seen the country “replace Mali at the epicenter of the Sahel’s security crisis” over the past year, as countries in the semi-arid region engage in increasingly volatile battles against insurgencies with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State.

To explore the potential impact of multiple changes affecting domestic and international trade in shea, the Global Shea Alliance (GSA) – a multi-stakeholder platform comprised of government, private sector, non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, research and women’s shea producer associations – recently organized three online sessions for a “Virtual Shea Lab.”

The shea trade has been seen by Europeans as a potentially lucrative investment opportunity from at least the early 20th century, said Andrew Wardell, a principal scientist with the Center for International Research (CIFOR), who delivered one of the presentations during the event.

“Various historical, political, economic and social threads are becoming entangled and should be addressed to protect the industry as the region confronts a confluence of significant crises and changes,” he said.

The first significant European incursions into the shea sector involved so-called Treaties of Friendship and Trade that were negotiated with local chiefs by the French, British and Germans as early as the 1890s.

In 1924, a colonial superintendent of agriculture and forestry in the Gold Coast Colony – now Ghana – observed that the collecting of shea kernels was entirely done by women, but anticipated that would change “…when it was found out there was money to be made from shea kernels,” Wardell said.

The most significant growth in shea demand in Burkina Faso has occurred over the past 20 years as large agri-business firms producing Cocoa Butter Equivalents (CBEs) have established trading bases and crushing facilities in the south-west of the country.

Although prices and the volume of trade in shea nuts have both increased, profit margins for women shea nut producers have been reduced as an oligarchy of wholesalers in Bobo Dioulasso — the country’s second largest city after the capital Ouagadougou — continue to act as intermediaries in bulking-up for the large transnational corporations, said Wardell, who has studied the sector for 20 years.

“In Burkina Faso, where 94 percent of households collect shea nuts and 60 percent of households sell shea nuts or butter, shea is the fourth largest source of government revenues after gold, cotton and livestock,” he said. “Not only is it the most significant source of household revenues and subsistence use for women, but it remains a staple food oil for more than 200 million people across sub-Saharan Africa.”


The CBE technology was developed in the 1960s, although the main CBE manufacturers, including the Danish-Swedish speciality fats producer AAK AB., Indian fats and cosmetics company 3F Industries Ltd. and the U.S. agricultural commodities trader Bunge Ltd. did not establish trading bases or crushing facilities in the country until after 2005. Previously, they operated out of West African ports such as Abidjan, Tema and Cotonou and hence, depended on in-country wholesalers.

“Since global demand in chocolate products grew in the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – we’ve seen a big growth in demand for shea nuts for use in chocolate manufacture because it’s much less expensive as a raw material,” Wardell said, explaining that cocoa butter can now be substituted up to 5 percent by a so-called equivalent.

Although the CBE manufacturers have recently initiated direct purchasing from women’s shea producer associations, they remain dependent on a complex pyramidal purchasing network established by Bobo Dioulasso wholesalers during the colonial period.

The network trading is based on trust, distant kinships, “apprenticeship” of wholesaler family members and an intimate knowledge of local units of sale — yoruba and cocotassa — and weight loss associated with the drying of shea nuts, he said.

The shea trade in Burkina Faso is now divided into two basic strands, Wardell added. The smaller strand, which represents about 10 percent of trade, is a classic agri-food, vertically-integrated value chain, driven by buyers and increasingly governed by trading standards. This is similar to the horticultural trade from other sub-Saharan African countries such as Kenya with European supermarkets. In this scenario, shea is typically traded as butter to supply the cosmetics industry.

The second strand is where 90 percent of the trade now occurs; it involves the unprocessed nuts or semi-processed nuts. The nuts are crushed, then they are fractionated to separate the different oils, the latter occurring outside the country.


Now, the coronavirus pandemic poses new threats due to lockdowns, which have limited business activities, led to unemployment and reduced incomes, and limited mobility while creating obstacles to free trade, even as the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement (AfCFTA) moves ever closer to implementation.

Once roasted, Rabo Nafissatou (L) and Bassia Mariam grind the shea nuts to a paste, mix it with water and beat it. CIFOR/Ollivier Girard

“COVID-19 has made the 16 million women throughout sub-Saharan Africa who rely on revenues from shea nuts and shea butter increasingly vulnerable,” Wardell said.

