History and Achievements

The Rural Development Forestry Network is an important component of the outreach programme of the Forest Policy and Environment Programme. As well as disseminating research information on key issues in tropical forestry to its members, the Network aims to influence policy and decision-makers in both governments and international aid agencies.

Establishing A New Area of Discourse When new directions are first taken in a particular subject, there is often no obvious forum for new findings and nowhere to turn for comparative experience. This is what happened in forestry in the early 1980s, when concerns about desertification, and fuelwood shortages created strong donor pressure for tree-planting programmes with local people. Tropical foresters had focussed for decades on commercial plantations, and had no training in rural development issues. ODI’s Forestry Network was established in 1985 (originally under the name of the Social Forestry Network) to exchange experiences among practitioners and researchers, and to bring them to the attention of policy-makers. Its window on field activities in progress has been especially valuable, and has often put the network years ahead of mainstream research in both content and interdisciplinary approaches.

Throughout its life, the network has kept two strong principles of operation - a strong poverty focus and a strong commitment to a global and comparative approach. The network is published in English, French and Spanish and goes to around 2,900 members worldwide, mainly in the South. It is widely recognised as having been a key agent in the mainstreaming of the importance of people in tropical forests over the last fifteen years.

Key issues where the network has made a difference include:

Village tree-planting

From 1985-1990, the network successfully responded to a need for information concerning the circumstances in which farmers wanted to plant trees on their own land, and the reasons why communal village woodlots were universally unsuccessful.

Participatory Forest Management

From the late 1980s the network worked on local people’s forest management capacities in Africa and South Asia. Lessons learnt in tropical dry and sub-humid forest areas were then applied to tropical moist forests, just as these became a donor priority following the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

People-oriented change at local and national level: methodologies, institutions and policies

Networkers were eager for guidance on field methods for people-oriented forestry. Between 1986 and 1994 the network produced papers on participatory mapping and land-use planning, and participatory rural appraisal and monitoring. Institutionally, it focussed first on forestry extension and later, on higher-level institutional change issues. It returns regularly to forest policy issues, most recently (1998) Certification, and Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management.