ODI On... United Nations Forum on Forests

'As the UNFF closes it is crucial to recognise the importance of aligning forest issues with those such as poverty alleviation and development.' Will McFarland, Programe Officer, forests and climate finance

REDD+ in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Achmad Ibrahim/Center for International Forestry Research (Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/cifor/8207816592/in/set-72157632592252374)

The tenth United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF)  comes at an interesting time – as, while it is taking place just a couple of weeks after the first International Day of Forests, in many ways international discussions on forests are facing an uncertain next step. Over the next two weeks, current and previous ODI staff will be highlighting key publications that are particularly important or relevant, with the aim of ensuring that previous lessons and knowledge are fed into to today’s debates.

ODI has long been concerned about the relationship between forests and development, undertaking research and analysis to understand how forests can contribute to economic development and social progress. And while, looking forwards, there will be increasing pressures on environment and development, through climate change impacts and greater demands on natural resources, much of this research is still relevant now.

Quotes from ODI researchers on key forest publications

Poverty-Forests Linkages Toolkit

'The Poverty-Forests Linkages Toolkit, developed by PROFOR in collaboration with ODI and other experts, provided a framework, fieldwork methods and analytic tools to understand and communicate the contribution of forests to the incomes of rural households. It incorperates issues such as wealth, resource change over time and contributions to livelihoods of different forest products in cash and non-cash terms. It was put into practice and tested through several case studies – of which the Uganda study in particular informed recent ODI work. The toolkit has also been used to inform work of the FAO which fed into, for example, the UNFF’s background paper.

Forestry often retains a low profile within national policies and development strategies because the contribution of forest products and services to rural livelihoods and eliminating poverty is not sufficiently understood. As the UNFF closes it is crucial to recognise the importance of aligning forest issues with those such as poverty alleviation and development. As we strive to enhance the understanding of how this is possible, the toolkit sets out a process that provides data and indicators that is readily understood by local people, district officials and national policy-makers.'

Will McFarland, Programe Officer, forests and climate finance

REDD+ and adaptation: will REDD+ contribute to adaptive capacity at the local level?

'The links between forests and adaptation to climate change has been the topic of some research, with forests and the environmental services they provide often cited as positively contributing to efforts to adapt to climate change. So, many people would assume that REDD+, which aims to protect forests, would therefore contribute to adaptation efforts. However, REDD-net work on REDD+ and adaptation demonstrates that it is much more complex than that. This paper argues that the ability of people to adapt to climate change depends on their adaptive capacity, and the different policies and rules used to implement REDD can have vastly different consequences on the adaptive capacity of the poor. While this paper doesn’t have all the answers, it did start an important discussion and re-examination of the assumption that protecting forests is always good for adaptation to climate change. As climate change becomes an increasingly important development challenge, and forests are considered in the post-2015 context, the need to keep these complexities in mind is once again relevant.'

Kristy Graham, is now a Senior Policy Officer in the Sustainable Development Funds Section at AusAID, working on REDD+ and sustainable development finance issues.

Financing Readiness: Insights from the Amazon Fund and Congo Basin Forest

'Given the complexities of reducing emissions from forests, as made clear by years of research and efforts to conserve forests, REDD+ finance was innovatively structured to provide support for ‘readiness’ activities. This paper highlights that there is no clear endpoint when a country will be ‘ready’ and that money is not the only thing that forest sector reform needs, so several areas are likely to need on-going support. The REDD+ community should ask themselves how to turn ‘readiness’ framing into something useful moving forward. It will need to support the strategic use of REDD+ finance and the political will that is arguably greater than in the past. The time is ripe for fresh thinking on how to turn forests’ role in climate change regulation into an opportunity to capture the multiple benefits of forests, at the domestic and international level.' Charlene Watson, Research Officer, Climate and Environment Programme

Commercialisation of Non-Timber Forest Products: What Determines Success?

‘With the current enthusiasm for forests as a source of marketable ecosystem services (such as sequestered carbon and biodiversity values) we would do well to reflect on the lessons learned during many years of work on the commercialisation of non-timber forest products (NTFPs). In contrast to early, often romantic, notions that NTFPs could provide an easy – and conservation friendly – path out of poverty for the forest-dependent poor, the reality turned out to be much more complex.

A joint ODI and WCMC study of 16 different NTFPs in Bolivia and Mexico highlighted that most NTFPs act as safety-nets and seasonal gap-fillers and need to be understood within a portfolio of complementary livelihood activities which are not only of monetary but often also of socio-cultural importance for local communities. While of particular value to women and the poor, there is a real danger of elite capture as products increase in value and this can also lead to over-exploitation of the resource. Although communities are more than capable of managing their NTFP resources sustainably, their efforts are easily frustrated by the lack of a conducive legislative and policy environment particularly in relation to tenure and commercial rights. We need to take on board these challenges if forest-based ecosystem services are to be developed in a transparent, equitable and sustainable manner.’  Kate Schreckenberg, former ODI Research Fellow and now lecturer in Environmental Sciences at the University of Southampton, whose research focuses on equitable use of forest resources.

Participatory forest management in South Asia: the process of change in India and Nepal and Persistence and change: review of 30 years of community forestry in Nepal

‘Forestry, as a follower of development strategies evolved in wider fields, straggled behind the changing moods of development policy. But in a radical shift in the late 1970s a new form of forestry for local community development emerged onto the international stage. Nepal, more so than any other country, embraced this approach.

