The EU and other countries are developing measures aimed at curbing deforestation and forest degradation driven by the expansion of agricultural land used to produce commodities such as beef, cocoa, coffee, palm oil, soy and wood. In addition, consumers increasingly want to know that goods and products they buy are produced without harming people or the environment. But how can we ensure legal and sustainable value chains that unleash local wellbeing and protect forest and biodiversity without excluding smallholders? The answer may be in the mixing of six ingredients to whip up successful multistakeholder partnerships that can support legal and sustainable supply chains of forest-risk commodities.
Partnerships at the heart of the EU REDD Facility
Partnerships are at the heart of what we do at the EU REDD Facility. We work collaboratively with a broad range of stakeholders in the public and private sectors to develop innovative solutions and approaches. Our aim is to improve land-use governance and reduce pressures on forests in commodity-producing countries across Africa, Asia and South America.
Partnerships were a recurring theme at the recent 15th World Forestry Congress, which took place from 2 to 6 May 2022 in Seoul, Republic of Korea. The Congress concluded with the adoption of the Seoul Forest Declaration, which outlines six priority actions. The first of these actions is a call for sharing and integrating “the responsibility over forests […] across institutions, sectors and stakeholders in order to achieve a sustainable future”, given that “forests transcend political, social and environmental boundaries and are vital for biodiversity and the carbon, water and energy cycles at a planetary scale.”
During the Congress, together with RECOFTC, we organised a side-event that focused on ‘forests without boundaries.’ Titled “Innovative partnerships to promote legal and sustainable forest-risk commodities,” the side-event featured five panellists of diverse backgrounds. They explored key success factors and lessons learnt from various multistakeholder partnerships aimed at supporting legal and sustainable supply chains of forest-risk commodities. The event also built on the EU REDD Facility’s experience, including its Transparency Pathway, which charts six pragmatic steps to make collaboration between public and private supply chain actors more impactful and inclusive, while reducing costs and gaining positive visibility in global commodity markets.
The six ingredients
The event identified the following six ingredients to concoct successful partnerships to promote legal and sustainable supply chains of forest-risk commodities.
1. Dig in with a demand-driven dialogue
Regardless of the level and scope of the partnerships, they must be built upon an open, equal and fair dialogue. The actors enter the dialogue willingly as they see the benefits they can draw from being part of such partnerships. Chay Senkhammoungkhoun, Project Field Coordinator at RECOFTC, often facilitates village-level dialogues on land and commodity governance between local communities and the private sector in Lao PDR. He noted that because actors have different needs and interests, they must be ready to “give” and “take” during the negotiations.
2. Trust: the main ingredient
All panellists highlighted the importance of trust as the main ingredient of a successful partnership. Such trust is built upon a shared understanding among actors of the partnership’s objectives and vision.
Further, partnerships require a clear structure, in which each actor is aware of its role and responsibility. As an example, Karina Barrera, Undersecretary of Climate Change, Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition of Ecuador, cited the ProAmazonia programme in Ecuador. She explained how the government can demonstrate leadership by coordinating the planning, implementation and monitoring of sustainable supply-chain programmes at various governance levels.
Another trust enhancer is transparency in communication with partners about expectations and actions. Existing information and transparency instruments in the context of the supply chains of forest-risk commodities, such as Trase, can create a more efficient partnership.
3. An inclusive and collaborative kitchen
All panellists agreed that the process should not exclude any important stakeholder group, and that often underrepresented groups, such as smallholders, indigenous peoples, local communities, and women, must be meaningfully involved in the partnership. However, an inclusive partnership requires some legwork.
Doreen Asumang-Yeboah, Natural Resource Governance Practitioner from Ghana, has been active in the Ghanaian civil society space for over a decade. She reminded the audience that stakeholder mapping is crucial. Stakeholder groups, such as the private sector or local communities, are composed of people with different aspirations. Understanding these nuances ─and the societal context─ is key to ensure true inclusiveness.
Further, additional support to ensure effective participation of underrepresented groups might be needed, for example in the form of capacity building. Sufficient funding for this is thus important.
4. A palatable environment
Incentives are key to sustain the partnership in the long run. Tran Quynh Chi, Regional Director Asia Landscape, IDH, who has the experience of developing multistakeholder partnerships in the agricultural sector in various landscapes and jurisdictions throughout Asia, highlighted the importance of finding a business case for each of the involved stakeholders. Economic and trade incentives are especially useful to make partnerships palatable to many actors across the commodity supply chains, in both producing and consuming countries.
All types of incentives need to be clarified and optimised over time as part of creating and strengthening enabling environments. As noted by Karina Barrera from Ecuador, the government plays an important role. For example, at the subnational level, the government can coordinate jurisdictional deforestation-free programme involving all partners. The coordination includes connecting producers with potential buyers or off-takers and with the financial sector or donors. Further, the government at various levels provides the regulatory and institutional frameworks, in addition to promoting the progress achieved.
5. Don’t start from scratch
Mathis Freytag, Advisor, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), emphasised that there is no need to reinvent the wheel when a new partnership is developed. For example, an existing multistakeholder platform might be repurposed to meet new partnership objectives, especially if it works well and includes all key actors. For many of these actors, continuing and building upon what works is preferable, as it is more efficient and cost-effective.
At the very least, new partnerships must leverage success recipes from past and existing partnerships. In the context of international partnerships to promote deforestation-free supply chains, lessons learnt from the timber sector, especially from the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) processes of the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT), can inform potential partnerships focusing on other forest-risk commodities.
6. A pinch of patience
All panellists underscored that partnerships are not built overnight. Building trust and effective partnerships that don’t go stale takes a lot of time, patience and hard work. All partners must therefore be aware of the various limitations when setting up a partnership and adjust their expectations accordingly. Thus, the timeline must be realistically developed starting from the planning stage.
As we enter our second decade, we at the EU REDD Facility continue to mix and blend these six ingredients of successful partnerships. They form part of the recipe for innovative and collaborative approaches and solutions to advance our partner countries’ forest and land-use governance and development goals. We invite all interested partners to exchange further ideas on multistakeholder partnerships to support legal and sustainable supply chains of forest-risk commodities.