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FAO urges policy-makers to strengthen forest producer organizations

Benefits for smallholders include poverty reduction, livelihood improvement and sustainable income

Photo: ©FAO/Sean Gallagher
Producer forest organizations can give their members better access to markets and a voice in policy development.

25 November, 2013, Guilin/Rome - Strengthening  forest producer organizations should contribute significantly to reducing poverty, improving livelihoods and enhancing economic development of smallholder forest owners and farmers, FAO said today at the International Conference on Forest Producer Organizations, taking place in Guilin, China, 25-28 November 2013.

Being part of a producer organization can give individual forest producers better access to markets, a stronger bargaining position, essential market information, a voice in policy development and help them to improve their entrepreneurial skills.

Largely under-estimated

Hundreds of millions of people depend on forests for their livelihoods. Despite these benefits, forest producer organizations, which are engaged in production of timber, non-wood products, handicrafts and medicinal plants, are not yet as common or well-recognized as similar groups in agriculture.

"Forest producer organizations have been largely under-resourced and under-appreciated," said Eduardo Rojas-Briales, FAO Assistant Director-General for Forestry, "Well-organized groups enable their members to have more bargaining power and get access to loans. Larger groups can lobby their members' interests and influence policies. In addition, through producer forest organizations smallholders can also strengthen the sustainable management of forests. Policy-makers should be more aware of these benefits and should support the creation of such organizations".

Farms are linked to forests

Farmers, especially indigenous peoples, smallholders, women and family farmers, also benefit from managing forests as it enables them to diversify their income sources and offset the potential risks of relying solely on crops.

"Due to increased risks posed by climate change farmers will gain from support for diversifying their livelihood activities," said Jeffrey Campbell, Manager of the Forest and Farm Facility, a partnership between FAO, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  "Whereas severe droughts may destroy crops, some types of forests are more resilient to droughts and can better withstand them, contributing to food security and producing a range of other important products," he added.

Secure forest tenure

When local people are given clear, fair and transparent rights to manage forests and to obtain economic benefits from them, they are more likely to make the long-term investments that forestry requires. In addition, where they are confident that rights are safeguarded, local people can maintain and increase their traditional efforts to preserve forests. 

 Women should have equal rights as producers, beneficiaries and decision-makers, stressed FAO.  Where this is not the case, forest producer organizations can have an important role in lobbying for change.

Strength in numbers - stories of success  

In a new report launched at the Conference FAO presents a range of successful examples of forest producer organizations.

In China, a bamboo cooperative buys bamboo shoots, fruit and vegetables and mushrooms from members to process, store, transport and sell them and has created a brand. Through the cooperative, members have better access to loans.

In Guatemala, groups of tree planters have cut out the middlemen who until recently took most of their profit. They now deal directly with large companies and receive more income from their sales.

Links to manufactures have also been established by Namibia's marula tree producers groups. Marula fruits contain nutritious, oil-rich kernel used in cooking and production of skin-care products. Most rural Namibian women's livelihoods depend substantially on harvesting and processing such indigenous products. Now they can supply several large cosmetics manufacturers, and government support is increasing the domestic market of marula oil.