BY EDMUND SMITH-ASANTE
A new book by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the G3 - a global network whose members manage a quarter of the world’s forests, has urged governments and businesses to give local people more control over forests to maximise social, economic and environmental benefits.
The book, launched at IIED’s Fair ideas conference in Rio de Janeiro yesterday, 17 June, makes the business case for investing in forest communities by showing that when local people control their forests they are more likely to conserve and use them sustainably.
According to the book, this is evidenced by the millions of hectares already owned by, or designated for use by, local communities and families.
It states that for instance, Södra — a cooperative of 52,000 family forest owners in Sweden formed in 1938, which produces pulp, sawn timber, furniture and biofuels and sells them largely to an international market - has annual revenues of 18 billion Krona (US$2.7 billion).
The new book also cites that in Nepal, community-owned forest makes up around a fifth of all forested land, with 17,685 local community groups managing more than 1.6 million hectares, adding that the Amrithdhara community forest is managed by 814 households, who together earn 3,000,000 Nepalese Rupees (US$36,179) every year. This money, the book says, is re-invested in forest management or used to support local community development projects.
Making a case for community ownership of forests, Ghan Shyam Pandey, coordinator of the Global Alliance of Community Forestry stated that “Community forestry turned Nepal’s forests from barren wastelands into the green and productive areas that they are today”.
For his part, Peter deMarsh, a family forest owner in New Brunswick, Canada, and chair of the International Family Forestry Alliance said “Together, the G3 provides a platform and a united voice for local forest-dependent people across the world who all-too-often are not included in national policy-making or international decisions”.
The G3 or Three Rights Holders’ Group, a global network of family, community and Indigenous foresters, was created in 2009 when the Global Alliance of Community Forestry joined forces with the International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forest and the International Family Forestry Alliance.
IIED’s new book however laments that despite the proven track record of locally controlled forestry and constant reports of social conflict between local communities and big companies over forests across the world, money continues to flow into the bigger international corporations rather than into support for locally-controlled forestry.
The new book thus urges governments and investors to approach business from a different angle, in order to reap a wider range of benefits and on a long-term basis.
To this end, Duncan Macqueen, Forest Team leader at IIED stresses, “Instead of being led by resources, investment models for locally controlled forestry must be led by rights, based on right-holders managing forest resources and seeking capital and partnerships,” adding, “We cannot afford to ignore practical and fair solutions such as locally controlled forestry when the stakes are so high and the benefits so clear”.