Forest and Farm Producer Organizations: An Operating System for the Sustainable Development Goals
UN Photo/Eva Fendiaspara
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In the village of Thach Ngoa, Viet Nam, members of a small producer group of forest farmers are seeing big returns on a winning decision to start distilling oil from the local star anise tree.

The oil is a major source of shikimic acid, an important component in anti-influenza drugs, making star anise a valuable forest crop.

Following training by the Viet Nam National Farmers Union, group members have invested more than €2,000 in distillation equipment and are making a good profit, selling to provinces bordering China as well as local buyers.

After just one year, some 30 people are now employed collecting fruit, working in the plant and selling the oil.

In the village of Thach Ngoa, Viet Nam, members of a small producer group of forest farmers are seeing big returns on a winning decision to start distilling oil from the local star anise tree. The oil is a major source of shikimic acid, an important component in anti-influenza drugs, making star anise a valuable forest crop. Following training by the Viet Nam National Farmers Union, group members have invested more than €2,000 in distillation equipment and are making a good profit, selling to provinces bordering China as well as local buyers. After just one year, some 30 people are now employed collecting fruit, working in the plant and selling the oil.

Although they may not know it, group members are directly contributing to three Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – ending poverty (SDG 1), zero hunger (SDG 2) and good health and wellbeing (SDG 3).

Around the world, 1.6 billion people depend on forests for shelter, food and income. Many are also small-scale family farmers, among the world’s most marginalized individuals, and cut off from services, credit, markets and essential information that can make all the difference between grinding poverty and well-being.

But, by banding together into organizations now representing millions of their peers, these smallholder forest farmers are demonstrating their transformative ability to play a crucial role in achieving the SDGs.

Forest and farm producer organizations are formal or informal associations, created by and for their members, and this part of the formula is critical to their success. With no hard and fast rule regarding size and format, they can be indigenous peoples’ and local community organizations, tree-grower and agroforestry associations, forest owner associations, or producer cooperatives and companies.

These groups can offer support through a whole range of services, from helping producers to set up small enterprises and access loans to advice on production techniques and lobbying for land rights and proper forest and farm management. By pooling their resources, group members can benefit from greater bargaining and purchasing power, and join forces to combat challenges while working their way out of poverty.

As a new publication, titled ‘Forest and farm producer organizations – operating systems for the SDGs,’ shows that forest and farm producer organizations are also making solid contributions towards no fewer than 12 of the 17 SDGs, bringing benefits not only to their members, but to people and the planet at large through the sustainable development of the world’s forest-based resources.

Forests and trees on farms are especially important in the face of climate change. Trees absorb carbon emissions, and sustainably produced woodfuel is a carbon neutral renewable source of energy. In some parts of the world, producer groups are helping to make their members aware of climate change and how they can help to offset it, directly contributing to SDG 13 on climate action while improving their livelihoods.

Members of the Dhaneshwor Baikiwa community forest user group in Nepal have successfully established indigenous trees to restore deforested hillsides, and planted fruit and forest spices to generate income. As well as reducing the risk of landslides, the restored forest has raised the valley’s water table to pre-1980s levels, and the town council is now paying the group for this environmental service.

Producer organizations are also making a stand for gender equality (SDG 5). Often, women benefit significantly from group initiatives, especially in communities where they traditionally have few opportunities.

In the Arusha and Manyara districts of Tanzania, where owning land and other assets is a male prerogative, a farmers’ organization has launched female-only training courses, adapted beekeeping techniques to suit women and helped them start small poultry enterprises. Partly as a result of their increased financial independence, women now have greater social standing, with more say in household decisions and in the organizations themselves.

It is no exaggeration to say that forest and farm producer organizations are essential local actors working effectively as on-the-ground operating systems for global goals.

At the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF) – a partnership between the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and AgriCord – we have supported more than 200 forest and farm producer organizations and governments in ten countries, reaching tens of millions of farmers and small entrepreneurs in the process.

It is our firm belief that supporting forest and farm producer organizations should be a key component of any global strategy to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. This will require very real commitments on the part of governments, civil society and the private sector to direct significant investment and attention to such producer groups. To date, forest producer organizations have received insufficient support and resources. It is time to rectify this oversight to ensure a better future – indeed, a future at all – for our planet and its people.

Jeffrey Y. Campbell is the manager of the Forest and Farm Facility.

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