FLEG to FLR transition – a natural fit

Richard Aishton, Senior Programme Manager, ENPI/FLEG Programme at IUCN, makes a case for the European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument East Countries Forest Law Enforcement and Governance Program (ENPI-FLEG, or simply FLEG) to transition its focus toward forest landscape restoration (FLR).

Since 2009, ENPI-FLEG has been producing stunning results and has become a trusted partner of natural resource management practitioners in each of the governments of ENPI East (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine) and Russia. By 2013, IUCN’s Country Program Coordinators had become key partners with government officials in designing and implementing activities that would have great impact and benefit for their respective governments.

One of the key national and regional activities of FLEG focused on forest-dependent communities, rural communities with high relative forest income (percentage of income derived from the forest). IUCN implemented more than 1,300 field surveys in seven countries and provided quantifiable information on the relationships between rural communities and their forest resources. It was evident that forest products were essential in allowing community residents to maintain a stable subsistence.

As opposed to using ecosystem services calculations – where services provided by the natural ecosystem are assigned a value – IUCN’s forest dependency studies calculated what was actually used. The results of these studies were used widely by governments to justify budgets and for providing concrete data to support changes in governance of forest resources. In this case, forest resources encompass a wide range of forest benefits such as climate change mitigation, water catchment, recreation, fuel, wildlife, and timber and paper products.

When the forest dependency studies were completed, we were confronted with the question, ‘How can we easily assess other communities that were not part of our dependency surveys?’  The answer came from an innovative use of ground surveys, satellite imagery and remote sensing information. We created the forest community fingerprint (FCF), which is a way to predict the relative vulnerabilities of unknown communities based on the known attributes of the surveyed communities. Once IUCN perfected this methodology, the vulnerability of a random community in the region could now be assessed with 85% accuracy. The application potential of this methodology is huge.

Man with white shirt below IUCN signFLEG comes to an end this month. I believe that it has reached its potential and, in order to continue the foundation laid by the programme in each of its countries, a natural transition to FLR would yield significant benefits. The goal of FLR is to restore functionality to deforested and degraded lands, through consulting stakeholder groups and undertaking economic assessments to identify priorities and realities for implementing land use change and interventions. It can help reduce the gap between what residents have and what they need in order to build more resilience into their lives and communities.

Early on in FLEG, it was difficult to engage community residents and stakeholder groups. The forest dependency studies helped people understand what we were trying to accomplish and built up trust with the communities. Once that barrier was behind us, things became much easier. Obtaining information and opinions from stakeholder groups was very important because we needed to gather information regarding relative stability of the communities, and this information was essential for comparative analysis among communities. Their answers were important from the perspective of identifying the most vulnerable communities – which now translates to those where FLR should take priority.

The logical next steps would be to use the pathways forged from FLEG and extend it to incorporate forest landscape restoration. It’s a perfect fit as the next phase in ENPI East and Russia’s forest dependency assessments – bringing action to where it is needed most. The need has never been greater, and the timing has never been better.

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