Participatory forest management in South Asia: the process of change in India and Nepal documented these advances, but highlighted the problems of social exclusion.  Persistence and change: review of 30 years of community forestry in Nepal has shown how, over the last thirty years, community forestry has emerged into a radical approach for local-level change, shifting from a protection-oriented form of forestry through to a property rights regime that delivers multiple benefits from improved forest quality, to changes in the rights of individuals to claim forest benefits and a host of other social and non-forest benefits. However, it also showed that despite major positive changes, social exclusion still persists. 

These studies remind us that transformative social change takes time and persistence to prevent the continued exclusion of the poor and marginalised from rights to access forest-based benefits. There is no assurance that change will maintain these benefits, without sustained policy and legal support within country and from wider international processes.’ Mary Hobley former ODI Forestry Research Fellow currently an independent consultant focusing on the relationships between poverty, governance and use of natural resources.

Making REDD Work for the Poor

‘The ODI report, Making REDD Work for the Poor, was launched at critical point in the REDD+ debate, when international REDD+ policies were just becoming a reality, but where little consideration had been given to their implementation at the country level, or their social impacts. The report provided a clear approach for looking at these issues, systematically linking new REDD+ mechanisms to the extensive experience from other areas of development.  The report demonstrated that there are likely to be large barriers to poor people or small producers benefitting from REDD+, due to the motivations driving its development and the technical complexities of its operation. These are only likely to be dealt with through effective integration of REDD+ into wider national development processes. This remains a major challenge for the many country REDD+ programmes that now exist. It also needs to be a key consideration in the design of the multitude of new policies that are evolving in a financing landscape that is much more fragmented than when REDD+ was first tabled.’ Leo Peskett, Research Associate

Budget support, aid instruments and the environment - the country context

'The link between forest policies and outcomes, the level of public expenditure on forestry, and the influence of different modalities of development cooperation have been key concerns for the international community over the last decade. ODI examined these as part of a wider study on how to improve the effectiveness of public spending on environmental outcomes.  Two conclusions stood out:

  1. Forest authorities should focus on raising recurrent, not development funding. Most of their functions that need to be financed are recurrent functions. These should be financed from normal operating budgets, but in the absence of an adequate level of funding, the historical response has been to seek project funding (from an external funder) or financing from taxes and fees.
  2. The use of taxes, fees and levies as a direct method of financing forest authorities should be limited. Such agencies are likely to start to bias their work programmes towards those that yield the most revenue rather than towards the most important conservation or environment protection activities.

These lessons continue to challenge many forest authorities, especially those whose institutional setting has seen transformative changes in recent years.' Neil Bird, Research Fellow, Climate and Environment Programme

Rural Development Forestry Network

'ODI’s Forestry Network was established in the 1980s because forestry suddenly changed.  Concerns about desertification and fuelwood shortages created strong donor pressure for tree-planting and forest management programmes with local people, but foresters had focussed for decades only on commercial plantations. The network published results from these new field activities when no journals were doing so. Its focus was often years ahead of mainstream forestry research, and it was a pioneer in interdisciplinary and comparative work and pro-poor approaches.

The network began years before the internet and was distributed world wide in hard copy. Nevertheless it had great influence. It provided teaching materials for forestry departments, and guided donors and practitioners. It published on field methods, and on ways of initiating higher level institutional change; on the weaknesses of ‘conservation and development’ projects and of certification and on local people’s incentives for using forests sustainably. It redefined forestry and helped to ensure that when research centres such as CIFOR were established, interdisciplinary approaches would be used.' Gill Shepherd, Founder and former head of the Forest Policy and Environment Group

Legal timber: verification and governance in the forest sector

‘We forget, at our peril, that while forests have important value as global public goods, they are almost always managed as national assets, and international policy initiatives have consistently endorsed this principle.  The ODI book, Legal Timber, is – like the VERIFOR project out of which it grew – premised on the view that enhancing national ownership is often a fundamental requirement for the effective governance of tropical forests. The range of experiences of forest verification on which it draws (12 studies in the forest sector and five main extra-sectoral experiences, from four continents) illustrates the ways in which multiple partners can work together to improve this ownership. And it champions a broader concept of legality verification, showing how an inclusive systems approach can help generate the political will that so often eludes international aid but is vital for good governance.’ David Brown, Senior Research Associate

Unlocking progress on REDD+: sector coordination in Uganda

'Much of ODI’s recent work on forests has focused on the relationship with other sectors, through the ODI-led REDD-net programme. This highlighted the importance of cross-sectoral coordination – an issue that will be in focus at the UNFF talks – but which has been one of the most challenging areas to make progress. The recommendation from the Secretary General for the UNFF to reemphasise the importance of cross-sectoral coordination is vital to address the underlying causes of deforestation, while also ensuring forests and land use support economic and social development. But the challenge should not be underestimated. In a study looking at political economy factors affecting sector coordination in Uganda, we identified a number of barriers, in particular the low priority of forests. Without engaging people interested in priorities, such as food security and water access, and recognising the role of forests in supporting these priorities, forests will continue to be overlooked, with continued loss and degradation of vital resources that many of the poorest people rely on.' Emily Brickell, Senior Research Officer – Forests and Land Use