Programme FAO-UE FLEGT

Women in the forefront of sustainable forest management: case studies from Honduras, Viet Nam and Côte d’Ivoire

13/12/2021

More than 25 percent of the global population, including one billion women, depend on forest resources for their livelihoods (FAO 2018). Despite the paucity of sex-disaggregated data, it is increasingly evident that women’s forest-related work often surpasses that of men, not only in livelihood activities at community level, but also in productive initiatives (Sunderland et al., 2014; FAO, 2018).

However, women’s roles often remain invisible and unrecognised, and the wood sector continues to be a male-dominated field. As a result, women continue to work in the informal economy, are paid less than men, their knowledge is not adequately enhanced and their contribution to the sector is not appropriately documented.

Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are important in meeting the growing global demand for forest products, representing around half of all forest-related employment (IIED, 2016); yet, little information is available on the proportion of women working in MSMEs or the possible impacts of regulatory changes on their participation in such enterprises.

As part of the European Union (EU) Action Plan for Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT), the EU and tropical timber-producing countries are negotiating and implementing bilateral trade agreements known as Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) which aim to streamline legal trade in licensed timber. While the VPAs are generally seen as a positive development that can improve the conditions of wood sector MSMEs, there are concerns that the VPAs are only marginally contributing to more consideration given to women in the sector and may even lead to unintended negative consequences to women working in timber value chains (Cerutti et al., 2020; Richards et al., 2019).

Given the importance of MSMEs to the forest sector, as well as the potential impacts that VPAs may have on women employed in MSMEs, the FAO-EU FLEGT Programme produced three case studies of MSMEs with significant female participation working in wood-based value chains in Viet Nam, Côte d’Ivoire and Honduras – three countries that have negotiated or are currently negotiating VPAs with the EU. This web article draws on the gender analyses conducted in the three countries and presents findings related to gender and forestry which are common to the three countries. It also proposes recommendations to address gender inequalities in the forest sector.

Publications available below:

Methodology

All three case studies started with an in-depth literature review regarding women’s status in each country’s forest sector, focusing on their participation in wood-based MSMEs. The subsequent data collection was carried out using different methodological approaches due to the vast diversity between the three case studies and the impact of the COVID pandemic.

In spite of the pandemic, in Viet Nam, it was possible to carry out field work in the study area (La Xuyen “wood” village and adjacent areas). Qualitative information was gathered through 35 in-depth interviews with authorities, business owners and local men and women. Data collection was also complemented by direct observation on the field to obtain a more comprehensive picture of the local context. 

Table 1. The case studies at a glance

 

Case Studies

MSMEs

Main Product

Viet Nam

La Xuyen “wood” village

Approx. 1 700 household enterprises

Wood and wood products

Côte d’Ivoire

MALEBI Women Association

All-female small enterprise

Charcoal

Honduras

Community-based forestry cooperatives

Seven cooperatives with significant female participation

Wood, wood products and pine resin

 In Côte d’Ivoire, it was possible to carry out field visits and face-to-face interviews before the outbreak of the pandemic. Relevant information on the Association of Women Producers and Traders of Secondary Forest Products (MALEBI) was gathered through a questionnaire completed by members of MALEBI and then complemented through focus group meetings with those same women. Field visits and open discussions with members, women and men, of neighbouring forest communities were carried out to complement the information.

The Honduran case study focused on community-based forestry cooperatives. COVID travel restrictions rendered it impossible to spend time in the region and all data was gathered through online consultations with in situ cooperative members. Leaders and members from various cooperatives were asked to share their personal experiences and opinion. Replies were documented and crosschecked in order to contrast and consolidate different opinions and perspectives, and evaluated for trends and patterns before being contextualised within the wider literature.

 Summaries of country contexts and key findings

Wood and other forest products are an important export industry of Viet Nam, increasing by an average of 13 percent per year between 2010 and2018. The export value of Viet Nam's wood and forest products reached USD 11.3 billion in 2019, accounting for 6 percent of the world's furniture market share. La Xuyen village is a traditional carpentry village that has been well-known since the 10th century. Wood products in La Xuyen are mainly made from plantation or precious natural forest trees, either imported or harvested in the country. La Xuyen has about 21 companies and 1 700 household enterprises (96 percent of all households in the village) engaged in production, trading and transportation of wood and wood products. Each company has between 10-40 employees, of whom women account for about 14-20 percent. Each household enterprise has less than ten employees, most of whom are family workers with at least one woman and only 1-2 hired workers (usually men). Women participate in multiple stages of the wood value chain in La Xuyen, with a majority being tasked with simple jobs such as sanding and varnishing, and a select group being responsible for technical tasks such as carving, gilding and painting, and tasks that require a special set of skills, such as transportation and operating sawing machines.7

The case study in Côte d’Ivoire covers key issues of the country’s forest sector. First, charcoal is one of the main drivers of forest degradation. Second, access to productive forest resources is still characterised by cultural practices that penalise women. In this context, the case study focuses on MALEBI, a women-s association that produces and sells charcoal from wood harvested in the Ahua gazetted forest (South-Central region) and, in return, is committed to reforesting 30 hectares per year in the same forest area. All the members of the association, including the president and vice-president, are personally and equally involved in the production and trading of charcoal. In parallel to its production and reforestation activities, MALEBI conducts wide-ranging activities for the sustainable development of the communities and their social cohesion. For instance, the association carries out trainings on innovative charcoal production methods, which are both more profitable and more sustainable than traditional methods. It also implements awareness-raising campaigns against bush fires. However, due to its unprecedented nature – a female forest enterprise in a male-dominated sector – MALEBI faces significant challenges due in particular to a system of restrictive sociocultural norms that translate into attitudes and practices that strongly penalise women’s initiatives and entrepreneurship.