Forest Connect


To restore forests and get out of poverty, rural communities need the knowledge and connections to build flourishing enterprises. Forest landscapes are among the most isolated and marginalised areas in the world, where land, food and energy security and income generation are pressing concerns. Achieving sustainable development in the forest landscape while addressing those immediate needs is a complex challenge that requires joined-up efforts. 

International Forest Connect workshop participants in November 2016, visiting the Allpabambú plantation in the Ecuadorian Chocó, which produces bamboo for the local and international markets in cooperation with other producer associations. (Photo: Duncan Macqueen/IIED)

Forest Connect is a knowledge network for agencies that supports locally-controlled forest enterprises. It aims to reduce poverty and maintain forest landscapes by better linking such enterprises, not only to each other, but also to markets, financial and business support services and to decision makers, policymakers and policy processes.

Collective, locally-controlled forest and farm enterprises provide a democratic model of natural resource and business management that is critical for equitable and sustainable development.

Unlike many industrial-scale business models, their owners live locally and have to deal with the consequences of their actions – which incentivises social and environmental concern. But their impact is often neglected and constrained due to their isolation, high transaction costs and prohibitive policy contexts.

There needs to be a better way of distinguishing and supporting business that enable sustainable development (through more democratic local control) and those that do not. 

Forest Connect seeks to increase understanding of these issues through collaborative research and engagements at national and international levels. 'Democratising forest business: a compendium of locally controlled forest business organisations' and 'Securing the future: managing risk and building resilience of locally controlled forest businesses' provide detailed case studies of 27 democratic business models. 

Moving these enterprises towards profitability and sustainability is a challenging task. Finding the sort of institutions that can coach an enterprise through a process of business incubation is difficult. Yet this is what it takes to build sustainable forest and farm enterprises.

The Forest Connect Alliance addresses this challenge by building the capacity of a network of supporting agencies – sharing knowledge to improve service delivery and best practice.

Forest Connect catalyses practical support for locally-controlled forest enterprises through guidance material and toolkits. This includes a 'Facilitator's toolkit for supporting small forest enterprises', and the recent 'Risk management toolkit for securing forest business' reports.

Testing the risk management toolkit at Akar Tani Cooperative, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. (Photo: Gabriella Lissa/RECOFTC)

How it works

Forest Connect has an international steering committee, and is co-managed by IIED, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, The Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC), and the Earth Innovation Institute (EII).

Forest Connect is often referred to as an ad-hoc alliance because it has an open membership made up of individuals and institutions, all of which are committed to supporting locally-controlled forest enterprises and which share experiences and learn from one other, but not through a formal membership structure. Central to this way of working is the Forest Connect Ning network, a social networking platform that currently involves more than 1,000 individual members in 94 countries, and a Facebook page.

At the national level, Forest Connect comprises national institutional 'incubators'. Many of these operate virtually, because of the difficulty in sharing physical space with the dispersed businesses they are trying to support.

Some have received modest financial support from the Forest Connect international partners, but they source and use their own resources in support of locally-controlled forest enterprises. The Forest Connect alliance has had active programmes in Brazil, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guyana, Indonesia, Laos, Liberia, Mali, Mexico, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, Uganda and Vietnam. 

A community forest user group making fruit juice from Aegle marmelos - wood apples, or ‘Bel’ in Nepal (Photo: Suman Dhakal/FECOFUN)In recent years activities have moved from researching general guidance on business support practices and what to prioritise, towards more in-depth analysis of successful models and how they have managed to overcome risks and challenges. As always Forest Connect captures and tries to make available such learning in the form of publications and toolkits.

Research has been carried out with Forest Connect members in 19 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to document case studies. In each country, we try to ensure that locally-controlled forestry is recognised and supported in key policies concerning business development, sustainable forest management, legal trade, climate change and integrated land-use planning.    

At an international level, we gather evidence of what works (and what doesn't), organise international learning events and platforms to share such information, distil findings into briefing materials, and pursue investment in support of locally-controlled forestry.

Extractive reserve Ituxi in Amazonas State, Brazil - home to 18 communities who harvest Brazil nuts, manioc flour, fish, oil (Copaifera sp.) and timber. (Photo: Ana Carolina Vieira/ IFT)

What solutions require your support?

Since 2007, in-country diagnostics and successful value chain interventions have been captured and shared in five international learning events and through a modular toolkit for facilitators of support to those enterprises.

