2 May 2017
Twelfth Session, 4th & 5th Meetings (AM & PM)

Woodland Areas Instrumental in Eradicating Poverty, Empowering Women, Speakers Stress as Forum on Forests Continues Session

The United Nations Forum on Forests continued its twelfth session today with two panel discussions exploring the contributions of woodland areas to eradicating poverty and achieving gender equality.

In a morning panel on “contributions of forests to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 1:  forests and poverty eradication”, panellist Gerherd Dieterle, Executive Director of the International Tropical Timber Organization, said the poor derived 20 to 30 per cent of their income from forestry and forest products.  Often, however, a lack of specialization curtailed their ability to maximize their incomes.

Other pathways to prosperity could involve payments for environmental services, he said, the transfer of forest user rights to local communities, or safety net transfers, whereby poor families received income in exchange for sustainably using natural resources.  “If we don’t use forests, we lose them,” he stressed.

Yet, turning standing forests into reliable income streams at scale had proven challenging, said Frances Seymour, Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development, stressing:  “It’s hard to get rich from gathering wild forest products.”

On the other hand, she said there was good evidence that the clearing of woodland areas — for the main purpose of commercializing beef, palm oil and timber products — was a pathway into poverty, with flooding that wiped out homes and villages just one of the resultant losses.  Rather than viewing forests as a route out of poverty, they should instead be seen as “roadblocks to immiseration” with the potential to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30 per cent.

Godwin Kowero, Executive Secretary of the African Forest Forum, said that, in examining how forests could eradicate poverty, the forestry sector must first demonstrate its contributions to education, health, clean water, food supply and shelter.  No single sector could address all those concerns; a collective approach was needed.

Opening an afternoon panel on “contributions of forests to Sustainable Development Goal 5:  achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”, Isilda Nhantumbo, Senior Researcher and Team Leader at the International Institute for Environment and Development, said many women working in the charcoal and timber production value chains, for example, faced challenges in acquiring licensees and designing viable management and business plans.

In a keynote address, she highlighted the importance of rights, power and equity.  The key was not just to secure women’s rights to forest lands, but also to improve their rights to a good education, equal opportunities in the forest sector and equal pay.  It was critical to examine the types of jobs women pursued in the forest sector and to address any associated gender pay gaps.

Charles Barber, Director of the Forest Legality Initiative of the World Resources Institute’s Forest Programme, moderated the morning panel, with Uma Lele, independent scholar and former Senior Advisor of the World Bank, delivering a keynote address.

Seemin Qayum, Policy Adviser on Sustainable Development for the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), moderated the afternoon panel, which also featured presentations by Marilyn Headley, Chief Executive Officer and Conservator or Forests of the Forestry Department of Jamaica; Cécile Ndjebet, Director of the African Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests; and Latha Swamy, United Nations Ambassador for the Women’s Empowerment and Development Organization.

The Forum on Forests will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 3 May, to continue its session.

Panel I

The Forum opened the day with a panel discussion on “contributions of forests to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 1:  forests and poverty eradication”.  Moderated by Charles Barber, Director, Forest Legality Initiative, Forest Programme, World Resources Institute, it featured presentations by Gerherd Dieterle, Executive Director, International Tropical Timber Organization; Godwin Kowero, Executive Secretary, African Forest Forum; and Frances Seymour, Senior Fellow, Center for Global Development.  Uma Lele, independent scholar and former Senior Advisor, World Bank, delivered a keynote address.

Keynote Address

Ms. LELE, addressing the link between forestry and the Sustainable Development Goals, said there was a renewed interest in forestry and poverty.  The discussion focused on old-style investment projects, financed by the World Bank, as distinct from payments for environmental services.  Brazil and Mexico, for example, had been at the forefront, saying:  “We can do development differently”.  Other questions centred on whether the themes addressed by forestry could be reconciled by an integrated approach that also addressed trade-offs and win-wins.

She said there were different ways to look at forests.  The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), for example, believed forests were important carbon dioxide sinks and habitats for biodiversity.  Stressing that every individual, business, industry and Government was impacted by technological change, she said forestry could benefit from such change, especially in addressing poverty.  A holistic view of the effect on the poor must examine who forest-dependent people were, and the larger set of actors influencing their decisions.  One quarter of poor people’s income was derived from forests, the same percentage as from agriculture.  Yet, many economists only looked at increasing agricultural productivity.

