Worldwide degradation over the years has not only threatened the security of tropical forests but has also caused environmental problems. One of the remedies is empowerment of the local population to manage the forest resources through community forestry. This group benefits from the forests’ survival and regeneration. Many developing countries have been able to successfully develop community forest projects at low cost.
But what exactly is community forestry? Some define it as "a process of increasing the involvement of and reward for local people, of seeking balance between outside and community interests and of increasing local responsibility for the management of the forest resource." It is also a learning experience for all involved parties. Whether or not it leads to better forest management is an arguable point - but in some places it may well be the last chance for the forests.
Did You Know?
- Globally 350 million of the world’s poorest are heavily dependent on forests for their survival.
- According to a recent study by an intergovernmental NGO based in Yokohama, Japan (see report Rights and Resources Initiative), tropical forests worldwide employs 110 million and is considered the fastest growing segment in the global forest sector. These communities increase their local wealth by harvesting wood on a sustainable basis, and collecting bamboo, rattan, fibers, nuts, resins, medicinal herbs, honey and wood for energy.
- Benefits received by the community are not only monetary, but also include many values associated with forest ecosystems, such as cultural, spiritual, social, medicinal, ecological, recreational, aesthetic and economic. Community forestry presents an opportunity for the interests and values of local citizens to be reflected in a range of diverse approaches to forest use.
- Leaders of community forests in Asia, Africa and Americas want their governments to extend them similar facilities and financial support which are available to the world’s large timber companies. They strongly feel that this would help them preserve the world’s remaining tropical forests.
Community Forestry Objectives
Community forestry has three major objectives:
Rebuilding the economies Community forestry contributes to local economic stability. Forest generated wealth stays in the community for its own use. Constant levels of forestry activity in a community decreases economic dependence on governments.
Sustaining forest ecosystems If forest ecosystems are degraded local people will have to suffer the consequences as they are dependent on the forests for economic, ecological and recreational needs. For this reason, community forestry usually results in smaller scale, ecologically benign forestry practices. At that level it is often easier to manage for a wide range of values, including the maintenance of wildlife habitat, watersheds, soils and recreation.
Community Management Community forests involve a wide range of forestry groups, and provide open channels for public involvement on forest issues. This results in a democratization of the forest sector.
All three components of community forestry are intimately related and influence each other. By gaining economic self-sufficiency, a community opens the door to political self-reliance. By sustaining all aspects of the forests, the community protects itself and its natural environment from negative ecological and economic change.
Possible Community Forestry Benefits
- Greater economic benefits
- Economic diversification
- Consistent levels of local employment
- Wildlife conservation
- Habitat protection
- Educational and research opportunities
- Aid in flood and erosion control
- Scenic and aesthetic benefits
- Stabilization of the local water supply
- Recreational / ecotourism opportunities
- Enhancement of local quality of life
Barriers to Successful Community Forestry
- Ownership or control of the forest may not rest with the people. There are possibilities of factional exploitation within the community, or exploitation of the whole community by outsiders
- The 'community' may be heterogeneous and not properly defined. In-migration and high birth-rates may increase the size of the community.
- The forests are often degraded due to past logging or agricultural activity
- Motivation may be lacking among community members since rewards from new plantations or rehabilitated secondary forests are too long to come by.
- Decision-making can be cumbersome and unwieldy because of its participatory nature
- The community may not be interested in maintaining forest cover, preferring to clear it for agriculture or to make money
- Technical skill to manage the existing forest or to plant new ones may be lacking in the community
- Communities are likely to lack the capital to establish viable processing facilities and may be forced to hire outside agencies. The outside agencies may work in their own self interest which may not be in tune with the community needs