Ambitious 10-Year global research program aims to protect forest-carbon stocks, reduce risks for millions of farmers and forest communities

For immediate release

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA (4 December 2011)—With declining conditions in forests looming as a threat to climate health and the wellbeing of a billion impoverished people, the world’s largest consortium of agricultural researchers announced today an ambitious 10-year global research programme devoted to forests and agro-forestry.

The new 10-year CGIAR research program on Forests, Trees, and Agroforestry aims to re-invigorate efforts to reduce deforestation and forest degradation and expand the use of trees on farms. The initiative is focused on the critical importance of forests as natural “carbon sinks” that can help slow the pace of climate change and the need to conserve forest biodiversity. CGIAR experts believe that improved management of forests and trees can play a wider role in reducing risks for smallholder farmers and improving the well-being of forest-dependent communities, particularly women and other disadvantaged groups.

The program will have an initial three-year budget of US$233 million. While US$90 million of that has already been secured through the CGIAR Fund, the balance will be raised through additional resource mobilization efforts.

“We urgently need a strong and sustained effort focused on forest management and governance, given the crucial role of forests in confronting some of the most important challenges of our time: climate change, poverty, and food security,” said Frances Seymour, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). “Otherwise we risk the further impoverishment of the billion people who depend on forests and trees for their livelihoods, continued carbon emissions from forest destruction and degradation that already are a significant source of greenhouse gases, and loss of ecosystem services crucial to sustained agricultural productivity.”

For example, deforestation and land use change contribute an estimated 12 to 18% of the world’s total annual carbon emissions, which are accelerating global warming. Large areas of forests are lost every day when trees are cleared to make way for food and biofuel production. In Sub-Saharan Africa, overharvest of trees for firewood and charcoal production is the most common driver of forest degradation. Unsustainable management practices are also a major contributor to the desertification of formerly forested areas and have played a role in the famine now plaguing the horn of Africa.

Rachel Kyte, Chair of the CGIAR Fund Council, and concurrently Vice President of Sustainable Development at the World Bank, said, “With this new research program we can create powerful collaborations to make a major contribution toward greater food security and climate stability.”

“We must be ambitious and drive innovation, adopt new methods, form new partnerships, and create more capacity if we are to close the time gap between research discoveries and their impact in real-world settings,” she said.

The new CGIAR forest program will involve the close collaboration of four of the world’s leading research centres:  the Kenya-based World Agroforestry Centre, the Indonesia-based CIFOR, the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (known by its Spanish acronym CIAT), and the Italy-based Bioversity International. In addition – and most important for impact – the programme will work with leading national research institutes and other organizations necessary to complement the core competencies of the CGIAR. It will partner with knowledge-sharing experts to maximize outreach and will engage policy and practitioner partners as the immediate clients for its research results.

The initiative will focus on areas where forests and agroforests that play a major role in local livelihoods and carbon sequestration (or other environmental services) are under severe pressure from timber extraction, agriculture expansion or other threats.

In many tropical countries in Asia, Africa and South America, vast swathes of forests are being lost to agriculture. There are certainly times when clearing forests for farms can improve local living conditions, but often such forest destruction intensifies poverty and does irreparable harm to valuable ecosystems.

While loss of forests to agriculture is a major concern, there are a number of CGIAR initiatives exploring the potential of cultivating trees on farms as a way to sustainably increase rural incomes.

“Roughly 10 percent of the world’s tree cover is found on farms—and the rate is increasing—making agro-forestry an important component of climate change mitigation and adaptation,” said Tony Simons, Director General of the World Agroforestry Center. “In developing countries, agroforestry systems also are providing cheap and nutritious fodder for animals along with non- timber forest products, like nuts and fruit, that boost farm incomes, particularly in households headed by women.”

Emile Frison, Director General of Bioversity International, said that the program would also have a strong focus on biodiversity.

“The genetic diversity of the forest trees that people make use of is still barely understood,” he said. “We need to conserve tree diversity in the face of climate change, and ensure that forest dwellers continue to have access to the wide range of trees they need to support thriving communities.”

The five components of the research portfolio include: 

  • Smallholder production systems and markets, which will include a focus on boosting the productivity and sustainability of both forestry and agroforestry operations, increasing incomes in forested areas, and improving policies and institutions that affect land rights for the rural poor;
  • Management and conservation of forest and tree resources, which will involve research into threats affecting important tree species, conserving high-value tree species, improving silviculture practices, and developing ways to resolve conflicts over resource rights;
  • Landscape management of forested areas for environmental services, biodiversity conservation and livelihoods, which will explore the drivers and consequences of forest transition—in which deforested and degraded lands are restored—for environmental goods and services;
  • Climate change adaptation and mitigation, which considers how forests, trees and agroforestry can play a role in climate change mitigation and also how they can help people adapt to climate change; and
  • Impacts of trade and investment on forests and people, which seeks to understand the effect of forest-related trade and investment and improve efforts to mitigate the negative impacts and enhance the positive impacts.

The new forestry program is one of 15 multi-centre programs to be developed and funded by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). To date, the CGIAR has approved a total of 9 programs, totaling US$2.27 billion, aimed at improving food security and the sustainable management of the water, soils and biodiversity that underpin agriculture in the world’s poorest countries.

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