The U.N. Economic Commission for Africa estimates that the African continent will face an immediate decline in gross domestic product growth from 3.2 percent to 1.8 percent in 2020 due to COVID-19, but with a further adverse impact if it is not contained in the short-term, said Ify Ogo, regional coordination specialist for AfCFTA at the U.N. Development Programme and a speaker at the GSA Africa Conference 2020.

Trade is a significant conduit for this negative impact through three transmission channels,” she said, explaining that compressed demand related to Africa’s most important trading partners — including the European Union, China, the United States and India — are undergoing simultaneous crises and reducing imports.

Additionally, prices for many of the commodity exports on which Africa depends are dropping. Finally, disrupted supply chains are taking a toll, more than half of Africa’s exports go to countries that are significantly affected by COVID-19, while 53 percent of its imports originate from such significantly affected countries, she said, adding that quarantines and movement restrictions further frustrate supply chains.

GSA could see financial gains through AfCFTA, which came into effect in 2019, Ogo said.

But it remains unclear if women shea butter producers will see economic benefits when the free trade agreement — which was originally to be launched on July 1, but has now been put on hold due to coronavirus — is eventually implemented.

While negotiations are still underway, 55 member countries would remove tariffs from 90 percent of goods, with the goal of boosting trade on a continent-wide free trade market valued at more than $3 trillion, which would serve 1.2 billion people.

Shea nuts are harvested in Burkina Faso between mid-June and mid-September. After the pulp is removed, the nut is then washed and allowed to dry. CIFOR/Ollivier Girard

Under the agreement, shea exports could increase due to the removal of trade tariffs on shea products. Currently, tariffs on raw shea butter are between 10 and 40 percent in African countries, Ogo said. Other benefits would include the increase in productive capacity and enhancing trade readiness, she said.

Through the agreement, trade has a key role to play as a driver of economic recovery and development, therefore, for Africa, the post-COVID-19 stimulus package is the actual AfCFTA and the implementation of this agreement, she said, citing Wamkele Mene, secretary general of the AfCFTA secretariat.

“Under this scenario, trade routes must be open, so as yet it’s unclear how the single market would benefit women involved in the shea industry,” Wardell said. “As well, due to much of the work occurring in women’s collectives and associations, physical distancing makes production untenable.”

AfCFTA does not necessarily take into account historical trade routes, which are not always reflected in official country borders. Although it may be beneficial over the long term, it is still unclear how AfCFTA will help women shea producers in the short term, even without factoring in COVID complications.

“There is only so far the sector can expand,” Wardell said. “Women clearly get greater financial benefits from value-added processing of shea nuts into shea butter, then selling the unprocessed nuts. Even though there are greater volumes involved, the women are still getting proportionately very little from the trade in shea nuts.”

Research into this area continues at CIFOR through Globalizations in a nutshell: Opportunities and risks for women shea producers in West African shea parklands. The project, which is supported by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), has so far supported three master’s students from Nazi Boni University’s Institute of Rural Development in Burkina Faso.

“Three draft theses are under review, one by a student studying the costs and benefits of certification of shea butter as a way of increasing the revenues of women shea producers,” Wardell said.


By Julie Mollins. FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with Bioversity International, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR, ICRAF and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Can research be transformative? Challenging gender norms around trees and land restoration in West Africa

Can research be transformative? Challenging gender norms around trees and land restoration in West Africa

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Gloria Adeyiga (left), Ana Maria Paez (centre) and Emilie Smith Dumont present research findings to the community of Gwenia, northern Ghana. Photo by ICRAF

Trees are important sources of income for many women in the drylands of West Africa, yet women often have little say in decisions about how land and trees are managed or how household income is used.

This story reports on a series of community workshops organized by the West Africa Forest-Farm Interface (WAFFI) project, which set out to explore gender inequity and what might be done to change things for the better.

Community members listened with rapt attention as research findings about differences in sources of household income and decision-making powers among men and women were presented in graphs drawn on large sheets of paper. There was a lot of interesting material to digest and to discuss. The results showed large variations in access to assets and resources among men and women, and some strong imbalances in how decisions are made within households.

