More than a billion people, many of them the world’s poorest, rely on forests and trees for their livelihoods. About a third of the world’s remaining intact forest landscapes are on Indigenous lands.

Assistant professor Reem Hajjar’s research examines how to support and create resilient, equitable forest-dependent communities and sustainable ecosystems.

“Particularly on Indigenous lands and lands that have been managed by local communities for generations, figuring out how we can best devise policies, practices, and interventions that respect local rights and values is crucial. Our goal should be to provide opportunities that support and empower local visions of development while also sustainably managing forests and conserving forest ecosystems that provide us all with critical services,” Hajjar says.

Hajjar’s research is at the nexus of conservation and development.

“I ask questions like, which mechanisms are best suited to ensure that we can use forests as sustainable pathways out of poverty and towards broader prosperity and a more resilient future? What are the livelihood and landscape impacts of various environmental policies, and how might that change related to who manages the forest? How do power dynamics affect governance mechanisms and equity in outcomes?”

Her research primarily focuses on low- and middle-income countries, but she’s starting to apply some of these questions in the western United States.

In 2020, Hajjar was a contributing member of the Global Forest Expert Panel (GFEP) on Forests and Poverty, organized by the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations (IUFRO). The panel synthesized existing knowledge related to forests, trees and eradicating poverty, producing the Forests and Poverty Global Assessment.

“The assessment comprehensively pulls together research on forest-poverty dynamics and the contextual factors that shape them, the tools we have for alleviating poverty, and how we see these dynamics being affected by global forces of change,” Hajjar says.

Hajjar served as coordinating lead author for a chapter within the assessment that identified all the forest-related “levers,” like policies, programs and interventions, that could conceivably alleviate poverty. She led a team of authors that then evaluated the available evidence for the effect that each lever has on reducing poverty.

“Essentially, this chapter asks, what has worked to alleviate poverty in forests and tree-based systems? How strong is the evidence for that?” Hajjar explains.

Hajjar says the potential impact of the assessment is substantial. It synthesizes the current understanding of how forests and tree-based systems can contribute to poverty eradication – the first of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDG1). The work also uncovers knowledge gaps where more research is needed and includes several policy recommendations to help inform decision-makers as they navigate potential synergies and trade-offs concerning forests and poverty alleviation.

“IUFRO uses these kinds of reports to get information to policy-makers,” Hajjar says. “Before COVID-19, this report was supposed to be presented at the 2020 UN General Assembly. That didn’t happen, but IUFRO has set up several webinars and created shorter ‘implications for policy-makers’ documents to ensure that the information gets into the right hands.”

Hajjar says it’s necessary to figure out what just governance of natural resources looks like so that forests can help to alleviate poverty in an equitable way and support community resilience. “Moving forward, just outcomes need to be a part of how we define sustainability in social-ecological systems.” 

A version of this story appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry.

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