16. Forest Systems: Seeing the Forests and the Trees

Forests contain the most species of any terrestrial ecosystem and 75% of Centres of Plant Diversity are found in forests. While according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), global forest cover is increasing very slightly (3.95 billion hectares in 2005 compared to 3.86 billion hectares in 2000), the figures include plantations and regeneration of temperate forests. If plantations are excluded, the deforestation rate has continued at about 13 million hectares per year during the period 1990–2005, with few signs of a significant decrease over time (FAO, 2005). Meanwhile, at the individual species level, the 2008 Red List of Threatened Species reports that 172 of 620 species (28%) of conifers are threatened with extinction (IUCN, 2008d).

The State of the World's Forests 2009 (FAO, 2009a) paints a diverse picture of issues for forests globally. While forest area is projected to stabilize in developed Asia, North America, and some parts of West and Central Asia, forest loss is expected in much of Africa, and South America, although for the latter planted forests are expected to increase. Increasing awareness of the wide variety of services provided by forests, especially those relating to climate change mitigation and adaptation, is bringing new audiences and potentially new investment to sustainable forest management. The report notes continuing innovation in the forest sector but a developed/developing country gap in access to those innovations. Finally the report questions what impacts the economic crisis of 2008/2009 will have on forests globally and whether or not a “green path” to development will be taken that supports sustainable forest management for the future.

This decline in forests globally is a problem for everyone, especially the rural poor. In 2004 Vedeld et al. reported that forests provided 22% of income for rural families in 17 countries across three continents. The majority of the income came from wild foods and fuel wood with fodder, timber, thatch and wild medicines also occupying an important place. Forests, and the many services they provide, are truly an important part of the wealth of the poor.

Forest conservation today is focused on managing at landscape scales, supporting improved law enforcement and governance of forests, applying ecosystem approaches and promoting dialogues and partnerships that enhance the role of forests in underpinning livelihoods for local communities. Each of these themes has figured high on the forest agenda and received due attention at the Barcelona WCC.


Forests, with their rich array of biodiversity, provide a vast number of goods and services in support of human well-being. However, maintaining those services requires an approach that looks beyond the trees to a broader vision of land use that supports environmental, social, cultural and economic benefits for people. Within the conservation world, sustainable forest management (SFM) has been broadly adopted. Sayer and Maginnis (2005) have proposed ten tenets of good practice for SFM (Box 16.1).

Ecosystem approaches, SFM and forest landscape restoration have evolved to go beyond biophysical characteristics and include social, political and other components of the system (Sayer et al., 2007). Forest landscape restoration operates at a scale that incorporates all surrounding land types, creating a mosaic of forests, woodland, agricultural land, protected areas, and settlements within which planning and implementation occur and that incorporates participation of all relevant stakeholders based on the multiple uses of that landscape to support livelihoods (Fisher et al., 2008).

The unifying concept in these approaches is the idea of integrating conservation and development. Often a large task for conservationists is convincing local communities that the long-term benefits of conservation will outweigh the short-term benefits of harvesting forests. Sayer et al. (2007) propose planning projects that include indicators based on the five capital assets (financial, social, physical, human, and natural capital) as a means to ensure the perspectives of local people as well as conservation are linked together.

Box 16.1 Ten tenets of good practice for sustainable forest management

  1. There is no single ecosystem approach, but multiple ecosystem approaches that need to be adapted and applied pragmatically in each situation.

  2. People are part of ecosystems – jobs, livelihoods and wealth-generation are as important as the birds and the monkeys.

  3. All environmental management must be adaptable: we manage, learn, adapt and manage again.

  4. Ecosystem approaches require tools that measure the performance of the whole system, including both environmental gains and people's livelihood improvements.

  5. Clear and defendable land rights, democratic institutions and the rule of law are important elements of an enabling environment for ecosystem approaches.

  6. Forestry professionals must be eclectic, have excellent inter-personal skills, and earn the respect of all stakeholder groups.

  7. Science does not provide the answers but it helps us to learn from mistakes, adapt and explore innovative options.

  8. The soft side of ecosystem approaches is more important than the hard side. These approaches are not just another formula – they entail new attitudes, approaches, sets of competencies and a broadened range of skills.

  9. Many elements of ecosystem approaches are not directly under the control of forest departments, so these agencies have to learn to exert influence and broker deals with other stakeholders.

  10. Ecosystem approaches will not make conflicts disappear; they can make trade-offs more explicit but there will always be winners and losers. Ecosystem approaches can help reduce the power differentials between stakeholders and lead to more equitable outcomes, ensuring that society in general and specific stakeholder groups in particular are winning more and losing less.

