Forest Connect

To restore forests and get out of poverty, rural communities need the knowledge and connections to build flourishing enterprises. Forest landscapes are among the most isolated and marginalised areas in the world, where land, food and energy security and income generation are pressing concerns. Achieving sustainable development in the forest landscape while addressing those immediate needs is a complex challenge that requires joined-up efforts. 

2006 - 2018
Duncan Macqueen

Director of forests, Natural Resources research group

Group of participants stand for a picture during the International Forest Connect workshop in Nepal in February 2013.

International Forest Connect workshop participants in Nepal 2013 at the Sikre Bio-briquette enterprise, a factory that sources waste wood to make charcoal from local community forest user groups (Photo: copyright Leianne Rolington)

Forest Connect was a knowledge network for agencies that supported locally-controlled forest enterprises. It aimed to reduce poverty and maintain forest landscapes by better linking such enterprises, not only to each other, but also to markets, financial and business support services and to decision makers, policymakers and policy processes.

Collective, locally-controlled forest and farm enterprises provide a democratic model of natural resource and business management that is critical for equitable and sustainable development.

Unlike many industrial-scale business models, their owners live locally and have to deal with the consequences of their actions – which incentivises social and environmental concern. But their impact is often neglected and constrained due to their isolation, high transaction costs and prohibitive policy contexts.

There needs to be a better way of distinguishing and supporting business that enable sustainable development (through more democratic local control) and those that do not. 

Forest Connect sought to increase understanding of these issues through collaborative research and engagements at national and international levels.

'Democratising forest business: a compendium of locally controlled forest business organisations' and 'Securing the future: managing risk and building resilience of locally controlled forest businesses' provide detailed case studies of 27 democratic business models. ‘Forest business incubation’ went on to survey a further 10 case studies of business incubators working in forest landscapes to support locally controlled forest businesses.

Moving these enterprises towards profitability and sustainability is a challenging task. Finding the sort of institutions that can coach an enterprise through a process of business incubation is difficult. Yet this is what it takes to build sustainable forest and farm enterprises.

The Forest Connect Alliance was established in 2007 to address this challenge by building the capacity of a network of supporting agencies – sharing knowledge to improve service delivery and best practice. It built on a substantial prior IIED body of work to assess both locally controlled forestry enterprises, and then their associations in Brazil, China, Guyana, India, South Africa and Uganda.

Forest Connect catalysed practical support for locally-controlled forest enterprises through guidance material and toolkits. This includes a 'Facilitator's toolkit for supporting small forest enterprises', a 'Risk management toolkit for securing forest business' and 'ForBInc' a toolkit for how to instal business incubation services in apex forest and farm organizations – funded by commercial returns from their productive activities. These tools and associated training courses are now routinely used by the Forest and Farm Facility.

How it worked

Forest Connect had an international steering committee, and was co-managed by IIED, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, The Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC), and the Earth Innovation Institute (EII).

Forest Connect was often referred to as an ad-hoc alliance because it had an open membership made up of individuals and institutions, all of which were committed to supporting locally-controlled forest enterprises and which share experiences and learn from one other, but not through a formal membership structure.

Central to this way of working was the Forest Connect Ning network, a social networking platform that currently involves more than 1,000 individual members in 94 countries, and a Facebook page.

At the national level, Forest Connect comprised national institutional 'incubators'. Many of these operated virtually, because of the difficulty in sharing physical space with the dispersed businesses they were trying to support.

Some received modest financial support from the Forest Connect international partners, but they sourced and used their own resources in support of locally-controlled forest enterprises. At different times, the Forest Connect alliance had active programmes in Brazil, Cambodia, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guyana, Indonesia, Laos, Liberia, Mali, Mexico, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, South Africa, Uganda and Vietnam. 

In later years activities moved from researching general guidance on business support practices and what to prioritise, towards more in-depth analysis of successful models and how they have managed to overcome risks and challenges. As always Forest Connect captured and tried to make available such learning in the form of publications and toolkits.

Research has been carried out with Forest Connect members in 19 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to document case studies. In each country, we tried to ensure that locally-controlled forestry was recognised and supported in key policies concerning business development, sustainable forest management, legal trade, climate change and integrated land-use planning.

At an international level, we gathered evidence of what worked (and what didn't), organised international learning events and platforms to share such information, distilled findings into briefing materials, and pursued investment in support of locally-controlled forestry.

What solutions require your support?

Since 2006, in-country diagnostics and successful value chain interventions were captured and shared in five international learning events and through a modular toolkit for facilitators of support to those enterprises.

As a result, three regional chapters for Africa, Asia and Latin America emerged to strengthen collaboration and impact at regional levels. A common strategic focus across the alliance was developed through participatory exercises identifying key programmatic ingredients that would help maximise Forest Connect's impact in the immediate future. These included:

  • In-country practical enterprise support work providing resources, services, and links between enterprises, markets, services, investors and decision-makers
  • International research to develop, capture and share lessons in various areas of business incubation relevant to locally controlled forest enterprises
  • Guidance on best options for distinguishing locally controlled forest business in the market, through labels, certification and peer to peer guarantee systems
  • Training material and course development for in-country civil society/private sector facilitators and government extensionists based on the above
  • Strengthening a community of practice familiar with methods such as market analysis and development, the risk management toolkit, and the Green Value tool
  • Continued networking — both electronically and through periodic international learning events and regional exchanges
  • Development and sharing of models of social and environmental finance (such as impact investors, REDD+, public sector incentive mechanisms), and
  • Advocacy and communication work (films, business models, policy briefs) to address specific in-country investment and policy constraints.

Interest in supporting these areas of work should be directed in the first instance to partners of the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF) – FAO, IIED, Agricord and IUCN – that carry on this body of work with support from a multi-donor trust fund.




Forest & Farm Facility, hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
The Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC)
Earth Innovation Institute


Brazil: Instituto Floresta Tropical (IFT)
Burkina Faso: TreeAid
Costa Rica: Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE)
DRC: Tropenbos International DRC
Ecuador: PlanJunto, Somos del Sur
Ethiopia: Farm Africa
Ghana: Tropenbos International Ghana, Organisation for Indigenous Initiatives and Sustainability Ghana (ORGIIS)
Guatemala: Utz Che
Mexico: Reforestamos Mexico
Myanmar: Pyoe Pin
Nepal: Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bioresources (ANSAB)
Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines Thailand, Vietnam): The Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC), WWF Mekong Regional programme office, Non Timber Forest Products and Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP)