Local control of forests brings economic, environmental and social gains

Governments and businesses must give local people more control over forests to maximise social, economic and environmental benefits, says a new book by IIED and the G3 — a global network whose members manage a quarter of the world’s forests.

News, 13 June 2012
A community forest in Ethiopia.Credit: Growing Forest Partnerships

A community forest in Ethiopia.Credit: Growing Forest Partnerships

The book, to be launched at IIED’s Fair ideas conference in Rio de Janeiro on 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.

Millions of hectares are already owned by, or designated for use by, local communities and families.

Södra — a cooperative of 52,000 family forest owners in Sweden — has annual revenues of 18 billion Krona (US$2.7 billion). The cooperative, which was formed in 1938, produces pulp, sawn timber, furniture and biofuels and sells them largely to an international market.

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. The Amrithdhara community forest is managed by 814 households who together earn 3,000,000 Nepalese Rupees (US$36,179) every year — money which is re-invested in forest management or used to support local community development projects.

"Community forestry turned Nepal's forests from barren wastelands into the green and productive areas that they are today," says Ghan Shyam Pandey, coordinator of the Global Alliance of Community Forestry.

In 2009, 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 to create the G3 – or Three Rights Holders’ Group, a global network of family, community and Indigenous foresters.

"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," says Peter deMarsh, a family forest owner in New Brunswick, Canada, and chair of the International Family Forestry Alliance.

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 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.

"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," says Duncan Macqueen, Forest Team leader at IIED. "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"

Download the book: Investing in locally controlled forestry: natural protection for people and planet