ICRAF-CIFOR merger indicates paradigm shift and opens new horizons

Dr. Ajay Kumar Saxena, Deputy Director, NCCF

Forests and trees have immense importance in our lives. Trees in forests and agricultural landscapes provide a range of goods and services to rural and urban human communities. Agroforestry, which involves a variety of trees planted and managed in agricultural landscapes, is a low-cost method of integrated land management. At present, while climate change is posing one of the gravest threats to humanity, trees and forests are presenting themselves as a reliable solution, both for mitigation (REDD+) as well as adaptation (as climate-resilient renewable resources) measures.

Recognizing the importance of research in agroforestry to create the best models of agroforestry for different regions of the world, a global organization named International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), later known as World Agroforestry Centre, was established in 1978 headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya. ICRAF is a center of scientific excellence and the world’s largest repository of agroforestry science and information. It develops knowledge practices, from farmers’ fields to the global sphere, to ensure food security and environmental sustainability. ICRAF is the only institution that does globally significant agroforestry research in and for all of the developing tropics. The knowledge produced by ICRAF enables governments, development agencies, and farmers to utilize the power of trees to make farming and livelihoods more environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable at various levels. ICRAF’s work also addresses many of the issues being tackled by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically those that aim to eradicate hunger, reduce poverty, provide affordable and clean energy, protect life on land, and combat climate change.
Later in 1993, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) with a mission to bring scientific knowledge to bear on major decisions affecting the world’s tropical forests and the dependent people was established with headquarters at Bogor, Indonesia. CIFOR arose out of growing concern that emerged from the Rio Earth Summit and other international dialogues about rapid deforestation and its associated social, economic, and environmental impacts. CIFOR was established as the 16th research center of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). The CGIAR is made up of public and private-sector organizations devoted to improving agriculture and natural resource use in ways that reduce hunger and poverty among people in developing countries without causing environmental damage. The two organizations, CIFOR and ICRAF, have been dealing with forestry and agroforestry research issues respectively and providing practical solutions to these two sister sciences. 
On 1st December 2018, the merger of ICRAF and CIFOR was announced. The ICRAF press release on this pathbreaking development says that “Innovation and investments worth trillions of dollars in landscape restoration, climate adaptation and science-based policy advice will be needed if the global community is to meet the escalating threats posed by climate change” and “To meet these demands, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), also known as World Agroforestry Centre, the two leading organizations focused on forestry and agroforestry research, policy and development have agreed to merge to strengthen capacity, provide the evidence needed to scale up investment in sustainable development, and accelerate impact.
The merger became effective on January 1st, 2019 through a common Board with subsequent implementation of a single leadership team and unified policies, processes, and systems. “This progressive decision to merge will allow us to respond more effectively to the increasing demands to integrate landscapes and land management for a more equitable, climate-resilient, and productive world,” said Claire O’Connor, Chair of the ICRAF Board of Trustees. The two organizations together employ over 700 staff in more than 20 countries throughout the global south, with an annual budget of over $100 million. “Working as one will allow us to leverage our combined $1.8 billion legacy investment in research, policy, and development to seize emerging opportunities with greater agility and further our contributions to the realization of ecosystem services needed to create the jobs and resilient green economy of the future,” said Jose Campos, Chair of the CIFOR Board of Trustees
CIFOR and ICRAF are guided by the broad development challenges pursued by CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future, which includes poverty reduction, increasing food and nutritional security, and improved natural resource systems and environmental services. Each organization’s work also addresses many of the issues being tackled by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Climate Agreement, specifically those that aim to eradicate hunger, reduce poverty, provide affordable and clean energy, protect life on land, and address climate change. Combined, the two organizations are aimed to develop key innovations accelerating the impact of their extensive science and development initiatives.
The ICRAF press release clearly indicates the focus and urgency to address the climate change challenge through landscape restoration, climate adaptation, and science-based policy advice. Through landscape restoration, which is possible by adopting best practices in forestry and agroforestry, vulnerable people and communities can be made better adapted to climate change vagaries. However, for both forestry and agroforestry to become effective enough to significantly reduce climate change, it needs to break the monotony of unproductive practices and make a paradigm shift towards productive, well-managed, and measurable sustainable forest management systems.
The merger of ICRAF and CIFOR signals the urgency of devising new strategies, breaking the ineffective research to pave ways for action-oriented research, organizational restructuring to optimize limited resources for addressing the climate challenge. Climate challenge crosscuts economic, social, scientific, and developmental disciplines at local, national, and global scales. It is also one that demands concreted efforts of scientists, practitioners, politicians, institutions, NGOs, and people alike. Initiatives such as restructuring institutions, redefining research priorities, enhancing global funding for natural resource management, effective implementation, upscaling models that optimize biomass production on available lands, linking restoration efforts with markets, etc will play defining roles in tackling climate as well as other global sustainable development challenges.
Because of the CIFOR-ICFRAF merger, India should also tune itself to this paradigm shift of synergizing forestry and agroforestry. Adopting SFM and forest certification as systems to monitor changes and enhancing the effectiveness of these two green sectors under this evolving regime. The REDD+ regime under Paris Agreement should also recognize forest certification as the method for ensuring MRV owing to its obvious and tested merits. Now that all developed, as well as developing countries (including India), are mandated to contribute to climate change mitigation under their NDC targets, the potential of SFM and forest certification cannot be left untapped for meeting these targets.