One new theme emerging was the idea of environmental income, which she said used to be called cash and non-cash income.  “Hidden harvests” was another term, which related to the withdrawal of natural resources at rates faster than their regeneration or replacement.  If unmanaged, hidden harvests had policy and governance implications.  While geospacial mapping was helping researchers understand the relationship between natural resources and poor people, she said “We need much more understanding of what is going on in the dynamics of the forest sector,” noting the World Bank projected that poverty in all regions, except Africa, would disappear by 2030.

Examining measures other than cash income painted a different picture about the multidimensional nature of poverty, which she said was not necessarily being reduced.  There were few pathways out of poverty, due to such factors as unstable land resources, a lack of tenure, insecurity, authorities that wanted to use forest resources without sharing them with the poor, and their reluctance to federalize rights to poor people.  Going forward, she cited FAO recommendations to improve forestry policy makers’ understanding of poverty issues in forest areas; allocate clear and secure forest tenure and use rights over productive forests to poor people; and ensure consistency among policies.  To prevent forest dependence from becoming a poverty trap, she stressed the need to ensure clarity in tenure rights and focus on productivity increases, among other ideas.

Mr. DIETERLE said that “if we don’t use forests, we lose them.”  Poor people derived 20 to 30 per cent of their income from forestry and forest products.  The poor depended on a variety of incomes, especially in dense areas.  They faced many constraints, among them a lack of specialization, meaning they could not maximize their income from a particular skill, a lack of income that otherwise could be used to scale up their work and barriers to public service access.  Re-examining pathways towards prosperity involved payments for environmental services (as in Mexico); small-holder forest plantations (as in Viet Nam); State transfer of forest user rights to local communities (as in Albania), community forestry enterprises (as in Mexico) and Bolsa Verde safety-net transfers — whereby extremely poor, rural families in Brazil received income in exchange for maintaining and sustainably using natural resources.

As a forester, he had viewed forestry from the global, then the national and local levels.  He advocated viewing the sector from the opposite perspective, as well.  There would be a tremendous shortage of harvested wood products by 2040.  Without addressing that supply gap, “we will not be able to save the forests”.  Closing the gap would allow the productive role of forests to be a major contributor to climate change mitigation.  On financing, he suggested compensation for Governments that gave incentives for forestry production, which along with certification and third-party verification, would bring more governance into the forest sector.

Mr. KOWERO said that, in examining how forests could eradicate poverty, forestry must first demonstrate its contributions to education, health, clean water, food supply and shelter.  No single sector could address all those concerns, meaning that a collective approach was required.  Forests must also be evaluated on how well they promoted markets.  In examining forests’ role in poverty mitigation, many experiences only demonstrated how such resources lessened the severity or painfulness of poverty.  Pointing to how forests were income generators, he described primary, secondary (sawmills, pulp and paper) and tertiary (furniture, prefabricated housing) forest production, noting that most production was concentrated in secondary and tertiary areas.  The question was how employees in those areas spent money.  Secondary and tertiary forest production was mainly dominated by the private sector, with professional training highest in secondary production.

Employees resided close to forests and processing facilities, he said, and interacted with local markets in the vicinities to meet their needs.  Employees were fostering the growth of local markets, by sourcing their household and other needs from them.  At educational institutions, employees and students alike were pushing their institutions to spend more money in their communities and local markets.  Citing another effect of forest institutions on local communities, he pointed to forest products and services, which in many cases provided construction materials either for free or at concessional prices, which in turn, impacted education and health facilities in the area.  Local government fees for business licenses, for example, generated revenue, which, in turn, flowed to local communities.  He advocated developing appropriate formats for collecting data and improving both tenure and access rights, as well as strengthening forestry and agriculture producer- and community-based associations, enhancing relevant policies, enforcing relevant laws and building capacity in forest-related activities and institutions.  Doing so would help build a strong private sector — that worked in primary, secondary and tertiary forestry production regimes — which would place more demand and resources on markets.

Ms. SEYMOUR challenged the framing of today’s discussion as a link between forests and Sustainable Development Goal 1, suggesting instead that “we are barking up the wrong tree”.  Rather than view forests as a pathway out of poverty, she suggested they be viewed as a “roadblock to immiseration”.  Turning standing forests into reliable income streams at scale had proven challenging, with about 21 per cent of household income in and around forests coming from charcoal, meat and other resources.  “It’s hard to get rich from gathering wild forest products,” she said, yet organizations had spent years supporting such an approach.  Successes were rare, and such production was often illegal, unsustainable and hindered market access.  Monetizing ecosystem services also had been difficult, as many services were either enjoyed only at local scale or only infrequently important.  Carbon, perhaps, was an exception, which held more promise.

