Communicating in safe spaces, Focali’s second annual meeting

Word-cloud from the Focali annual meeting 2020 outlining the thematic areas of the participants

Communicating in safe spaces, Focali’s second annual meeting

On the 4-5th of November, in the midst of the US elections, the Focali network came together for its second annual meeting, this time entirely online, to turn our collective minds to the multifaceted challenges of forests, climate, and livelihoods. The online format offered new occasions for international participation and brought together attendees ranging from Gothenburg to Vietnam. The energy was palpable despite the potentially alienating online format, and culminated in an optimistic view of the Focali network, and the role it might grow to play in fostering the working relationships of researchers, policymakers, private interests, and local stakeholders.

2020: The Year of the Converging Crises

The shared feeling of crisis is undeniable this year, with the global pandemic of a zoonotic disease setting the stage for our daily experience, with risks of pushing  tens of millions of people into extreme poverty and an additional 132 million people into chronic hunger by the end of the year, all while climate change is still ongoing and deforestation raging. Keynote speaker Grace Wong, researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Center, kicked off the meeting by shedding light on how COVID-19 has exposed the inequalities and fragility of our social-ecological systems. Wong explored the underutilized potential of local labour and capital as a source of key information. The pandemic has exposed the unsustainability of development pathways, and the imminent need to address the inequitable power structures that reinforce them.

Torsten Krause, researcher at Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS) and Denise Margaret Matias, Research scientist at ISOE and Associate of NTFP-EP Asia, echoed Wong and pointed to lessons to be learned from indigenous traditions when grappling with the establishment of sustainable environmental management systems. The session, and the following group discussions, made explicit the call for intentional multidisciplinary and multisectoral collaborations, which have a higher likelihood of success and greater impact. The challenges faced by the management of forests, climate, and livelihoods  are undeniably entangled; never clearly defined, nor divided, by disciplines. 

Communicating complexity as a source of inspiration

Entangled challenges and wicked problems calls for communication efforts that manages to portray the complexity of the systems. The role of trees and forests for the climate is for example not as climate saviours or destructors of ecosystem services. They are neither nor, and both at the same time, and the truth is that it depends. In this session we were invited to release our stronghold on knowability and acknowledge the inviting drama of the debating process.

Stephen Woroniecki, Post-doctoral Researcher at Tema-Environmental Change, Linköping University and Associate of the Nature-based Solutions initiative at Oxford University, solicited us into conversation with interdisciplinary perspectives, as a source of productive creativity enabling the navigation of complex issues, both in the field and in the reporting process. Lan Wang Erlandsson, researcher at Stockholm Resilience Centre, displayed how research results can fall prey to a long chain of communication, where the final product may misportray the actual finding. She therefore emphasized the importance of carefully crafting press releases, as a method of controlling the narrative.

We also heard the other side of the paper through Malavika Vyawahare, science journalist at the independent news outlet Mongabay, who enlightened us to the pressures and constraints faced by reporters in conveying complex results. She specifically called on us to use the complexity of the topic as a helpful source of reader engagement. The consumption of media has never been higher, and the competition for the readers’ attention has never been greater. While an easily digestible method is simple to communicate and understand, it might not be the most inspiring.

 “The super-year for nature and people” and openings for research-policy dialogues

We had high hopes for the year 2020, the expectations of which had to be drastically adjusted. However, Jan Wärnbäck, Sida’s Research Policy Specialist for Environment and Climate, showed us how the work at Sida and the international biodiversity negotiations is progressing, although altered in approach. The organization has recently announced that their work ahead will  have a greater focus on biodiversity and ecosystems, in response to the emerging research on global biodiversity losses. Sida, as the Swedish government’s international development cooperation agency, has the central mission of global poverty reduction, and the importance of biodiversity in this work is inextricable.


Anton Andersson at Focali Annual Meeting 2020

Anton Andersson at Focali Annual Meeting 2020


Anton Andersson, the Swedish Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation’s Forest Policy Advisor, enlightened us of what we can expect to see coming from the EU in the upcoming year as a new legislation that will be proposed with the aim to minimize the risk of deforestation and forest degradation associated with products placed on the EU marked. While there is an information shroud which must be pieced through, the aim to set a global standard of sustainable growth across value chains is clear. Anton highlighted the challenges involved in this ambitious agenda, such as defining and tracing what a deforestation free value chain really is. It is ambitious work, and requires a massive amount of cooperation to visualize, and then implement. This social transformation would work towards a future that removes deforestation practices and has no-net emissions by the year 2050. From the legislators’ point of view there is also a shift in focus, that from protection to one of sustainability. This leaves room for alternative land uses and altered systems of management that can still be productive. The concern is the ability to certify these processes, as the measurability of sustainability is a difficult standard to perceive. Nevertheless, this is the approach being implemented towards a new growth strategy addressed within the European Green Deal.