As a result, three regional chapters for Africa, Asia and Latin America have emerged to strengthen collaboration and impact at regional levels. A common strategic focus across the alliance has been developed through participatory exercises identifying key programmatic ingredients that would help maximise Forest Connect's impact in the immediate future. These include:

  • In-country practical enterprise support work providing resources, services, and links between enterprises, markets, services, investors and decision-makers
  • International research to develop, capture and share lessons in various areas of business incubation relevant to locally controlled forest enterprises
  • Guidance on best options for distinguishing locally controlled forest business in the market, through labels, certification and peer to peer guarantee systems
  • Training material and course development for in-country civil society/private sector facilitators and government extensionists based on the above
  • Strengthening a community of practice familiar with methods such as market analysis and development, the risk management toolkit, and the Green Value tool
  • Continued networking — both electronically and through periodic international learning events and regional exchanges
  • Development and sharing of models of social and environmental finance (such as impact investors, REDD+, public sector incentive mechanisms), and
  • Advocacy and communication work (films, business models, policy briefs) to address specific in-country investment and policy constraints.

Interest in supporting these programmatic ingredients should be directed in the first instance to the three international co-ordinating institutions for Forest Connect where a more detailed and country specific terms of reference can be developed with regional and national partners to suit the needs of the interested party.


ForBInc: Forest business incubation toolkit by and for Forest and Farm Producer Organisations, Anna Bolin, Duncan Macqueen, Martin Greijmans, Sophie Grouwels, Kanimang Camara, Linda Ndethiu (2018) Toolkit

Mayor seguridad en el negocio forestal: Caja de herramientas sobre gestión de riesgos, para uso de empresas de control local, Anna Bolin, Duncan Macqueen, Martin Greijmans, Shoana Humphries, Juan José Ochaeta Castellanos (2016), IIED Report

Securing the future: managing risk and building resilience of locally controlled forest businesses, Anna Bolin, Duncan Macqueen (2016), IIED Report

Democratising forest business: a compendium of locally controlled forest business organisations, Duncan Macqueen, Anna Bolin, Martin Greijmans (2015), IIED Report

Prioritising support for locally controlled forest enterprises, Duncan Macqueen, Emmanuelle Andaya, Samuêl Begaa, Mario Bringas, Martin Greijmans, Tony Hill, Shoana Humphries, Barthelemy Kabore, Thibault Ledecq, Tabin Lissendja, Alphonse Maindo, Amalia Maling, David McGrath, Simon Milledge, Femy Pinto, Nguyen Quang Tan (2014), IIED Report

Supporting small forest enterprises – A facilitator’s toolkit. Pocket guidance not rocket science!, Duncan Macqueen (ed.) Leena Chakrabarti, Shambhu Dangal, Pierre du Plessis, Alison Griffith, Sophie Grouwels, Sushil Gyawali, Jennifer Heney, Daphne Hewitt, Yarri Kamara, Prakash Katwal, Rohit Magotra, Shiva Shankar Pandey, Nabaraj Panta, Bhishma Sube, Sony Bar (2012), IIED Report

Independent review of Forest Connect, Andy Inglis (2013), IIED Report

Forest Connect: reducing poverty by ending isolation, Duncan Macqueen (2013), IIED Reflect and Act

Proceedings of international workshops

Risk management for locally controlled forest business - securing the future: Proceedings of the fifth international Forest Connect workshop, Anna Bolin, Elaine Harty, Duncan Macqueen (2017), IIED

Organisation for locally controlled forest business – learning from success: Proceedings of the fourth international Forest Connect workshop, Duncan Macqueen, Geraldine Warren, Anna Bolin (2015), IIED

Prioritising scarce resources for facilitated support of small forest and on-farm tree enterprises: Proceedings of the third international Forest Connect workshop, Duncan Macqueen, Leianne Rolington, editors (2013), IIED

Testing and enriching guidance modules for the 'facilitation of support for small and medium forest enterprises' second workshop report, Duncan Macqueen, Leianne Rolington (2011), IIED

Developing a toolkit for facilitation of support for small forest enterprises: Workshop report – Forest Connect, 2-4 July 2008, Duncan Macqueen and Elaine Morrison, editors (2008), IIED

Additional resources

Securing forest business: a risk management toolkit for locally controlled forest business, Anna Bolin, Duncan Macqueen, Martin Greijmans, Shoana Humphries, Juan José Ochaeta Castellanos (2016), IIED Toolkit

Democratic forest business models: a harder but more rewarding path, Duncan Macqueen, Anna Bolin, Geraldine Warren (2015), IIED Briefing Paper


This work is currently funded by the Forest and Farm Facility of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).



Forest & Farm Facility (FFF) hosted by the FAO

The Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC)

Earth Innovation Institute


Brazil: Instituto Floresta Tropical (IFT)
Burkina Faso: TreeAid

Costa Rica: Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE)
DRC: Tropenbos International DRC

Ecuador: PlanJunto, Somos del Sur
Ethiopia: Farm Africa
Ghana: Tropenbos International Ghana, Organisation for Indigenous Initiatives and Sustainability Ghana (ORGIIS)
Guatemala: Utz Che
Mexico: Reforestamos Mexico
Myanmar: Pyoe Pin
Nepal: Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bioresources (ANSAB)
South East Asia (Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines Thailand, Vietnam): The Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC), WWF Mekong Regional programme office, Non Timber Forest Products and Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP)

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