She said the conditions that would support standing forests as a pathway out of poverty were “rarely encountered and difficult to create”.  On the other hand, there was good evidence that deforestation was a pathway into poverty.  Losses included landslides that destroyed villages, floods that washed away homes and mangrove loss, which left people vulnerable to tsunamis — all of which pushed people into poverty.  The leading cause of deforestation was the commercialization of forests into globally traded beef, palm oil and timber products.  One way rich countries could change the narrative was by recognizing the importance of forests in solving climate change, she said, stressing that forests had the potential to reduce global net emissions by up to 30 per cent if they were used as carbon sinks and if deforestation stopped.   “REDD+ has failed to deliver,” she said, referring to the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries.  In sum, she advocated more focus on deforestation as a pathway into poverty, and viewing the maintenance of forests as a break on immiseration.

In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Chile underscored the importance of poverty eradication policies, suggesting first establishing a fund for the conservation, recovery and management of forests, which would help small holders.  The representative of China shared his country’s experience in launching forest-related reforms, which were linked to protection and restoration.  On the financial front, the Government offered subsidies for tenure-based loans and forest insurance, and promoted targeted poverty alleviation.  The representative of the European Union said sustainable forest management could help eradicate poverty, while advancing prosperity and conserving natural resources.

The representative of Mexico said the 11 million people living in his country’s forests must be offered opportunities to thrive.  He advocated private sector participation, as some Government programmes had been cut due to budget issues.  The speaker from the farmers major group underscored the importance of tenure, market access, enabling services and associations of rural people, who were not simply recipients of good or bad decisions, but rather, dynamic actors in policy development.  The representative of the Russian Federation underscored the importance of forests to rational natural resource management, combating climate change and developing rational consumption and production models.  He described national efforts to support forest users, including indigenous peoples.  The representative of Canada said sustainable forests produced products that met societal needs.

The speaker from the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan said bamboo and rattan were vast, untapped resources which countries could use to provide income-generating and ecosystem services.  The representative of Finland advocated tackling the root causes of poverty and taking a rights-based approach to development, emphasizing the need for multistakeholder partnerships in sustainable forest management.  The representative of Indonesia said forests served as a safety net helping the poor to mitigate their plight.  They also had untapped potential to lift some people out of poverty, he said, noting that the Government had allocated 12.7 million forest hectares for public access.  The representative of Malaysia said local communities’ traditional knowledge on plant use had been well-documented.  Livelihood improvement programmes were often a one-off opportunity and they should instead be ongoing.  The speaker from the Convention on Biological Diversity said most of the world’s poor depended on ecosystem services, with biodiversity underpinning more than 180 million jobs in fisheries or agriculture alone.  The representative of Ecuador described a tool that had been 98 per cent efficient in conserving forests and diversifying forest use in his country, noting also that a 2016 earthquake had led to a $5 million reforestation project that aimed to provide economic recovery.

Panel II

This afternoon, the Forum held a panel discussion on “contributions of forests to Sustainable Development Goal 5:  achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.  Moderated by Seemin Qayum, Policy Adviser on Sustainable Development, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), it featured presentations by Marilyn Headley, Chief Executive Officer and Conservator of Forests, Forestry Department of Jamaica; Cécile Ndjebet, Director, African Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests; and Latha Swamy, United Nations Ambassador, Women’s Empowerment and Development Organization.  Isilda Nhantumbo, Senior Researcher and Team Leader, Forestry Team, International Institute for Environment and Development delivered a keynote address.

Keynote Address

Ms. NHANTUMBO, speaking via video link, opened the discussion by noting that a number of the six Global Forests Goals specifically addressed issues relevant to women, including the financing of small and medium-sized enterprises and integration into value chains.  Conversely, several of the Sustainable Development Goals dealt with issues relevant to women forest workers and dwellers, including equal rights to economic resources, ownership and control of land and access to technology.  “Women face similar challenges around the globe,” she said, including those in forests who collected firewood, worked in the production of charcoal or were involved in forest-related research.  Many women working in the charcoal and timber production value chains, for example, faced challenges in terms of acquiring licensees and designing viable management and business plans.

