Setting an International Forestry Policy Agenda: The CIFOR Vision

John Eberlee

Forests are vital safety nets for people around the world — a message that needs to be put on the global policy agenda, says the new Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), based in Bogor, Indonesia.

According to David Kaimowitz, hundreds of millions of poor people rely on forest products for their survival. Among other things, forests provide fuelwood, medicinal plants, bushmeat, insects and tree litter, he noted during a recent presentation hosted by the International Model Forest Network Secretariat (IMFNS) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Ottawa.

“When people don’t have a job, when it’s the hungry season, when they’re out of work, they go back to relying on that basic safety net of open access, natural flora and natural fauna,” says Dr. Kaimowitz, who adds that CIFOR intends to promote this issue over the next few years.

On this and some other themes that CIFOR aims to promote, it shares common ground with key IMFN principles and activities. For example, the model forest philosophy reflects the intrinsic value of forests to rural people and communities. A fundamental goal is to harmonize economic, environmental, and social priorities.

A second issue where the interests of CIFOR and IMFN align is the question of biodiversity and land use mosaics. “If we look at where the money is going, if we look at where the attention is on biodiversity as it relates to forests and natural ecosystems, the focus continues to be on protected areas, with buffer areas around protected areas,” says Dr. Kaimowitz.

“But biodiversity and people have to learn to coexist because there will be very few parts of the planet over the next 15 or 20 years that don’t have significant populations or a significant level of disturbance,” he says. Policy makers need to address “the question of how to deal with biodiversity in logged and secondary forests, in plantations, and agroforests. If we don’t actively work on managing that biodiversity, we will not be able to conserve most of the biodiversity that now exists. I think anybody who knows large parts of the tropics realizes that the idea of conserving biodiversity solely in core protected areas is not viable as an exclusive solution, although protected areas clearly have a role in biodiversity management.”

CIFOR will be working with the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) to sell this message to the Convention on Biodiversity, the Global Environment Facility, and large NGOs such as the World Wide Fund for Nature
(WWF), the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and Conservation International. According to Dr. Kaimowitz, conservation agencies need to think about moving some of their funding away from the “core protected area vision” toward local communities “to protect the biodiversity and manage the biodiversity where they exist.” Here, model forests, which focus on practical approaches to the integrated management of areas as large as a watershed, may be able to provide some valuable guidance.

A third issue that CIFOR hopes to promote is the question of secondary forests as a resource. In a region like Asia, very few large unlogged forests still remain, says Dr. Kaimowitz. “In most of southeast Asia, I think it’s safe to say that 10 or 15 years from now, logged-over forests, secondary forests, and plantations will be the main timber resource — the resource that communities and people increasingly depend on for their rural livelihoods.”

“But if you think about it, there are very few policies that focus on these resources, there is very little attention given to these forests. Nobody has even a particularly good idea of how large the secondary forests or logged-over forests are, or what their economic potential or possibilities for management are,” says Dr. Kaimowitz. He adds that by raising this issue, CIFOR’s goal is simply to plant an idea in policy makers minds’: “secondary forests are important, logged over forests are important, think about this.”

by John Eberlee