Programme Forêts et eau

Two-day international event marks the transition from discourse to action on forests and water


The International Forests and Water Dialogue, a special two-day Congress event (8–9 September), showcased the importance of forest-water interactions. Organized by FAO, the International Union of Forest Research Organizations, World Agroforestry Centre, and the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan, with the contributions of 21 other partners, the Dialogue aimed to encourage stronger collaboration between science, practice and policy. The Dialogue attracted over 200 Congress participants, who engaged in an interactive programme comprising three thematic segments centred on forests and water in science, practices and policy. These interesting discussions were complemented by interactive sessions, including scientific lightning presentations, a world café on practice and a workshop on a potential international forests and water network. 

A main feature of the Dialogue was the successful launch of Forests and Water: a five-year action plan, a collaborative work plan that aims to consolidate and shape projects and activities related to forest-water interactions in order to develop effective strategies to conserve, manage, and restore water-related ecosystem services. The Action Plan marks a transition from discourse to action. Introducing the document publicly for the first time during one of the final sessions of the Dialogue, Tony Simons, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre, proclaimed “No forests, no water!” He highlighted the urgency of forest-water issues and noted the timeliness of launching the Action Plan a few weeks before the UN Sustainable Development Summit 2015. The Plan’s subsequent endorsement by several organizations provided the legitimacy for its future implementation. Deputy Director General of the Department for Water and Sanitation South Africa, Ms. Lindiwe Lusenga, adding her country’s support, stated that it was important for momentum to continue, that action be taken and progress reported.

Day 1 of the Dialogue focused on forests and water in science and practice, with an opening presentation by Mike Wingfield, President of IUFRO, who provided an overview of forest-water interactions, including a description of the key water-related functions forests provide. The inspiring speech by the Minister for Water and Sanitation of South Africa, H.E. Nomvula Mokonyame reminded participants of the need to overcome sectorial boundaries and integrate forest and water policies at all levels. Policies need to be people-centred, acknowledge local knowledge and solutions, backed by political leadership and support of organizations to ensure cohesion between forest and water issues, stressed the Minister.

In their keynote presentations, David Ellison, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Irena Creed, University of Western Ontario, and Richard Harper, Murdoch University, emphasized the need to consider forest-water interactions beyond the catchment basin, recognizing the role of forests in the atmospheric processes of the hydrological cycle, including precipitation; the need to apply existing frameworks, such as ISO 31000 when incorporating forest-water related research in practice and policy; and the need for the scientific community to address knowledge gaps and effectively communicate these findings to practitioners and policymakers. The IUFRO Task Force on Forests, Water and Soil Interactions was cited as one such mechanism for achieving this. 

Forest-water policy was the focus of Day 2 of the Dialogue, with keynote presenters Thomas Hofer of FAO and Maharaj Muthoo of INBAR describing some of the challenges to the development of forest-water policies and how currently the integration of forest-water policies is very weak at national and global levels. However, the international agenda, especially following the adoption of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, presents opportunities for forest-water interactions to have a recognized role in food security, access to quality water and climate change.

A further highlight was the workshop on a potential forests and water network, where over 150 participants, including scientists, practitioners, policymakers and youth discussed how they would like to contribute to and benefit from a global network. Key discussion points included a need for a knowledge-sharing platform and mentorship opportunities for youth. Over 45 youth participated, including 15 who co-facilitated the breakout sessions. The Dialogue concluded with a review panel moderated by Ms Debora Patta of CBS News. The panel of nine delivered key messages on different aspects of the Forests and Water Dialogue, ranging from science-policy interface, agriculture, water sector and youth. The panelists provided insights on how the international community needs to move forward, and expressed willingness for stronger consolidation and collaboration for common goals related to forests and water.

Three key messages from the Dialogue were proposed to the Congress for inclusion in the outcome documents: 1. The interaction between trees, forests and water and the role this plays in addressing critical issues, such as food security, access to quality water, climate change and landscape resilience deserves greater recognition at national, regional and international levels; 2. The dialogue reaffirmed that there is a strong demand, need for, and willingness to participate in and contribute to a newly established network of partners that will consolidate, synthesize and share knowledge, best practices and common methodologies, as well as build the capacity of scientists, practitioners and policymakers on the interaction between forests and water; 3. There is a need for decision makers to allocate greater resources for research on forest-water interactions and the translation of this research into policy action and practical implementation, including at the community level.