Thursday, August 23, 2012

Community Forestry: The concept and its importance worldwide

Deeply rooted throughout human history, indigenous communities have shaped and laid the groundwork for Community Forests. As environmental pressures have exponentially increased over the past few decades, so has the evolution of resource management through local populations. Consisting of various levels and forms of community involvement, the key tenets of Community Forests are: participatory forest management, social forestry, and community-based forest management. 

The value of this connection between forests and rural communities is now being recognized at the global level. A broader awareness is developing which understands the importance that forests play in the everyday lives of these community members. The aim of community-based management and planning of forest resources, is the maximization of benefits for the stakeholders to reduce poverty while applying sustainable and fair practices for the local community. In many cases of public governance of forestry systems mismanagement and degradation of the forest resources have greatly diminished the economic, social and ecological values of the forests, which has been typically referred to as the tragedy of the commons.

As a result of this inept management  Community Forest groups have risen to action around the globe. Through the empowerment of indigenous people via structured community entities the goal was for Community Forest groups to provide long-term sustainable solutions to forest stewardship,. “Forestry for community development must therefore be forestry for the people and involving the people. It must be forestry which starts at the 'grass roots’” (FAO 1978).

In the early years of the movement, the primary issues that were addressed were generally related to shortages of forest resources in developing countries, mainly fuelwood. To address this need  overseas development aid (ODA) agencies established fuelwood lots oriented to the production of biomass for energy consumption. Through this process the creation of new resource plots arose dedicated exclusively to the production of scarce or high-demand forest products. Initially, environmental sustainability and fair practices were not key considerations, however this soon evolved as a main focus. 

Community Forestry has flourished at a grassroots level spreading across the globe with thousands of cases embracing all continents. A semi-successful example of this is in Nepal where several decades of government mismanagement has led to a significant decrease in forest cover. With the transition to local community management great improvements have been achieved in forest resource stewardship and the deforestation rate has been decreased. The complex socio-political situation of Nepal and its extreme poverty demonstrates how critical the success of such projects are and underlines their importance in positively impacting lives in rural populations. 

The structure in Nepal is based on communities participating through Forest Group Units.  The units are composed of community members living in the areas surrounding the forests, and these members are entrusted with  conserving and managing forest resources.  As part of the project structure even if the land remains fully owned by the state, 100% of the benefits derived from the forest are allocated to the Forest Group Units. The initial results were inconsistent, however slowly over time the primary goals and objectives of the project were achieved. Through this organic process best practices were established thus creating a framework for the expansion of Community Forests throughout the country. 

As the project matured, the Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN) was created to promote the involvement of forest user groups in local and national discussions and decision-making processes (here the website: FECOFUN). Despite it’s initial success benefitting all community members, FECOFUN is now under scrutiny for corrupt practices. It has recently been reported that cases of bribery, illegal logging and unfair distribution of the benefits derived from the selling of timber and secondary products has proliferated. Sadly this is a common challenge for established Community Forestry projects, but with proper oversight and management this issue can be resolved. 

GGC is currently working on several projects in collaboration with community groups. This innovative approach to the Community Forest concept is a critical component in GGC’s reforestation-agroforestry projects in the Rio San Juan of Nicaragua, the Dja REDD+ project in Cameroon and Misahualli in Ecuador (for detailed information on these project please visit: projects). In Cameroon, in the Dja biosphere reserve and it’s buffer zone, GGC is currently creating an inclusive framework for all forest stakeholders which incorporates community forest groups, regional groups, government agencies, NGO’s and commercial operations . The goal of this project is to achieve maximum benefits and full representation of the local population in alignment and collaboration with other actors who lay claim to land and resources in and around the reserve. Ultimately the goal is to create long-term sustainability and resilience, supporting biodiversity and the conservation of these threatened forests.