Governments in the developing world could get big returns by spending relatively small sums on locally controlled forests, says a report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) based in Gland, Switzerland.
The study, The Value of Investing in Locally Controlled Forestry, is a meta-review of data on areas of locally controlled forests, populations dependent on forests and economic values of different types of forest ecosystems. It was released today at the United Nations meeting on the International Year of Forests in New York.
According to a UN sponsored assessment, more than 400 million hectares of forest in the developing world are currently administered by local communities, accounting for about 25% of all the forestland in those countries. Yet, the IUCN report finds, the legal titles to more than half of those forests are not held by the communities that manage them. These forests are also typically not as well managed, it says, because there is less incentive for the communities living near those forests to manage the resource wisely.
The report suggests that goverments can significantly improve forest quality simply by publicizing the availability of land titles and by improving their administration, clearing the way for communities to legally sell forest products, acquire title to individual plots, borrow money from banks and decide communally which areas to harvest and which to conserve.
“The key is to turn the local forest communities into beneficiaries and stakeholders,” explains author Lucy Emerton, chief economist of the Environment Management Group of Colombo, Sri Lanka, who prepared the report for IUCN.
As an example, Emerton cites the case of a village in Mtanza-Msona, Tanzania, whose residents were not able to legally use and sell products from a nearby forest. “There was a lot of poaching and illegal harvesting of timber,” she says. Then, after a 2003 law designated the area a Village Forest Reserve and gave the villagers the rights to its products, they formulated a management plan to exploit the forest legally and sustainably. Since then, poaching and illegal timber harvesting have markedly declined and village income has risen, Emerton says.
Another successful approach, the report finds, is for governments to train community specialists in the latest sustainable forest management techniques. This increases the revenue the villages derive from selling forest products to the surrounding regions and helps them to find new markets for green products.
According to Emerton, such modest actions also boosts the environmental benefits forest provide, from carbon sequestration to the output of clean water for downstream users.
Emerton says the several hundred forest rangers in the Miyun forest north of Beijing, which supplies 70% of the city’s drinking water, have been receiving training since 2006 in what China calls “close-to-nature forest management techniques.” This included large-scale tree plantings in denuded areas.
“As a result, they’ve seen a significant decrease in sediment in the water as it enters the reservoir below the forest,” she reports. The plantings have also cut erosion and runoff and allowed more water to be absorbed into the soil and to flow out of springs in a more regular, useful fashion.
Similarly, she adds, a 2009 World Bank study found that every dollar spent in rehabilitating the watershed forest of Ulan Baator, Mongolia, will yield $15 in water benefits.
Tim Killeen, an ecologist with the environmental group Conservation International, based in Washington DC, says the report provides, “a convincing argument supported by data and analysis that document the economic value of forests at both local and global scales.” He also cautions that much of the potential value it assumes it related to carbon and water, “and global markets for forest carbon are still very immature, while payment for water related ecosystem services is difficult in areas characterized by rural poverty.”
Emerton says the report is directed at aid agencies and policy makers who can influence efforts and investment decisions in support of community managed forests. The governments of developing countries spend more that $10 billion a year on their forests (and developed countries add $2 billion in foreign aid to that sector) and yet the locally controlled portions receive much less than a tenth of this investment, the report states.
“We found that government spending on locally-controlled forests is one of the most effective ways to improve the forests and the lives of the people who live in them, and that’s over a billion people,” says Emerton.
Posted on behalf of Christopher Pala
Photo: A community logging camp in Lowland Papua (courtesy IUNC).
Comments by Tim Killeen were added subsequent to the initial post.