How to prevent the next pandemic

When the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic hit, CIFOR-ICRAF was in a unique position to respond. For over 20 years, our wild meat experts have researched the implications of interactions between wild animals and humans in forested landscapes – including zoonotic diseases – and recently collaborated with the Convention on Biological Diversity on joint guidelines for a sustainable wild meat sector.

Amid the sudden cries to ban wet markets and the harvesting, trade and consumption of wild meat worldwide, CIFOR-ICRAF scientists stepped up with evidence in hand. In March 2020 they published a Forests News editorial demonstrating how such a ban would put millions of communities who have no other source of affordable protein – many of them Indigenous Peoples – at risk of malnutrition.

“Unsustainable harvesting of wild meat is a major driver of biodiversity loss, but the real issue lies with massive rural–urban migration. As people bring their taste for wild game to the city, they create a demand that fuels widespread illegal hunting, threatening to leave behind ‘empty forests’,” explained Robert Nasi, Managing Director of CIFOR-ICRAF.

Through the Sustainable Wildlife Management programme, CIFOR and partners are developing models to conserve wildlife while improving the food security of people who rely on wild meat for nutrition. And in partnership with Oxford University and the Wildlife Conservation Society, scientists are assessing the pandemic’s influence on perceptions around wild meat consumption and wildlife management policies.

In April, experts held a webinar to discuss what COVID-19 means for wild meat, and in June Dr Nasi was invited to serve as a panellist at a briefing to US congressional staff and Washington-based agencies organized by the International Conservation Caucus Foundation. He shared evidence linking ecosystem fragmentation and degradation to the emergence or re-emergence of diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and Lyme disease, including recent CIFOR-ICRAF research on deforestation and Ebola.

August saw the launch of a new project supported by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) that aims to identify and mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on legal and sustainable wildlife trade in low and medium-income countries. The UKRI GCRF TRADE Hub Indonesia also launched this year and held a webinar on COVID-19 and the wildlife trade in Papua.

Finally, in October, the Collaborative Partnership on Sustainable Wildlife Management and FAO released a joint statement outlining four guiding principles to reduce the risk of zoonotic diseases through ‘nature-based stimulus packages.’

The WILDMEAT database, currently being developed with support from USAID and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, can be used to identify areas where key vector species (i.e. bats, primates, pangolins) are being hunted or traded, potentially helping to predict hotspots where viruses could spill over into human populations.

Read our feature story on COVID-19 and wild meat.

forward better


In 2020 – a year like no other – CIFOR-ICRAF continued to deliver the world’s best science on forests and trees in agricultural landscapes, shifting the conversation online as the Covid-19 pandemic evolved.

This annual report features stories about expertise, dedication and perseverance. When people responded to the pandemic with calls to ban wild meat, CIFOR-ICRAF experts stepped forward with recent, highly relevant evidence in hand, highlighting the needs of communities who rely on wild game for nutrition. Other scientists forged ahead to deliver compelling research findings on improved tree seed and restoration work in Ethiopia, agroforestry in Southeast Asia, and a new model for sustainable use of woodfuel in refugee camps – among many other topics.

CIFOR-ICRAF continued to chart its path as one organization, with a new 10-year strategy that outlines game-changing solutions to five global challenges: deforestation and biodiversity loss, the climate crisis, unsustainable supply and value chains, the need to transform food systems, and extreme inequality for women, Indigenous Peoples and vulnerable rural communities.

Three new holistic approaches will deliver actionable solutions to these challenges: Transformative Partnership Platforms, Engagement Landscapes and Flagship Products. And the newly launched Resilient Landscapes aims to leverage the power of the private sector to spur greater investment in nature-based solutions.

The Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) held its first fully virtual conference in June and didn’t stop there, seeing unprecedented digital growth during the year. And the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) marked its 10th science conference – also virtual – while continuing to demonstrate the power of partnership.