How can we incentivize smallholder forestry to engage in Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR)? Limited tenure and market access, long gestation periods, biotic and abiotic risks, marginal, degraded and remote sites: All of these phenomena represent just some of the constraints for smallholders engaged in sustainable forest management or FLR. How to overcome them and ensure that community forest enterprises (CFEs) and smallholders can scale up, access markets and successfully contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation?
This was the key question that we discussed at an official COP25 side event organized by our partner organisation RECOFTC in the FLOURISH project. A variety of panellists from research, business and certification organizations discussed how CFEs can use their business as a vehicle for development and climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Another key challenge for CFEs is the lack of access to appropriate financial services. During my presentation, I outlined some preliminary findings based on the first scoping visit to Thailand. After a presentation of the research proposal for my doctoral studies at our project partner RECOFTC, I was invited to join their panel at COP25. My presentation focused on the potential and risks of the Tree Banks and tree collateral that are being developed in Thailand and beyond. The former providing networks and capacity building to smallholder forest managers in addition to subsidies for successfully registered trees. The latter being an innovative microfinancing tool that can ease cash flow constraints during the long gestation period of smallholder’s investments into forest plantations.
Other panelists highlighted the potential of blockchain technology to improve transparency and traceability in value chains for example in the forestry sector. During the fruitful discussion after the presentations the engaged audience inquired about the possibilities to link smallholder forest enterprises to markets. Also, gender aspects in the CFE sector were vividly discussed and the panel underlined the importance of gender sensitive PR materials and the subconscious effect of gender balances in photos.
Apart from the enlightening panel discussion, I roamed around the conference venue and found it difficult to choose amongst the great variety of interesting sessions and side events. The main topic of the conference focused on the role of oceans in the climate crisis but forestry was definitely also a substantial part of the agenda. For example, I enjoyed the high-level discussions on forests with speakers from public and intergovernmental institutions. Key point of the discussion was the assessment of the contributions of forests to carbon sequestration in the context of the REDD+ scheme. To further bridge the “ocean-forest divide”, the Carbon Institute organized a “green blue soirée”, which provided a great opportunity for networking and socializing.
Another highlight on a different occasion was the presentation by Mr. Garcia from ETH Zürich and the Centre de Coopération Internationale en la Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD). In their study, the authors assess the great potential to increase tree and forest cover on a global scale and thereby significantly contributing to carbon sequestration. The publication was falsely perceived by many journalists and policy makers as a free pass to carry on with business as usual development approaches, while afforestation and restoration serve as a “low hanging” compensation mechanism. The author underlined the main point: Planting trees and forests is good, but useless when not properly embedding the process into the landscape context by assessing the actual restoration potential on the ground.
I was glad to hear the much-needed constructive criticism of the forest restoration community. Too often, we rely on mere tree planting exercises that on the one hand are great for PR, CSR and team building exercises but are too often marked by low survival rates and insufficient follow up management or integration into existing land uses. Apart from the obvious loss of financial resources, it is also a lost opportunity for forests and trees to contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. It is clear that forest restoration in the context of smallholder forestry and climate change mitigation and adaptation will require much more than just “planting trees”.
The Friday of the first week of the conference was marked by the arrival of the climate activist Greta Thunberg to Madrid and by a colourful and determined demonstration of the Fridays for Future (FFF) movement. This call for more ambitious action marked a sharp contrast to the overall mediocre Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of the national member states. Nevertheless, the COP25 was an impressive experience and I was glad to meet both old and new friends and colleagues in an amicable and engaged scene.
By Marcel Starfinger, Doctoral Candidate in the FLOURISH Project