A major focus of FAO’s CBED programme is to facilitate training on the development and management of small and medium forest enterprises (SMFEs) based on the Market Analysis and Development (MA&D) approach. This methodology has been applied in numerous countries around the globe to enhance the business set-up, market success and sustainability of small SMFEs. MA&D systematically engages all stakeholders in the value chain including those contributing to an enabling business and policy environment. The methodology helps to increase rural incomes and contributes to smallholders’ investment preparedness. Experience has shown that the systematic assessment of all areas of business development (environmental, social, commercial, technological and legal) leads to more resilient and sustainable businesses. Moreover, it is becoming clear now that MA&D also contributes to moving forestry agencies from a policing to a technical support role, providing guidance on community-based forest management activities, contributing to the income of rural populations. Finally, MA&D helps to raise the voice of smallholders in decision making processes.
Another approach FAO uses for supporting community based/smallholder enterprise development is to stimulate and facilitate connections in and between all levels and actors in the small scale forestry related market chain. This is accomplished through an initiative called Forest Connect (FC), dedicated to tackling the isolation of small forest enterprises. FC supports the fostering of linkages between smallholders and other forest entrepreneurs and actors at the local and international level. This is critical for experience exchange and multi-stakeholder understanding about the importance of SMFEs. FC currently involves partner institutions within 13 countries. Additionally, interested institutions and individuals globally can link together on a global networking website: http://forestconnect.ning.com. Experiences show that commercial organizations and cooperatives seem to be best positioned to further SMFE interests nationally, not in the least for their ability to reach out to the most remote geographic areas.
CBED also promotes the shaping of an overall enabling environment for SMFEs and smallholders. It does this by supporting the establishment and reinforcement of forest producer associations. Associations are essential for achieving economies of scale and for tapping into profitable markets. Additionally, they are able to develop the needed size and capacity to engage in national and international policy dialogues, ensuring inclusion of a critical perspective and voice. In this context, North-South “twinning” has recently been tested as a way of stimulating peer-to-peer learning and cooperation between private sector forest producers in developing and developed countries. One important lesson to be learned here is that individual buy-in to the overall aim, transparent and participatory governance structures and the striving for self-reliance are key factors to the success of associations.
Note: FSC and the FAO are working towards shared goals and the Smallholder Support Program benefits greatly through creating synergies with the experience developed by FAO’s Community-based Forest Enterprise Development Program. FSC plans to incorporate the Market Analysis and Development approach as a means to support the economic and environmental viability of small and community enterprises. In addition, FSC recognizes that Forest Connect is an excellent way to build connections across local service providers and organize/coordinate smallholder support across local, national and international efforts. I encourage you to join Forest Connect!