Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)


Social protection for building resilience of forest dependent people

In preparation of the side event on “Social protection for building resilience of forest dependent people” that will take place at the XIV World Forestry Congress (WFC) in Durban, South Africa, from the 7th to the 11th of September 2015, FAO is launching an online discussion to gather views and experiences on the inter-linkages between social protection and forestry.

Forest dependent people are often located in remote and poor areas where livelihood opportunities are limited. They heavily depend on trees and forests in their surroundings for their food and nutrition security. Poverty, vulnerability, marginalization and social exclusion are among the major challenges they face. Poor rural households are constrained by limited access to resources, low agricultural productivity and poorly functioning markets, which reduce their ability to cope with economic and natural risks and shocks that threaten their livelihoods. In these contexts, forests often serve as a safety net to cope with crises, which can lead to the unsustainable management of forest resources.

What is the role of social protection in promoting and protecting the livelihood of forest-dependent people?

Existing evidence suggests three main roles for social protection to support forest-dependent people. Firstly, providing poor people dependent on trees and forests with access to social protection can strengthen resilience, allowing them to better manage the social and economic risks and environmental threats. Secondly, through direct income support, social protection can help alleviate extreme poverty, overcome food insecurity and increase productivity by stimulating local economy. Lastly, social protection schemes can also be used to directly increase the adoption of sustainable forest management practices.

There is a two way relationship between social protection and forestry that needs to be further explored to provide insights and evidence to policies and programmes aiming at forestry-based livelihood protection and promotion. Forests play an important role in the livelihoods and food security of forest dependent people, as by providing access to food, energy and income they help manage risks and reduce vulnerabilities, thus serving a socially protective function. On the other hand, social protection interventions can reduce poverty and increase resilience of forest dependent people, while fostering sustainable management of forests and natural resources.

The objectives of this online discussion that contributes to the preparation of a report for the side event are to:

  • Gain a better understanding of the potential synergies and conflicts between social protection and forestry;
  • Identify major social protection instruments that can promote a sustainable forestry development;
  • Share knowledge and experience on how to better coordinate and harmonize social protection and forest policies.

We are looking forward to hearing your views and experiences on these issues. You may wish to consider the following questions:

  1. What are the impacts of forest policy and programs on risks and vulnerability?
  2. What are the major sources of vulnerability for forest dependent people? What are the limitations of forest management policies and programmes in addressing them and how would these be best addressed by social protection?
  3. Which countries have social protection instruments and programmes that:
    - target forest-dependent people?
    - are implemented with the aim of promoting sustainable forestry among the poor?
    - are integrated with sustainable forest management programmes?
  4. What key factors influence the creation of synergies or conflicts between social protection and sustainable forestry? What complementarities can be utilized to optimize the effects of social protection on forestry management?
  5. What aspects of the global climate-change agenda present opportunities for harmonizing social protection and sustainable forestry policies? What are the key mechanisms for fostering coordination of and coherence between social protection and forestry policies?

We thank you in advance for your time, interest and support.

We look forward to a lively and interesting interaction/discussion.

Nyasha Tirivayi

research fellow at the UNU-MERIT (United Nations University)

The Netherlands

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Dear participants

This week our discussion will focus on how social protection programs and forestry policies can be coordinated and harmonized. We are asking contributors to provide examples of social protection instruments that have been implemented among forest dependent peoples and/or as a means of promoting forest conservation. In the past week, discussants gave insights on some of the social protection instruments being used around the world to help forest dependent people or promote forest conservation goals, e.g.  cash and in-kind subsidies in China and a public works program in India.

For further information on the types of social protection programs we are referring to, please see the background document for the discussions. It is among the discussion documents in the right panel of the webpage under the section "discussion resources".

Please consider discussing questions 3, 4 and 5:

3.      Which countries have social protection instruments and programmes that:

- target forest-dependent people?
- are implemented with the aim of promoting sustainable forestry among the poor?
- are integrated with sustainable forest management programmes?

4.      What key factors influence the creation of synergies or conflicts between social protection and sustainable forestry? What complementarities can be utilized to optimize the effects of social protection on forestry management?

