October 2nd, 2019, Curitiba, I gave a keynote speech at the 25th IUFRO World Congress. For the first time ever Latin America hosted a World Congress of IUFRO, one of the oldest network of international forest scientists, established in 1892.
Thank you Chair. Thank you Congress Organising Committee, IUFRO and the hosting institutes.
Distinguished delegates, I am dedicating my talk to forest guardians and to diversity. My speech will take examples from my work on forest and indigenous communities across globe and it will be provocative -
I will provoke you by asking, "Are we doing research and publishing science for academic career or for helping forest-dwelling communities? How contrarian narratives are gaining strong foothold over science through social media? Are we communicating science to the right audience?"
15 years ago (2004 in Brazil), one early morning I was travelling with Brazil Nut gatherers, known as castañeros. Before getting out of my jeep one of the castañeros handed me a helmet. They indicated me to wear when we get inside the forest. I declined thinking they wanted me to climb the tree to harvest Brazil Nuts. Little did I know that the Brazil Nut tree is one of the tallest trees on the earth!
The fruits fall at an immense velocity and you collect it from the ground making it a risky business for human heads. Instinctively, I had put on the helmet just like this girl child (Refer PPT #4).
The story of this photo, as told by the photographer, that to get fair trade certificate, the company have to pay better wages to migrant families, like her parents, so that the children like her can go to school instead of risking their life under the Brazil Nut trees.
(Refer PPT #4) This photo is one of the contributions of an open access e-book titled, ‘Landscaping Actually’, which was launched at IUFRO2014 Congress.
Idea to do this photo-story came up when I had to do a survey of how people understand forest from a gender perspective. Instead of ASKING questions, I decided to LISTEN. We received some 200 beautiful photos with stories in 18 languages. I think this quote aptly summarises
‘All around us people are telling us stories. We just don’t listen to them.’
I paraphrased it from one of my distant paternal great-great-grandfather, Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, a prominent scientist. In 1901, for the first time ever, Bose demonstrated that plants are like any other life form and are sensitive to environmental factors such as fire or light.
Today, I am going to demonstrate how simplifying science for better communication matters. In the next 15 min: I will first share trends in proliferation of forests for people science; second, how different stakeholders perceive it; and lastly, solutions for better forest science communication.
My maternal grandfather was a Santhal adivasi from West Bengal. He passed away the year India got Independence, but without getting recognition of his traditional forest rights. Today, after 73 years of India’s Independence, the fate of 2 million indigenous people’s forest rights continues to be at stake. Next month, the Supreme Court hearing will decide whether many of these 2 million forest communities, including my grandfather’s tribe, will be evicted from their ancestral forestland.
I am here today because my mother lost her indigenous identity.
Not everyone would like to lose his or her identity due to deforestation, displacement or development. We have enough empirical evidences to prove that indigenous peoples and local communities are the best forest guardians. We now need to communicate and communicate in a simple way.
Let me begin the first part by asking what is science?
Is it different from indigenous knowledge that exists in forms of stories, folklores, or arts? The indigenous communities in Brazil and Paraguay, for example, have been using Stevia long before scientists, economists and private industries made it a commercially successful plant. The stories of communities managing medicinal plants and forest foods need to be acknowledged as indigenous knowledge. Over the centuries our ancestors have been looking for wisdom i.e. craft of communicating knowledge with experience, while modern science seems to focus on knowledge – facts and information. We cannot do one without the other.
Communication is supposed to facilitate the recognition of others, enable social relations and hopefully what Paulo Freire called ‘the practice of freedom’.
Every second, on average, around 6,000 tweets are tweeted on Twitter, which corresponds to 350,000 tweets per min. More information means more people are voicing their opinions and expressing their belongingness. It is either-or
Indigenous Peoples vs. Wildlife Conservation vs. Tourism vs. Commercial Plantations vs. Loss of Biodiversity
In brief, commercialisation of communication gave us two words: FACT vs. FAKE.
About 2,870,000 English language scientific publications exist on topic ‘forests for people’. 1,660,000 were published between 1989-2019 and 17,000 in first six months of 2019. The number differed for different languages Bahasa Indonesia, Spanish, Portuguese and French. Though it is a challenging task to have scientific publications in all indigenous languages, it is equally rare to see linguistic cross-references of research.
These 2 million research papers shows the significance of forests for people
In this complexity of categorization of issues I move to the second part to share stakeholders’ perceptions about fact vs. fake forest communication.
In the last two decades collective governance have seen shifts from social forestry, forest conservation, community forest management, REDD+, to latest sustainable landscape restoration bringing new forms of partnerships and stakeholders. Due to time limit I will share only five stakeholder’s perception.
Anyone who watched Decoding Bill Gates in Netflix knows that his inspiration to do Philanthropy was from one New York Times article. Media, especially, new tech social media being free, easy to read in 30 seconds in layman language and accessible unlike scientific journals is changing the way we used to communicate. Media often is corporate owned so the choice to portray forest and people issue can cause damage by focusing only on the problems rather than solutions. On the other hand, local community media often propose solutions for example indigenous forest fire management that is beneficial in forest protection or that extractive industries need free, prior informed consent from the indigenous communities.
My second stakeholder is the one we talk about all the time, policy makers. As a practitioner, think-tank, researcher or student we aim our work helps in better policy implementation. Do our leaders listen to scientists? Interviews with forest policy makers shows none of them read scientific articles and 90% of them rely on Twitter feed particularly those with trending #hashtags.