Diversity of fields and disciplines in thematic Speed-talks

The annual meeting also invited the Focali members and partners to give brief overviews on their ongoing work through speed-talks. The sessions were divided thematically in an effort to synthesize the diversity of fields and disciplines within the network, and ran throughout the entire annual meeting. Session I tackled tropical deforestation – causes, implications and needed measures, which recognized the importance and restorative potential of forests. Martin Persson, Associate Professor at Chalmers University of Technology, introduced the policymaker side of tropical forest restoration practices. He demonstrated that soft-policy instruments, which propose informative or cooperative measures, while being more feasible lack the theories of change required of long-term reforestation goals.

Session II discussed land-us, livelihoods, and rights, bringing to the forum the issue of justice, explored through the rights of landowners, local laborers, indigenous populations. The speakers reminded us of the impact development work has on local landscapes and people who live there. Linda Engström, Researcher and Senior environment policy advisor with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences SLU, discussed the outcomes of cancelled research projects and pointed us to the consequences such as population displacement without resolution.

Harry Fischer


Finally, session III placed people at the centre of restoration and sustainable landscape-management, explored through five different presentations and perspectives. At the centre of each talk was the need to account for the livelihoods of the local people and integrating a sustainable labour market that supports forest restoration and management, without which there can be no hope of a sustainable solution.

Call for integrated research

Throughout the conference there was a consistent call to improve research integration into the landscape of local population and the source of their livelihoods. In order to build back better from the pandemic and tackle the climate crisis, we need to recognize the researcher’s power and the legitimacy of local stakeholders. The importance of working with the private sector was also emphasised, not only as an ethical consideration, but as a contributor to the feasibility and legitimacy of any project.

Ecological system maintenance may be essential, but without a viable implementation against livelihood and food insecurity, there is little hope of safeguarding ecosystems against the pressing human need. But there is optimism about the researcher’s role as capacity-builders for local communities, through which profound research questions can be divined and active measures can be implemented with longevity.


Reporting by Jess Haynie-Lavelle, Focali intern 2020 during her master studies in Global Health at Gothenburg University.

Presentations from the annual meeting:

Find most of the presentations from the meeting via the links in the list below. See the full program booklet here with short-abstracts about all the presentations.

Grace Wong, Researcher, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University: Politics, power and precarity in changing forests: Challenges for research

Torsten Krause,  Associate Senior Lecturer, Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies - Traditional ecological knowledge and hunting of forest fauna, why does it matter for the SDGs? Connecting the dots

Denise Margaret Matias, Research Scientist, Institute for Social-Ecological Research (ISOE) & Associate, Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP) Asia: Forest-dependent peoples and wildlife consumption bans

Lan Wang Erlandsson, Researcher, Stockholm Resilience Centre: Large parts of Amazon rainforest lose resilience under climate change

Martin Persson, Associate Professor, Chalmers University of Technology: Reducing commodity-driven tropical deforestation -  Political feasibility and ‘theories of change’ for EU policy options

Paula Andre Sánchez García, Master Student, Stockholm Resilience Centre: Understanding Land Speculation as a driver of deforestation in the Northern Colombian Amazon

Minda Holm, Research Assistant, Stockholm Resilience Centre: Indigenous rights, claims and contestations in the changing forest-agriculture landscapes in South-East Asia – A literature review

Jan Wärnbäck, Senior Policy Specialist Environment and Climate, Sida:  A new Global Biodiversity Framework and a Development Co-operation with increased focus on Biodiversity and Ecosystems.

Ylva Nyberg, Researcher, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences SLU: Use, effectiveness and disadvantages of agroforestry – Kenyan case

Lila Nath Sharma, Researcher, ForestAction Nepal: A framework for ecologically informed invasive species management and forest restoration

Harry Fischer, Associate Senior Lecturer, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences SLU: Effects of afforestation on rural livelihoods and land cover: Evidence from 40 years’ tree plantations in northern India

Dil Bahadur Khatri, Executive Director, South Asia Institute of Advanced Studies and Post-Doc Researcher Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences SLU: Lessons from research-policy-practice lab methodology in the local water management sector in Himalayas

Gert Nyberg, SLU, Presentation on the new Formas project Drylands Transform: Pathways and challenges towards a social-ecological transformation of landscapes, livestock and livelihoods.

Contested and polarized issues - how to communicate complexity? Including PPT by Lan Wang Erlandsson, Researcher, Stockholm Resilience Centre and Malavika Vyawahare, Staff reporter Mongabay based in La Reunión

Focali annual meeting 2022 – separate event webpage

It is once again time for Focali members, partners, and friends in our wider community to meet around current interlinked forest, climate and livelihood challenges. The Focali annual meeting, to be he ...

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