5.       What aspects of the global climate-change agenda present opportunities for harmonizing social protection and sustainable forestry policies? What are the key mechanisms for fostering coordination of and coherence between social protection and forestry policies?


Dear participants

I would like to thank the contributors to the discussion last week. The discussion provided examples of some synergies between social protection and forestry policies/goals, factors vital for the successful implementation of social protection and forestry policies, and examples of sources of vulnerability among forest dependent people.

Here is a summary of your contributions:

Social protection and forestry policies: Synergies, issues and examples

·         In India, social protection instruments and other social policies have positively impact forest dependent people. For example, NREGS (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) has created jobs for tribal women and youths and enabled sustainable land development. The Right to Education Act in India improves literacy among tribal communities, while the National Health Mission provides health benefits by lowering maternal and child mortality.

·         Ensure that social protection schemes are harmonized to improve socioeconomic status. No need for new schemes in India, policy makers should ensure the proper implementation of social protection schemes in remote areas and protect the rights of forest dependent communities.

·         In China, there is an example of strong linkages and synergies between social protection and forestry policy. The Conversion of Cropland to Forests Program (CCFP) provides grain and cash subsidies, migration assistance, energy, irrigation and training to farmers who agree convert their cropland to forests.  Over the past 16 years, 32 million rural households in 25 provinces have benefited. The CCFP has increased forest restoration and cover and is the largest poverty alleviation program in China.

·         The livelihoods of forest dependent people can be strengthened via provision of safety nets first, followed by a short to community-led commercial practices when markets are developed.

·         Proper implementation, governance and accountability, communication with beneficiaries are key factors influencing the success of forestry policies and social protection programs.

·         Consider creating synergies between forestry policies and other developmental objectives like drinking water provision, which can increase community participation in forestry programs

Sources of vulnerability and other issues

·         Forest dependent people are vulnerable to elite manipulation and displacement, when the needs of private interests supersede theirs.

·         Forest dependent people are disadvantaged by the competition for access to forest resources emanating from timber companies who are close to governments.

·         Social protection alone not adequate to prevent unsustainable forest extraction practices. Rights of forest dependent people must be protected and guaranteed via REDD and REDD+.

·         Social contracts that define the rights of use, usufruct and control of forests can contribute to efforts on building resource and human resilience.

·         Ensure funding and protection for the cork forests and forest dependent people in the Mediterranean 

The seven countries of the Mediterranean cork forest region, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Morocco, Tunisia and Algerial, all have very specific governance policies that not only protect the forests but the inhabitants as well. With one of the highest levels of forest biodiversity on our planet, the cork forests represent a model for forest-depentand people. The forest workers who harvest the cork bark are some of the highest paid agricultural workers in the EU. 90% of the cork forests in the the EU are owned by family farmers.  These 2.6 million hectares are the last firewall in the battle against desertification in this region. 

But theses forests are not free from environmental, social and economic attack. The United Nations has designated the cork forests of the Mediterranean region as one of the top 25 "Hot Spots" of biodiversity, yet little effort or funding is being provided to ensure their continued livelihood. We encourage the the UN to refocus it's attention to the cork forests and it's people. 


Patrick Spencer
Executive Director
Cork Forest Conservation Alliance

Under Question 4 (creation of synergies or conflicts) provision of services such as drinking water and/or sanitation can be extremely beneficial in group formation and social engineering. Often development work in watershed rehabilitation or forest management takes place against a fairly consistent background of past failure. Communities are therefore sceptical and may be slow or unenthusiastic in participating. Provision of drinking water as a component of a wider forest or watershed community development project - particularly early on in a project - can have a strongly catalytic effect on community participation and hence the success in achieving the development objective. For that reason investment in drinking water provision should always be considered as a component in a wider development effort - not to be considered as a self standing programme -  which may look splendid but effectively uses up all the catalyst without any catalytic effect.  

Ismaila Senghore

Gambia Radio and Television Services


I am a development communication journalist employed with The Gambia Radio and Television Services. We do not have a formal social protection mechanism of forest dependent communities in my country but I am of the conviction that this is very necessary and important wherever needed.

The practice, as in my country of transferring the ownership and management of forests to the communities is a positive way of achieving this, as indicated by some participants. However, a true mechanism for defending the rights of forest dependent communities in case of transgression of their rights, even under this system, is not guaranteed, as states can revoke this ownership under any purported national interest.

