The lives of a billion of the world’s poorest people could be improved though investing in community forest management, according to a recent IUCN study. As the world celebrates World Forest Day, IUCN urges decision-makers to recognize the various benefits of forests for forest-dependent communities.
Only a small fraction of the US$ 12 billion spent on the forest sector each year by governments and aid agencies goes to help communities heavily dependent on forests to control and manage their resources, the study reveals. As a comparison, the investment in commercial forestry amounts to US$ 150 billion a year.
“It sounds logical that the people who live in forests and are highly dependent on them for their food, fuel, and medicines, should also be the ones who control, manage and use these resources, but the reality is different” says Stewart Maginnis, IUCN Director of Environment and Development. “Our work in Africa, Asia and Latin America has shown that strengthening community rights and the control they have over their own forests helps to reduce poverty and also benefits forest biodiversity.”
An IUCN-led project in Mount Elgon, Uganda, has helped to address long-standing conflicts between local people and national park authorities. By improving livelihoods, and restoring degraded lands, the project has led to the emergence of local businesses and agreements between park authorities and communities to allow community members to sustainably extract specific resources in the park. This has reduced illegal logging by 80%.
In the Shinyanga region of Tanzania, the livelihoods of 2.25 million inhabitants of 825 villages have improved as a result of these local people being given greater control over their own forest resources. They now have half a million hectares of new forests and earn an additional US$ 14 per person per month compared to the national monthly rural average of US$ 8.50.
“We don’t have to wait for more research or analysis to start making more sustainable and informed investment decisions “, says Stephen Kelleher, Deputy Head, IUCN Forest Conservation Programme. “Failing to invest in locally-controlled forestry may ultimately undermine many of the goals that so many public funds, effort and time are being channeled into: reducing poverty and ensuring sustainable development for all.”
A total of 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods. Most of those people, 1.4 billion, live in the developing world, and 1 billion live in extreme poverty – a great number being women, indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups. Recently-released data by IUCN and the Global Partnership for Forest Landscape Restoration show that approximately 1.2 billion hectares of deforested or degraded areas could be restored through better, locally- controlled management.
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