14 Aug 2019

The BirdLife Forest Landscape Sustainability Accelerator

A forest landscape © C Muzhik
By Bryna Griffin, Global Coordinator, Forest Programme

Sustaining tropical forests is a top global priority, not only for the unique and diverse wildlife and human communities that live in and around them, but for protecting the future of our planet from climate change and biodiversity loss. National environmental organisations have the proven ability to find local solutions to manage and conserve tropical forest landscapes, and the potential to ensure long-term impact. However, many struggle to access the kinds of knowledge, capacity and finance needed to design sustainable landscape-scale initiatives.

BirdLife Forests Programme is piloting a new approach. Modelled on the innovation that powers start-ups in the tech sector, an “Accelerator” is a fixed-term, cohort-based programme bringing together seed investment, connections, mentorship, training workshops, and promotional events to accelerate growth.

The new BirdLife Forest Landscape Sustainability Accelerator is supporting a set of flagship landscapes with seed funding, a collaborative working group and targeted technical support. In each, a significant investment into conservation has already been made, and now is the time to develop a ‘bring it all together’ approach to sustainability. The first cohort of BirdLife Partners in the Accelerator are advancing sustainable financing strategies at a landscape-scale across 1.2 million hectares. The 2019 Accelerator Cohort includes three landscapes in Asia.

In Mbeliling Landscape, Flores, Indonesia, Burung Indonesia is working to protect a 94,000 ha forest mosaic and its astonishing array of endemic biodiversity. It is also a critical watershed for farming communities engaged in agroforestry to produce candlenut, coffee, cocoa, clove and cashew nut. Since 2007 Burung Indonesia have developed a multi-stakeholder landscape governance model for land-use planning and management, enabling local community ownership and leadership. This has been integrated with investment into agro-forestry supply chains. Over five years, 22 microfinance units have been developed, which now serve small businesses in the communities and are being integrated into public funding mechanisms and natural resource management plans. Investment is needed in the integrated production and conservation initiatives, alongside the development of the financial architecture to enable more finance to flow. A fiscal policy framework is also being developed with local microfinance institutions that incentivise and drives investment in conservation and sustainable production.

In the Anamese Lowlands of Vietnam, VietNature Conservation Centre is focused on a new business model for timber production. VietNature won the prestigious ‘Mobilising More Finance for Climate Award’ at the 2018 Global Impact Investing Network Forum, for their pioneering sustainable forestry management model. The model transforms short rotation acacia plantations to longer-term diversified timber production of mixed acacia and native hardwood species. The investment return is potentially three times higher, and the carbon and biodiversity benefits are significant. The model integrates a commitment for a percentage of returns to go directly into forest conservation, creating a true production-protection landscape model. This model will be piloted at a small-scale but needs technical support from financial experts in finalising the financial architecture and structure, as well as direct investment to enable trialling the model at a larger-scale. With nearly 2 million ha of acacia plantation in Vietnam, including in areas surrounding priority forests, this model has significant scalable potential.

At Lomphat Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia, the BirdLife Cambodia Programme aims to scale up a long-term initiative. One of Cambodia’s largest protected areas at 250,000 ha, the landscape is a critical watershed encompassing two rivers with sensitive seasonal flows, and supports five critically endangered bird species. A mosaic of forests, meadows, and agriculture, the landscape includes 26 villages that are dependent on the services provided by the forests and rivers. Six years of focused investment has resulted in an integrated land-use plan, one of only three in the country. Long-term sources of funding are required to implement and oversee the plan through a multi-stakeholder governance structure. Feasibility assessments will be conducted for replication of an innovative sustainable rice production model with local smallholders that has been successfully delivered in Western Siem Pang and elsewhere in Cambodia. Additionally, a centralised financing structure could support ongoing costs of land management, channelling government support and contributions from private operations in the Economic Land Concessions.

In April 2019, teams from each of these landscape programmes, along with others from the Americas and Africa, came together for a week-long workshop in Cambridge. The workshop covered a wide range of landscape planning, strategy, financing and fundraising topics. The participants came away exhausted but eager to put some of these new ideas and collaborations to work on the ground! The working group will continue to meet regularly over this year to discuss progress in their specific landscapes as well as to exchange on relevant technical topics ranging from theory of change development to conservation trust funds.