I would therefore, recommend that a committed international body, such as the UN, under mechanisms like REDD and REDD+, be devised that will monitor such rights and formulate measures for redress. The Forests of the world are our common heritage and should be sanctified and regulated under international jurisprudence to help save the world from the looming dangers of climate change.

I believe if States are  adequately sensitized and motivated (under climate change adaptation mechanisms), alternatives to national development and proactive local legislation to save and revive forests the world all over will be more likely to succeed.

It is also important to note that social protection in itself will not be adequate to save forests since without sustainable management (state intervention) of the forest resources, the local communities themselves could be the source of their destruction, if they see it as their property that they can use anyhow, which is the general state of affairs at present.

Ismaila N. Senghore,

Manager, FM Radio Station (National) and Head, Education and Development Programmes.

Gambia Radio and Television Services.

This is an interesting subject closely related to my work at UCL's Institute for Seucrity & Resilience Studies both in respect of 'Resource Resilience' (keeping the lights on) and 'Human Resilience' (capacity building etc). 

For me 'Resilience' is pretty much symbiotic/coterminous with Peter Steele's 'Restoration'.

My focus has long been upon the necessary associative protocols ('social contracts') which frame Peter's 'Rights' (ie rights of use, usufruct & control) and the financial instruments which are used within these frameworks to generate 'Returns'. 

My research approach has been firstly geographic, to identify 'what works' in terms of successful policy frameworks, and secondly, historic, to review what exactly was there before the legal and financial institutions with which we are familiar came along ie 'what worked'.

This recent presentation at Strathclyde University sets out my findings in general terms.

Perhaps one of the most interesting historic findings is that the very word 'Return' refers to the return of credit instruments to an issuer. eg the Tax Return was the accounting event at which the tax-payer who had pre-paid tax at a discount (and thereby funded the sovereign) would return the 'stock' record of the transaction to the Exchequer for matching and settlement of his tax obligation against the 'counter-stock' portion of the split tally stick accounting record which pre-dated doube entry book-keeping..

But I digress. 

In the forestry context it is quite possible to imagine simple social/associative contracts for the use of the forests and for the sharing of usufruct as between stakeholders. More to the point it is possible to imagine investment in forestry through the issuance - in exchange for value received - of credits returnable in payment for forest products generally, and carbon energy value specifically. 

If the Danish objective operating principle of 'least carbon fuel cost' is then applied alongside the subjective principle of 'least human cost' then the outcomes will probably be more positive than the current outcomes from the application of 'least $ cost' economic principles from the application of conventional corporate protocols and instruments such as equity shares, debt and derivatives.


Xie Chen

China National Forestry Economics and Development Research Center

Dear Nyasha Tirivayi:

I'd like to address the issue of relationship between social protection and forestry policy via China's experience.

Similar with other developing countries, in China's main forestry area or main forest restoration area, people's livelihood is directly linked with forestry sustainable management. So, in many forestry policy, improving people's livelhood has always been altermate of the China's forestry policy. Taking the Conversion of Cropland to Forests Program(CCFP) as an example. In the first phase of the CCFP,  grain and cash subsidy had been provided to farmers who agreed to convert their cropland to forests.  Since considerable of CCFP farmers were poor at the time, the subsidy really served as important income souces of them. As CCFP last 16 years and some 32 million rural households around 25 provinces involved in, so the program not only increased forest coverage, but also be a largest poverty alliveation program In its second phase, in addition to subsidy, CCFP add ecological migration, rural energy, irrigation, training, etc. with the aims of strenthen long term rural development capacity. All those efforts have help rural poors/forestry dependent people to reduce pressure on forests and input more efforts on forest restoration and management, i.e. win-win of SFM and rural livelihood.  In the last 12 years, I'm keeping monitoring socio-economic impacts of CCFP on 1165 households of 100 counties of 21 provinces and could provide some evidence for this topics.

I've going to attend WFC and will present those observations. If you need any more information, let me know.

