Cathrien de Pater

Aranyani Consultancies is established by Cathrien de Pater, expert in tropical forestry and religious studies

Cathrien studied Tropical forestry at Wageningen University and obtained her M.Sc. degree in 1979. Until 2014 she worked for the FAO and the Netherlands Government in various countries in forestry, international copperation, biodiversity and communication. In 2007 she obtained a second Masters degree (with honours) in Interreligious Spirituality Studies at Radboud University Nijmegen. Since then she has published articles and delivered lectures, workshops and courses on forests, religion and nature. In addition she has joined her partner, Pieter Lagerwaard, in teaching Aikido. She has been practising this martial art for over 25 years. 

Reflecting on her career, Cathrien says: "My original intention was to tackle the worldwide problems of deforestation and soil erosion. When studying in Wageningen I soon realised that the solution for these problems should not be found in technical matters only, but in people. This insight was still new when I started my first job in a land use project the Cape Verdian Islands. In that project we literally planned 'top down', with aerial inmagery and maps, while only in a later stage we explained to the people the why and how. For my second job I joined the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN for a multifunctional reforestation project in the Philippines. The same planning approach was applied but failed completely in the end. My co-workers - a lot of young women foresters - were highly motivated, but the governance structure was entirely corrupted. We travelled through the countryside in our spare time and discovered that farmers had no choice but to burn the forest for subistence cultivation. Slowly the idea came up to let the local indigenous farmers manage the forests, and take responsibility for it. The concept of 'Social Forestry' started growing.

When I was offered a post in the Community Forestry Project in Nepal where the concept could be further developed, I of course did not hesistate for a moment! For two years I lived among the farmers in Ilam, Nepal. We established nurseries, made community forest management plans and learned by trial and error. Later I had the opportunity to continue this work in Nicaragua where I was posted for two years at the forestry department of the agricultural university. After that, I joined the Forestry and Biodiversity Support Group of the Netherlands government as a forestry and development cooperation advisor. Our mission was to ensure that Dutch taxpayers' money for forests was well spent, by creating sound projects, selecting good implementing agencies, and feeding back the results into policy. For 12 years I travelled many parts of Asia. Nepal and Pakistan were at the forefront of developing Social or Community Forestry, but other countries followed suit. These days community Forestry is an established branch of forestry, embedded in education and - increasingly - in policy....

In Pakistan for the first time it dawned to me that religion might be an inspiring factor for forest management. The forestry extension workers translated Qur'an and Hadith texts encouraging the good care of trees into Pashtu...

It took a long time before I was able to expand on this connection between forests and religion and give it a shape. From 2000 onwards I worked part-time and travelled less. This enabled me to embark on a second Masters in religious studies which I finished in 2007. I am still fascinated by the question what inspires people most deeply to take care of forests and nature. And whether and when this inspiration is strong enough to sustain hard times. The key word is 'connection'. Development co-operation was to a large extent the re-connection of relations that were broken for whatever reason. We used to have methods for this re-connection: visualisation, making complex processes transparent, setting goals. I have come to realise that in the Netherlands, too, this knowledge and expertise is direly needed. With Aranyani I am committed to this work. This, too, is re-ligion - 'connection' in Latin. This way inspiration can grow from something ineffable and flowing into concrete co-operation and construction".