Mass mobilisation: boosting businesses and protecting forests

As Phase I of the Forest and Farm Facility partnership closes, Duncan Macqueen reflects on its impressive achievements and the role that the mass mobilisation of forest and farm producers has played in its success.

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Duncan Macqueen
Duncan Macqueen is principal researcher in IIED's Natural Resources research group
20 March 2018
The Forest and Farm Facility Vietnam team displays new forest and farm products and knowledge from work with Forest and Farm Producer Organisation businesses (Photo: Duncan Macqueen/IIED)

The Forest and Farm Facility Vietnam team displays new forest and farm products and knowledge from work with Forest and Farm Producer Organisation businesses (Photo: Duncan Macqueen/IIED)

The Forest and Farm Facility (FFF) met in February, in an unusually snow-clad Rome, to plan for its Phase II (PDF) and celebrate the achievements of Phase I (2014-18). 

The steering committee was gratified by the scale of impact: the partnership has exceeded all expectations. Here, I explore how and why.

Financing forest producers: the story so far

FFF is a partnership between FAO, IIED, IUCN and Agricord contributing to the climate-resilient landscapes and improved livelihoods demanded by the Sustainable Development Goals. But its real constituency are the women and men, smallholder families, indigenous peoples and local communities with strong relationships to forest landscapes. 

FFF's niche is the direct financing of Forest and Farm Producer Organisations (FFPOs) for business and policy engagement, bypassing inefficient intermediaries. Its motto is 'organise to thrive'.

Since 2014, FFF has channelled funds directly to 947 FFPOs, primarily in 10 partner countries, but including three regional and three global federations spanning 30 more. In total, these organisations represent more than 30 million forest and farm producers.

Phase one success: improving livelihoods  

Since 2014, FFF has delivered on its objective to 'improve livelihoods through strengthening of sustainable forest and farm business' by facilitating links between 279 group businesses and 80 new financial or business service providers, as well as offering its own market analysis and development training. As a result:

  • 262 businesses added value, diversified products and increased income, and 
  • More than 158 FFPOs accessed new finance.

Following 17 international FFF peer-to-peer exchanges, 56 FFPO businesses have adopted improved practice, design, plans or systems. 

This is real change for hundreds of thousands of people: ranges of increased livelihood incomes documented for members of FFPO businesses are, for example, between 35-50% in Gambia, 46-65% in Kenya, 12-18% in Myanmar, 30-50% in Nicaragua and 10-20% in Vietnam. Several outliers show increases of 500-1,000% in Bolivia, Gambia and Myanmar. 

Livelihoods are also more secure, with added value and/or product diversification improving both economic and climate resilience. This has been documented for more than 30 value chains including: bamboo, broom grass products, charcoal, cinnamon, cocoa, coffee, craft, ecotourism, elephant foot yam, furniture, green tea, mangrove fish, honey, juice, livestock, mushrooms, palm heart, palm thatch, pomelo, pottery (wood fired), star-anise, sawn timber, tree nurseries, rattan, sterculia resin, and vegetables.

Phase I success: better governance  

To meet a second key objective – FFPOs shaping more supportive governance – FFF has facilitated the establishment of (or greater FFPO representation on) 51 policy platforms at national or regional level.

Direct targeted engagement in policy processes by 140 FFPO representatives across 10 countries led to 33 changes in policies, rules or regulations in favour of FFPO interests. Women were among the FPPO representatives from all 10 nations. A further 18 policy changes can be attributed to the indirect effects of FFF in-country activities. 

Among the more impressive gains were the creation or shaping of major new incentive programmes for FFPO businesses in Bolivia, Guatemala and Vietnam, collectively worth more than US$100 million – four times the total expenditure of FFF. 

Direct FFPO engagement also secured the widespread and substantial handovers of forest land tenure, notably in the Gambia and Myanmar. 

Strength in numbers

Mass mobilisation is the motor driving these achievements; they are possible because FFF's own goals and approaches serve those of the vast FFPO membership they support. 

But while much is held common, there is diversity. With limited resources, FFF has employed different approaches to facilitation in highly variable contexts:

  • In Liberia, Vietnam and Zambia, farmer unions engaged their members to improve tree-based business opportunities and policies
  • In Kenya, Guatemala and Nepal, federations of forest smallholders were brought together to deliver better business and policy outcomes
  • In Bolivia, cooperatives in the key cocoa and coffee sectors were the main entry points
  • In Gambia engagement was structured around a strong national agriculture and natural resource policy platform, and 
  • In Myanmar and Nicaragua, work focused on building bottom-up local community group business capabilities and helping regional level associations to engage with policy processes. 

While contexts and approaches have varied, the outcomes have been much the same: a focus on strengthening producer organisations works!

FFF support in Vietnam helped smallholders to establish FSC certified Acacia plantations, register a new Binh Minh cooperative, attract investment for a new sawmill, add value to products, diversify, and increase household incomes (Photo: Vietnam National Farmers Union )

Sharing the know-how

Phase I proved that mass mobilisation can open direct routes to sustainable business and policy change, and we are keen to share everything we have learned. Technical know-how from FFF's work to date is available in more than 50 written products, from policy briefings to practical toolkits. 

Our resources on the global scope and scale of FFPOs, how to prioritise support, how to structure collective business organisations and how to improve their risk management have been complemented by presentations, videos, web stories, press releases, blogs, a Twitter feed and infographics, all available on the FFF website

Most recently, IIED has been helping FFF facilitators and FFPOs to advance their understanding of how to incubate locally controlled forest businesses. When allied with mass mobilisation, such technical approaches can at least partially explain the rapid advances in improved livelihoods and climate resilient landscapes. 

No wonder more than 40 countries have applied to join FFF in Phase II, with new donors beginning to express interest in joining the Swedish and Finnish governments in supporting upcoming work. 

Duncan Macqueen ([email protected]) is principal researcher in IIED's Natural Resources research group.