This event saw the launch of the Expanded Policy Brief for African Stakeholders on Forests, Trees and Poverty Alleviation in Africa, which aims to raise awareness of the role of forests and trees to alleviate poverty. The event also shared a summary of the state-of-the-art scientific knowledge on the topic. The Brief will aid policy and decision makers by ensuring policy and management measures that enable forests and trees to alleviate poverty in Africa are tailored to specific contexts.
This event was moderated by Christoph Wildburger, International Union of Forest Research Organizations Global Forest Expert Panels (IUFRO-GFEP Programme Coordinator. Alexander Buck, IUFRO Executive Director, providing opening remarks, noted the significance of the Expanded Policy Brief in highlighting the often-overlooked role of forests and tree-based systems in absorbing risks, shocks, and even moving people out of poverty. He hailed the incorporation of voices from over 200 stakeholders across Africa, whose inputs informed the Policy Brief.
Keynote: Forests, Trees and Poverty Alleviation in Africa
Daniel Miller, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Doris N. Mutta, African Forest Forum, presented the Expanded Policy Brief.
Mutta summarized five key messages:
- Forests and trees are critical to poverty alleviation in Africa;
- Forests and trees contribute to the well-being of the poor as they face profound global challenges like climate change;
- The distribution of benefits from forests for human well-being is inequitable;
- Cross-sectoral coordination in land use policies can avoid excessive costs currently borne by the poor; and
- Policy measures exist to enable forests and trees to effectively address poverty goals, but there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution.
Miller discussed the implications of the Brief:
- Forests and trees are important to alleviate poverty;
- Policies that conserve and sustainably manage forests and tree-based systems need prioritizing;
- Supporting more secure property rights, especially for forest-reliant poor, women and vulnerable groups, is crucial;
- Policies and programmes must be tailored to particular contexts to mitigate inequality; and
- Land use and forestry policies must be strongly aligned to advance poverty alleviation and sustainable goals.
Miller concluded, highlighting the vital, yet often overlooked, role forests and tree-based systems play in alleviating poverty in a just and sustainable manner in the long term. He emphasized that now is the time to move beyond “business as usual,” to enable these foundational assets to play a more central role in advancing poverty and sustainability goals in Africa.
Panel Discussion I: Scientific Evidence
Gillian Kabwe, Copperbelt University, Zambia, provided an overview of forests, trees, and poverty dynamics. She said when investigating these dynamics, it was apparent that little national data collection on forests and their contribution to poverty alleviation exists. She urged addressed this as, currently, policymakers are using incomplete information for decision making.
She highlighted existing barriers to entry in timber production, and supported exploring ways and means to make this sector more accessible. She said non-timber forest products can increase people’s well-being, but access to markets can be problematic. She called for training in resource mobilization to mobilize funds and use them effectively for sustainable management of forests and tree-systems.
Laura Vang Rasmussen, University of Copenhagen, stated four contexts were investigated: social, environmental, economic, and political and policy. She cited examples of these, including Africa’s large youth population, climate change, mega-infrastructure projects, and community forestry, respectively. She said all of these can affect the local, national and regional levels. She explained that while a wide lens should be used to look at megatrends, how these trends affect the local levels should also be considered.
In the ensuing discussion, participants considered issues such as: the role of payment for ecosystem services in the sustainable management of forests and tree-systems, with one noting payment to land owners can support well-being; the benefits of formalizing informal forestry operations, including being able to provide tangible support to the sector, and improve data collection; and addressing land tenure as many stakeholders lack rightful tenure, which can lead to challenges accessing resources.
Panel Discussion II: Stakeholder Consultations
Ebby Chagala-Odera, Kenya Forestry Research Institute, identified a wide range of stakeholders consulted, including policymakers, academia, international development organizations, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, community-based organizations, and farmers, noting that their views informed the Expanded Policy Brief.
Etotépé A. Sogbohossou, University of Abomey-Calavi, Benin, highlighted that, despite forests’ great contribution to poverty alleviation through the provision of goods and services, they are not considered crops and, therefore, are not managed under a value-chain approach. She said stakeholders strongly called for associations and cooperatives that enhance benefit flows to communities, to lift them from poverty. She noted they lamented inadequate research, outreach, and funding, and emphasized the need for appropriate legislation.
Sogbohossou discussed concerns like unequal rights to access resources, land grabbing by multinationals, lack of market access, and modern religions that demonize natural resource conservation. She emphasized the need for integrated solutions.
Felix Kanungwe Kalaba, Copperbelt University, Zambia, said the consultations brought to light often-forgotten issues like the role of sustainable forest management in poverty alleviation and the ecosystem services forests provide, both of which remain under-reported.
In the ensuing discussion, participants addressed the specific experiences of benefit sharing for local communities. They also discussed the importance of widely disseminating the Policy Brief and its findings, as it represents an important contribution to forests and poverty in Africa due to the broad overview it provides. They further noted that dissemination should also include empowering decision makers to consider and use the findings of the report. Other topics addressed included: effective communication strategies; and how to engage Africa’s large youth population in the sustainable management of forests in Africa and the role they could play.
Christoph Wildburger, in his closing remarks, reiterated that forests and trees are often overlooked in poverty alleviation responses, but this event confirms that these natural capital assets must play a central role, particularly in Africa. He underscored that policies must be tailored to specific contexts, expressing the hope that the Expanded Policy Brief will contribute to this in the future.