Local control of forestry could significantly slow man-made forest loss

Press release, 4 September 2015
Putting control of forest land into democratic local businesses could significantly slow or even halt man-made forest loss, according to new research to be released on Monday, 7 September at the 15th World Forestry Congress, held this year in Durban, South Africa.

A new publication will profile the success of locally controlled forestry business models (Image: Duncan Macqueen/IIED)

The new publication – Democratising forest business: a compendium of successful locally controlled forest business models – and linked briefing paper, reviewed and edited by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) for the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF), brings together 19 case studies from across Africa, Asia and South America.  

The case studies show that in almost all contexts, countries and regions, locally controlled forestry (LCF) business models can not only exist, but work well, delivering greater social benefit and environmental protection than current standard multinational business models that solely use profit as a marker of success. 

Duncan MacQueen, IIED principal researcher and forests team leader said: "These businesses are capable of supplying produce to their own immediate local and national markets, as evidenced in the case studies. They also have the ability to feed upwards into the global supply chain. Crucially they accrue profits locally and are also better at maintaining flows of all the multiple other forest benefits that their member owners need – such as food, fuel, construction materials, clean water and so on."

In developed countries the evidence for this model as a successful business approach is even stronger. Sweden for example maintains 50 per cent of its forest under local control (by cooperative businesses) and has among the highest forest cover in the world at 70 per cent and the lowest social inequity as a result

Given that forest loss and exploitation is taking place at a far greater and unchecked rate in developing countries, the researchers chose to focus on these regions as they hold the greatest need for action and potential for a positive impact if the LCF approach is scaled up.  

Macqueen said: "A key land use difference between locally controlled business and for-profit corporate businesses is one of democracy. The world's forests are stressed. They have to immediately provide food, medicines, habitat, water, energy and an income for some 1.3 billion rightsholders who live in them, as well as act as a source for global goods and vitally, offsetting global warming.

"Governments decide who controls the land and should remember that while they are elected by the people, they are signing away land to giant corporations who are not. Multinationals are unlikely to manage these environments as carefully and democratically as the communities who live in and rely on them. But it is not too late for governments to take back ownership of their forests."

The compendium's business models offer an alternative approach to deliver sustainable use of the world's rapidly disappearing forests, and offer some clear recommendations on how to create conditions that allow for a social and environmentally successful approach that also delivers a steady income to local communities and a supply of goods up the chain. 

The researchers are calling on donor agencies to scrutinise their existing grant-giving in forest programmes, and help scale up the LCF models found within the compendium. They also call on governments to realise their responsibilities to their constituents and regain or retain control over forest land, to give over to locally controlled businesses.

In the last few weeks alone, there have been reports that humanity used up its 2015 'budget' of natural resources in eight months, a set of papers in Science documented a depressing picture of how we have fundamentally altered the world's forests – warning of potential large-scale future declines in forest health unless current behaviours change, and research in Nature has shown that humans have almost halved the world's number of trees from six trillion to 3.04 trillion since the dawn of civilisation (Nature (2015), doi:10.1038/nature14967). We are currently losing trees at a rate of 10 billion per year.

The researchers believe that unless locally controlled democratic business models become the new norm, the future of forests remain in jeopardy. Supply chains and infrastructure required by multinationals will be compromised as competition for resources grow, as will our collective survival.

Further resources:

Media enquiries

Lead researcher available for interview: Duncan MacQueen (duncan.macqueen@iied.org), Durban, South Africa (attending the congress)
IIED principal researcher and team leader (forests), Natural Resources Group

The briefing paper and publication will be available online after the embargo lifts on Monday, 7 September. Until then, they are available from the IIED press office via Katharine Mansell (katharine.mansell@iied.org), IIED media and external affairs manager, London, UK: Tel: +44 (0)20 3463 7464; Skype: khmansell

Notes to editors

The publication, Democratising forest business: a compendium of successful locally controlled forest business models, will be launched on Monday, 7 September at the World Forestry Congress at a side event hosted by IIED at 12.45pm in Hall 2 AB

The Forest and Farm Facility (FFF) is a partnership between the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is currently funded by Sweden, Finland, Germany, the USA and AgriCord, through its Farmers Fighting Poverty Programme. We work together with, and provide resources directly to, forest and farm producer organizations and governments in 10 countries.

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