What’s in a name? MEDfOR students discuss governance, bioeconomy and community participation

At an all-day seminar on 15 February, MEDfOR Erasmus Mundus Master’s students engaged with EFI staff on a range of forest topics while gaining exposure to past and ongoing projects.

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Photo: Sarah Feder

EFI Mediterranean Facility (EFIMED) hosted a group of students from the Erasmus Mundus Mediterranean Forestry and Natural Resources Management Msc (MEDfOR) programme for a seminar on forest economy and policy on Friday, 15 February. The seminar provided opportunities for students to engage with a wide range of forest topics while gaining exposure to EFI’s past and ongoing projects and discussing issues with Facility staff that relate to their thesis topics. During the morning session, staff from EFIMED and the Forest and Technology Research Centre of Catalonia (CTFC) presented projects related to bioeconomy, governance, and environmental services in the Mediterranean region and beyond. In the afternoon, presentations introduced the students to the work of the EU FLEGT and REDD facilities, and to practical cases of tropical forest governance in local communities in Central Africa.

“What is the bioeconomy?” Carmen Rodríguez, Junior Researcher at EFIMED and CTFC, opened the all-day seminar by posing this seemingly simple, but surprisingly difficult-to-answer question. The bioeconomy concept emerged in Europe as a response to the need to provide for human populations without depleting resources in the face of fundamental global change. The concept is widely used, but different individuals and institutions understand it differently. Although definitions differ, the bioeconomy concept is most effective when it is context-adapted, linked to the land it considers, and does not forget about the society it is meant to serve. Mireia Pecurul, Researcher at CTFC, grounded these broad concepts of forest management with a presentation on two cases of forest governance in Spain. Mireia provided the students with a thorough and helpfully visual overview of the interplay among states, the market, and civil society in planning, discourse, and implementation of forest projects. As Carmen had highlighted in her introduction, forest governance differs across even small areas, and projects must be suited for the environment and social sphere in which they are developed.

Bringing the governance discussion from a local to international scale, Sven Wunder, Principal Scientist at EFIMED, led a presentation on environmental, or ecosystem services (ES) with a specific focus on payment schemes (PES) designed to value and protect these services. Sven discussed the challenges of PES projects such as REDD+, including the difficulty of compliance and implementation on a large scale, but also highlighted the real possibilities for the success of the PES approach, which could be promoted with a focus on design and best practices, as well as horizontal scaling of PES projects. Continuing this discussion after a lunch on the terrace enjoying views over Barcelona, Forest Governance Expert Fanso Fonvinyuh Gordian gave the students an overview of the history and aims of the EU REDD+ and FLEGT programmes. The presentation highlighted common challenges and opportunities of these programmes, as well as the strengths of these approaches to create in-depth investments in interested countries that provide innovative solutions and tools. Strategic partnerships can broaden impact and the programmes can be flexible to specific and changing contexts and needs of participating stakeholders.

The closing session reinforced the importance of context-dependent work in global forest governance, with EFI Researcher Yitagesu Tekle presenting a set of practical cases of tropical forest governance in local communities in Central Africa. The students engaged in a lively discussion considering how projects can install social safeguards to prevent forest governance projects from reinforcing existing social inequalities, while still adding value by protecting forestland and promoting carbon storage.

After the seminar, an informal networking session enabled further exchange between students and presenters on bioeconomy, governance, and community forest management. As EFI’s researchers and projects continue to produce key studies and policy information on these topics, they hope to inspire ongoing interest – and perhaps even a Master’s thesis or two – from the next generation of Mediterranean forest experts.