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The Sound of the Forest: Community forest management and the legal timber trade in Colombia

Blog | Wed, 17 Mar, 2021 · 8 min read
On-site processing of harvested wood

Through its national REDD+ strategy, Colombia has been working to protect its forest resources since 2018. The country’s Forest Management and Deforestation Control Strategy “Bosques territorios de Vida” (Forests - territories of life)is an important step for the country, as it works towards fulfilling its commitments under the Paris Agreement. Improved forest governance is at the centre of Colombia’s efforts to halt deforestation and forest degradation, as is actions to achieve Nationally Determined Contributions and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been supporting the Colombian government in the implementation of various actions embedded in the strategy through the UN-REDD and FAO-EU FLEGT Programmes, particularly in the area of community forest management and the legal timber trade. In June 2020, the two programmes supported a new collaboration between the Yurumanguí River Basin Community Council and the Red Faisán. The Yurumanguí River Basin Community Council has been part of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development’s National Programme of Community Forestry since 2018. The Red Faisán is an organisation of Luthiers Colombianos and the Coja Oficio Foundation that promotes the traditional craft of lutherie, or making string instruments, such as guitars. This collaboration enables the sale of wood that is harvested legally and sustainably, in which Red Faisán is the buyer and Yurumanguí is the seller.

The objective of this collaboration is to reduce brokerage costs and give viability to fair and legal business, pairing Yurumanguí’s community-based sustainable forest management, which is protected by national regulations, with the legal and corporate social responsibility work of Red Faisán.

For the first time, the community of Yurumanguí conducted business directly with the buyer and was able to arrange and agree to the terms of sale, delivery and volume of wood per tree species. During this process several meetings between the two parties were held to clarify concerns and requirements, and finally 8.1 m3 of wood was dispatched from Buenaventura on October 23, 2020, arriving a few days later on the 28th with Red Faisán in Bucaramanga.

Before tree-felling began, Jorge Enrique Rodríguez, director of Coja Oficio Foundation and sponsor of Red Faisán spoke to the Yurumanguí delegates: We recognise and value the ancestral connection between living creatures, and we wish to ask you a favour: before felling, please tell the trees what they will be made into – not fuelwood or charcoal, but rather that soon, they will be making music, and that we will do everything possible to make sure this music sounds beautiful and lasts.”

Graciano Caicedo, leader of the Yurumanguí community, said:This tree-felling was very special. For the first time, we knew what our wood would be used for, and the knowledge that it would be for creating music really motivated our 8 loggers during 15 days of careful work. Making the forest sing and bring music to Colombian ears is wonderful for us Yurumanguireños, since the rhythms of the Pacific accompany us daily in all we do.”

Key success factors

This pilot project showed that it is possible to carry out fair trade agreements in Colombia between communities and companies or commercial partners that request legal and sustainable wood for their production processes. The following enabling conditions were important for this:

  • networking to publicise community initiatives and contact possible bidders and applicants;

  • trust between the parties, in this case supported by FAO as a neutral actor and guarantor of the negotiations;

  • transparent and timely negotiation between parties;

  • corporate social responsibility of the Red Faisán and appreciation for the existing community process;

  • motivation to close a business deal where two links in the value chain come together, and to create musical instruments with wood produced in an ethnic community that bases its ancestral customs on music;

  • willingness for negotiation of a fair price that recognizes the work of a whole community and the sustainable forest management processes that the community has long developed.

This pilot project has contributed to establishing good forest governance practices between wood producers and user industries, imparting lessons learned on both sides that will be put into practice again soon.

It is expected that the wood purchased by Red Faisán from the Yurumanguí River Basin Community Council will undergo physical and mechanical tests and be made into guitar prototypes using varying combinations of different tree species by the master luthiers of Red Faisán. These prototypes will then be tested acoustically in a recording studio by sound engineers. This will enable the identification of the optimal wood composition and will eventually create a value chain centred on music and natural forests in the Pacific region of Colombia.

Read the Spanish version here.