Source: Sayer and Maginnis, 2005

Integrating traditional knowledge into the design and implementation of projects is crucial for maintaining interest in projects in the short and medium term. Conservationists need to consider very carefully the social and environmental implications of projects, such as land tenure rights, good governance needs, indigenous people's rights, and corruption. Ignoring root causes of deforestation, which are usually social causes, was one of the largest reasons for the failures of early forest conservation plans.

So what are the future directions for conservation action in forest landscape development? One is new opportunities and threats driven by agricultural and agro-industrial expansion and economic uncertainty. Numerous recent studies have sought to identify the threshold by which it becomes more profitable for forest dwellers to clear land for agriculture than to maintain forest on their land (Box 16.2). Conditions promoting such deforestation include rising global prices for food like soybeans and beef as well as the increasing accessibility of forests as transport infrastructure improves. In addition to assessing cost/benefits over long enough time frames other techniques that can support SFM include certification systems, reduced impact logging, and financial instruments such as payments for ecosystem services (PES).


Failure of governance mechanisms for forest resources is at the heart of problems relating to SFM. The World Bank (2006) estimates that losses to governments from illegal logging amount to US$ 10 billion per year, many times the amount of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) invested in SFM. In addition, an estimated US$ 5 billion is lost annually from uncollected royalties and taxes from legally sanctioned harvests due to corruption. The millions of people who depend on forest resources for their livelihoods are the ultimate losers.

Box 16.2 Forest versus agriculture – the case of the Mabira forest reserve

The Mabira forest reserve, on the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda, hosts valuable wildlife, serves as a timber resource, provides ecosystem services for the water balance, and the rainforests represent a tourist destination. Following a proposed plan for clearing one-third of the reserve for agricultural use, the values of the forest were calculated by local researchers. This economic evaluation of the forest shows that, from a short-term perspective, growing sugar cane would lead to more economic benefits than maintaining the forest reserve, with a return of US$ 3.6 million per year in contrast to US$ 1.1 million per year for conservation. However, sugar cane production is only optimal during a short time span of five years. When comparing both land-use alternatives over the lifetime of the timber stock, 60 years, the benefits from the forest, and the ecosystem services it provides, exceed those of the sugar cane planting.

Source: Environment Times #5, http://www.grida.no/publications/et/ep5/page/2351.aspx

At the World Conservation Congress (WCC) held in Amman in 2000, IUCN Members recognized the impact of corruption in the forest sector and the need to support better governance (Resolution WCC 2.039) (IUCN, 2000a). Many countries and regions are now trying to address the issue of forest crimes and its consequences through engagement in Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG) processes.

The G8 Action Programme on Forests (1998) identified illegal logging as a key obstacle to sustainable forest management. The Programme provided an important incentive to increase actions against illegal logging. As a result, three regional Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG) ministerial conferences have been organized, namely, the East Asia FLEG (EA FLEG) in September 2001 in Bali, Indonesia; the Africa FLEG in Yaoundé, Cameroon in October 2003; and the Europe and North Asia FLEG in St. Petersburg, Russian Federation in November 2005. All three FLEG conferences brought together governments, industry, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and researchers from countries both inside and outside the region to improve governance and foster international dialogue on illegal activities in the forest sector, as well as to establish frameworks that enable producer-country governments to work with one another to improve linkages and harmonize regulations, and with governments of consumer countries to tackle illegal logging and trade practices. The conferences resulted in higher political attention for illegal logging and in a range of national and international initiatives by governments, private sector and NGOs to tackle the problem.

An important initiative came from the European Commission (EC) when it approved an Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) in 2003. The plan was approved by the member countries in the same year. This Action Plan aims to exclude illegal timber from entering the European Union (EU) market through strategies including the implementation of voluntary partnership agreements (VPAs) with producer countries. These agreements will put in place in each country a licensing system for legal timber that would be allowed to be imported by EU member countries thus keeping unlicensed and possibly illegal timber products from entering the EU market. As of May 2009, a VPA has been initialled with Ghana and negotiations are near complete with Congo (Brazzaville) and Cameroon. Negotiations are ongoing with Malaysia and Indonesia and will start with Gabon later in 2009. The EC is also engaged with China, Vietnam and other countries to address illegal logging in other ways.

Other strategies employed or under discussion include procurement policies and additional legislation to prevent illegal timber from entering consumer markets.