WAFFI is led by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in collaboration with World Agroforestry (ICRAF) and Tree Aid with support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). WAFFI aims to identify practices and policy actions that improve the income and food security of smallholders in Burkina Faso and Ghana through integrated forest and tree management systems that are environmentally sound and socially equitable.

Read also: Momentum builds to expand scale of land restoration for regreening of northern Ghana

At one workshop, fifteen women and eight men from the village of Gwenia in Kassena-Nankana West District in Ghana’s Upper East Region, ranging in age from late teens to early 80s, gathered in the women’s community center. Facilitating the activities were Gloria Adeyiga of the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana, ICRAF gender specialist Ana Maria Paez Valencia and Emilie Smith Dumont, who has coordinated the WAFFI project in northern Ghana and southern Burkina Faso for ICRAF.

This is a region where diminishing tree resources, land degradation and climate change have increased women’s vulnerability, while restrictive sociocultural norms offer limited opportunities for women to participate in, and benefit from, landscape restoration or agroforestry initiatives. ICRAF scientists think that addressing gender inequity is key to unlocking women’s potential to make livelihoods and landscapes more productive and resilient.

In Gwenia, Adeyiga and Smith Dumont presented findings from their innovative participatory research that explored wealth variations within, and across, communities. Interviews had been conducted simultaneously with the male family head and one adult female in 36 households.

Tree dependence is high in the region, so income from tree resources was of particular interest. The data showed that while women are involved in all farm and livestock activities, they depend heavily on trees for cash income that they can control; a quarter of women bring in more than 40% of household income from tree products.

Read more: Farmers’ knowledge of soil quality indicators along a land degradation gradient in Rwanda.  

The main tree products in the area are shea nuts (Vitellaria paradoxa), charcoal, firewood, baobab fruit (Adansonia digitate), shea butter processed from the nuts, and tamarind.

For women, shea nuts are extremely important. More than half of the households surveyed receive income from the nuts, nearly all of it controlled by women. In households where income comes from firewood and shea butter, most of the income is controlled by women.

Baobab and tamarind (Tamarindus indica) are also income sources exclusively for women. But, where charcoal contributes income, as it does in more than 30% of households, women receive only a very small share of it. Of immediate concern is that shea trees are now the most common source of wood for charcoal making, so a key resource for women is being diminished by the male-dominated charcoal trade.

While tree resources in the area are decreasing because of growing pressure on them for charcoal, clearing for agricultural land, and uncontrolled bush fires, men are becoming increasingly interested in shea, as global markets expand for the precious butter and nuts, used as a cocoa-butter substitute in food, and also in cosmetic products.

When it comes to farm size and access to land, there are also marked gender differences. On average, women cultivate less than half a hectare and men more than four times that much. In 40% of the households, women have no access to land to cultivate themselves. Men make the decisions about how much land is allocated to women.

Participants in Gwenia discuss where to place photos illustrating household duties based on gender norms in the community. Photo by ICRAF

There are variations in cash income between men and women and from one household to the next. On average, almost half of household income comes from crops, mostly from men’s farming, and a third from livestock. But this is not always the case: in some households all of the crop income comes from women. Importantly, as Smith Dumont and Adeyiga reported to the workshop in Gwenia, their research showed that men make most of the decisions on how household income is used.

At the end of the presentation, community members were asked if they were surprised by the gender imbalances the data revealed. One participant, Stephen Adayira, said he was surprised to see the amount of income that women contributed to the household, and that women did so much to support the household.

“Men thought they were doing that,” he said.

Read also: Implications of variation in local perception of degradation and restoration processes for implementing land degradation neutrality

Transforming gender norms

This was not the only time during the workshop that there was surprise expressed about the extent of gender inequity in the community.

In another exercise, participants were given photographs illustrating various household and farm duties, from ploughing fields, to washing clothes or sweeping a compound, to processing seeds from Parkia biglobosa trees to make the condiment dawadawa. They then allocated the photographs to either male, mainly male, mainly female or exclusively female categories that were marked on a sheet of paper, based on who generally performed the tasks.

