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Forest Policy means Resilience – Wageningen Meeting

What do we mean when we talk about forest policy and governance? We also mean resilience. The Second International Forest Policy Meeting has presented it quite clearly.
More than hundred participants from 20 countries attended the Second International Forest Policy Meeting which took place in Wageningen between 11th and 13th of April. During the event, participants discussed four main themes: 1. Forest governance, 2. International policy&politics, 3. Community&society, and 4. Conflict&control. They could undeniably experience that forest policy is way more than the actions of powerful actors operated within an institutional structure and enhanced by bureaucracy.

Forest Policy means to explore the connections between the forest and food
Bhaskar Vira the Director of University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, affiliated also with the Department of Geography, in his keynote talk ‘Forests for Food and Nutrition: exploring the linkages and understanding the tradeoffs’ spoke about the role of the forests in the mitigation of a global hunger. He showed how the global challenges, like poverty and bad nutrition, can be resolved only when the local conditions and the regional environmental situation are understood and taken into consideration. Forests can be ‘key futures’ of food security landscape only when we grasp what role they play for local communities. Vira elaborated on an unresolved tradeoff: land sharing vs land sparring. Could the multifunctional forested landscapes be a solution for a hunger issue? The message delivered by Vira said: ‘We need to reimagine forests, food security, and nutrition, to recognise the complementary role of production systems and conservation across landscapes’.
Forest Policy is about ‘business as usual’
In a fascinating lecture, Maria Brockhaus from the University of Helsinki talked about the phenomenon of deforestation and ongoing debates concentrated on reducing this process. Her claim was that it is the right time to the change questions researchers used to ask in their forest policy research. We should ask then: Who benefits from business as usual of deforestation? The quick answer reads: those, who also support the ‘policy problem of deforestation’ and those who spread ‘deforestation myths’ namely:

  1. Development needs deforestation.
  2. We need to ‘eradict’ shifting agriculture (slash and burn, rouwbau) as an unsustainable practice.
  3. Win-wins – environmental degradation including deforestation decoupled from economic growth is possible with right technologies, markets, and deregulation.
  4. We need the private sector in the room to deal with deforestation.

Maria Brockhaus left the audience with crucial but unconvinced questions: Who benefits from deforestation? Whose voices matter? Who is given a voice and attention through research? She pointed at herself by telling a story of her education, supported with the money from her parents’ cow farm, where the cheap soya-fodder was imported from deforesting South America. She made us all wonder about our contribution to deforestation.
Forest Policy tells the story about the post-socialistic societies
Finally, forest policy tells the story of people who live in the shadow of forests and who have assigned particular meanings and values to trees. During the conference, I had a chance to present part of the results from my fieldwork and tell about anthropological contribution to the forest policy research, particularly about the social dimensions of forestry in Poland. The ongoing conflict in the Białowieża Forest in North-Eastern Poland was used as a ‘lens’ which focused current major clashes in the Polish forest sector. I told the story about how Polish foresters became the “winners of Transformation” as they took an advantage of the social and political momentum of Transformation of 1989 in Poland. At the same time, they were not able to recognise a changing societal context in post-socialist society and new expectations towards forestry. What is visible in light of the last forest conflicts and controversies is that the possible cost of this wrong judgment is a rising social distrust in foresters’ knowledge and qualifications.
Forest Policy is about Resilience
When we understand resilience is the ability to recover from difficulties, to come back to the equilibrium after disturbances and to smoothly adapt to changes and the forest as a complex socio-environmental system, then the Second International Policy Meeting in Wageningen gave a unique chance to learn about forests resilience in their many dimensions.


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