Community Forestry in the Mainstream

As IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri declared at Forest Day 3 last Sunday, the forestry sector “has yielded too much space to other sectors” in decision-making processes regarding forestry issues. My host over the last week, a Danish forestry professional, affirmed that this is evident in Denmark itself. For example, the national standard for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was initially drafted chiefly by environmental NGOs, without the involvement of a single trained forester. How do we expect to achieve sustainable solutions if we consistently ignore the science of forest management?

The dilution of forestry expertise in the forest sector is just as evident at the local level in developing countries. Last year, I attended COP14 at Poznan with a group of community forest practitioners from around the world, under the umbrella of the Global Alliance of Community Forestry (GACF), aiming to address a glaring omission in civil society participation in the REDD negotiations. Indigenous Peoples organizations had become effective in highlighting potential threats of REDD to rights. Environmental NGOs had delivered their message of caution regarding potential perverse incentives through inappropriate application of REDD. These were, and remain, key messages. But the practical contribution of local people to the success of REDD, through their own forest management skills, was overlooked.

One year on, the picture is very different. The importance of local skills and knowledge to achieving reduced forest degradation, and the data to prove it, is now a mainstream message. The key proponents of this message are, as I had hoped at Poznan, community foresters themselves. In three consecutive days last week, Bhola Bhattarai of the Federation of Community Forestry Users, Nepal (FECOFUN), was called upon in official COP side events to present the case for community forestry as the basis for REDD methodologies. He is a key member of the design team for REDD+ social and environmental standards initiated by the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA), launched last week in Copenhagen.

Ms Vu Thi Bich Hop, of Sustainable Rural Development (SRD) from Viet Nam, met Senator Jim Webb of Virginia today, a fluent Vietnamese speaker and a crucial swing voter in the Kerry Boxer climate legislation currently before the US Senate. Ms Hop used the potential of community forestry for climate change adaptation and mitigation in Viet Nam in an effort to sway the Senator into supporting the bill. RECOFTC’s own Somying Soontornwong is sought out by Thailand’s delegation for expert input on the role of local people in REDD design and implementation.

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