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17 October 2020

Launch of the Global Assessment Report on “Forests, Trees and the Eradication of Poverty: Potential and Limitations”

15 October 2020 | Virtual

Languages: EN (HTML/PDF)
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This event was the culmination of an expert-driven process started in 2019 to assess the available scientific information on the relationship between forests, trees, and poverty. It constituted the official launch of the resulting assessment report and accompanying policy brief. As was the case for the last expert meeting that took place in April 2020, the report’s launch was moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report, “Forests, Trees and the Eradication of Poverty: Potential and Limitations,” shows that forests and trees support human well-being and are critical to end poverty. It finds that forest-poverty dynamics are affected by a range of social, economic, political, and environmental context factors, such as rural outmigration, gender norms, remittance flows, and elite capture. The report’s key messages are highlighted below.

  • Forests and trees can help the poor face global changes such as climate change.
  • Benefits from forests and trees to human well-being are unevenly distributed.
  • Structural barriers prevent poor people from using forest and tree products to exit poverty.
  • Inadequate land use policies may lead the poor to bear excessive costs.
  • Policy and management measures that enable forests and trees to contribute to poverty alleviation must be tailored to each specific context.

After opening remarks and a short quiz addressing participants’ knowledge of the forest-poverty nexus, the Chair of the Global Forest Expert Panel (GFEP) on Forests and Poverty and three Coordinating Lead Authors of the report shared further insights gained in the assessment process. The event, which about 250 participants joined, ended with a question and answer session. The recording of the event will be available on the IUFRO YouTube channel.

A Brief History of the Global Forest Expert Panels

The GFEP initiative was established in April 2007, as a joint initiative of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF). Since then, the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) has led and coordinated it. The GFEP initiative’s core activity is to prepare global reports and accompanying policy briefs that reflect state-of-the-art understanding of forest-related issues.

The publications are prepared by thematic Expert Panels consisting of internationally recognized scientific experts in their fields selected by the IUFRO coordination team. The reports are peer reviewed and written in an accessible manner to reach policymakers, stakeholders, and the broader public. Each report is accompanied by a shorter policy brief summarizing key messages. The frequency of reports varies according to information needs and requests from intergovernmental processes.

So far, the GFEP has completed six global reports.

  • The 2009 report on “Adaptation of Forests and People to Climate Change” highlights that: climate change over the past half-century has already affected forest ecosystems; the impacts of climate change on forest goods and services will have far-reaching social and economic consequences for forest-dependent people, particularly the forest dependent poor; and to meet adaptation challenges, commitment to achieving sustainable forest management goals must be strengthened at both the international and national levels.
  • The 2011 report on “Embracing Complexity: Meeting the Challenges of International Forest Governance” highlights that: international forest governance is complex and fragmented; and many critical forest problems are cross-sectoral and require synergistic approaches involving a wide range of policy instruments.
  • The 2012 report on “Understanding Relationships Between Biodiversity, Carbon, Forests, and People: the Key to Achieving REDD+ Objectives” highlights: biodiversity as a key determinant of forests’ ability to effectively provide ecosystem services, notably carbon sequestration, and to remain resilient in the face of disturbances such as climate change; for effective REDD+ implementation, tenure and property rights, including rights of access, use, and ownership, must be clear; and a tension between national REDD+ efforts aimed at international standardization, the strengthening of national sovereignty, and efforts to empower local communities as key actors in REDD+.
  • The 2015 report on “Forests, Trees, and Landscapes for Food Security and Nutrition” underscores that: forests and tree-based systems have played a major role throughout human history in supporting livelihoods as well as meeting the global population’s food security and nutritional needs; governance shifts to multi-sectoral and cross-scale governance present better prospects for integrating different interests and goals related to forest and food systems; and securing tenure and local control is essential for forests and food security.
  • The 2016 report on “Illegal Logging and Related Timber Trade” highlights that: despite increasing international governance efforts, illegal forest activities remain pervasive; and cross-sectoral and integrated policies are needed to ensure effective governance responses since illegal forest activities are not merely the forest sector’s problem.
  • The 2018 report on “Forest and Water on a Changing Planet” explains: the link between water and forests exists within a broader climate-forest-water-people system; forests, especially natural forests, contribute to the resilience of the water supply for humans; and any new institutional arrangement should be sensitive to distributional concerns, as well as to social and environmental justice and equity, particularly the rights of marginalized and vulnerable communities.

