More transfer of knowledge needed South–South

Tropical forest countries at the World Forestry Congress call for greater cooperation to share experience between farmers, advisors and governments


‘We are all talking about how to transfer knowledge from scientists and government to farmers’, summarised Dr Tachrir Fathoni.

Dr Fathoni, who is the director-general of natural resources and ecosystem conservation with the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry, was a panellist on the future of South–South cooperation at the World Forestry Congress in Durban, South Africa, 7 September 2015.

‘This is important for South–South cooperation’, he emphasised. ‘In the future we should exchange agricultural extension officers because it is they who transfer the knowledge to farmers. If they can be involved, it will speed up transfer from country to country’.

L to R: moderator Stephan A. Pietsch of the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis; Zac Tjoundjeu; Alexandre Ywata de Carvalho; Coert Geldenhuys; Tachrir Fathoni. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson

L to R: moderator Stephan A. Pietsch of the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis; Zac Tjoundjeu; Alexandre Ywata de Carvalho; Coert Geldenhuys; Tachrir Fathoni. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson

The issue of knowledge exchange was highlighted throughout the panel discussion, being seen as a way of not only helping to decrease deforestation by sharing experience government to government but also of improving farmers’ livelihoods through sharing agroforestry technologies that would also help take the pressure off forests to provide tree products.

‘The real challenge is to encourage local farmers to plant trees’, confirmed Dr Zac Tchoundjeu of the World Agroforestry Centre’s West and Central Africa region. ‘If someone is living in the forest, why would they want to plant trees? They have to feed their family, so they cut down the trees and plant annual crops.

‘To address this in the Congo Basin, which embraces 30 countries, we have been using a tree-domestication approach to change the way farmers see trees’.

The forests of the Basin hold at least 600 species of indigenous fruit trees. Dr Tchoundjeu’s team interviewed 6000 farmers, asking them to identify and prioritise these species, and then trained them in how to create superior cultivars that produced higher yields more quickly.

‘Not a single farmer prioritised the traditional commercial commodity crops that they had been growing, such as rubber, cocoa and coffee’, explained Dr Tchoundjeu. ‘Rather, they focussed on trees that provided food for their families and livestock and which restored the soil’.

The researchers were able to help the farmers identify which of those prioritised species could also provide cash income and to design mixed systems that spread income across the year. This lowered the risk to farmers, especially those who had previously relied on commodity crops that were at the mercy of global price fluctuations.

Dr Coert Geldenhuys of Pretoria University also urged a greater focus on farmers’ needs and of sharing experience about successful management regimes.

‘All over Africa, wherever I talk with local people I’m told that policies from outside are not aligned with local needs’, he said. ‘Africa has several contiguous climate zones but no one looks to them to develop policies for appropriate systems. In the Congo Basin, for example, some trees only regenerate after fire but there are policies that ban slash-and-burn agriculture. Management systems are imposed from elsewhere. We need better cooperation between similar wet-and-dry land systems around the Equator to help develop local management systems that meet local needs’.

For many decades, Brazil has been actively promoting high technology to help reduce deforestation, which has been shared with other countries, such as Indonesia, said Dr Alexandre Ywata de Carvalho of Brazil’s Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA).

‘Brazil’s experience in South–South cooperation has been in strengthening the reduction of deforestation and increasing more sustainable land use’, he said. ‘We need to cooperate in this because the world’s tropical forests are in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Thirty percent of the area suitable for agricultural expansion is in Africa and Brazil and climatically Africa and Brazil have much in common. Whatsmore, a new study predicts that if the trend of deforestation continues as is, by 2050 another 289 million hectares of forest will have been cleared, releasing 169 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, which amounts to one-sixth of the total emissions needed to stay within the 2 °C cap’.

To help address these issues, over the years Brazil has developed satellite monitoring systems, such as PRODES in the 1970s and Globium—which is deployed through a network of South countries to help civil society and governments see where and when deforestation is occurring—TerraAmazon, which supports interpretation of multi-temporal images from satellites, and the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellites designed to help control forest fires and deforestation and monitor water, agriculture, urban growth and land use, producing around 700 images a day.

‘Such tools, which are shared between governments, help address “leakage” or what happens when, say, Brazil stops deforestation but the drivers move to other countries. These kinds of technology agreements are very successful but there are also other problems that need addressing, such as within bureaucracies’.

Another important element is building local capacity through higher education and sharing it between the South, reducing the ‘brain drain’ to the North. One way to do that is to create more nuanced degree structures, supported by the North, that help build institutional relationships and reduce transaction costs. That was something for the North to consider when it builds it support for development for the coming decades: an educational partnership that strengthens South–South cooperation.


Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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