The placement of the photos revealed that women had far more household responsibilities than men. Asked whether they thought this gender imbalance was creating problems, some female participants responded that it was indeed a problem, and that women ‘age faster’ and ‘get sick more often’ than men.

Participants agreed that there could be more balance in household duties and that a few of the all-female chores — such as washing up and cooking, for example — could readily be shared by men.

The village-level gender workshop was the first of two held under the WAFFI project, the second being in the community of Séloghin in the Nobéré Department of southern Burkina Faso. Both revealed similar gender imbalances and responses from male and female participants. But there was also agreement that things have changed since the time of their grandparents. Men have been assuming a few more previously female responsibilities, women have taken up more farming duties and now have more freedom to speak their minds in public than in the past.

The workshops also included role plays, where women dressed up as men and assumed their roles in making decisions on tree-planting, use of income and in household chores, while men acted as women. These allowed both men and women to challenge gender norms and provoke a great deal of laughter and discussion in both communities. ICRAF scientists think that building these activities into development programs might lead men and women to change their behavior.

Some of the remarks were very telling.

In Séloghin, one young man admitted that playing a woman for him was ‘tiring’ and that he felt ‘shamed’ by the need to listen to a domineering husband.

Bibata Ouedraogo said she enjoyed playing a man.

“It is very interesting being head of the household,” she said. “Even if you don’t tell the truth, you have the power.”

“This will make us change our daily lives,” commented another woman.

Can gender transformative research lead to better restoration outcomes?

Shea butter. Photo by ICRAF

The findings from the WAFFI project, including during these participatory activities, suggest that efforts aimed at land restoration and increased resilience in Sahelian countries will be more successful if they can do something to change gender norms that restrict women’s participation in decision making and undervalue their roles in the landscape and in livelihood systems.

This mirrors recent work in East Africa, showing the importance of differences in how women and men view degradation status across their landscapes and the appropriateness of different restoration options.

“I think these workshops initiated a dialogue in the communities around how gender norms and roles, which usually go unquestioned, may be limiting people from making the best use of the resources they have available,” says ICRAF’s Ana Maria Paez Valencia.

“This dialogue helps them realize these norms can change, to improve their wellbeing and resilience.”

“Tackling harmful gender stereotypes and gaps cannot be considered as an accessory to technical interventions, it is a critical requirement to achieve sustainable outcomes,” says Emilie Smith Dumont.

Gloria Adeyiga was so struck by the potential for transformative change that she now wants to focus her PhD research on the extent to which including gender transformative activities in scaling up agroforestry in the Regreening Africa program can change outcomes, in terms of what tree species are planted and retained in fields, how much income is generated and how it is used to improve the livelihoods of men, women and children in northern Ghana. This is made possible by support from FTA’s Flagship 2.

Edward Akunyagra of World Vision, who coordinates the regreening program in Ghana, said that the WAFFI research has highlighted the need to “develop approaches that integrate gender analysis and participatory methods in ways that support community dialogues around sensitive issues like gender inequity, leading to transformative outcomes and impact.”

By Joan Baxter, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World.

For more information, please contact ICRAF’s Ana Maria Paez Valencia at

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  • GLF session acknowledges difference between tree and land tenure, aims to enhance landscapes

GLF session acknowledges difference between tree and land tenure, aims to enhance landscapes

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A woman roasts shea nuts, before grinding them into a fine paste, in Burkina Faso. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR

Tenure rights to trees are entangled with, but different from, those to land, meaning both must be acknowledged to incentivize stewardship of the landscape by local communities, said delegates at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Nairobi on Aug. 29-30.

Thus, land tenure rights, which are widely recognized as being central to advancing sustainable development goals, are only one part of the picture.

This was one of the main takeaways from the panel Rights, access, and values: trees in shifting economic and political contexts – new insights from sub-Saharan Africa, cohosted by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) and the CGIAR Research Program on People, Institutions and Markets (PIM) at the forum. The panel was chaired by Frank Place, PIM Director.

“We need to do more work to differentiate tree tenure from land tenure,” said Andrew Wardell, senior research associate at the Center for International Forest Research (CIFOR) and coauthor of a study exploring shifts in shea tenure in Burkina Faso.


