Listening and trust – the basis for working with forest and farm producers

“Working together is a motivating and powerful approach to getting things done” says Jeff Campbell, manager of the Forest and Farm Facility. “This holds true for my own approach to life; for the work of the millions of forest and farm families stitching together complex livelihoods and ecosystems at a landscape level. Local indigenous peoples, smallholders, female farmers and forest dependent people have the knowledge and history, the culture and the potential to maintain and revitalise vibrant rural landscapes – we must trust and support them.”

The Forest and Farm Facility helps the creation and development of strong and equitable organisations and networks amongst smallholder farmers, women groups, farm and forest communities and indigenous people. It aims to enable them to make their voices heard in policy making processes at all levels, and to build their capacity and opportunity to access finance and investments for forest and farm development. It also supports governments to set up multi-sector platforms to coordinate the many ministries, private sector and civil society stakeholders involved affected by policies and activities related to forest and farm management.

What are the greatest threats to our landscapes?

In my view, the greatest threats are fragmentation, insecure tenure, vested interests, and the cult of simplification for short term benefit. A fear of complexity and the loss of what I think of as ‘land memory’ are also major problems. This is compounded by climate change which adds to uncertainty. What to most communities is a living, breathing life-support system, with forests, mountains, rivers, fields, pastures, villages and homesteads has been broken up into different ’natural resources’.

For a variety of political and technical reasons, these have been given different land use designations and so, in turn, tend to come under the jurisdiction of different parts of government. Common property rights have often been nationalized, leaving only actively farmed land that is recognised as belonging to those who use it. The push towards ever more large scale monoculture of forests, farms, water, land and mineral exploitation in the name of efficiency is destroying the complex relationships between the many different parts of ‘living landscapes’. And worst of all, those people who have been listening to the landscape as a whole, tend to be devalued and marginalised.

What do you think are the opportunities?

Country initiatives – the example of the FFF in the Gambia

In Gambia the FFF has established a significant presence as a facilitator of the new Agriculture and Natural Resources legislation, and a resource for a fairly well organised but not necessarily well linked forest and farm producer sector. The National Farmers Platform of the Gambia has been consolidated around a shared agenda. A number of workshops for specific producer groups have already stimulated discussion on cross sectoral interests and the need for national representation. As a result, two cashew growers associations in the Gambia merged in one new national apex body in August 2014. Advocacy is pushing forward the designation of Community Forest Areas, a process that had stalled in a country well known for supportive community forestry policy. Significant work has been undertaken to create awareness about the new Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) Policy. Finally innovative radio programmes and extensive media coverage of these events has raised FFF’s profile in the country.

I feel that there is a resurgence of interest in understanding the critical importance of landscapes as lifeboats for sustainability that will carry us into the future.

Intrinsic to this is an appreciation of the complex interactions between the ecological and the cultural components, between forest and farm, and a growing awareness that these must be defined in terms of all their interlinked communities, people, animals, plants and the geography in which they live. We might also be thankful to the triple crises of climate, economy and food, in forging a better understanding that the solutions to these are also connected.

The complexity of ecological and cultural land use patterns increase our adaptation to climate change, diversify local livelihood possibilities and contribute to a more resilient approach to food security and nutrition. There is also a growing perception that well being is about a combination of things that landscapes provide, and not just GDP.

Rural communities, smallholders and indigenous peoples are mobilising around this new awareness. They are becoming more visible are being heard more, even in the face of the accelerating rush to extract the last remaining untapped resources on our planet.

Why are forest and farming families so important?

Listening to producers is essential. Photo: Sophie Grouwels

It is clear to me that forest and farming families, including fisherfolk and pastoralists, are the social keystones that sustain the very functioning of landscape. Maintaining traditional practices, they hold on toa mosaic of land use systems and keep alive the knowledge and genetic diversity that will be needed in the future. By living in the very landscape, they use its many products, goods and services. They sample the fruits in different seasons and notice the changes in weather, moisture and soil condition that need to be attended to.

By striving to build and maintain sustainable and resilient livelihoods, they remain connected to these landscapes as part of a larger construct of interlinking ecological and cultural cycles. By being present as families, they also nurture future leaders, new plants and animals, and keep hope alive.

