We are preparing for social distancing measures to be widespread and for strong limits on travel until at least June 2020 and possibly as long as a year. This has required some re-strategizing on how we’ll do our work.
On the ground
Some field research and project implementation will be unavoidably delayed in order to keep our partners safe. But we expect in the long-term to be able to complete planned work successfully.
In places where Forest Trends’ operating model is to facilitate investments in nature and help design projects, we’ll be very active during this time. We’ll continue to develop our pipeline, ensuring that projects are ready to go when the time comes. We’ll also be shifting resources away from approaches that require travel and in-person meetings toward R&D and alternative outreach.
We’re getting creative in how we support our partners and communities. Since we can’t provide technical support in-person right now, we’re exploring podcasts, CNN-style interviews with experts, live virtual Q&As, and good old-fashioned webinars (attendance is way up!). The WhatsApp messaging app has become an important tool to stay connected with indigenous leaders in South America. We are even exploring using WhatsApp to coordinate seed collection across communities for some upcoming agroforestry work in Brazil – interesting times!
We’re also doing what we can to keep up the flow of information on how to stay safe. Some indigenous tribes/villages have completely closed to the outside world, out of concerns that they are more vulnerable to the virus and local health assistance is often precarious. We recently distributed official COVID-19 protection guidance from the Special Secretary of Indigenous Health in Brazil to our indigenous partners.
We’re currently working in Peru to develop a protocol for field visits to avoid exposing vulnerable, isolated communities to the virus. We’ll be looking for ways to share this protocol with our partners and other organizations when it’s ready so that others can use it.
Influencing policy and regulation
In some areas, government officials are working from home and able to continue collaborating with us. Other officials and agencies are fully occupied with the COVID-19 emergency and probably will be for quite some time.
We need to be especially flexible and able to move quickly when government partners are ready to re-engage. We’re already hearing of government interest in projects that can help keep jobs and economies afloat. It will be important to ensure that “green” projects and jobs are on the table and shovel-ready.
This will also be true for our work on policy: our past experience has been that it’s important to keep up momentum even during periods when official engagement is low (for example, due to a hostile political situation). When windows of opportunity do open, we will be ready.
Trade and market analysis
We’re redoubling our efforts to deliver trade and market analysis on timber, agricultural commodities, carbon, and climate finance. Providing robust information for decision-makers is even more important during this very fluid time.
Trade data analysis, so important for our work on illegal deforestation, may be difficult this year, since impacts of COVID-19 will overwhelm any global trade trends. We’ll monitor this situation as it develops. But we’re moving ahead with planned work on carbon markets benchmarking, and hope to provide some important insights soon on coronavirus impacts on carbon markets and climate action.