Forest Loss, Degradation Blamed on Neglect of Social, Cultural, Human Aspects as Forum Holds Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue

26 January 2011
ENV/DEV/1181

Forest Loss, Degradation Blamed on Neglect of Social, Cultural, Human Aspects as Forum Holds Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue

26 January 2011
Economic and Social Council
ENV/DEV/1181
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

United Nations Forum on Forests

Ninth Session

6th Meeting (AM)

Forest Loss, Degradation Blamed on Neglect of Social, Cultural,

 

Human Aspects as Forum Holds Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue

 

The loss and degradation of the world’s forests continued at a high rate owing to neglect of the social and cultural factors of forestry, Lambert Okrah, focal point for non-governmental organizations, said today as the United Nations Forum on Forests held the multi-stakeholder dialogue segment of its ninth session.

“The standard methods don’t work because the social, cultural and ‘people’ aspects of forests haven’t been taken into account,” said Mr. Okrah of the Canadian Environmental Network, and Major Group Initiative Coordinator, as he presented the joint statement of the civil society and private sector major groups.  Such groups could inject the social and cultural aspects into the discussion because they had extensive experience with communities of forest-dependent people on the ground, he added.

In order to take those aspects into account, three presentations had been prepared as part of the results of the Major Groups Initiative held in Accra, Ghana, in 2010, he continued.  The presentations were on “Social Development and Sustainable Forest Management”, “Forests and Culture” and “Community Forestry Programme in Nepal”, the last of which had been a successful case study.

The presentations had affirmed the importance of traditional knowledge in the sustainable management of forests, he said, noting that cultural practices and taboos, as well as the gathering of traditional medicines and other resources, helped conserve forests and provide livelihoods and other necessities to forest communities.  They also affirmed the importance of legal rights and empowerment of communities to participate in decision-making.

In the case of Nepal, the country had suffered severe forest degradation, having lost more than 2.2 million acres, said Ghan Shyam Pandey of the Global Alliance of Community Forestry.  Since the implementation of community-based forest management programmes, Nepal had changed its policy landscape as well as its literal forest landscape, becoming the “motherland of community forestry”, he said, displaying photographs of previously brown hills that were now green.

Presenting the policy recommendations from the Accra initiative, Mr. Okrah said they included the need to address issues associated with equity — including access, rights, land and resource tenure and benefit-sharing.  In addition, he stressed that forest-dependent peoples must have reliable access to forest resources and a role in decision-making on the use and benefits of resources.  All policies must take the local context into account, he added.

Community-based forest enterprises that focused on sustainable, value-added goods and services should be promoted and supported, he continued, saying research to assist in those areas must also be encouraged.  Cooperation on support to forest-dependent communities must be strengthened, and the communities must be enabled to participate in the launching of the International Year of Forests 2011.

In the ensuing discussion, some delegates shared their respective national experiences of involving communities in generating forest policies, while others debated whether best-practices models could be applied in diverse situations.  The dialogue also focused on how to increase the role of major groups and delegations from developing countries.

Prior to the dialogue, the Director of the United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat introduced the Secretariat’s Note containing the discussion papers on the Major Groups Initiative.  She said the major groups had made some great steps forward and, most importantly, they had done it together.  At their meeting held in Accra, Ghana, they had had a chance to develop their priorities together, something that had not been done before and which could be a model for the United Nations, she said, adding that their contribution was of great value.

Moderating the multi-stakeholder dialogue was Alexander Buck, Executive Director of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations.  Also featuring as panellists were Abidah Billah Setyowati of Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management and Joseph Cobbinah of the Forestry Network for sub-Saharan Africa.

The plenary of the United Nations Forum on Forests will meet again at 5 p.m. on Friday, 28 January.

Background

The United Nations Forum on Forests convened this morning to hold the multi-stakeholder dialogue of its ninth session, involving aninteractive dialogue among Member States, major groups and members of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests.  Before it was a note by the Secretariat (document E/CN.18/2011/9) annexed to which were three discussion papers for the meeting’s consideration (documents E/CN.18/2011/9, E/CN.18/2011/9/Add.1, E/CN.18/2011/9/Add.2 and E/CN.18/2011/9/Add.3).

