Better forests, better lives

Improving the lives of people living in forest landscapes was a central theme of the final day of Asia-Pacific Forestry Week, writes Kristen Carusos. IUCN and the Beijing Forestry Society presented the 'Forestland Restoration and Livelihood Improvement' session.

Miyun County, Beijing China Photo: Andrew Ingles

“Better Water, Better Forests, Better Lives” represents the goals of IUCN's Livelihoods and Landscapes Strategy. Miyun Resevoir is the biggest watershed in Northern China and supplies up to 80% of drinking water for Beijing's 17 million residents. From water shortages and pollution to declining forest biodiversity to the widening gap between urban and rural incomes, the Miyun Reservoir faces several challenges. IUCN is addressing these challenges through forest landscape restoration, community development, and water conservation measures.

The Livelihoods and Landscapes Strategy stretches far beyond China. In Doi Mae Salong, in northern Thailand, IUCN is restoring the landscape and helping to alleviate the severe poverty of people living in the area. The landscape of Doi Mae Salong has been degraded over the last few decades, originally through poppy cultivation, then extensive agriculture.

Forest exploitation led to floods and landslides which in turn led to the further destruction of the landscapes and thousands of homes. With the collaboration of The Royal Thai Armed Forces, intensive reforestation and watershed management projects have been implemented. IUCN Thailand represents the interests of all parties that have a stake in the region’s natural resources, from local people to international investors, and makes sure they take part in the decision-making process. IUCN staff emphasized the importance of local leaders accurately portraying the interests of their people and said that clear communication was vital to the project’s success.

The Mangroves for the Futures (MMF) initiative has worked to protect mangroves throughout Thailand while reducing poverty in coastal areas. Coastal ecosystems are being better managed and local communities are helped in the transition to cultivation of products that do not degrade the mangroves. For example, MMF helped former fisherman cultivate Aloe Vera plants which produced a higher and more sustainable income. One of the main sentiments echoed throughout all of the presentations was the importance of improving the living conditions of the local people.

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