he Rural Development Forestry Network (RDFN) was an important component of the outreach programme of the Climate Change, Environment and Forests Programme (CCEF). The Network disseminated information on key issues in tropical forestry to 2900 members around the world (from 1993 - 2003 these were published in English, French and Spanish). It aimed to influence policy and decision-makers (about 30% of its membership) in both governments and international aid agencies.
History and achiements of the Rural Development Forestry Network
Establishing A New Area of Discourse
When new directions are first taken in a particular subject, there is often no obvious forum for new findings and nowhere to turn for comparative experience. This is what happened in forestry in the early 1980s, when concerns about desertification, and fuelwood shortages created strong donor pressure for tree-planting programmes with local people. Tropical foresters had focussed for decades on commercial plantations, and had no training in rural development issues. ODI’s Forestry Network was established in 1985 (originally under the name of the Social Forestry Network) to exchange experiences among practitioners and researchers, and to bring them to the attention of policy-makers. Its window on field activities in progress was especially valuable, and often put the network years ahead of mainstream research in both content and interdisciplinary approaches.
Throughout its life, the network kept two strong principles of operation - a strong poverty focus and a strong commitment to a global and comparative approach. The network was published in English, French and Spanish and sent to around 2,900 members worldwide, mainly in the South. It is widely recognised as having been a key agent in the mainstreaming of the importance of people in tropical forests. Key issues where the network made a difference include:
- Village tree-planting
From 1985-1990, the network successfully responded to a need for information concerning the circumstances in which farmers wanted to plant trees on their own land, and the reasons why communal village woodlots were universally unsuccessful.
- Participatory Forest Management
From the late 1980s the network worked on local people’s forest management capacities in Africa and South Asia. Lessons learnt in tropical dry and sub-humid forest areas were then applied to tropical moist forests, just as these became a donor priority following the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.
- People-oriented change at local and national level: methodologies, institutions and policies
Networkers were eager for guidance on field methods for people-oriented forestry. Between 1986 and 1994 the network produced papers on participatory mapping and land-use planning, and participatory rural appraisal and monitoring. Institutionally, it focussed first on forestry extension and later, on higher-level institutional change issues. It regularly covered forest policy issues, including Certification, and Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management.