Introduction of Discussion Papers

JAN MCALPINE, Director, United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat, introduced the note by the Secretariat, saying that the major groups had made some major steps forward and, most importantly, they had done it together.  At their conference in Ghana, they had had a chance to develop their priorities together, something that had not been done before and which could be a model.  Recalling that the major groups had been consulted at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference at the end of 2009, she noted that their recommendations were of great value.  For today’s discussion there were three joint papers, she said.  They dealt with forests and culture; social development and indigenous and other local and forest-dependent communities, including forest land tenure; and community-based forest management.

Panel Discussion

ALEXANDER BUCK, Executive Director, International Union of Forest Research Organizations and Moderator of the discussion, opened the multi-stakeholder dialogue by noting that the participating major groups were a reflection of the various interests in the world’s forests.  They could bring first-hand knowledge and experience of the problems to be addressed and help to reveal differences over goals and objectives.

He then introduced the panellists:  Abidah Billah Setyowati of Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management; Joseph Cobbinah of the Forestry Network for sub-Saharan Africa; and Ghan Shyam Pandey of the Global Alliance of Community Forestry.

Ms. SETYOWATI, delivering a presentation on social development and sustainable forest management, said the continuing neglect of social development was a major factor in the global trend of forest loss.  Similarly, unclear and insecure tenure rights for marginalized forest communities — including indigenous peoples and women — contributed to a widespread lack of long-term commitment to sustainable forest management.

She said the key methods to help reverse those trends included empowering women as decision-makers, strengthening the role of associations, promoting sustainable agriculture, protecting the rights of youth, and encouraging unique youth perspectives on forest management.  Capacity-building projects could contribute to those goals, she said, citing one project that she had presented in Nepal with the aim of securing land-tenure rights for women and another in the United Republic of Tanzania.  Among her proposals were increased collaboration with Governments and other entities in forming a capacity-building framework, the provision of secure tenure rights for local communities, and Government recognition of the rights and roles of communities.

Mr. COBBINAH, speaking on the sub-theme of forests and culture, said there had been some success stories since the first Rio Conference, but overall degradation of tropical forests continued, partly because the socio-cultural aspect of sustainable forest management had been neglected.  In Africa alone, more than 5 million hectares were lost each year.  Cultural practices passed on from generation to generation had played a vital role in managing forests, conserving biodiversity and maintaining livelihoods and health care, he said, stressing that they would be critical for adaptation to climate change.  Traditional forest-management knowledge was an essential part of all cultures and traditional practices conformed to the standards of the Montreal Process.

He went on to state that traditional plant worship and taboos, seasonal collection, regulations on collection and knowledge of plant use for food, fuel, medicine, construction and weapons, among other purposes, were all valuable for sustainable forest management.  In Africa, Asia and Latin America, an estimated 80 per cent of the population depended on medicinal plants and associated traditional knowledge for their primary health care needs and around half the population of the industrialized world used natural remedies.  Unfortunately, traditional knowledge and practices were not sufficiently respected, promoted and protected, he said, noting that methods for safeguarding the rights of traditional holders of knowledge were weak, with correspondingly weak links between research and development institutions and local communities.

To remedy such problems, traditional knowledge should be documented in close partnership with holders and users, he said, encouraging the use of appropriate best practices.  The knowledge should be mainstreamed into national forest plans and programmes as well as the education curriculum with the involvement of all relevant stakeholders.  Local indigenous people should also be provided with adequate training and technical assistance to adapt to modern conditions.  In concert with such measures, the scientific community should respect traditional knowledge and provide assistance, he said, calling for the development of an equitable benefit-sharing regime, including a legal system that would require the disclosure of the sources of genetic resources in order to prevent attempts to patent traditional knowledge and curb “biopiracy”.

