Private sector engagement in the forest sector

18 April 2011 | News story

We pose three questions to Stewart Maginnis -- IUCN Global Director, Environment and Development Group and Director, Global Forest Conservation Programme -- about private sector engagement in the forest sector as well as his expectations for the 2011 International Year of Forests.

1. What is the role of the private sector in managing the world’s forests?

The private sector plays an enormous, multi-faceted role in the management of the world’s forests. To give you a couple of examples, global investment in commercial forestry is over $150 billion per year – which is only a small proportion of the total investments in other land-use sectors, such as agriculture. This is far more than the $12 billion or so spent on the forest sector each year by governments and aid agencies combined.
On a more local level, small and medium-scale forest-based businesses provide employment for approximately around 160 million people worldwide and probably exert a similar influence as their multinational colleagues.
However you look at it, the private sector’s power and influence mean that we will not achieve our goals for sustainable forest management without its full involvement - both through its own corporate policies and its commitment to engage in public-private partnerships.

2. Please elaborate on the work of the IUCN Forest Programme is doing with the private sector.

One recent development is our work with Cadbury’s and the Cocoa Partnership who have asked us to work together with them develop an environmental strategy for cocoa production that supports local livelihoods in Ghana. This will have multiple benefits: for business, biodiversity and the lives of the local communities. This project is detailed in New Engagements section of this newsletter.
Another example is our work with Unilever to establish environmental and social sustainability standards for the harvest and processing of Allanblackia nut, a tree indigenous to the rainforests of West, Central and Eastern Africa. The oil from the tree is a direct substitute for palm oil and is now the source of new hope to bring economic growth and biodiversity benefits to the people in this region. A unique public-private partnership has been formed to manage this process including local communities, non-governmental organisations, donor agencies and a private company. Together they will ensure that product development, from harvesting to market, takes place in an equitable and sustainable manner.

3. What would you like to see come out of the International Year of Forests and does the private sector have a role to play?

IUCN is leading the way in working with countries to restore lost and degraded forests for the benefit of nature and people. The potential is huge, over 1 billion hectares worldwide provide opportunities for biodiversity-friendly forest restoration. Realizing this opportunity can’t simply be done by international organizations or governments – it clearly needs the private sector working in conjunction with communities and land-owners.
The encouraging thing is that we are seeing real signs of commitment from various quarters. In February this year, the Rwandan government – with whom we’ve been working closely - launched the International Year of Forests with a pledge to country-wide restoration of its currently degraded of forests, soil, water and land resources by 2035.
We’re now working towards the hope that other countries will follow Rwanda’s leading example. If other nations follow suit, and the private sector joins the effort, we could be witnessing the beginning of the largest natural restoration initiative the world has ever seen, bringing us a step closer to realizing our vision of a greener world economy.
To initiate and establish that momentum during the International Year of Forests would be a very special outcome.

About Stewart Maginnis, IUCN Global Director - Environment and Development Group, Director Global Forest Conservation Programme at IUCN headquarters in Gland, Switzerland:
Prior to joining IUCN in December 2001, he worked with the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) for three years as Deputy Director of the International Forest Programme. Stewart has thirteen years of field experience in forest conservation and management in Tanzania, Sudan, Costa Rica, Mexico and the United Kingdom through working with the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), a development NGO, and the private sector.
Stewart holds a M.Sc. in Forestry and Land Use from the University of Oxford and has been a study fellow at the University of Manchester. He has a keen interest in the linkage between forest conservation and livelihood security of the rural poor, the practical application of ecosystem approaches and on the role of civil society in forest management.