In 2019, IUFRO initiated a new GFEP to carry out a comprehensive global assessment of available scientific information about the interactions between forests and poverty. Building on this, it sought to prepare a report to contribute to implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by highlighting the nexus between Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1 (no poverty) and SDG 15 (life on land), as well as relevant links to other SDGs. The GFEP on Forests and Poverty was tasked with addressing, inter alia:

  • the different dimensions of the relationship between forests, trees, and poverty, as well as the roles of forests and trees in poverty reduction;
  • trade-offs between development for poverty reduction, and forest restoration, sustainable forest management, and forest conservation; and
  • underlying conditions constraining the achievement of goals related to poverty alleviation and sustainable forest management, such as power asymmetries, corruption, lack of political will, and marginalization.

A core group of 21 experts, supported by 22 additional experts, from different parts of the world and different scientific backgrounds worked together on this study for almost two years. Following a scoping meeting in Rome, Italy, in May 2019, the experts met three times. The first meeting took place in August 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, US, and the second in January 2020 in Nairobi, Kenya. The third meeting in April 2020 was originally supposed to take place in Vienna, Austria, but was moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was the first-ever virtual Panel meeting in the context of the GFEP initiative. The October 2020 official launch of the report, which this brief summarizes, was also conducted online. The launch of the report was timed in conjuncture with the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on 17 October 2020.

Report of the Launch of the Global Assessment Report

Opening Segment

Moderator Alexander Buck, IUFRO Executive Director, welcomed participants to the online event, highlighting the timeliness of the report, given the COVID-19 pandemic poses a significant challenge to poverty reduction efforts.

Hiroto Mitsugi, Assistant Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, in remarks read by Buck, congratulated the Expert Panel and IUFRO on the successful completion of the assessment process. He underscored that past GFEP reports provided important messages to decision makers and welcomed input on the nexus between SDG 1 and forests Mitsugi noted forests are sources of food, income, and shelter, and provide livelihoods and a safety net for forest dwellers. He said the pandemic impacts livelihoods in many ways, regarding, for example, job losses associated with disrupted supply chains, and that it reinforces existing vulnerabilities, including in relation to rising malnutrition. Looking ahead, he challenged participants to reflect on forest-related responses to poverty in the context of the COVID recovery processes.

Christoph Wildburger, GFEP Coordinator, delineated IUFRO’s process of work at the science-policy interface, showcasing how GFEP reports feed into international policy processes such as those of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. He underscored that, as SDG 1, poverty eradication has found its place at the top of the global goals. Noting poor and vulnerable communities often heavily rely on natural resources and ecosystem services for both subsistence and income generation, he underscored the role of forests and land use in poverty alleviation.

Buck invited participants to respond to three questions on the forest-poverty nexus. Using the online webinar interface, participants shared their perception on: the number of people living on less than USD 10 per day; the proportion of forest area cleared by human activities in the last 8,000 years; and the relative contribution of forests to household income in communities living near forests.

Panel Presentations

Daniel C. Miller, Chair, GFEP on Forests and Poverty, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, US, shared that, worldwide, two thirds of the global population live on less than USD 10 per day. He said the persistent prevalence of poverty around the world, together with the fact that one fourth of the global population lives within five km of a forest, was the rationale for conducting this assessment report. He provided an overview of the report’s structure and delineated five key messages.

  • First, forests and trees are critical for ending poverty. He said forests contribute to about 25% of household income in many tropical countries. He explained forests and trees provide goods and services that can not only support well-being, but can also serve to manage risks across seasons and years and to build assets for moving out of poverty.
  • Second, benefits from forests are unevenly distributed. Specifically, he said forest-poverty dynamics vary, with differing short- and long-term benefits, and differences according to geography and social factors, such as gender, class, or ethnicity.
  • Third, forests and trees can help the poor face global changes, such as climate change. Miller underscored that integrating policy approaches across sectors can mitigate risk for the poor while addressing other development challenges.
  • Fourth, inadequate land use policies may lead the poor to bear excessive costs. He emphasized that, while overexploitation of forests poses a serious threat to the poor, some management measures tend to add substantial pressure on smallholders.
  • Fifth, measures exist to enable forests to address poverty goals. He specifically pointed to ecotourism, community forest management, and agroforestry. He noted there is no “one size fits all” and that decision makers must embrace complexity and consider trade-offs in policy design.