Mr. PANDEY, speaking on the sub-theme of community forestry programmes, presented a case study from Nepal, which had formally established a successful national network of community forestry groups, known as FECOFUN, in 1995.  Prior to the implementation of those policies, the country had suffered severe forest degradation, having lost more than 2.2 million acres, he said.  With Nepal’s recent move to democracy, more forest people had the right of association — a major factor in successful community forest management.  Since the implementation of community forest management programmes, Nepal had changed its policy landscape and its literal forest landscape, becoming the “motherland of community forestry”, he said.

Emphasizing the critical importance of strong institutions, gender-balance actions and other core people-centred elements to the success of community forest management, he said challenges continued nonetheless to face Nepal’s forests and forest communities.  They included climate change, which could lead to “climate colonization” as a result of Government and institutional interventions and centralization; threats to biodiversity; weak governance and transition politics; and lack of access to financial resources, technology and markets for local communities.  Forests could not be protected by remote control, he stressed, describing local forest management as the best way to mitigate the effects of climate change.

As the discussion opened to the floor, the representative of Nepal said his country’s forest policy aimed to support traditional practices of sustainable forest management, while empowering communities to prevent the misuse of forest resources by outsiders.  It had resulted in benefits to forests, biodiversity, climate mitigation and livelihoods, particularly those of vulnerable groups, he said, warning, however, of new challenges posed by carbon rights and other emerging issues.

The representative of Suriname also described successful national policies that had increased forest coverage and reconfirmed his country’s commitment to sustainable forest management, despite new challenges.  For further progress, donors should increase available funding and encourage more cooperation within regions, internationally and across sectors.  He also called for the sharing of best practices.

The representative of Austria said sustainable forest management was not a static concept but an evolving one that constituted a permanent challenge to be addressed.  Austria’s policy on forests was informed by a national dialogue involving many stakeholders, he said, adding that the present session and its inclusive dialogue would similarly do much to inform global forest policies in the coming years.

The representative of Turkey said the role of non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders in sustainable forest management was becoming more important in his country.  The Government was cooperating actively with non-governmental organizations in support of the many Turkish people who depended on forests for their livelihoods, in particular through funding, credits and agricultural job opportunities, among other things.  Turkey was also working to support forest-dependent women through similar programmes.  Cooperation — and sometimes arguments — among stakeholders was necessary to ensure the sustainable management of forests, he said.

The representative of Albania said his country was working to reform its forestry sector with an eye to the theme “Forests for people”.  Forests covered more than 60 per cent of Albania but their use and protection was “uneven” amid high demand for firewood.  For that and other reasons, the balance between forest harvesting and forest protection remained negative, he said.  In recent years, however, the management of a large percentage of the country’s forests had been transferred to local governments in a slow and complex process.  The Government therefore supported each local forestry “commune” financially and was establishing new support structures for them.

The representative of Argentina pointed out that the Biodiversity Convention could address many of the equity problems raised once it entered into force, while the representative of China asked what kind of mechanisms had proven valuable in such benefit-sharing.

Mr. COBBINAH replied that there had been studies on the best practices of different countries, but it was difficult to apply any such practices across the board.  A locally-developed solution was usually best, he added.

Ms. SETYOWATI added that a participatory determination of benefits produced the best results, but capacity-building was required to ensure participation by all.

On rights and tenure, the representative of Colombia said half of his country’s forests were tenured to indigenous communities, allowing reforestation to become a large sector of the economy.  Tenure was therefore crucial, he stressed.  National goals must be considered together with benefits for individuals and communities, he said, asking how communities could be involved in participatory planning.

The representative of Papua New Guinea noted that some of the issues raised were not new and countries, including Papua New Guinea, had in many cases already taken measures to address them.  He requested that the Secretariat and stakeholders undertake a study to collect the most successful of those measures.

The representative of Guatemala said his country had created a national alliance of forests involving more than 300 frontline stakeholders which had helped communities become involved in the management of their own forests.  Additionally, the Government had approved a programme of incentives for small landowners and other local stakeholders to pursue sustainable practices, and was working with local indigenous communities.  Those programmes had seen some success, he said, adding that Guatemala hoped to improve further the condition of communities living in and around forests.

The representative of Brazil asked Mr. Pandey about the correlation — or lack thereof — between local forest management and poverty reduction.

