Tropical Forests For Sustainable Development: Shaping Our Future with Knowledge from the Field

Yale chapter of International Society of Tropical Foresters (ISTF) Policy Publication 2016

Around the world, 200 million people live in forests and 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods1. Half of the watersheds that supply the 100 largest cities of the world are forested and it is estimated that forest protection and restoration in urban watersheds could improve water quality for 500 million people worldwide. In terms of carbon emissions, 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation, and 20% of abatement potential is in the world’s forested regions. From climate, to water, to food and economic wellbeing, for many of the world’s people, understanding how to use and sustainably manage forests is the key to sustainable development.

The recognition of the importance of highlighting the pivotal role forests play in achieving a broad cross-section of the SDGs was the impetus for the 2016 conference of the International Society of Tropical Foresters (ISTF) hosted at Yale University. From January 28-30, 2016, field researchers and practitioners gathered with policy actors and specialists in a discussion about the role tropical forests and associated communities play in enhancing our ability to achieve the SDGs. The ISTF conference tackled the challenges, failures, and successes of implementing tropical forestry projects8 at a community level9. There were over 150 participants from 20 different countries presenting and discussing 40 projects in implementation in the tropics. The interaction among practitioners and discussions about the projects created a unique opportunity to exchange knowledge and generate new approaches to link tropical forestry to the adoption of the SDGs. The conference participants’ work also underscored the crosscutting importance of tropical forests in achieving multiple SDGs. Some of the topics covered included: agroforestry; community- based forest management; indigenous peoples; forest restoration; deforestation monitoring systems; and more.

While academics frequently use research publications to share their work, practitioners do not always have the same avenues to disseminate their findings. Some grassroots organizations have limitations on financial and human resources, which impedes a broader dissemination of their work. On the other hand, these organizations’ constraints also hinder their access to other experiences that could provide innovative insights. Practitioners house a wealth of information that should be shared more widely. While conferences provide an instrumental initial platform for knowledge sharing, the question remains: how do we share these key messages with a broader audience?

This publication hopes to do just that. A combination of applied research and grassroots projects, the case studies in this publication connect disciplines and provide an avenue for practitioners to share their experiences with others hoping to find ways to use forestry to achieve the SDGs. These 10 case studies demonstrate ways that tropical forests can be enlisted in the pursuit of sustainable development. Following Ban-Ki Moon’s challenge, each case study details the specific challenges, opportunities, and partnerships that propelled the project to success.

This publication is meant to inform the ongoing conceptualization of post-2015 global development actions and define a path forward for tropical forest and development communities. The main goal is to determine how existing initiatives can leverage their current work with forests to help achieve the sustainable development goals over the next decade. Each case study presented relates to at least one of the 15 sustainable development goals. Whether they are helping to eradicate poverty or improving gender equality, these case studies demonstrate the powerful role forest and forest communities can play in reshaping and improving our world, not only for wildlife or watersheds, but for livelihoods and cultures as well.

Case Illustration: Tayap Eco Orchards (Winner of ISTF Innovation Prize 2016)

The Tayap forests of Cameroon are one of the most important rainforests in the world. However, due to timber exploitation and intensive practice of slash-and burn agriculture over the past 15 years, roughly 120 hectares of Tayap forests are lost each year. Primary forests now represent less than 30% of the total area. Agricultural land is increasingly scarce and, due to the emergence of new pests and diseases, Tayap’s farmers are experiencing unreliable harvests. Tayap’s farmers understood the need for urgency and took action to safeguard their forests and agricultural land through a climate mitigation and sustainable alternative revenue initiative. The Tayap Eco-Orchards (TEO) initiative, led by a local farmers’ association, is an agroforestry system implemented through three lines of development: agroforestry, a green economy, and climate funding. TEO uses nurseries of threatened tree species and fruit orchards to restore fallow land and enhance livelihoods. This inclusive project has a strong women and community component as well as a comprehensive training and communications program dedicated to sharing experiences, lessons and disseminating results.

Pooja 1

The Tayap project created and sustained 36 income-generating activities like beekeeping. The village has organized eco-tourism activities (ecological studies, cave walks and visits to agroforestry farms): 3 annual green classes for village students and more than 60 people (including 35 women). In terms of economic diversification, twenty women have been trained in the management of revolving funds, creating a wider base for inclusive economic growth and ensuring economic autonomy and empowerment for women.

Tayap has planted more than 10,000 agroforestry plants and fruit trees and restored  at least 130 hectares of fallow land into eco-orchards. Over 20 agroforestry products from the eco-orchards have been introduced into the market including mango and other trees. A 2-hectare seed nursery was also created.

Pooja 2

Case studies such as that of Tayap Eco Orchards communicate the opportunities, challenges, necessary partnerships and results of select projects in the tropical belt.

You may learn more about ISTF and its members, and read the publication here (

About the authors:

Pooja Choksi has worked on a community based wildlife conservation model in the Pench Tiger Reserve, central India. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Banking and teaching experience in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. She is interested in the application of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in wildlife conservation, and infusing inclusivity in wildlife conservation models in India.

David E. McCarthy is a Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He previously worked to end poverty & homelessness in Connecticut by developing an innovative shared housing model & coordinated access system. Drawing inspiration from empowered communities he aspires become a future leader in climate change to further preserve the worlds biodiversity and the long-term health of the biosphere.

Michelle Mendlewicz is a Brazilian environmental lawyer pursuing her Master of Environmental Management at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Her main interest lies in the intersection between climate, forests and business. She believes that engaging the private sector is crucial for effectively reducing global GHG emissions and hopes to work with organizations committed to the environment to secure a sustainable future and a deforestation-free planet.

Ruth Metzel is, in addition to her work with ISTF, co-founder and Executive Director of the Azuero Earth Project, an organization that works on sustainable land management in Panama. She has a Master of Forestry and MBA from Yale, and a B.A. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Princeton University. Her interests include agroforestry, silvopastoral systems, and engaging actors across sectors for positive environmental change.

Sarah Tolbert is a graduate from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (MEM) and the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs (MA). Sarah worked in Benin for three years as a Peace Corps volunteer, implementing sustainable agriculture projects. She currently is working with indigenous groups to manage Community Forests in the DRC as a Fulbright Scholar and a Gruber Fellow in Global Justice.

Mariana Vedoveto is a graduate from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She grew up in Brazil and has been working in the Amazon since 2005. She is interested in financial and market incentives to reduce deforestation and promote ecosystem restoration in tropical areas. Mariana also works on bridging the gap between research and policy-making to support investments in natural infrastructure in Latin America.

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