You say forest and farmer organisations are vital. Why?

Forest dependent people and smallholder farmers are amongst the poorest and most marginalised people in the world, that is sure. Conversely, they often live in places that provide a lot of economic benefits at the national level, such as timber, minerals and water resources, but they rarely receive the full benefit from the exploitation of these resources. Furthermore, as long as these people are kept fragmented, it is more difficult for them to match the organised systems of resource control and extraction with which they find themselves competing with.

The ownership and control of markets and the future of landscapes are all so connected. By becoming organised at whatever level, farming and forest communities increase their ability to be heard, to be seen, to access resources, to make connections and contacts, to find buyers for products, to diversify their livelihood strategies, to make their own decisions and to deal with change and opportunity on their own terms. But there are also many stakeholders who have much to gain by communities not being able to organize themselves and express their rights.

What is the Farm and Forest Facility doing to make a difference?

The Forest and Farm Facility

The Forest and Farm Facility is a multidonor-funded partnership between FAO, IIED and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) launched in 2012. Its mission is to promote sustainable forest and farm management by supporting local, regional, national and international organisations and platforms for effective engagement in policies and investments that meet the needs of local people.

The FFF funds multi-year partnership agreements and grants with smallholders, women, communities, indigenous peoples’ producer organisations, governments agencies and service providers at local, national, regional and international levels. Activities are conducted at national and regional level in the following partner countries: Guatemala and Nicaragua, Gambia and Liberia, and Nepal and Myanmar. Four additional countries have just been added: Bolivia, Kenya, Vietnam, and Zambia.

The FFF’s focus is on forest and farm producer organisations as the primary actors (‘the largest rural private sector’) in broader rural transformation, and it intentionally stresses the linkages between forestry and other major sectors within forest based landscapes. The FFF proposes a focused and practical approach to working within the current global agenda that reflects the growing global interest in forests within landscapes, the role of forests for food security, the emphasis on a ‘green economy’, the role of the small and medium scale private sector, and a new sustainable development framework.

More information, see:

The Forest and Farm facility believes that farm and forest organisations are one of the levers towards a transformative change. This will reactivate rural economies and exert a more sustainable and rooted management over the different elements within a living landscape. By providing resources directly to help forest and farm families organise themselves at different levels, we believe they will then be able to raise and push through the changes needed through policy advocacy and livelihood development.

By connecting forest and family farmers, we believe that they will better see how similar their challenges are in terms of gaining recognition, tenure rights, access to organisational and business development support, access to credit, and opportunities for value addition. We also believe that the concept of food systems and landscapes are inseparable.

Most family farmers are still very dependent on their landscape, on forest products and ecological services for example, while at the same time they are often portrayed as enemies of forests. Forest producers also have much to learn from the power of farmer organisations.

What role can governments, corporates and NGOs play to ensure than everyone benefits?

In the Forest and Farm Facility, we strongly believe in the role of government to provide an enabling and supportive policy and administrative landscape. Through direct support to multi-sectorial and multi-stakeholder platforms, we aim to help innovators cross traditional boundaries and begin thinking at a broader and more holistic level.

The more different groups know about and share information on each others’ plans and programmes, the more likely it is that they will see the overlaps and contradictions. The more the government begins to appreciate the major role of well organised small producers as landscape managers and primary private sector actors, the more they will see the benefits of offering incentives allowing them to grasp opportunities, protect their legal rights, and provide space to operate constructively.

Civil society and NGOs can play an extremely valuable role in helping this process, communicating, monitoring and facilitating positive change when needed, but then stepping aside when communities and producers can speak for themselves.

As for the corporate private sector, they too can help to build a more distributive economy, helping small producers thrive rather than by taking their places. Big companies and corporations will have to give way to small and medium scale businesses, however, as it is these that collectively energize the economy for the benefit of all. Industrial and vertically integrated monoculture, the agricultural ‘assembly line’ model for working with natural products and natural systems will soon be shown to be archaic, highly wasteful and inefficient, and poorly adapted to climate change.

Interview: Herman Savenije and Nick Pasiecznik

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