Lessons emerging from these initiatives include:


Forests provide multiple goods and services to multiple stakeholders. This has to be reflected in the way forested landscapes are managed and conserved, but can only be done equitably when all relevant voices are heard. Partnerships are therefore crucial for needs and perspectives to be shared, and for synergies to be found. In this context, an approach to the governance and management of forests from a single issue perspective is counterproductive – if those with a legitimate interest in forests do not have a say in the future of forest landscapes, they are likely to undermine attempts to make progress. An assumption that forests are “for carbon sequestration” or “for biodiversity conservation” cannot be allowed to deflect attention from the goods and services they provide to rural people, a disproportionate number of whom count on such resources for basic livelihood support. Neither is it enough to assume that simplistic conservation and development “win-win” scenarios can be attained in such a setting. Satisfying multiple competing voices means negotiating trade-offs, which is best done in a spirit of collaboration and partnership.

The Tropical Forest Dialogue, whose secretariat is at Yale University, has been fostering dialogue processes since its inception in 1998. It takes as its premise that it should build trust among the different groups participating in dialogues, and provide them with tools, ideas and an environment in which they can form their own partnerships. Such partnerships need not necessarily result in toothless compromise; creating consensus in itself can be radical. IUCN has contributed to Intensively Managed Planted Forests: towards best practice and beyond REDD – the role of forests in climate change, a consensus-based statement on forests and climate change.

The Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) is a voluntary arrangement among 14 international organizations and secretariats with substantial programmes on forests (CIFOR, FAO, ITTO, IUFRO, CBD, GEF, UNCCD, UNFF, UNFCCC, UNDP, UNEP, ICRAF, WB, IUCN)3. The CPF's mission is to promote the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forest and strengthen long-term political commitment to this end. Increasingly, CPF members work together in projects and mobilize resources supporting countries to achieve their forest-related goals and supporting implementation of sustainable forest management (FAO, 2009b).

In 2007 the World Bank proposed creating a Growing Forestry Partnership (GFP) Initiative that links local and global processes and promotes decision-making on the international stage to reflect the views and needs of forest dwellers. The World Bank then asked the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) to conduct an independent assessment of its proposal with a broad range of stakeholders. More than 600 forest experts responded to IIED's assessment, or participated in focus groups in Brazil, China, Ghana, Guyana, India, Russia and Mozambique, as well as international meetings.

IUCN has also taken a leading role in the GFP. This initiative, supported by FAO and the World Bank, aims to make forestry truly sustainable by building and strengthening new partnerships that reflect local needs and protect global public goods. In its specific focus on being led from the ground up, it differs from and complements CPF. IUCN's immediate GFP focus is on developing partnerships in Mozambique, Ghana and Guatemala.

An interesting advance taken by certain NGOs is helping local communities build capacity in business development. Forest Trends, an IUCN Member, has developed a Business Development Facility to provide technical assistance to forest operators in assessing, identifying and developing opportunities for non-timber revenue streams to maximize the value of the forest, including carbon sequestration, watershed conservation, and biodiversity conservation. Conservationists can support forest dwellers in shifting from a “single asset approach” where cut timber is seen as the only real value of forests, to a “multiple asset approach” that diversifies livelihood improvement opportunities by capitalizing on non-timber products and services and supporting access to markets.


Chapter 5 highlights the role of forests in mitigating climate change through REDD. In addition to REDD, forests present another climate change opportunity. Degraded forest lands currently cover an estimated 800 million hectares. Although their carbon stocks are significantly depleted, these lands often retain sufficient forest cover to exclude them from being classified as deforested and therefore available for reforestation funding under the Kyoto mechanisms. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report estimates that the restoration of these lands could account for approximately 117 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (calibrating other greenhouse gases to carbon dioxide) until 2030. This is equivalent to one-and-a-half times the estimated potential available from avoiding deforestation until 2030. The restoration of degraded forest lands offers a triple climate benefit: avoided emissions from halting ongoing degradation; significant additional sequestered carbon through restoration; and landscape-wide climate adaptation benefits with respect to the provision of restored ecosystem services, such as improved hydrological cycle regulation.

3Long forms of these organizations are the following: CIFOR Center for International Forestry Research; FAO Food and Agriculture Organization; ITTO International Tropical Timber Organization; IUFRO Global Network for Forest Science Cooperation; CBD Convention on Biological Diversity; GEF Global Environment Facility; UNCCD United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification; UNFF United Nations Forum on Forests; UNFCCC United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; UNDP United Nations Development Programme; ICRAF World Agroforestry Centre; WB World Bank.

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