A former environment minister had mentioned that oil palm plantation is the solution to promote settled farming and to gain carbon credit. Twitter was the main source of information for his knowledge. There are so many tweets that ‘plantations are not forests’ or ‘tree-planting to carbon offsets is no cure all’ – yet, the tweet that oil palm is eco-friendly plant gets picked-up by policy makers. Basically, they listen to what they want to hear and when they want to hear!
This brings to my next stakeholder – Philanthropists. In 1999, I worked briefly with Tata Trust managing grants and was happy to see that civil societies benefitted from grants to promote community forestry.
Today, we see many individual philanthropists and corporates supporting sustainable development. It raises concerns: first, the danger of concentrated wealth with 30 billionaires that is using assets of 3 billion poor, and second they hold influencing power to fund without consulting community they serve. Last year I interviewed one such individual philanthropist supporting in Africa and South Asia. According to him, this scientific paper in Nature – global tree cover has increased – led him to shift his funding focus from collective forest tenure towards housing rights. It was just one paper to change the course of forest fund.
Social movement is the most powerful communication tool that we see indigenous communities across globe have been using in particular to protect environmental defenders. Few years ago I was working in Colombia’s Cauca region and was unable to complete my research on forest tenure and agroforestry because it is a region, you may know famous for armed conflicts in indigenous forest reserves. A Human Rights activist had mentioned that categorization of protesters as criminals or anti-national has become a big hurdle for indigenous peoples to voice their opinion, talk about forest science and had cost lives of environmental defenders. The social movements and processes are local communities’ way of communicating wisdom to hold dialogue against deforestation, dispossession and displacements.
Instead of picking up private sector as the fifth stakeholder, I will talk about women and diversity. The IUFRO Congresses are the best indicator that women in forestry have been increasingly gaining international recognition. Yesterday, Alexander Buck, Executive Director of IUFRO, had mentioned to me that approximately 40% of registered participants are women. We need to applaud IUFRO because it is a great achievement to have women sharing their scientific work. Yesterday, I co-chaired a sub-plenary session with my colleague from Embrapa, here in this same venue, the Expo Unimed main theatre, on the topic 'Women and Forestry in the tropics' and also we had dozen of presentation in our technical and poster sessions.
The notion of women’s equality is misunderstood. Women are agents of change for sure, but to categorise them as a homogenous entity is a miscommunication. Women have hierarchy and categories such as power, colour, age, citizenship, education, property, or leadership matters. This often fails to get reflected in forest science. As a step forward for communicating forestry, women and diversity is the key.
The third and final part of my talk is identifying communication solutions
I talked about how forest science communication is susceptible to manipulation and misunderstanding. We cannot expect scientists to exert more authority in public discourse or hope that media houses would regulate disproportionate attention to contrarians.
I believe in one of the principle ways in which we can overcome the communication challenges which is by bridging the contemporary science with the wisdom of traditional forest communities. The scientific community need to practice bottom-up approach in setting research agenda, being transparent with community about research grants, involve rural and indigenous communities to be part of science. I know that from the perspective of science you don’t matter, but what matters is data and method.
Wisdom, on the other spectrum, encapsulates caring, experience and an insightfulness on diverse relationships with nature that is beyond scientific discourse analysis. What also matters is individual and collective experience. The forest is experienced differently by someone who lives inside the forests from those who go there to study it or say the experience of indigenous women against a women owner of forest business.
I cannot think of any better efficient vehicle than IUFRO given that its members represent multi-stakeholders for facilitating this two-way communication dialogue between science and indigenous wisdom.
Three years ago, I decided to make films to document indigenous peoples way of life.
For 22 months, I travelled all over India filming 28 linguistically and ethnically diverse indigenous forest-dwelling communities.
I will share trailer of one of my films. Screen the film trailer Vaña Vaasiyon
All my films are without any script or voiceover. This is because we need to hear the voices of the real protagonists, in their own indigenous languages, and tell stories the way they want to narrate.
Mr. Chair, I am going to conclude that forest people are not voiceless. They need space to communicate their wisdom and our help to amplify their voice in media.
Thank you all for your kind attention.
Prof. Hånell emphasised that, “Reporting our results in scientific journals only is not enough. We, forest scientists, must learn how to inform and bring our findings to ordinary citizen. If not, forest are not for people and without support from public we will lose our significance.”
Prof. Björn Hånell, IUFRO Vice President (2014-2019) and Prof. of Silviculture at SLU, Umeå, Sweden was the Chair of this 'Forests for People' theme plenary session.
Purabi Bose is IUFRO's incoming Deputy Coordinator of division 6 Social Aspects of Forests and Forestry, which is led by Prof. Cecil Konijnendijk van den Bosch, and she is also Coordinator of 6:08:01 Gender Research in Forestry (2019-2024)
Date: Oct 2, 2019 from 11:00 to 12:00 noon.
Co-panellist: Maria Chiara, Urban Forests.
Location: Main theatre, Expo Unimed, Curitiba, Brazil
For further details kindly visit https://iufro2019.com/guest-speakers/
Purabi Bose, Ph.D.
Passionate about nature and social policy, Ms. Bose is a mountaineer/ trekker, drummer, polyglot (only ten languages), leads a less materialistic lifestyle and loves traditional cooking & feeding.
She is perseverant, and values her freedom of being an independent woman.
Ms. Bose is a versatile social scientist and has aptitude for creative communications.
A 'people person', her academic background is in social anthropology, environmental science, food science and human development.
You might be interested to read her reviews on various cultural events at Culture Call