Best regards

Xie Chen(谢晨)
China National Forestry Economics and Development Research Center
State Forestry Administration
Hepingli Dongjie 18#
Beijing 100714
Tel: 010-84239024
Fax: 010-84239024
Email:[email protected]

Self-Sustaining livelihoods from forests

People helping themselves

The first point raised by Nyasha Tiriraya in her summary of last week’s debate/discussion says it all. People everywhere need to ‘help themselves’ and the best way of doing this is to develop one or more livelihoods based upon the resources that they have available. This may include access to forests, woodlands or agricultural resources but it also, and crucially, includes the resources of the people themselves.

Herein are issues of approach, but it is too simplistic to refer, as Nyasha Tiriraya does, to ‘livelihoods based upon either commercial or subsistence means’. The latter is neither sustainable nor practical long-term and typically reflects upon the endemic poverty of many rural communities, but also marginalization and isolation which means, in reality, lack of access to information, technologies, finance and markets. Further, in high density rural areas there are, typically, insufficient resources available for traditional subsistence production systems to continue to deliver.

No one wants to be a subsistence grower

You only have to work with subsistence producers to appreciate the challenges that they face with feeding themselves, paying school fees, managing illness in the family and more. High on those priority wish-lists is the determination not to have their children (at least the boys in the family) become subsistence growers. Urban centres offer social attractions and financial advantages that employment provides. In short this is all about ‘education’; educating people to enable them to escape their poverty.

Search the five year rolling development plans for just about every low-income country and you’ll find objectives that target: ‘shifting every subsistent grower into commercial production’. The rhetoric is always there - it’s just that typically there are insufficient resources of funds and experienced people in the public sector to make a significant difference.

Competition from timber companies

Forest people can be double or triple disadvantaged given the competition for access to the resources of national forests with commercial timber companies, working closely with government people, that are provided with priority access to those same resources. All timber companies are not the same, but the speed with which forests are sometimes clear-felled with scant regard to the sustainability of habitats, stands and/or single species and the non-wood forest fauna/flora that depend upon them suggests the high value of the formal tax returns that government receives and, equally, the unofficial payments that are sometimes given to key decision-makers.

There is sometimes official smugness as new plantations of industrial trees replace the sometimes ancient indigenous forests that once dominated - copying the practices that were followed in earlier times by today’s high income countries. Whether harvesting fruits, leaves, timber or gums the plantation becomes the domain of the manager and workers, and it no longer provides either the social insurance or the biological wealth of old.

Making livelihoods more attractive

Livelihoods followed by indigenous forest people may ultimately help retain the sustainability of that forest, but this will depend to a large extent upon the goodwill of the public administration. There are no (or at least few potential) tax returns from the honey hunter, for example, exploiting wild bees in a patch of forestland. Therein is a sense of public financial support required of indigenous people – foregoing commercial earnings in exchange for the stability of forest cover and the longevity of traditional practices. Start with safety nets – shift to community-led commercial practices as markets can be developed.

Those traditional social practices are changing everywhere, however, as rural people become more aware of social development elsewhere in their country and, equally, within practical reach in foreign lands. The mobile phone, like the radio before it, has provided access to the information that has changed people and their expectations forever.

What to do about it? Good question – but much too hard to provide an easy answer that will assist with this debate. In reality, there are no easy answers. You need educated electorates in countries with levels of corruption that can be managed - to provide security for the natural environment including forests.

Resources of information

You can summarise this kind of approach within the ‘3Rs’ concept as promoted by the Centre for International Forest Research; these are ‘Rights’, ‘Returns’ & ‘Restoration’ and they refer to the sustainability of rural landscapes in all the complexity of people making a living from the natural resources available to them. The ‘3Rs’ are self-explanatory, but you can find out more at:

In the meantime, focus upon the development of those livelihoods that will, perhaps, boost the circulation of money and wealth in the community. For many years I have made use of some popular publications produced by the FAO Forestry Department. Check out the information available at: Check under ‘Forestry papers’ and ‘Working papers’. Key words are: ‘Livelihoods’, ‘Enterprises’ and ‘Small-scale’. That all important sector ‘Non-wood forest products’ is best covered in the NWFP series at: Key texts are: #5. ‘Edible nuts’, #6. ‘Gums’, #7. ’Rural incomes’, #9. ‘Domestication’, #11 ‘Medicinal plants’, #17. ‘Fungi’, #19 ‘Bees’ and #171 ‘Edible insects’.

