European Tropical Forest Research Network

Established in 1991, the European Tropical Forest Research Network (ETFRN) aims to ensure that European research contributes to conservation and sustainable use of forest and tree resources in tropical and subtropical countries.


Exploring inclusive palm oil production

Widespread palm oil production causes much controversy due to its negative impacts in the tropics. But whatever is said about it, it is big business and getting bigger by the day due to increasing global demands. Alongside this, the size and depth of the social and environmental debates surrounding palm oil production are also growing. As a major globally-consumed commodity, its production in the humid and sub-humid tropics raises concerns due to its impacts on the environment, biodiversity, local communities, smallholder livelihoods, land rights and climate change.

One possible solution proposed is to improve the ‘inclusiveness’ of smallholders who make up a substantial part of the palm oil value chain. This ETFRN News presents potential opportunities by looking at the experiences, perceptions and perspectives of individuals, companies, institutions and NGOs on what has been done and is being done on the ground to increase the involvement of and benefits to smallholder oil palm farmers. And in doing so, it focuses on the following key questions: How do such actions and their impacts differ between different smallholder types and organizations? How do they differ between countries, regions and corporate contexts? What are the effects of various enabling policy environments? And what do the authors in this edition mean by ‘inclusiveness’?

This ETFRN News edition brings together 24 articles and interviews from around the world that reflect on these questions and it identifies means of improving smallholder inclusiveness in palm oil production and the ones that could be scaled up. These rich experiences are discussed and compared in a summary review, drawing out nine common key lessons.

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Zero deforestation: A commitment to change

Several hundred companies, governments, and civil society and non-governmental organizations have committed to zero deforestation initiatives. However, all may not have fully realized the enormousness and complexity of the challenge in committing to zero deforestation, and it appears that some did not know exactly what they stepped into. What is clear though, is that this endeavour is very much at the initial stage of development, and early work and experimentation is showing the way to putting in place what is needed.

This silver anniversary edition of ETFRN News brings together 40 contributions from 100 experts and practitioners. They share their experiences, and suggest ways to improve the effectiveness of zero deforestation commitments through public-private collaboration and other models.

ETFRN News 58 presents different views across a range of commodity value chains, including how companies and smallholders are working together to build deforestation free supply chains. It reviews publicly announced commitments and on-the-ground impacts, and how implementation challenges are overcome. It looks at how socio-economic and environmental impacts and trade-offs are addressed, links between private commitments and government policy and regulations, and how transnational and civil-society initiatives help or hinder them.

From the different contributions in this book, common threads are drawn, woven into the following eight key issues, that if implemented, can enhance the implementation, effectiveness and impact of pledges, and increase the likelihood of existing and future zero deforestation commitments being met.

1. Agree on clear definitions and standards – what is a forest, and deforestation, and, what are acceptable credible and coherent standards for use across different commodities?

2. National and local governments to become more involved – as failure to address broader governance challenges may reduce the positive impact of private sector zero-deforestation initiatives.

3. More corporate transparency and accountability – must become the norm for monitoring and reporting progress, and not just regarding zero deforestation commitments.

4. Support for smallholder empowerment – through capacity building and technical assistance, so millions of small producers can become effective players.

5. Civil society to continue to advocate for change – as consumers and global citizens, for corporations to take effective action.

6. Advocate for jurisdictional action in support of national goals – required to complement corporate supply chain initiatives, and helps to fulfil more inclusive, sustainable development criteria.

7. Include alternative business and financing models – that better take into account existing realities, and local systems of governance and tenure.

8. Invite broad stakeholder involvement – in the inclusive platforms that are clearly needed for progress, as no single solution can achieve the desired impact.

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Effective Forest and Farm Producer Organizations

Farm and forest producer organizations are of critical importance to the sustainable use of our natural resources, now and into the future. So says the growing consensus of global opinion. And they hold the key to overcoming many issues, from poverty and human rights, to environmental degradation and biodiversity conservation. Producer organizations represent the collective voices of farmers and forest- dependent peoples, indigenous groups and rural communities. They, are the building blocks of local democracy, and provide essential services to members. And when truly inclusive and with the right support, management choices are sustainable and the benefits are equitable.

