Forest programme to benefit millions
A 10-year, $233-million plan to help a billion people around the world whose livelihoods depend on trees and forests, was announced on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 17) in Durban on Sunday.
The ambitious global research programme aims to protect forest carbon stocks and reduce risks for millions of farmers and forest communities worldwide.
The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) said their research programme would focus on forests, trees and agroforestry, and have an initial three-year budget of US$233-million.
While $90-million of that has already been secured through the CGIAR Fund, the balance would be raised through additional resource mobilisation efforts.
The new CGIAR forest programme will involve the close collaboration of four of the world's leading research centres: the Kenya-based World Agroforestry Centre, Indonesia-based CIFOR, Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (known by its Spanish acronym CIAT), and Italy-based Biodiversity International.
Natural 'carbon sinks'
Forests are considered natural "carbon sinks" that can help slow the pace of climate change. 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.
"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."
Experts say deforestation and land use change contribute an estimated 12-18% of the world's total annual carbon emissions. Also, large areas of forests are lost every day when trees are cleared to make way for food and biofuel production.
Overharvesting, desertification in Africa
CGIAR said that in sub-Saharan Africa, the overharvest of trees for firewood and charcoal production was 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."
Vice-president of Sustainable Development at the World Bank and chair of the CGIAR Fund Council, Rachel Kyte, said the new research programme could 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," Kyte said.
"Roughly 10% of the world's tree cover is found on farms and the rate is increasing, making agroforestry an important component of climate change mitigation and adaptation," said Tony Simons, director-general of the World Agroforestry Center.
Focus on biodiversity
CGIAR believes there are times when clearing forests for farms can improve local living conditions, but often such forest destruction intensified poverty and harmed valuable ecosystems.
While loss of forests to agriculture was a major concern, there were a number of CGIAR initiatives exploring the potential of cultivating trees on farms as a way to sustainably increase rural incomes.
Emile Frison, Director General of Biodiversity International, said the programme would also have a strong focus on biodiversity.
"The genetic diversity of the forest trees that people make use of is still barely understood. 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."