Why good policies and public funding (only) won’t change the world

We have been cutting trees to plant food crops, since the beginning of time. Forest cover loss is a major contributor to climate change – the biggest challenge of our times. So, we won’t save the world without saving forests.

However, while the connection between forests and climate is very well recognized, agriculture is an elephant in the room at the climate talks and a rare bird at the discussions about forestry.

International deforestation curbing policy infrastructure is well developed. It includes the New York Declaration on Forests, the Bonn Challenge, Initiative 20x20, AFR100 and now also the UN Strategic Plan on Forests 2017-2030, just to mention a few of its components.

These are all great, but throwing billions at conservation and afforestation won’t work without making agriculture sustainable and zero-deforestation. “Foresters must get out of the woods and focus more on deforestation drivers!” invokes Hans Hoogeveen (Ambassador to the FAO of the Netherlands) at “Forests, trees and agroforestry for food security and nutrition and the SDGs” side event during the 44th session of the Committee on World Food Security.

Good policies, even the well-integrated kind, like the SDGs, also mean nothing without implementation. And doing anything about agriculture with no business players on board is no more than just fooling around. “We need the private sector to save forests and not only farmers, but also those working with value chains and markets”, says Hans Hoogeveen.

René Boot (Director at Tropenbos International) believes inclusive investment and business models will be key for implementing this agenda. Present in 12 countries across the tropics, Tropenbos is a knowledge broker that strives to improve human well-being through the wise use of forests. Boot is determined that “we need to show impact, we can’t just keep asking for more money to do our studies.” Starting off with community forestry, René Boot and his team mainly worked with ensuring secure land rights and providing opportunities for selling timber. They soon began to see how communities started to come together into producer associations improving their processing capacity and price negotiation position. That’s when he realized they should bring the private sector on board.

René Boot thinks that linking smallholders to businesses is better than building all the capacity from zero. This way farmers can benefit from the industrial and marketing experience the private sector has: “Expecting that indigenous communities with a sawmill would in five years turn into a professional enterprise is unrealistic. Sometimes it is better that farmers do what they do best and somebody else does processes and commercialization.” Farmers can be shareholders in such companies, getting higher returns than from selling their raw produce. What’s more, as most of the communities in the forest regions live both from forest and from agriculture, producing different products, diversifying such systems will not be an issue.

“Of course, working with big plantations where you have only one owner is much less of a headache, but those who want to make an impact and invest in the developing regions will have to work with smallholders. And I was pleasantly surprised by the genuine interest among investors and banks in the Netherlands and in the US” adds René Boot.

The challenge? There are few examples proving this kind of partnering can work well. Tropenbos teamed up with the CGIAR Research Programme on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) to review the inclusive business models that currently exist, comparing them, and creating a toolkit for building inclusive businesses. The toolkit would allow to bring different approaches together and see what works where, and what road to take when running into certain challenges.

It is already obvious that realizing the SDGs using only public money is not going to be possible: the challenge is too big. With the scale the private sector operates at in the developing countries, they are the best partners in implementing the sustainability agenda. There is no way we can save the world without them.


This blogpost covers the CFS44 side event “Forests, trees and agroforestry for food security and nutrition and the SDGs.”

Blogpost by Ekaterina Bessonova, #CFS44 Social Reporter – ekaterina.bessonova(at)sei-international.org
Photo Credit: 
Georgina Smith/CIAT via Flickr.

This post is part of the live coverage during the 44th Session of the Committee on World Food Security, a social media project supported by GFAR. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.

13/10/2017 8:20


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