This latest edition of ETFRN News contains more than 200 pages of stories from local producer organizations, associations and federations, and from those that speak for them at national and international levels. Reporting on issues of inclusiveness, this is also reflected in the authorship, with most of the 80 contributing (co)authors from the Global South, representing NGOs, UN organizations, government bodies and private companies as well as producer organizations, a third of them women. The result is a compilation of experiences that adds significantly to a growing body of knowledge. Forest and farm producer organizations speak of their achievements and successes – and challenges, some overcome, some not. They share how they have organized themselves, what support they have received, and whether this was for better or for worse. Some benefits were expected, others unexpected. Problems remain, and some were made worse, even with well-meaning intentions of ‘outsiders’.

What have we learnt?

As well as understanding the experiences of individual producer organizations, we appreciate the pivotal role that umbrella organizations – national or regional federations or associations – are able to play in scaling up the benefits. To have meaningful influence at policy and corporate levels, becoming more effective at higher levels is a strategy that must be promoted. Well organized and articulated, many voices can force through the necessary changes needed for local producers to improve and sustain the positive impacts they make to their land, livelihoods and well being.

But the bottom line, as emphasized in many of the articles, is to ensure people’s rights to land, natural, social and financial resources, and to justice and the rule of law in assuring and enforcing these basic human rights. And here, much still remains to be done. But there is much to learn from within these pages, and we hope that you will also take encouragement from the stories that are shared here.

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Towards Productive Landscapes

The landscape approach has increasingly been promoted as a new perspective on addressing global challenges at a local level. In the face of increasing and competing claims to the land and the exhaustion of natural resources, planners, scientists and policymakers have come to realize the limitations of sectoral approaches. Integrated landscape level considerations have begun to supersede those restricted to, for instance, water, forests, farming and development programmes.

Given this interest, and the potential impacts of such initiatives, it is important to learn from the many practical experiences in applying integrated landscape management throughout the world. This issue of ETFRN News 56, ‘Towards productive landscapes’, brings together 29 papers by practitioners from all over the world who highlight the successes and challenges of applying landscape approaches.

Jointly, the articles explore:

  • the role of forests in mosaic landscapes;
  • governance arrangements at the landscape scale; and
  • key factors contributing to success in landscape management.

This ETFRN News explores how foresters, farmers, pastoralists and other land users have taken charge and jointly shape the landscape they inhabit. How the private sector finds ways to integrate supply chains into sustainable landscapes. And how this helps the global community to address the challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and food insecurity.

The articles highlight the contribution of increased social cohesion as a key benefit of landscape approaches. In many cases, it is catalyzed by an environmental problem serious enough to require negotiated solutions that create better outcomes for everyone. Stimulus and support from external actors in the form of compensation, co-investment and independent facilitation is usually needed to make this happen.

Although the authors quote many benefits of landscape approaches, a systematic framework against which to assess and evaluate the impacts of landscape approaches seems to be lacking. There is a need for people engaged in landscape approaches to put their experiences together, compare them and look for general patterns that explain why certain approaches work and others fail. A clear language is needed for understanding landscapes and landscape approaches to help monitoring and evaluating landscape efforts.

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Linking FLEGT and REDD+ to Improve Forest Governance

The great potential for synergies between FLEGT and REDD+ has yet to be achieved in practice. This is the conclusion of the ETFRN News “Linking FLEGT and REDD+ to Improve Forest Governance”. The publication presents 22 experiences and viewpoints from around the world about the linkages between FLEGT, REDD+ and other international forest management initiatives.


In recent years, FLEGT and REDD+ have emerged as the two most prominent international processes to conserve tropical forests. Avoiding overlap and duplication, and better still, creating synergies is important to make sure that these two promising initiatives achieve their ambitious goals. Increased cooperation between the initiatives at the national level could advance forest governance reforms, strengthen stakeholder engagement and balance competing interests, such as using forests for local development, generating revenue and income, biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration.