Most of the modern publications can be down-loaded. Earlier publications are available in hard copy only, but note that people in the low-income countries can request copies free-of-charge from the local FAO Representative in the capital city.

Thoughts for the next FSN forest debate

Estimated four billion hectares of forest occupy around 31% of global land areas. World populations are expected to stabilize at 9-10 billion by 2050, the great majority of whom will be living in urban centres. The challenge will be one of producing the additional 70% food required from much the same agricultural lands that are currently available today; and, simultaneously and for best, expanding forest lands for their environmental, economic and social values.

Peter Steele



Forest management policies and programs work well if the people have the knowledge and are empowered with regards to this matter.  In view of sustainability, the government and private sector interventions have 2 effects. The first is that it can enhance forest management policies and social protection programs. The second, effect would be that it can worsen the poverty conditions of people if no ethical support is received from the actors that have a role to play in advocating forest management policies and programs. 

One of the major sources of vulnerability for forest dependent people is when political interests of the actors such as government, private sectors company prevail  even if it is in contrary with the forest management policies and programs. The Government and the private commercial companies too have a major responsibility. Corruption in some developing countries is a factor in the vulnerability of the forest dependent people, among the most marginalized sectors of society - the indigenous and the farmers.  For example,  In one of the  places  here  in the Philippines  , Just this January of  2015, one of the   government  agencies has lifted the ban on a private  company that is mining now in one of the  places known to  be an indigenous land.  The lack of education   of the indigenous makes them vulnerable to this kind of political matter. With their poverty situation today, they can be vulnerable to manipulation in exchange for money as a source of income. Since the people are relocated, their livelihood is also affected and there is no guarantee that their livelihoods will become sustainable. 

 Another is that not far from the place, there are more than 600 farmers who  practice organic agriculture. The growing of organic plants require an adequate  amount of sunlight and water. If the organic plant gets too much sunlight,  chances are they get poor yields from the plant.  Cutting down of trees for mining, will make the place hotter. With a hot climate ,surely the livelihoods of more than  600 organic farmers are affected and may have worse effects for them and this has a negative impact on the local as well as for the national economy since they  export the organic fruit.

The Philippines is vulnerable to climate change and we have forestry policies and  social protection programs but the problem comes down to its implementation. In other places, it has worked well, while in other places it has not worked at all.   Moreover, this implies that the implementation of forest policies and social  protection programs should also educate people, empower them as to how they  can best manage their own communities and promote sustainable livelihoods in  the area. I believe if there are government or private sector interventions, there  should be proper accountability and transparency. Governance  is one of the  factors contributing to the success of the implementation of forest policies and  social protection programs. In addition, the Government and private sectors  would work best in the communities if there is proper communication, that  both the government and private sector would also  take time to  understand  the cascading effects  of their actions  when implementing forest policies  and social protection programs. Lastly, the governments need to listen to the  feedbacks of the local residents in the area with regards to the forest policies and  social protection programs.


Dear All,

Social protection has immense role to play to promote and protect the livelihoods of the forest dependent communities given the fact that they are more vulnerable to the climate change impacts which sometimes found disastrous for communities who rely on any natural resources for their livelihoods. Social schemes around education, health, sanitation & land development sectors are of immense use for the welfare and development of forest dependent communities. Though India has made a successful journey in this direction, a lot yet needs to be done before it attains the goal. The so called Right to Education Act in India has been found to be effective in improving the literacy rate among the tribal communities. Similarly National Health Mission successfully piloted in almost all states of India could able to reduce the MMR (Maternal Mortality Rate) and IMR (Infant Mortality Rate). Above all NREGS (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) has immense role in sustainable land development and creating additional job opportunities for the tribal women and youths. Though we strongly appreciate their customary legacies, however, the need for convergence with the social schemes to improve their socio-economic status cannot be denied. This is high time to ensure proper implementation of these schemes in the remote areas instead of proposing new schemes. Besides, in no way the fundamental rights of forest dependent communities to forest and land shall be compromised. A better forest dependent community ensures a better environment, country and a globe.