18.06.2013 10:30
Category: News

Forest Functionality Studies in the South Caucasus


GIZ, on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), supported studies implemented by IUCN in the South Caucasus that contributed valuable additional information to forest functionality and FLR (Forest Landscape Restoration) and links with similar studies implemented under FLEG I in Russia, Ukraine and Moldova.

Improved governance and sustainable forest management (SFM) are key goals for natural resource practitioners in the South Caucasus Region.  Most natural resource professionals understand that successfully moving toward more sustainable management requires fundamental changes in understanding the true and full value represented by forest resources in a broader sense.  Forests are valuable for climate change mitigation and provide resilience to communities.  An effective method of providing concrete information is by utilizing the forest functionality component of IUCN’s Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) program.

Many rural communities in the South Caucasus are caught in a dangerous downward spiral.  They depend on the natural resource base, and in many cases this dependence is subsistence-level living.  This dependence leads to continuous ‘pilfering’ of the natural resources by many individuals and this practice collectively has a serious, detrimental effect.  The continuous small-scale illegal resource use added to the legal resource extraction will accelerate the depletion of the natural resource base, effectively eliminating communities’ sole source of survival.  A tipping point is quickly approaching and climate change is the force that will likely push communities to this tipping point and efficient, rural energy development and livelihoods creation is what will move these communities away from the brink.

Forest Landscape Restoration brings people together to identify, negotiate and put in place practices that optimize the environmental, social and economic benefits of forests and trees within a broader pattern of land uses.  FLR focuses on restoring forest functionality. This means restoring the goods, services and ecological processes that forests can provide at the broader landscape level.  It recognizes that the livelihood and land-use strategies of the communities living in these landscapes are determined more by real-life trade-offs rather than any direct motivation to return forest landscapes to their original pristine state. FLR is an approach that seeks to put in place forest-based assets that are good for both people and the environment.   It incorporates a number of existing rural development, conservation and natural resource management principles and works to restore multiple forest functions to degraded landscapes.   However, there is no set blueprint for FLR, and restoring forest functionality to a landscape has to be built around a collaborative process of learning and adaptive management.

There are many examples worldwide where degraded forests have been restored, ranging from small sites to large areas. Some have resulted from conscious intervention to achieve a certain restoration outcome while others have occurred "naturally" from the abandonment of land uses that lead to forest loss.   With a continued need to restore landscapes to productive levels, tools and methods are increasingly needed to help decision makers and forest practitioners implement this approach.  While this approach can be explained effectively what remains is to quantify the issues imbedded in the principles of FLR.  Decision makers need, or certainly prefer to make judgments based on quantifiable information.   

Thanks to GIZ/BMZ the IUCN was able to expand its forest functionality studies to the South Caucasus and to adapt the forest functionality assessment survey work to areas other than tropical settings, where the balance of the IUCN FLR/forest functionality  studies have been implemented.  

IUCN, through the FLEG Program (http://www.enpi-fleg.org), has also implemented forest functionality studies in Moldova, Russia, and the Ukraine.  The GIZ/BMZ support helped expand the range and accuracy of this forest functionality study.  The results from these studies were varied both in terms of results and depth of study.  

Forest Functionality – the estimated wealth that forested communities derive from forest resources is an interesting concept.  The GIZ/BMZ and FLEG program both had some interesting results with this study.  The chief goal was to begin to adapt methodologies to estimate what benefit the individuals and communities derive from the forest resource.  What is wealth?  This is defined as the combination of monetary salary + other benefits extracted from the forest + benefits directly or indirectly derived from forest resources.   Some examples are:

  • Fuelwood  (firewood and other forms of biomass – both for cooking and heating)
  • Water (from water catchment basins) – good quality drinking water naturally filtered;
  • Berries, mushrooms, game, fish;
  • Recreation;
  • Improved quality of life (difficult to measure, but could be linked to the frequency of sickness as compared to other communities of similar ‘complexion’;
  • Localized climate stabilization

Why is knowing this important?In order to be able to recognize and convey to decision makers the importance of improving forest management it is desirable to have more quantitatively-based information.  By conducting the type of studies that were supported by GIZ/BMZ and FLEG, it is possible to provide more quantitative information to confirm or refute detrimental effects of illegal logging and poor utilization and why some form of local, regional or national governance and the associated enforcement is truly important to the individual countries and to their regions as well.  

In general the trend that IUCN discovered in these first studies is that most of the rural, forested communities situated in Eastern European countries and Russia do not recognize the actual benefits that are provided by the forest resource.  We believe that the primary reason for this is that the benefits have been provided and utilized for such a long period of time, passed down from generation to generation, that the people and communities do not often recognize the benefit.  The use of benefits provided by forest resources have become so ‘institutionalized’ into the respective communities that the benefits is simply part of their lives.   With this in mind, the relative value of these products to the individual and to the community has actually been lost from view.  It is not a matter of taking the forest resource benefit for granted, it is that nothing has been different throughout the lives of the people.  The benefit is difficult to separate because it is so imbedded into the fabric of the communities.  

The benefits provided to the communities by the forest resources did not vary significantly, however, what was surprising were the overall wealth percentages that were determined by the survey.

Overall, the rural communities located in the following areas serve as interesting comparisons with the data taken from the South Caucasus, GIZ/BMZ functionality study.

Russian Federation derived over 60% of their individual and community wealth from forest resources.   

Ukraine and Moldova had similar results, but with slightly lower percentages: the Ukraine at approximately 45% and Moldova at 48%.  

The studies in the South Caucasus Region showed some variation with Armenia arriving at a percentage wealth approximately 37% of the total for communities and individuals.  However, many respondents state that they continue to rely on the forest resources and it is the opinion of the interviewers that the 37% may be a low figure.  

This country could likely be subdivided into two separate types of communities where the mountain communities rely more on the forest resources than the more ‘lowland’ type.  However, the results in Georgia are not yet definitive because the analysis and conclusions of the survey were not completed in the context of overall wealth.  These surveys were not adapted well to the communities themselves and dealt with many other issues such as agricultural issues.  Moreover, the citizens were more hesitant to provide information regarding household income that could then be used for calculating wealth.  The biggest issue for most of the Georgian communities is energy/fuelwood.  For the most part the rural communities require more research because the types of questions and how to ask these questions has now become clearer as part of IUCN’s work in the South Caucasus.

An alarming percentage of the rural forested communities in Azerbaijan are at risk (according to the analysis of the FLR report) it is likely that well over 50% of these communities are at risk from disaster risks and climate change. The forested regions are being depleted for a variety of reasons and the citizens are using these forested regions for their benefit, but without control or governance of any kind.  The forested land provides many benefits, but is also at risk from grazing, fuelwood gathering and different forms of negative effects from natural processes.  While the quantification of the wealth ‘equation’ from Azerbaijan was difficult and not definitive the interpretation of the data indicates that certainly more than 35-40% of the wealth in rural, forested communities comes from forest resources.

While the belief that a large part of the wealth for each rural community is situated in the forest IUCN had the opportunity to directly investigate and determine that there exists a real reliance on the forest resource for these rural communities.  The studies that were done through GIZ funding, on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and FLEG are preliminary and in pilot regions but have begun to document the importance of this type of assessment.  Thousands of rural, forested communities are at risk and determining how to intervene and help determine the ones most at risk is an important step toward long-term management of natural resources.  

 Armenia FLR Report GIZ (2.5 MB)
 FLR Report AZ (1.9 MB)
 GIZ Georgia Report (1.0 MB)