Claiming tenure over the trees one has planted is a widespread convention across Africa, but shea trees grow wild, so farmers have historically selected and protected them on their lands.

Researchers questioned whether a shea tree belongs to the family that first selected and saved the tree, the family that protected and managed it afterwards. Considerations also included determining whether shea belongs to the wild tree category, in which case, access to the tree is closely linked to access to land.

How these concerns are addressed determines who stands to gain access to, and reap benefits from, a natural resource. Particularly, since customary institutions that formerly regulated access to land and trees are being weakened by new, and rapidly-changing social and economic contexts.

Shea nuts dry after being freed from their pulp and washed in Burkina Faso. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR

“Internal migration driven by climate change, and a boom in the shea trade are two of the key issues playing out in Burkina Faso as a key shea producer country,” explained Wardell. Traditionally, the kernels were seen as an abundant communal resource, which women collected to derive a reliable year-round source of income.

Yet, customary rules are now failing to keep pace with the new, highly competitive context, noted Wardell. In southwestern Burkina Faso, men increasingly claim ownership of the trees growing in their fields; there are fewer communal areas where access to shea is open to all; and access to an increasingly scarce and marketable resource is pitting first-settlers against new-comers, internal migrants that flee desertification in northern regions of the country.

Researchers observed that “first-comers” try to link access to shea with access to land, which they control. In response, “late-comers” claim access to the trees they protect and manage, or argue shea’s wild nature makes it a communal resource as part of their strategies to re-negotiate their rights of access.


Women’s access to trees is also changing in Uganda. “Youth are cutting shea to obtain timber and fuelwood regardless of customary rules and a government ban,” said Concepta Mukasa, representative of the Association of Uganda Professional Women in Agriculture and the Environment.

“The more marketable shea becomes, the bigger the threat to the trees and to women’s livelihoods, so we are helping them come together to advocate for their access rights,” Mukasa explained.

On the bright side, women from the Baganda community in central Uganda are now starting to gain access to Natal fig or “Mutuba” (Ficus natalensis). “The tree used to signal chief-tenancy, so they were not allowed from to plant it or even harvest its fruits; women in that area are not supposed to climb trees,” she pointed out.

Panelists from Ghana (Alberg Katako representing Civic Response) and Kenya (Ben Chikamai representing the Network for Natural Gums and Resins in Africa) echoed similar challenges at the intersection of tenure rights to land and to trees – a tension which increases with the commoditization of natural resources and population pressure. Additional welcome comments on the panel discussion were provided by Ruth Meinzen-Dick from PIM who has a long history of working on land tenure rights and collective action.

Over 70 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa depend on forests and woodlands for their livelihoods, but two thirds of the continental land-mass are degraded. In this context, a more nuanced approach to tenure rights will have to be part of the equation to build resilient landscapes and livelihoods, agreed the panelists.

By Gloria Palleres, originally published at GLF’s Landscape News

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Negotiating across difference: gendered exclusions and cooperation in the shea value chain

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Author: Elias, M.; Arora-Jonsson, S.

Shea butter, derived from the African shea tree, has acquired a pivotal position in global agro-food and cosmetics industries. In Burkina Faso, public and private actors as well as civil society are converging upon the product to boost the incomes of rural female producers. As a result of these trends, the shea value chain is increasingly segmented; shea nuts are sold in a low-return, conventional market and simultaneously enter an alternative, high-value niche market.

In the latter strand of the value chain, some producers are improving their prospects by forming an association. Tracing relationships across the two strands, we demonstrate how ‘horizontal’ relations based on gender, ethnicity, age and geography contribute to shaping participation and benefit capture in the shea value chain. We argue that processes of social inclusion and exclusion operate in parallel, as differentiated actors both cooperate and compete to secure their place within the chain.

While collective organizing brings positive social and economic benefits, we show that producers’ associations need not be empowering for all women. The significance ofcollective enterprises, but also their drawbacks must be considered when valorising pathways to women’s empowerment. Our study reinforces calls for greater integration of horizontal elements in value chain analyses.

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Journal or series: Environment and Planning D: Society and Space


Publication Year: 2016

Also available at Bioversity International

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