Last week I handed in my MSc Thesis. In the weeks leading up to submission, completing my thesis in time was not my only worry. I was also thinking about what to do with my life after the submission date. Luckily, after some discussions with the head of my research unit here at CIFOR, I was offered the opportunity to extend my internship contract and begin work on a new project.
The project, which I have now been working on for over a week, is the USAID funded Forest Incomes for Environmental Sustainability (FIFES) Initiative. The project is implemented by the US-based development NGO, ADCI/VOCA. FIFES’s overall goal is to develop key rural forest-based enterprises that provide inclusive, sustainable economic opportunities for rural farmers and forest-dependent communities in a way that also combats deforestation and biodiversity loss.
Working with thousands of community-based entrepreneurs and leaders from 14 Community Forests (CFs) in Nimba and Grand Bassa counties in Liberia, West Africa, the FIFES initiative protects biodiversity through supporting forestry, agroforestry, and related natural resources management. FIFES aims to strengthen selected forest and agricultural value chains, enhances knowledge and skills for forest enterprises and landscape management, and establishes legal and management frameworks for forestry and agroforestry enterprises.
Entrepreneurs, FIFES researchers and facilitators, the 14 Community Forest Management Bodies, the Executive Committees, and the Community Assemblies are forming stronger working relationships with one another to improve access to products and markets, improve the regulation of timber and other forest products, and increase financial benefits to both entrepreneurs and the citizens using CFs. Stronger value chains and more accountable and inclusive management of CF resources will provide community incentives, and strengthen the institutional sustainability of forest management efforts, enabling the development to continue after funding ceases in November 2020.
ADCI/VOCA has contracted CIFOR to assist with several aspects of FIFES:
- Create land classification maps of the 14 Community Forests chosen for the FIFES project in Liberia, using a combination of remote sensing and ground-truthing with traditional knowledge, to monitor forest cover change and its drivers.
- Forest cover change will be monitored using a hyper-temporal remotely sensed vegetation index.
- Drivers of forest cover change will be assessed using local traditional knowledge. Through extensive training and capacity building, and in collaboration with local collaborators, geo-referenced data will be obtained on forest resource inventory and utilisation from local communities.
- Investigate feasibility and provide technical support for biodiversity monitoring (bio-monitoring) plots in up to 10 CFs, and developing and detailed bio-monitoring protocol for local community use after project completion.
- Conduct a detailed legislative review, to assess the legal framework in which Community Forest Management Committees can operate.
My role under the CIFOR contract will be to:
- Conduct a literature review to aid in the completion of the detailed legislative review. The literature review will focus on policies and institutions that can facilitate co-management of CFs, enhance social assets, secure equitable rights to forests, trees, and land, and enhance the adaptive capacity of smallholders in various landscapes, in Liberia
- Conduct a literature review on threats to biodiversity and forest ecosystems, and the potential consequences for livelihoods and ecosystem services, as a prerequisite to their improved management.
- Conduct surveys with stakeholders over the course of a one-week fieldtrip to Liberia, to support the findings of the literature.
- Write a report for USAID based on the literature review findings.
- Write a Policy Brief, to facilitate the integration of lessons learnt from current or past initiatives into policy discourse and management practices at multiple geographic scales.
- Summarise the above in a peer-reviewed journal.
I am very excited to work on this project. It will provide me with a lot of new experience, and will mark my first visit to Africa! Genuine benefits for people and the planet is the reason I want to work in this field, and FIFES, with its careful monitoring of conservation and development goals, is a more complete package than most Integrated Conservation and Development Projects (ICDPs). It is a project that could have a real impact.