Communities require policy support to manage forests well, says FAO

UN body recommends setting up forest and farm producer organisations so that small-scale forest producers can compete with large-scale business

By Snigdha Das
Published: Tuesday 01 July 2014

Community forestry is powerful movement in Nepal (Credit: possible health)Indigenous people, local communities and private smallholders own or manage about 30 per cent of the world’s forests. Unfortunately, their vital role in tackling deforestation and reducing poverty is often overlooked by governments, say two new publications released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and a group of its partners on June 30.

A crucial constraint is their isolation from each other, from markets, information, business services, policymakers, financing and investment opportunities, acknowledges the reports, which argue that a better policy environment, coupled with targeted support to help the small-scale forest and farm producers organise could turn this situation around.

“Coming together of forest and farm producer organisations can help overcome their isolation as well as other constraints such as a lack of secure forest tenure and financial and business development instruments,” says Jeffrey Campbell, FAO Forestry Officer. “They must compete with large-scale businesses that often receive preferential treatment, access to markets, financing and resources.” 

In a press release issued by FAO, Chris Buss, Deputy Director of IUCN’s Forest and Climate Change Programme, highlights the role of small-scale forest producers in global trade and says, “It is crucial to ensure forest producer organisations are strengthened and empowered if we are to scale up efforts in order to achieve goals such as Bonn Challenge to restore 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested lands by 2020, which will in turn contribute to delivery on international climate, biodiversity and development targets.”

Given the track record of deforestation and degradation in state-controlled forests, the reports say, there are good arguments for increasing the percentage of rights held by communities to forests. 

Forests under community care
The reports highlight experiences of countries that have encouraged forest and farm producer organisations and benefitted from them. For nearly 100 years, Nordic countries have been showing that efforts to protect and strengthen forest environmental services and improve livelihoods can be mutually reinforcing. In Nepal, FECOFUN, a network of forest user groups was formed in 1995 to give voice to small forest users in policy processes and has grown into a social movement of 8.5 million local producers. In Mexico, where people manage more than 80 per cent of forests, such organisations play a vital role in fighting poverty in rural areas.
Lately, China has offered large-scale support to its forest and farm producers. Between 2007 and 2012, the government granted certificates for forest management to more than 90 million forestry farms and helped set up 115,000 forest and farm producer organisations. Now the forest farmers are planting 70 per cent of the forest estate, which is expanding by 2.9 million hectares per year. The Chinese government has also established over 1,000 forest ownership management service centres, called forest trade centres, to work with forest and farm producer organisations in resolving disputed land titles and boosting the efficiency and value of their trading activities, among other things. The forest trade centres are designed to be one-stop shops that make it easier for forest and farm producer organisations to enter the marketplace.

The policy papers, prepared by The Forest and Farm Facility (FFF), a partnership between FAO, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), recommend six measures to develop effective forest producer organizations and improve livelihood of forest dependent people. These include developing incentive mechanism to strengthen locally controlled forestry and facilitating networking among forest and farm organisations; creating supportive legal frameworks and removing regulatory barriers; protecting forest tenure rights of indigenous people, local communities; providing forest and farm organisations and their members with greater access to financial services, such as affordable credit and insurance; connecting forest smallholders to markets and services, including negotiation of fair market prices and provision of real-time market information; and building a worldwide coalition of forest and farm producer organizations to influence policymaking and generate momentum for greater support.
Full reports: 

Roadmap for strengthening forest and farm producer organizations

Making change happen

Report: Sustainable community forest management

Report: Governing the forests: an institutional analysis of REDD+ and community forest management in Asia

Report: Community-based forest management: the extent and potential scope of community and smallholder forest management and enterprises

Report: Addressing forest degradation in the context of joint forest management in Udaipur, India

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