Forest like you wouldn’t believe

Land cleared in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Yayan Indriatmoko for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Land cleared in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Yayan Indriatmoko for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Garry Dunning, Executive Director of the Forests Dialogue, with a stern look. “Intact forest had essentially been made into sand dunes.” The devastation caused by mining in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia’s third-largest province, was clearly disturbing.

And it’s not difficult to understand why: the province contains lowland forests that are among the most species-rich habitats in the world. With three million hectares of tropical peatland, the area accounts for almost 70 percent of Central Kalimantan’s total forest biomass with below-ground carbon stock of 9 gigatons.

Yet encroaching development from mining, agriculture and forestry is putting those carbon stocks at severe risk of being diminished. Fires used to clear land are the largest driver of greenhouse gas emissions in the area, followed by peat decomposition after drainage for agriculture.

Not only does this have alarming consequences for carbon emissions — which, under a business-as-usual scenario, are projected to jump from 300 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2005 to 430 metric tons by 2015 — it also questions wider development agendas.

“The challenge is to make sure that discussions about forests involve other actors and sectors – the agricultural sector and other commodities that impact on the landscape, like palm oil plantations or mining,” said Dunning. “Bringing all these actors together is absolutely essential.”

The Forests Dialogue is a global organization providing international forest sector leaders with platforms for creating multi-stakeholder dialogue. The aim is to create collaborative solutions to challenges in achieving sustainable forest management and forest conservation.

Bringing together actors from a broad range of organizations, including government, the private sector and non-governmental organizations, the focus is on creating the bigger picture around an entire landscape to improve land-use decision-making on the ground.

The landscape approach: looking at the bigger picture

Increasing global demand for food, biofuel and fiber is impacting landscapes, often threatening the value of other ecosystems services they offer, like biodiversity and climate change mitigation. What is called the “landscape approach” then becomes essential to ensuring more sustainable land use, even when strengthening a particular sector, such as the forestry sector.

At the Forests Asia Summit, at a session facilitated by the Forests Dialogue, discussions focused on a Forests Dialogue initiative on “Food and biodiversity: Changing Outlooks for Food, Fuel, Fiber and Forests (4Fs) in Indonesia: The case of Central Kalimantan”.

Drawing on previous field experiences, the session focused on lessons learned by all stakeholders, not only those directly involved in the work of the Forests Dialogue but a broader audience of interested professionals working in different sectors.

Key lessons included the importance of making trade-offs specific to a context. Everywhere is different — the pros and cons of any intervention or landscape must be weighed up in relation to a specific context, for that context, agreed participants.

Other lessons include the need to engage indigenous peoples — taking their rights into account in the bigger picture of improving livelihoods. Consultation with different community stakeholders and smallholder farmers is vital for long-term solutions.

And a message that came up more than once: the private sector has to be part of the solution, not the problem. In the same vein, nothing can be achieved without good governance, again emphasizing the importance of collaborative discussion.

Show me the money

Discussion is not enough, though, and once the talk has subsided and solutions have been made, the challenge is to mobilize resources: to get the money where it matters. Tapping resources is a larger question for researchers implementing landscape approaches. It has been estimated that the required funding for sustainable forest management globally is around US$70-160 billion per year.

But another question raised was: “How can we connect government money down to smallholders?” The task of getting the money down to smallholder farmers is further complicated by the many different actors involved in every landscape – even within government departments.

One thing is for sure: engaging all actors involved in the management of an ecosystem in discussions is essential for finding landscape-management solutions. And listening to local communities is the only way to ensure that those solutions stick in the long term.

Georgina Smith, a communications specialist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), is based in Hanoi, Vietnam.

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