In order to halt deforestation and protect the climate, communities must have a say in how forests are managed; and activities involving forests must not threaten the livelihoods of those who depend on those vital resources. These were the key messages coming out of the October 2018 11th Forest Governance Forum (FGF) in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo.
At the FGF, some 500 government, private sector and civil society representatives from Central Africa, Europe, Asia and North America, shared experiences and ideas on fighting illegal logging, deforestation and forest degradation through the Forest law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs); REDD+; and participatory forestry.
But do communities have a real voice in such governance debates? Representatives of women’s and indigenous regional networks said that local communities, and particularly women, were key contributors to forest-based economic development, but their views, and their rights, continue to be side-lined. They therefore called on leaders from Congo Basin countries and the EU to respect their commitment to give them a proper seat at the table when decisions about their forests are being made.
The Forum showed that real progress has been made in countries like Liberia, where communities are able to demand greater benefits from logging, and encouraging developments are underway in the Central African Republic, where indigenous groups are directly represented in the VPA structures. It also found however that, across the Congo Basin, awareness-raising and capacity-building are largely insufficient. Worse, in many places inappropriate and incoherent legislation hampers communities’ rights to own their land and influence important decisions.
The FGF’s renewed commitments to responsible forest management, ecosystem conservation and economic diversification were at the forefront of the meeting. However, a more discreet but equally important call must be heard: communities can help keep forests standing and healthy.
Given the urgent need to stop the destruction of the Congo Basin’s forests, Fern believes that a virtuous circle of participation is needed whereby communities are able to effectively contribute to shaping the right policies for long-lasting change. Especially at such international events as this month’s Congo Basin Forest Partnership annual meeting in Brussels, and December’s United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Poland, it would benefit everyone to make communities’ voices count.
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