FLEGT and REDD+ both aim to address the drivers of forest loss in tropical countries, although with different approaches and methods: FLEGT focuses on combating illegal logging and REDD+ aims to reduce deforestation and forest degradation and enhance carbon stocks. Both initiatives are relatively new and still evolving. They are expected to demonstrate their potential in the next few years and may well foster real change in the land-use sector. As FLEGT and REDD+ initiatives continue to develop and accumulate experience, it is vital to learn from this and share the lessons learned.


Also, interactions between FLEGT and REDD+ are starting to emerge. As described in the 22 articles in this ETFRN News, there is a great potential for synergies between various initiatives, but translating this potential into practice seems challenging. To maximize synergies between FLEGT and REDD+ good communication and continued collaboration between all stakeholders needs to be ensured. Better integration and coordination of the FLEGT and REDD+ processes into national forest policy planning as well as better consideration of the strengths and limitations of both processes can be a way to promote the establishment of effective linkages.


This issue of ETFRN News contributes to a better understanding of the existing and potential linkages between various forest initiatives, and of how synergies can be fostered to improve land use governance and promote more efficient implementation FLEGT and REDD+. This will benefit both the forests and the people who depend on them.

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Good Business Making Private Investments Work for Tropical Forests

Private finance is currently the most significant source of investment for forestry. Estimated to total around US $ 15 billion per year in developing countries and countries in transition, private-sector investment in the forestry sector far outstrips the combined investments of governments and development agencies. Although broad sectoral investment parameters are generally well understood, the exact shape and weight of domestic and international flows remain to a large extent unclear. The United Nations Forum on Forests, among others, has called for better mapping of the forest finance landscape to create a clearer understanding of the types and potential impacts of complementary public and private investment on future forests. With growing needs for forest products, there is increasing agreement that there is a significant gap between the levels of financing which are available from both public and private sources and the funding required to meet expected future demands.


The private sector is well positioned to help fill this gap, and private flows are expected to continue to grow as investors explore new investment frontiers. The challenge for entrepreneurs will be to manage both the impact and long-term viability of their supply chains as competition over forest land for food, fibre and fuel production becomes increasingly critical. While the availability of private money is good news, particularly when official development assistance is coming under increasing pressure, there is also cause for concern. Private-sector interests are often misaligned with local and global public interests, and social and environmental concerns are sometimes far less important to investors than their primary interest in profitability. A crucial challenge for policymakers will be to somehow reorient, increase and incentivize private finance to make it flow in adequate amounts towards sustainable, environmentally sound, and competitive forest management practices that can support responsible and profitable forest entrepreneurship. Partnerships between public and private actors, various types of investors, communities and intermediaries can make a big difference by creating synergies that build on shared interests.

This issue of ETFRN News brings together 23 articles that present and analyze concrete examples of various private actors along the tropical forest-finance chain (small, medium and large forest entrepreneurs and intermediary and advisory organizations). The experience of these frontrunners presents a compelling case for revisiting business as usual. As policy-makers and private actors refine their strategy for seizing opportunities and managing the risks associated with emerging forest-related markets, these articles demonstrate that overall economic, social and environmental benefits can be reaped if investments are targeted correctly.

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Latest news

Latest ETFRN news: Zero deforestation: A commitment to change


Several hundred companies, governments, and civil society and non-governmental organizations have committed to zero deforestation initiatives. However, all may not have fully realized the enormousness and complexity of the challenge in committing to zero deforestation, and it appears that some did not know exactly what they stepped into. What is clear though, is that this endeavour is very much at the initial stage of development, and early work and experimentation is showing the way to putting in place what is needed.

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Landscapes and livelihoods. Forest and farm producer organizations share their stories


During the 14th World Forestry Congress, Tropenbos International and partners organized a special side event to share experiences from forest and farm producers. It brought together more than 50 people, who reconfirmed the wealth of knowledge held by producer organizations, and that is being shared and built upon to create change.

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