From the Field Strengthening Partnerships to Champion Forest and Tree Conservation in the Tropics

Strengthening partnerships in championing forest and tree conservation in the tropics 

For international forests day, we celebrate our work with partners in Asia and the Pacific including the holistic approach in linking up with various actors and stakeholders to build a strong network of champions in conserving and restoring valuable forest genetic resources.

Tropical rainforests are home to rich flora and fauna essential to the function of ecosystem services and regulating climate. Recent trends on deforestation in the tropics indicate that almost a third of global deforestation happens in Southeast Asia driven by both anthropogenic and natural factors; this results to devastating shifts in biodiversity and carbon emissions among mostly developing nations. 

In protecting forests from anthropogenic threats, it is vital for various actors in the forestry and other land use sectors to work together in a strategic partnership that enables knowledge sharing, shared responsibilities, and collective action to prevent further genetic diversity loss in the tropics.  At the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, we have been working on taking action in conserving forest genetic resources through restoration and conservation while working closely with partners in Asia. 

Monitoring and conserving genetic diversity of forests and trees, especially of wild species as outlined in the UN Convention of Biological Diversity’s Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, does not only promote a healthy ecosystem but also makes the environment more resilient to climate and environmental changes. Integrating local communities in monitoring and conservation activities are key in supplying much needed tree seed and seedlings supply for restoration. 

Now, a challenge awaits: how to conserve something that remains poorly understood? Of the astonishing diversity of tens of thousands of tropical and sub-tropical tree species, only a fraction have been analyzed for genetic diversity, while extensive forest loss, degradation and environmental change continue to push species towards extinction, signifying a permanent loss of genetic diversity that underlie ecological processes. 

20 years into a regional partnership for forests

Asia Pacific Forest Genetic Resources Programme (APFORGEN), a regional program and network that aims to promote the management of forest genetic resources among 15 member countries in Asia celebrated 20 years of partnerships on 14-17 March 2023. In its core, APFORGEN employs a holistic approach to conservation and restoration of forest genetic resources in the Asia-Pacific Region that includes collaborative research, technical and institutional capacity building, and livelihood considerations for local forest-dependent communities. In this partnership, the Alliance plays an active role in supporting network members in designing and implementing research that contributed to the achievement of the program and network’s objectives. 

In fact, the Alliance have traced APFORGEN’s significant milestones like training and regional workshops on forest genetic resources, including the establishment of a regional training center; recognition of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission of APFORGEN’s 2018-2022 strategy that allowed for the network to expand regional cooperation; and finally, coordinating regional initiatives such as APFORGIS which analyzed climate change impacts and other threats to  63 socio-economically important Asian tree species. 

Alliance scientist Riina Jalonen reflects on the work with the network, “regional collaboration and networking such as through APFORGEN are crucial to accelerate identification and conservation of these invaluable genetic resources.” She highlights that through this regional network and partnership, we can find pathways to address issues surrounding continued forest loss and degradation, including finding adapted, genetically diverse seed sources to implement national forest and landscape restoration targets. 

Part of this month’s workshop was defining next steps for the network’s strategy in parallel to the Global Biodiversity Framework and the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration until 2030. According to Jalonen, this gives the network an opportunity to support the implementation of these broader conservation targets in member countries and better monitor updates and recognize milestones related to the objectives of the strategy, which involve: 

  1. Mobilize political and financial support for integrating genetic diversity considerations in the implementation of global, regional and national goals on biodiversity  in the Asia-Pacific region; 
  2. Make available information about the forest genetic resources in the Asia-Pacific region; 
  3. Develop conservation and sustainable use strategies for regionally important and threatened tree species; and 
  4. Strengthen supply of forest reproductive material to facilitate forest and landscape restoration, support local livelihoods and climate change adaptation and mitigation 

In addition to the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration, and the Global Biodiversity Framework, this new strategy aligns itself with the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation, Sustainable Use and Development of Forest Genetic resources of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations which sets out to identify priority actions at various levels concerning the status of these valuable resources. 

Operationalising partnerships for forest conservation and restoration

Key to preserving forest genetic resources is forest and landscape restoration that allows for conservation and restoration activities to work hand-in-hand with strengthening ecosystem services and supporting livelihood initiatives. Through the Darwin Initiative funded by the United Kingdom, the Alliance and APFORGEN partners support the conservation and restoration of native tree species in local landscapes by supporting participation of local communities and stakeholders in quality seed and seedling production that generates job and income opportunities while helping countries meet policy and program targets around land restoration. 

Through the Initiative, the Alliance and partners are developing seed zone maps for Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and the Philippines to guide selection of climate-resilient seed and seedlings, and identifying gaps in seed source availability for native species for different environmental contexts. This ties in the work with restoration practitioners and local land users in priority landscapes to fill in gaps in seed availability, connecting local seed suppliers to customers and providing incentives for maintaining native seed sources as genetic reserves. 

In addition to implementing projects, the APFORGEN network also linked up with Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission which endorsed APFORGEN’s previous strategy for 2018-2022. Through this, the network is invited to provide regular updates of its activities to the Commission which helps raise awareness of the crucial role of genetic considerations for climate change adaptation, forest and landscape restoration and overall sustainable management of the region’s forest and tree resources. It opens doors for further collaboration and partnerships in conservation and restoration of forests in the region.  

As the Commission meets next in Sydney, Australia, in October 2023, APFORGEN looks to present its renewed strategy drafted in the March workshop and share its contributions for conserving and sustainably managing genetic diversity of the region’s forests and trees in line with the new Global Biodiversity Framework targets.