Highlighting the importance of rights, power and equity, she said the key was not just to secure women’s rights to forest lands, but also to improve their rights to a good education, equal opportunities in the forest sector and equal pay.  As the world moved into the implementation of the United Nations Strategic Plan on Forests (2017-2030), it was critical to examine the types of jobs women pursued in the forest sector and to address any associated pay gaps between men and women.  The participation of women in local decision-making bodies must also be more closely examined, she said, stressing the need to ensure both their participation in those processes and greater accountability.  “Until we transform the content of the discussion, we will not achieve the goal of improved representation,” she stressed in that regard, adding that more study was needed to ensure that women benefited equally from the implementation of sustainable value chains.

In that regard, she went on to cite a number of relevant studies, including one examining women working in coffee production in Viet Nam which had found a significant pay gap between men and women.  Another study of women working in charcoal production in the United Republic of Tanzania had found that they were mostly involved in the later stages of the value chain as retailers and wholesalers, leading to a slightly higher profit than men.  However, women’s businesses worldwide tended to be on a smaller scale than those of men, and they faced challenges related to collateral and access to loans.  Women also bore huge family responsibilities outside work, including cooking, caring for children and fetching firewood, which left them less time to become involved in decision-making processes.

Pointing to her own work with women employed in the logging sector in Mozambique, she said supporting women’s small and medium-sized forest-related enterprises was complex and required public financing.  It was also important to help women leverage private financing, in particular to support their work in projects related to the restoration of degraded forests, carbon accounting and other sustainable practices.  Concluding, she called for “gender-sensitive forest-based sustainable development”, as well as a greater focus on the education of women and girls at all levels, women’s employment in both the public and private sectors and the creation of a financing instrument targeting women working in the forest sector.

Ms. QAYUM agreed that although gains had been made in addressing discrimination against women globally, women in the forest sector remained largely excluded from forest-related decision-making processes and continued to suffer from a lack of access to land and credit.  Stressing that women’s participation was crucial to make the transformations necessary for implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, she recalled that gender equality and women’s empowerment were both a standalone Sustainable Development Goal, as well as a cross-cutting goal needed to achieve all the other Goals and targets.

Ms. HEADLEY described the involvement of women in Jamaica’s forest sector, as well as its Government Forestry Department, pointing to a shift from their participation in so-called “pink” jobs towards more technical roles.  Recalling that both the private forest sector and the Forestry Department had historically been largely male-dominated, she said the latter was now working to involve more women in forest-related decision-making processes.  Noting that a 2015 study had found that 75 per cent of Jamaica’s 440,000 hectares of forest cover were privately owned, she went on to say that the country’s 2001 National Forest Management and Conservation Plan had included a gender strategy aimed at promoting the recruitment of more women into the Forestry Department, especially in technical areas.  In 2017, the Department had 123 male employees and 104 female employees and 40 per cent of its professional/technical posts were held by women.

Pointing out that Jamaica’s new National Forest Management and Conservation Plan, adopted in 2017, sought to build the capacity of both women and men in such technical areas as silviculture, carbon stock monitoring and urban forestry, she emphasized the need to continue the country’s trend towards a better gender balance in its forest management.  The Forestry Department also worked with local forest management groups — of which about 50 per cent were women — but in the private forestry sector most landowners were still men.

Ms. NDJEBET described her organization, the African Women's Network for Community Management of Forests, as an advocacy platform aimed at promoting African women’s land tenure rights in forests.  Asking:  “Why does gender matter in the forest sector?”, she said women represented half of the world’s population and more than half in sub-Saharan Africa, performed about 60 to 70 per cent of the world’s agricultural food production and controlled approximately 80 per cent of the world’s exploitation of non-timber forest products.  Women contributed to the sustainable management of forests and ecosystem conservation, the rehabilitation and reforestation of degraded forest areas and activities to combat climate change.

Calling for gender mainstreaming in the forest sector, she underscored the need to put in place enabling political, legal and regulatory environments to address structural gender disparities and inequalities; support women’s full participation in forest-related leadership and decision-making; and create dedicated financing structures to support their activities.  She also emphasized the need to educate and involve men in gender-related issues in forestry and the forest sector.

Ms. SWAMY agreed that while women were both users and custodians of the world’s forests, the forest sector remained largely male-dominated.  Stressing that gender mainstreaming supported the implementation of all the Sustainable Development Goals, she called for a “paradigm shift” in the underlying assumption about women’s role in that sector and emphasized civil society’s role in driving that shift.  In that vein, her organization, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, used three main strategies — advocacy, knowledge production and outreach — to promote women’s equal participation in leadership of climate negations.

