FTA event coverage: How can we use trees and conserve them, too?

October 26, 2016
prunus-africana

Prunus Africana bark harvest can kill the trees if not done properly. Credit: T. Geburek

Laura K Snook, Bioversity International, writes about the challenges and opportunities for rural populations in continuing to use the trees they depend on for food and other products while conserving them, too.

Can rural populations in developing countries continue to use the trees they depend on while conserving them, too? As human populations grow in rural areas of the tropics, the populations of wild trees that provide them with food, fuel, medicines and construction materials are diminishing due to overharvesting and forest and woodland degradation and loss. These declines are closing off future options for sustaining or domesticating these valuable resources.

The challenges and opportunities for making conservation compatible with use were showcased at a workshop sponsored by Bioversity International during Tropentag 2016: Solidarity in a competing world — fair use of resources in Vienna, Austria.

The well-attended event explored approaches, tools and arrangements that could promote both conservation of trees and forests and their better use. Four research projects in Africa and Latin America were highlighted, led by Bioversity International and funded by Austrian Development Cooperation and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

The event, described as a ’highlight‘ of Tropentag, explored approaches, tools and arrangements that could promote both conservation of trees and forests and their better use.

Laura Snook, Leader, Forest Genetic Resources Programme, Bioversity International, gave a keynote address, which was followed by four short presentations from panelists and discussions moderated by Judy Loo of Bioversity International.

Thomas Geburek

Thomas Geburek: Photo: Tropentag

Thomas Geburek of the Austrian Research Center for Forests shared innovative approaches for prioritizing which tree populations to conserve across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Presenting research on African cherry (Prunus Africana), which is threatened due to demand for its medicinal bark, he showed how genetic information and climate change modeling revealed which stands of trees, across multiple countries, should be prioritized, both because they conserved the most unique or diverse populations and because the sites would not become inhospitable for this montane species as a result of projected climate change.

Barbara Vinceti, of Bioversity International, noted how local preferences and understanding of rules for access to trees as well as changing land uses affected options for conserving and enhancing use of the important food tree, Parkia biglobosa, in Burkina Faso.

Dietmar Stoian of Bioversity presented insights into the enabling conditions for community forestry that both conserved forests and CITES-listed mahogany trees (Swietenia macrophylla). In the Maya Biosphere of Guatemala, harvesting and processing timber provides income sufficient to pull participants out of poverty. He contrasted this situation with the constraints that inhibit the development of community forestry in Nicaragua.

Timber harvesting, processing and sale in Guatemala has conserved the forest and mahogany trees of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. Credit: Bioversity International/L. Snook

Timber harvesting, processing and sale in Guatemala has conserved the forest and mahogany trees of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. Credit: Bioversity International/L. Snook

Camila Sousa of IIAM, Mozambique described how relearning traditional harvesting techniques based on the use of repellent plants and tree climbing, in lieu of setting fires and felling hive trees, made wild honey harvesting compatible with conservation in the Niassa Reserve of Mozambique. In contrast, uncontrolled logging had left too few standing trees of commercial species to provide a resource base for the kind of community forestry that has so successfully sustained forests, trees and livelihoods in Guatemala.

A lively discussion ensued among the academics, students, development agency professionals and donors from around the world who attended the event, about ways research could effectively support development.

A synthesis at the end of the event drew out several key points.

1) One was that different kinds of science are complementary: modern genetic tools do not replace, but complement provenance trials and other traditional approaches to biodiversity research. We need to understand the limitations of what we can learn from different research approaches.

For example, while some kinds of genetic variation can be seen (larger or sweeter fruit or faster growth), genetic diversity is invisible; laboratory analysis is needed to be able to set conservation priorities that will ensure that this diversity and its associated adaptive capacity is safeguarded.

Similarly, in landscapes managed by farmers who select and protect certain individuals for their traits, they steer evolution; while this leads to better or more desirable yields, it also reduces diversity. Conservation needs to focus on retaining diversity and reproductive processes to allow for continuing genetic recombination so that trees, which may live for centuries or even thousands of years, can adapt to change throughout their lifetimes, as well as passing on sufficient diversity to their offspring to allow future generations to thrive.

The participants discussed if rural populations in developing countries can continue to use the trees they depend on while conserving them, too. Photo: Tropentag

The participants discussed if rural populations in developing countries can continue to use the trees they depend on while conserving them, too. Photo: Tropentag

2) Another key point was that people are central to both conservation and use. It is crucial to involve them and understand their benefits and incentives to promote the kinds of practices and policies that are needed to make conservation and use compatible.

Using participatory research methods allows local people to learn from researchers and share their own knowledge. This empowers everyone to recognize or develop management choices that benefit both people and their resource base.

Several participants described the benefits of developing monitoring tools that local people could use to evaluate the impacts of their management practices. Another point raised was the value and importance of donors’ contributions, both in supporting research and in creating opportunities for “learning by doing”, such as implementing community forestry or supporting second tier organizations that can in turn support communities.

These transformations take time – support may be needed for decades, not just the three year term of a typical research project. Follow up is needed to ensure that research results reach their full potential through adoption of recommendations and changes in policy.

For more information, please contact l.snook@cgiar.org

This research is also funded by the Austrian Development Cooperation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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