Every month we highlight a new, groundbreaking or bestselling IIED research outcome. This month we feature the innovative project:
Reducing poverty by connecting small forest enterprises to each other, markets, service providers and decision-makers.
Forest Connect is an international alliance dedicated to tackling the isolation of small forest enterprises. Established in late 2007, its aims are to avoid deforestation and reduce poverty by better linking sustainable small forest enterprises to each other, to markets, to service providers and to policy processes such as National Forest Programmes (nfps).
It currently involves partner institutions with funded facilitation plans in 12 countries: Burkina Faso, China, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guyana, Laos, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique and Nepal plus a broader network of 700+ supporters in 58 countries linked by an international social networking site.
The Forest Connect alliance is co-managed by the Forest Team within the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the Community-Based Forest Enterprise Development programme (CBED) of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).
Tackling the isolation of small forest enterprises is not a marginal activity – they make up most of the enterprise numbers and account for most of the forest sector employment in most tropical forest countries. Their impact on the forest and on people’s livelihoods is huge. But they are often informal, disorganized and poorly equipped to manage forests sustainably and profitably.
It is not that small forest enterprises cannot manage forests sustainably and profitably – but that they lack the security of resource rights, organization, technical and business capacity to do so. If there is to be any hope of a green economy that avoids deforestation, adapts to climate change and reduces poverty – support for small forest enterprises is urgently needed. Forest Connect encapsulates the vision shared by its members that connecting small forest enterprises matters.
Almost all Forest Connect partners start by compiling information on different sub-sectors — identifying particular challenges. These diagnoses inform the tools and tactics needed to provide effective support and vary widely by country.
Better product development has been a theme of much Forest Connect support involving essential oils in Ethiopia, artisanal wood products in Guatemala, ecotourism in Guyana, honey in Malawi, baobab products in Mali, bamboo furniture and craft products in Mozambique, and wintergreen oils and bio-briquettes made of charcoal in Nepal.
Elsewhere in Burkina Faso and Ghana, Forest Connect members have developed ‘yellow pages’ of service providers so that small forest businesses know where to look for help. In others, they have focused on supporting associations — stimulating new ones for bamboo and coconut fibre users in Mozambique, and testing the health of existing ones in Ethiopia and China.
From innovative use of mobile phone technology in Burkina Faso to producer websites in Guyana, Lao and Liberia, Forest Connect has helped increase flows of market information. And across the world, the network has helped producers share experience and learning in different fora, including orientation workshops in Burkina Faso, eco-tourism exchange networks in Guatemala and market groups in Mali.
The capacity to support small forest enterprises does not materialise overnight — it requires patience and sharing amongst like-minded partners. That is the idea of Forest Connect.
The reports from two international learning events posted below summarise how like-minded partners (i) identified in what areas advice and support was needed for them to support small forest enterprises better and (ii) shared approaches, tools and tactics I each of those areas to help one another.
How Forest Connect works:
- It identifies partner institutions around the world who see part of their mandate as support to small forest enterprises
- It connects them with similar institutions and bodies of knowledge elsewhere with which they can share information and gain experience – including through international learning events
- It supports a small subset of institutions financially (within the confines of available funding) to do practical in-country work
- It assist those institutions to undertake diagnostics of the scale, nature, challenges and opportunities of small forest enterprise sub-sectors within their country
- It provides support for cataloguing and networking financial and business service providers
- It helps to guide and support more detailed value chain analyses
- Based on the above it support the facilitation of specific interventions to help small forest enterprises such as advocacy work to secure commercial forest resource rights, catalysing association formation, product development, market research and information systems, finance or business development training etc
- It both interrogates what sort of advice practitioners need to do their job better, and captures guidance to share in the form of a modular toolkit.
Forest Connect has a dedicated website where you can:
- Find out more about the countries and people participating in the project
- Download news, briefings, reports, films
- Post information that might be of use to others
- Open new discussions, interest groups and find new partners.
Forest Connect is an initiative funded by the World Bank Programme on Forests (PROFOR) and by the United Kingdom Government’s Department for International Development (DFID), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and Danish International Development Assistance (DANIDA).