Report: Locals should control forest investment process

‘Rights-based’ system should guide forest management

A new international report calls for more local control over forest investment and management.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Some conservative lawmakers in the U.S. oppose most international environmental initiatives as “unwarranted meddling,” with the most extreme right-wingers even espousing conspiracy theories about “black UN helicopters.”

But some Republicans may agree with one of the latest initiatives from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which calls for moving from a resource-led model to a rights-based system of locally controlled forestry, that places local control of forests at the heart of the investment process.

That ties in with recent efforts by some U.S. Republicans to turn over control of national forests to local or state governments. Several bills pending in Congress would give state governments more authority over planning and implementing logging and forest health projects.

Ongoing projects under The Forests Dialogue program, in partnership with the IUCN, show that, with the right processes in place, and under the right conditions, almost any individual or group can build a successful forest enterprise. The resulting report, “Investing in Locally Controlled Forestry”, launched Friday at the IUCN’s World Conservation Congress in Jeju, Korea.

The work by the IUCN is more directed toward forests in developing countries with indigenous populations, but the results of the study may also have some application in more developed parts of the world, where local communities have a significant stake in the management of forested areas.

“A first step is to recognize that many forests and landscapes are inhabited by people with some form of land rights,” said Chris Buss, Senior Programme Officer for IUCN’s Global Forest and Climate change Programme. “Investors are increasingly aware they must respect these rights through recognized processes, although the practical implications of such processes have until now received less attention.”

The current investment and management process often simply results in compensation for loss of access to land or resources — a neocolonial model — rather than a genuine shared enterprise. In contrast, a “rights-based” system places local control at the heart of the process. Under this system, the people who own or have rights over the forest are the ones who seek investors and partnerships for managing their natural resource assets.

“The rights-based approach recognizes local people’s autonomy and their rights to determine the land’s destiny and to gain income from its effective management,” said Minni Degawan, Project Coordinator for KADIOAN, an Indigenous Peoples organization based in the Philippines. “Empowering local people to make decisions on commercial forest management and land, with secure tenure rights, the ability to build their own organizations and access to markets and technology can be a highly effective way of raising incomes and protecting forestry resources.”

“Communities, governments and investors all stand to gain from investing in locally controlled forestry. However, launching a commercially viable enterprise is not without its own challenges and requires adjustments to conventional investment approaches,” said Peter Gardiner, Natural Resource Manger for Mondi. “To facilitate this process, the Growing Forest Partnerships which includes IUCN and TFD, have developed a practitioners’ manual, to be released later this month, which offers investors and rights holders a step-by-step guide to negotiating commercial agreements.”

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