Forests ecosystems have great significance for people around the world as a place to live, a source of livelihoods and for the many ecosystem services derived from forests. Paul van Gardingen's research on forests, forest management and poverty reduction has involved a range of projects and approaches covering many of the key forested areas in the developing world. From the early 1990's, the SYMFOR project developed models of forest management, first in Indonesia, then in Brazil and Guyana. In all of these countries, an important aspect of the approach was working in partnership with local researchers, forest managers and development projects (funded by DFID and the European Commission).
The important contribution of the SYMFOR project was to synthesise existing (complex) ecological research and then link this with an understanding of the human dimension and economics of forest management to provide policy-makers and forest managers with simple summaries that were designed to meet their needs. Essentially, this allowed people to explore the implications of the decisions they could make and to decide between a range of possible scenarios for the future. This included the option of interactive approaches where policy makers or managers could see how the forests and timber yields would change depending on their actions. This allowed people to explore the effectiveness of existing policy and to consider options for alternatives that might be more effective. Finally, in addition to the interactive approaches, the work was complemented by rigorous analytical approaches with results published in the peer-reviewed literature.
The role of forests in the alleviation of poverty has been explored in a series of projects. Working with civil society groups in Indonesia, the SYMFOR project brought together a range of stakeholders to consider how forests contribute to the lives of the poor. More recent work has considered the wider contribution that forests make to human well being, including the provision of key ecosystem services, including contributing to the design of the ESPA Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation Programme.
During 2009, work in Malawi has started to consider the contribution that trees and forests make to local livelihoods. This included consideration of opportunities for local people that might be derived through the development of carbon markets. The initial results from three MSc studies suggest that trees and forest resources make important contributions to household incomes, but that population pressure and increasing levels of food insecurity meant that forests were under pressure, especially through the production of charcoal for sale in towns and cities.
van Gardingen, P.R., McLeish, M.J., Phillips, P.D., Fadilah, D., Tyrie, G. and Yasman, I. (2003). Financial and ecological analysis of management options for logged-over Dipterocarp forests in Indonesian Borneo. Forest Ecology and Management, 183: 1-29.
van Gardingen, P.R., Valle, D. and Thompson, I. (2006). Evaluation of yield regulation options for primary forest in Tapajos National Forest, Brazil. Forest Ecology and Management, 231: 184-195.