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Strength in numbers: International Conference on Forest Producer Organizations

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25-28 November 2013, Guilin, Guangxi Autonomous Region, China - Jointly organized by APFNet, FAO and the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF), the first International Conference on Forest Producer Organizations was held in Guilin, China to explore how forest producer organizations (FPOs) can best support small-scale forest owners, local forest communities, small forest-based businesses and managers and to propose ways in which this role could be strengthened.

About 150 people, comprising representatives of FPOs, service providers, governments, international development partners and donors from 42 countries, gathered to learn from China’s experiences and successes and to explore the role that FPOs can play globally in stimulating sustainable rural development while reversing deforestation.

The conference is also part of the celebration of 300 years of the concept of sustainability. In 1713 this concept was first introduced by German Forester Von Carlowitz who described sustained yield forestry in his book “Sylvicultura oeconomica”. The government of Germany has made funding available for this conference to help promote sustainable forest management, especially by smallholders.

The Conference highlighted the importance of FPOs in sustainable forest management. FPOs can unleash the economic power of forest lands while ensuring social inclusion and environmental sustainability. They can be powerful catalysts for boosting the incomes of smallholders, indigenous peoples and local communities by increasing their access to finance, facilitating learning from peers and rallying political support, which in turn provide strong incentives for SFM.

FPOs also shared experiences on how to develop organizational strength. It is agreed that FPOs are effective when they have a clear sense of purpose, are well structured, inclusive and grounded in communities, and when they are self-organized and membership is voluntary. Gender equality and social inclusion are essential principles, and these should be embedded in the constitutions of FPOs and used as a basis of all activities.Recommendations on strengthening the enabling environment for FPOs and effective support platforms/services were also developed.

Because of its extraordinary recent advances in tenure reform, the development of 115 000 FPOs, China’s experiences and successes were highly appreciated and acknowledged during the meeting. Participants expressed their hope that China’s recent success in forest tenure reform and support for FPOs will inspire similar positive change in other countries; and their commitment to continuing to share information and experiences in improving the livelihoods of rural people and transform rural landscapes through the development of FPOs.