DG’s Column

Maintaining forestry’s identity among global challenges

The landscape approach will strengthen links to core development challenges — poverty, food security, health, climate change and green growth.
Forestry needs to stay relevant to the bigger picture. Yayan Indriatmoko, Mokhamad Edliadi and Douglas Sheil

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We seem to have a new debate in international forestry circles following our recent initiative to hold a global forum on landscapes at the 2013 UNFCCC COP in Warsaw.

Most reactions to our combining of the former forest and agriculture days have been overwhelmingly positive and supportive. Creating an alliance between forestry and agriculture is a bold move, but one that is widely appreciated. These supporters recognize, as we do, that continuing with isolated sectoral approaches on either side of an arbitrary line in the landscape is generally ineffective; solutions for a sustainable future with green growth must be cooperative, not divisive. Our partners in the CGIAR and those beyond share this view and stand behind a landscape approach.

But we have also heard some arguments against such an approach. In embracing the opportunity to collaborate with our agriculture colleagues, some are concerned that we are placing forestry’s identity at risk. They believe that forestry will be overwhelmed by other larger sectors and interests like farming and food security.

It also seems that the international debate on forestry is narrower than ever. I recently had the honour of presenting a keynote at the World Forests Summit, an excellent conference organized by the Economist in Stockholm on 5-6 March. But by the mid-point of the conference, a number of panellists had spoken only of deforestation, forest carbon management and carbon trading, and I wondered – “is this what has become of forestry?” Although unintentional, their inputs did not reflect the thoughtful words of HRH the Prince of Wales, who in his opening address applauded a wider landscape approach in meeting the global challenges to which forestry is related.

So I ask: when did forestry start down on this protective course? Why are only some forestry-related issues present in the international debate? Why are the links between forestry and so many core development challenges — poverty, food security, health, and green growth — so absent in the debate? I don’t claim to have the answers. These are, however, questions that should be asked again as we set priorities for forestry research and development.

Consider the results of UNCED 1992. In addition to establishing the main UN process for sustainable development, the summit was the birthplace of the three Rio Conventions on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Desertification. We are all aware of the high profile of these conventions over the past 20 years, and their impact on the sustainability agenda both at national level and at the global level in other intergovernmental processes such as G20.

Why are the links between forestry and so many core development challenges — poverty, food security, health, and green growth — so absent in the debate?

The forestry community also had high hopes for a convention heading into UNCED 1992, but was rewarded with only the non-binding Forestry Principles. Unlike its cousins Climate Change, Biodiversity and Desertification, forestry was not as such considered an inter-governmental issue, but rather a matter of national sovereignty or local priorities. Thus, no convention.

Since then, international forestry has struggled with its non-convention status, seemingly forever recognized as a side issue in other processes as described in this Unasylva edition on Global conventions related to forests. Instead, the United Nations Forum on Forests, UNFF, has become something of a substitute forest convention. Other international forest-specific initiatives such as the criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management, tropical forestry action plans, the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, FAO’s regional forestry commissions and Committee on Forestry, and a decision in 2011 to establish a European forest convention have all operated in the wake of UNCED 1992, but without quite achieving the same political attention as the Rio Conventions, and often with a forest-centric perspective.

Then along came REDD. Almost as a shock treatment, COP13 in Bali in 2007 agreed to take steps towards reducing emissions from deforestation (mainly), and donors put money on the table to kick-start the process. Never before had billions of dollars from donors been made available for international forestry purposes. Never before had so many heads of state talked so warmly about forests.

Traditional forestry institutions had mixed reactions – after all, this came from a Rio Convention and not from any of the forestry processes – but they eventually woke up to the new financial and political reality. A reality that has now dominated international forestry for the past half decade and fuelled investments in forestry research and capacity development across the world. No wonder so many conference speakers now talk about forest carbon trading rather than sawmill investments.

There is every reason to be grateful for the attention on forests and climate change and the financial and political opportunities brought forward. But it may also be time to reconnect forests and forestry to the broader development agenda. With the forests and climate change agenda in mind, it may sound meagre to argue for a landscape approach, with no promises of matching finances, only the prospect of sharing the stage with agriculture – a sector believed, in some forestry circles, to largely ignore forestry issues.

Introducing a landscape approach to forestry is neither new, nor does it threaten forestry’s identity

However, with this somewhat inward looking focus of international forestry sector over the past decades, we seem to have lost sight of the bigger picture aspirations: poverty reduction, food security, health, green growth and dealing with climate change, and how forestry can contribute to all of these.

Looking back, it is useful to remember that the 1985 International Year of the Forest had food security as its theme. The 1972 World Forestry Congress focused on forests and socio-economic development. In the very first Unasylva in 1947, biblical references illustrate that with the disappearance of Lebanese cedar forests, so too disappeared the “…fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams.”

More recently, one of the recommendations from Forest Day 2 in Poznan in 2008 was that we should ”take into account local conditions and integrate landscape and ecosystem approaches in order to facilitate greater societal and environmental benefits”.

From CIFOR’s perspective, let me assure you that we continue to build the identity and knowledge base of forestry as we have done over the past 20 years. Every day, our scientists and partners research and recommend policies that help ensure the sustainable development of the world’s forests, conserve the biodiversity they embrace, the carbon they store, and protect the livelihoods and cultures of the people who depend on them. As we enter the next 20 years, we will make sure that forestry stays relevant to the bigger picture and for a broader audience.

So, introducing a landscape approach to forestry is neither new, nor does it threaten forestry’s identity. Rather, it helps build and maintain forestry’s identity by placing forestry back where it truly belongs: in the landscape, together with agriculture – partners in creating a sustainable future.

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