The Alarming Truth Behind Deforestation
Posted on May 11, 2016
Shining the light on the rainforest floor to reveal the growing problem of deforestation.
It’s no secret that the total global rainforest area is decreasing drastically, particularly in Central America and there are multiple factors contributing to this changing landscape including large and small scale architecture, logging and cattle ranching.
As the infographic below clearly shows, certain industries have a significantly more deleterious effect on the world’s rainforests than others. In places with a higher concentration of a particular industry – cattle ranching being an especially notable and destructive example – these effects can make for some genuinely alarming reading. And yet, in these locations more than anywhere else, a steadily growing belief in the power of community forestry initiatives could well prove vital to sustainable resource management for the future of our planet.
Basic principles of community forestry
There is a clear symbiotic relationship between Earth’s forests and the myriad global communities that live in, work with, and rely on them. This phenomenon has been increasingly well documented over the past couple of decades, and understanding the true extent and impact of this relationship is now widely seen as key to the ongoing sustainable management of forests at a time when these great natural resources are under such tangible and pressing threat.
‘Community forestry’ is something of an umbrella term. It covers a wide variety of strategies and techniques for managing the use of tree and wildlife resources by local populations, be it for food use, timber, farming and animal husbandry, or employment through domestic economies, exports and tourism.
What makes community forestry different from other environmental and social programmes is that, at every stage of the various decision-making and resource allocation processes, it prioritises the active participation and leadership of the very people reliant on the forests for the survival and prosperity of their communities and cultures.
Rather than tariffs and targets being imposed from afar by groups with less immediate experience their local efficacy and impact, a true community forestry initiative directly engages resident populations and local leadership groups throughout the design and implementation of all resource management schemes and environmental protection programmes.
In practice, grass-roots organisational and leadership building is often seen as the first step, with the ultimate aim being to achieve sustainable local control of decision-making and forestry management processes by and for the communities most affected by the outcomes.
Challenges facing community forestry
Naturally, there are challenges to be faced in establishing these sorts of programmes. Local populations may feel that reducing resource consumption poses threats to livelihoods, and therefore adequate funding – not least a guaranteed proportion of revenue from any forestry activities – must be diverted towards community groups actively participating in sustainable management initiatives.
In addition, clear channels of communication are absolutely critical to the success of such movements. Without establishing a sufficiently strong sense of mutual understanding, openness, education, policy review and impact reporting between numerous stakeholder groups of multiple languages and cultures, it’s almost impossible to maintain the delicate balances of interest at play for very long.
Furthermore, to increase local participation in important volunteer-led schemes (such as widespread tree planting in heavily forested areas, or the reporting and prevention of illegal logging activities – a particular problem in Honduras, the effects of which are referenced in the infographic above), practical real-world incentives and rewards for vigilance must be inbuilt. These may include seedling supply, markets for harvesting, or more generous trade tariffs…all of which also require some form of financial support to take full effect.
However, by funding and promoting this model of social forestry, it is increasingly believed that the best decision-making will be arrived at. Those in control of resource management will be the very people who most clearly understand both the resources in question and the needs of local populations, and are therefore best positioned to help navigate the invaluable listening, education and compromise process at the core of any sustainable forest management drive.
And, of course, they are also the societies most directly reliant, both culturally and economically, on the sustainable health of forestry resources in the longer term – which, after all, is the issue at the very heart of the matter.
Editor's note: Although this contribution does not directly highlight a conservation conflict it does point to the scale of forest loss which is a driver of conflict between conservation interests and community needs.