Receiving support from the Governments of Iceland and the Netherlands, her organization sought to address the gap in women’s participation in such intergovernmental negotiations, focusing on helping least developed countries that often had limited capacity to attend climate negotiations.  It had also worked to develop “negotiation skills modules”, including a night school for women delegates, and created tools, such as the Gender Climate Tracker app to hold Governments accountable by compiling elements of women’s involvement in efforts to address climate change.  Her organization also sought to provide a wider platform for discussions on issues related to women’s leadership, policy reform, gender equality and the mainstreaming of gender into climate change mitigation and forest management, she said.

During the ensuing discussion, speakers from around the world relayed challenges and success stories in expanding the participation of women in the forest sector, as well as in sustainable development more broadly.

The representative of Uruguay reported success in eradicating the “machismo” culture once prevalent in his Government’s Forestry Department, pointing out that 50 per cent of its leadership roles were now held by women.  The representative of Peru described a plan to integrate a gender approach into his country’s efforts to tackle climate change, while the representative of Sweden outlined his Government’s efforts to harness the skills of both men and women in its highly competitive forest sector.  Those had included the development of a programme known as “Competitiveness Requires Gender Equality”, he said, adding that the well-known Swedish company IKEA had also begun to offer child care in order to attract more women to work in its stores.

In response to a question by the representative of Canada about the political impetus that had led Jamaica to pursue greater gender equality in its Forestry Department — as well as about any resulting socioeconomic impacts — Ms. HEADLEY described a recent call for more women in Jamaica’s Parliament and in ministerial roles.  However, that shift remained slow and women’s socioeconomic progress was still far behind, with many Jamaican women living below the poverty line.

The representative of Australia described the role of women in her country’s forestry sector, pointing out that its current Forestry Minister was a woman.  Noting that forestry had long been viewed as a male field, she asked the panellists what could be done to attract more women to the academic study of forestry.  To that question, Ms. NHATUMBO described her own educational background, recalling that women in her forestry class had been warned to “think twice” before they pursued a career in forestry because it was a “difficult job”.  In that regard, she urged forestry schools to present a more balanced view of the field, which also encompassed social and business-related aspects.

Ms. NDJEBET echoed those sentiments, recalling that she had been one of only four women to graduate from forestry school along with some 80 men.  Agreeing that forest-related work had been seen as dangerous at the time, she said she had chosen to become a “social forester” working closely with communities.  Ms. SWARMY noted that although the majority of recent graduates from her alma mater, Yale Forestry School, were women, those numbers were still not reflected in the forestry sector at large.  Women in forestry should be supported not only at school but throughout their careers, she said.

The representative of Colombia, noting that her country had recently ended its more than 50-year-long civil conflict and was currently working to build a peace based on sustainable development, said the involvement of women was “absolutely critical” in that process.  In that context, she asked whether any of the panellists had experience with the integration of women formerly associated with paramilitary groups into society.

Responding, Ms. NHATUMBO said many women had been active in the Mozambique army during the country’s long period of civil unrest, which had ended in 1990.  While there were few relevant parallels between Mozambique and Colombia, she said the former had nevertheless put in place a number of successful gender-sensitive policies to empower women with regard to land access and allocation.  Ms. NDJEBET added that gender mainstreaming was also a way to manage and avoid conflict, for example by de-escalating tensions that could lead to land-grabbing.

The representative of the European Union, echoing the panellists’ message that women must become more involved in forest-related decision-making processes, underscored the importance of ensuring women’s equal rights with regard to land tenure, access to resources and financial services, education, information and technology, markets and value chains.  He also called for targeted policies and measure to eliminate all forms of violence against women in the forest sector.

Asked by the representative of Iran to outline best practices in eradicating poverty among women involved in the forest sector, Ms. NHATUMBO described efforts under way in Mozambique to generate employment among both women and men in artisanal logging, which could contribute to reducing poverty.  Ms. NDJEBET added that community-managed forestry-based enterprises could help to increase the wealth of local communities, including women.

Also participating in the discussion were the representatives of Indonesia, Mexico, Finland, Saint Lucia, Nigeria and New Zealand.  The representatives of the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe and the children and youth major group also delivered statements.

For information media. Not an official record.