Related to knowledge gaps, he mentioned: the role of forests and trees in permanently lifting people out of poverty; and opportunities to overcome barriers to more just and sustainable forest use. In conclusion, he noted that, although forests are often overlooked in the field of poverty alleviation, the report shows the critical contribution of sustainable forest management to SDG 1.

Judith Kamoto, Coordinating Lead Author, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Malawi, spoke about forest-poverty dynamics. Noting that forests and trees could help reduce the proportion of people living in poverty by enabling households to increase their incomes through the sale of forest products, she underscored structural barriers restraining this potential. She explained that while timber is the product most likely to generate enough profits to reduce poverty, such profits are largely captured by capital intensive and politically powerful actors rather than poor communities. She pointed to the securing of collective tenure rights and the decentralization of forest ownership and management as solutions in this regard.

Kamoto underscored the need to address the influence of international investment and trade on the allocation of benefits from forests. She emphasized that forests and trees provide both tangible and intangible inputs to household well-being, such as fodder, food, pollination services, and cultural and spiritual functions. For further research, she pointed to better accounting for the poverty alleviating role of goods that are not legally traded in markets and are thus not well reflected in official statistics.

Mónica Gabay, Coordinating Lead Author, National University of San Martín, Buenos Aires, Argentina, spoke about contextual factors shaping forest-poverty dynamics. She highlighted that forests and tree-based landscapes represent complex socio-ecological systems. She explained that social, economic, political, and environmental factors are often missing from current scientific analyses of forest-poverty dynamics, and the interaction between different contextual factors is rarely considered. She said these factors are often forces external to forest communities and can exert influence over large geographical scales, as is the case of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As important contextual factors, Gabay pointed to, inter alia: population density, rural outmigration, armed conflict, and gender norms, as social factors; overseas development assistance, remittance flows, and global market dynamics, as economic factors; tenure and property rights, elite capture, and illegal logging, as political factors; and location, topography, and climatic conditions, as environmental factors. She noted studies often lack the necessary longitudinal perspective to account for dynamic context effects. In conclusion, she emphasized the design, implementation, and evaluation of policy interventions should acknowledge implications of the multi-scalar nature of these contextual factors, as well as their complex interactions.

Priya Shyamsundar, Coordinating Lead Author, The Nature Conservancy, US, spoke on the implications of global forces of change for alleviating poverty and sustaining forests. As key global trends, she highlighted: the growth in commodity markets, especially cattle, soy, and palm oil; climatic impacts, such as increasing forest fires; trends in private and public financing; technological advances, such as geospatial data; global socio-political movements, such as the climate justice movement; and emerging infectious diseases, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. She underscored that the cumulative effect of these trends in a business-as-usual-scenario is “incredibly concerning” for poverty alleviation.

As measures to address these challenges, she pointed to inter alia: reforming supply chains to enhance smallholder access; democratizing the use of technology so the poor can better access markets; strengthening land rights, which is particularly important for Indigenous Peoples; identifying alternate food security supply chains for increased resilience; investing in climate change adaptation; and social movements elevating the voices of the poor.

Closing Segment

Buck then moderated a question and answer session. On whether we would be able to achieve SDG 1 and its targets without sustainably managing forests, Miller noted that while forests and trees are not the only way to address poverty, they are very important, especially for people in rural areas, and should not be overlooked.

On forests as safety nets, Kamoto, pointed to the importance of forests in climate change adaptation and called for regulation and government structures that allow the poor to use forests sustainably to meet their needs.

On the role of SDG 13 (climate action), Shyamsundar emphasized ensuring that climate change measures adequately consider the needs of local communities. She said climate change-related migration and the ensuing loss of community support will be especially devastating for the poor.

On coordination between different governmental agencies, Gabay pointed to the lack of political will as a key obstacle and called for high-level cross-cutting dialogues.

In conclusion, Miller highlighted that forests often do not figure in broader discussions on poverty alleviation and emphasized that the evidence synthesized in the report calls for rethinking existing approaches.

Buck formally released the assessment report and the associated policy brief, which are both available on the IUFRO website, and closed the meeting at 17:30 CEST.


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