Mr. PANDEY replied that ensuring strong technical capacity and good market access for local communities was of key importance in bridging the gap pointed out by the representative of Brazil.

The representative of Morocco, highlighting the role of traditional knowledge in sustainable forest management, said it was particularly important in Africa, where a large percentage of people made their livelihoods from forests.  Many high-value medicinal plants used in ancestral traditional practices existed in the world’s forests, he pointed out.  Morocco therefore supported assessing the value of those products, which could be a source of revenue for indigenous populations and of capacity-building for sustainable forest management.  Additionally, Morocco supported the idea of benefit-sharing, an issue raised by the representative of Argentina, on behalf of the Group of 77 and China.

A representative of the Central African Forest Commission said it had been involving multiple stakeholders in a forum on the forests of the Congo Basin since 1996.  The major actors at that forum — including indigenous peoples, women, young people and others — also worked on the ground in pursuit of sustainable forest management aims.  However, it was essential to strengthen the work of those stakeholders and increase their capacity, in particular through stronger tenure rights.

The representative of Samoa said the management of his country’s forest resources was conducted overwhelmingly by local communities.  Samoa had identified key sectors that it hoped to galvanize through further integration with sustainable forest management programmes.  The Government planned much work in 2011 to further improve its resilience to climate change, including a scale-up of resources on sustainable forest management.

LAMBERT OKRAH, International Programme Manager, Canadian Environmental Network, and Major Group Initiative Coordinator, stressed that standard methods to halt forest loss and degradation did not work because they failed to take the social, cultural and “people” aspects of forests into account.  The contributions of civil society groups and the private sector were therefore vital.

Describing the major groups-led workshop on sustainable forest management and poverty reduction, held in Accra, Ghana, last July, he said more than 70 representatives from major groups had been able to pool the knowledge gained through working with forest-dependent people on the ground.  The diversity of the groups allowed them to work together on forest problems in more diverse ways, he said, adding that the Accra workshop had enabled them to submit three thematic papers that coherently covered the subject at hand rather than many overlapping presentations.

The policy recommendations that had come out of the conference included the need to address issues associated with equity, including access, rights, land and resource tenure and benefit-sharing, he said.  Forest-dependent peoples must have reliable access to forest resources and a role in decision-making on the use and benefits of resources, he said, emphasizing that all policies must take the local context into account.

In addition, community-based forest enterprises focused on sustainable, value-added goods and services should be promoted and supported, he said, calling for research to assist in those areas.  There was also a need to strengthen cooperation on support for forest-dependent communities, which must be enabled to participate in the launching of the International Year of Forests, 2011.

He said the goal was to increase the number of major groups participating in activities to implement Forum policy decisions by at least 200 organizations and to improve policies for realizing sustainable forestry management by increasing stakeholder engagement.  In addition, at least 150 members of major groups should be trained in the implementation of the non-legally binding instrument on all types of forests (the Forest Instrument), he said, adding that awareness-raising was also crucial as part of the International Year and beyond.

The representative of Ghana said that preparatory meetings held before the session had contributed to a strong, focused discussion, and a platform should be created for the continued sharing of experiences and lessons.  Ghana had developed a national forest forum that helped it share such experiences with and conduct dialogue among stakeholders.  However, challenges facing the international community in the sphere of sustainable forest management included a lack of solid intersessional dialogue and limited participation on the part of some parties.

The representative of Turkey said that sustainable forest management in his country was based on socio-economic considerations, assessment of land use and other key factors.  The Government had created a special organization under the Ministry of Forests to support forest-dependent people.

A representative of the non-governmental organizations major group said there was a need for stronger cooperation between the major groups and the Collaborative Partnership on Forests.

A representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that several members of the Collaborative Partnership on Forest, including FAO, had already implemented mechanisms for continued cooperation with major groups.  As part of the international arrangement on forests, the Collaborative Partnership benefited from strong discussions such as those taking place during the present session, he said.

A representative of the children and youth major group reminded the Forum that the effective participation of the major groups depended on the availability of resources, the sharing of experience and know-how, and strong technical capacity, among other elements.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.