By Victoria Pinion
Tomorrow marks International Day of Forests, a day celebrating the importance of forests and their role in regulating the environment, maintaining biological diversity and sustaining livelihoods across the world. According the UN website, forests cover one third of the Earth’s land mass, and 1.6 billion people, including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures, directly depend on forests. Nevertheless, forests ecosystems are threatened globally due to deforestation and overexploitation, fragmentation and climate change. So how do we balance conserving forests, and the goods and services they provide, in the long term, along with the needs of people?
We’re trying to work out how projects funded by the Darwin Initiative have tackled such issues. Darwin Initiative projects work in a huge range of biomes in a vast array of countries (over 150!) all over the world and, although not restricted to forests, I thought that International Day of Forests would be an ideal time to introduce some of my work on the poverty thematic review (introduced in Jami’s first blog).
The Darwin portfolio contains hundreds of projects, which means that trying to extract information from the various project forms, reports and reviews in order to discover similarities and trends between all of the projects could be very time consuming. Rather than reading hundreds of documents manually, however, we are conducting a “Quantitative Content Analysis” – it may sound complex, but involves using some simple (yet powerful!) excel formulas in order to search for key words or terms in particular sections of text. In this particular case, we’ve been searching for words relating to the use of forest resources in project titles and overall project summaries.
Trying to think of words to search for in order to draw out the most relevant projects can be tricky, especially when words are used in multiple contexts – for example the word “relationship”, we found, is more frequently used when discussing links than it is used to discuss human social interactions. When it comes to searching for words which fall under basic material needs, or resources, it really becomes apparent to what extent people use and depend on their natural environment – we are searching for words such as “livelihood” and “resource”, but also “extract”, “harvest”, “exploit” and “product”, and finding that hundreds of Darwin projects discuss and focus their work on the sustainable use of natural resources in a range of ecosystems, including forests.
One such project is TREE AID and partners’ WofWasha Forest: Sustainable Management for Resilient Livelihoods project in Ethiopia. This three-year project started in 2013 and aims to support biodiversity conservation of the afro-montane juniper forest and its surrounding landscape, whilst simultaneously increasing the income of the 14,000 families dependent on forest resources for their livelihoods. One focus of the project is to support local people to set up small enterprises based on forest produce, such as fruits, herbs and spices. This diversification of household income will improve the financial security of communities by acting as a safety net against shocks, such as drought, which might be linked to climate change.
Earlier this week, Simon discussed how important it is for conservation interventions to consider human dimensions. If they are to be successful, local stakeholders should be fully engaged, and the focus should be on ensuring natural resource use is sustainable rather than limiting it altogether. The Wof Washa project is using a holistic approach to engage local communities in forest management, formalising their access and level of responsibility to the forest and thus ensuring its long-term protection, retaining the forest’s biodiversity and its ability to support livelihoods.
To celebrate International Day of Forests, help us share the message about the importance of forests (not forgetting about trees outside of forests!) by helping us chose a Darwin Initiative forest project as a future “Project of the Month”! Vote below by April 11th for the chance to hear more about your favourite project.