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Forest Summit Seeks “People-Friendly” Solutions

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 27 2011 (IPS) - Earlier this month, on a hot and humid day in the Jambi province of Indonesia, a group of local farmers was critically injured after being shot as they attempted to harvest fruit on a contested palm plantation.

The shooting, allegedly carried out by the national police’s notorious Mobile Brigade (Brimob), followed a four-year-long conflict between the villagers of Karang Mendapo and an Indonesian palm oil company, involving local land rights.

While this violent attack caused outcry and protests locally, Jambi’s is not an isolated case.

As climate change fears lead to a rise in carbon trading, and industries such as palm oil and biofuel prosper, indigenous peoples worldwide are increasingly being forced to fight against land grabs from both big business and their own governments.

“I don’t know how forest communities will benefit from climate change,” said Ghan Shyam Pandey, a forest conservationist and management specialist from the Ashwara community in Nepal.

Forest Facts

*1.6 billion people worldwide directly depend on forests for their livelihoods

*Forests cover 31 per cent of the world's land area, amounting to just under four billion hectares

*60 million people work in forest-based industries (wood, pulp, paper and other processing plants)

*The annual value of wood removed from forests is estimated to be more than 100 billion dollars

Source: Food and Agriculture Organisation

“It seems with negotiations going on around the world it may not benefit the communities who have worked in forests in the past,” he said.

Pandey is the coordinator of the Global Alliance of Community Forestry (GACF) and is currently in New York for the ninth session of the biennial United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF9).

The forum, which officially launches the International Year of the Forests, follows the REDD+ agreement negotiated in Cancún last December, which saw the global community lay out objectives for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

Although Pandey welcomes agreements such as REDD+ as tools to advance conservation, he underscored the need for universal pacts to consider the livelihoods of indigenous communities.

“Forests are not only about biodiversity and climate change and carbon, but also other things,” he told IPS.

“Those people who live in and around the forest depend on the forest. If this is realised by governments – that we are responsible to both people and forests – if they can make good policies for both the forests and people to make their livelihoods better, and eradicate poverty, that will really bring new things,” Pandey said.

It is a sentiment echoed in a report released this week by the International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO), highlighting the need for people to be put back at the centre of forest management.

And it’s the theme of this year’s UNFF9, which has called for the international community to respond to global warming with “people-friendly” conservation solutions.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), at least 1.6 billion people depend on forests globally, and approximately 60 million are employed by forest-based industries.

While forests cover about 31 percent of the world’s land area, amounting to just under four billion hectares, 13 million hectares have been lost due to its conversion to other uses.

Many forest areas have been traditionally managed by local communities. However, with the increasing popularity of carbon storage and biofuels, there is fresh interest in these previously “unprofitable” land tracts.

According to Jeremy Rayner, one of the authors of the IUFRO report, indigenous people are losing their customary land rights as governments and businesses rush to secure control over forests worldwide.

“We know, of course, from bitter experience that turning forests into protected areas that exclude local communities is a losing proposition,” Rayner, a professor at University of Saskatchewan Graduate School of Public Policy, told IPS.

“It’s simply impossible to enforce – and it puts a great deal of pressure on other forest areas,” he said.

Rayner said the REDD+ agreement was a step forward in terms of forest conservation. However, he argues that “one-size- fits-all” international pacts needed to focus more on supporting individual regional initiatives.

Washington-based conservationist Andy White, coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative, agrees.

White told IPS the past 12 months had seen major progress in countries such as Brazil, the Philippines and Mexico in respect to indigenous land rights, but other areas of the globe including Indonesia were lagging behind.

“I hope that governments are not coming to New York with plans to celebrate,” White said, in reference to the UNFF9.

“There has been shockingly little progress since the first global forestry congress dedicated to ‘people and forests’ in Jakarta in 1978. If governments had taken their agreements there seriously, to put people at the centre of forestry, then Indonesia would now be the centre of global forest conservation, not leading the world in deforestation,” he added.

“Governments still claim ownership over a majority of the forests across the world despite historic ownership by local peoples, despite clear evidence that indigenous peoples and forest communities do a better job at conservation than governments, and despite the fact that government-promoted forest industries have led to corruption and continued exclusion of local people, extensive abuses of women and children and entrenched poverty.”

White argues that until pressures stemming from booming food prices, agriculture and biofuels were managed effectively and rights for local peoples were respected, violent clashes such as the recent incident in Jambi province were likely to increase.

“When we look back at 2010 we see it was a year of substantial pushback from local communities,” he noted. “On one hand, it’s good that communities are increasingly able to speak out, but what we will see now is the real contest, and we’re likely to see more conflict in the future for it.”

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