IFAD and forestry – a special relationship

By Jesus Quintana

IFAD works to enable poor rural people to sustainably manage their natural assets to improve their food security and incomes. Given a focus on natural assets – land, water, etc. - one could easily argue that forestry should be at the core of IFAD’s work. As a matter of fact, it is. A recent portfolio review undertaken by the Division I work in (Environment and Climate) showed that nearly 10% of projects included forest activities as part of the pro-poor strategies proposed for smallholder farmers and poor communities alike. Typical forest activities that IFAD finances are community forestry, agroforestry, reforestation and sustainable forest management. And new options, such as carbon forestry and GHG reduction from deforestation and land misuse are now being explored. This is natural because IFAD recognizes that poor communities must be empowered to manage their natural assets, and should also benefit from available climate financing to help them do so.

Forest ecosystems, which cover approximately one-third of the Earth’s surface, deliver a multiple range of goods and services to humans, supporting livelihoods, maintaining essential ecosystem services and regulating the global carbon cycle. Forests are particularly important for the world’s poorest rural people. Over 1.6 billion people, mainly in developing countries, depend on forests for their livelihoods, either as a dominant or supplementary source of cash income and subsistence. Forests are home to nearly 300 million people – and more than 60 million indigenous peoples are wholly dependent on forests for their livings. In addition to the economic value of forests to poor communities, the social and cultural value may be equally important for them.

One reason for the relative invisibility of forests, and forestry in IFAD’s work is the “unnatural” separation between agriculture and forestry as sectors. Their interaction is too often seen (rather simplistically) as conflictive – the story of agricultural lands replacing or encroaching on forests dominates headlines. But this is a failure to appreciate the complexity, richness and complementarity of land uses. Although agricultural practices can of course be detrimental to forests and other natural resources, there is so much more potential to reap benefits from a more healthy relationship between them. Forests, big and small, provide genetic biodiversity and other services – pollination, water quality and flow regulation - that benefit communities and crops alike. Farmers and many other land users rely directly on forests to complement their diet or income, for medicines and also to satisfy social and cultural needs. Farmers across the world successfully combine forests, trees and agriculture in harmonious ways through agroforestry that raises yields without damaging the natural resource base. It’s time the international community recognize that agriculture and forestry are “two sides of the same coin,” and stop separating them.

Celebrating forests for people – International Year of Forests 2011

Because IFAD as a specialized agency, is an United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) member. I represented IFAD in the UNFF9 earlier this month in New York. The UNFF is celebrating the special relationship between people and forests during 2011 through the International Year of Forests. The United Nations General Assembly declared IYF 2011 to raise awareness on sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests, and to highlight the dynamic relationship between forests and the people who depend on them, including millions of smallholder farmers.

I co-organized a side-event on agroforestry with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), FAO and the African Forest Forum that highlighted partnership successes in impacting the asset base of poor households with farm-grown trees, enhancing soil fertility and livestock productivity, linking poor households to markets, balancing improved productivity with the sustainable management of natural resources, and maintaining or enhancing the supply of environmental services in agricultural landscapes.

In particular, we emphasized the interconnections between agriculture and forestry, promoting sustainable uses of cropland, pastures and forests through integrated, land-based approaches. Our message: we must invest in these “sustainable agriculture” approaches to improve agricultural productivity while at the same time reducing poverty and improving food security (and also increasing resilience to climate change). And for these impacts to last in the long run, do it without depleting natural resources. We need a new, “evergreen” revolution using agroforestry as a key component globally (along with conservation agriculture, integrated pest management and others).

What’s next?

IFAD will participate actively in the IYF 2011 producing some publications which will analyse the IFAD experience on agriculture-forestry activities, detailing new perspectives and opportunities for IFAD to promote, and benefit from, agroforestry and sustainable forest management.

The UN Forum on Forests Secretariat (UNFF), an intergovernmental policy forum established in 2000 to promote the management, conservation and sustainable use of all types of forests, is the focal point for IYF 2011, in collaboration with Governments, the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), major groups and other relevant organisations. The official launch ceremony of the IYF 2011 took place as part of the high level ministerial segment of the 9th session of the UNFF, at UN Headquarters on 2 February 2011.