Local communities are key forest stakeholders, and their involvement in decision-making and sustainable management of forests generates positive outcomes for livelihoods, rural development, and forest conservation. In particular, countries in Latin America are advancing in the process of developing the concepts of community forestry as a collaborative governance approach to forest management. The approach is also a crucial part of countries’ efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+) and contribute to national and global action to combat climate change. For example in Colombia, it has been estimated that more than one million people depend on forests for their livelihoods.
Colombia is taking rapid steps towards linking its community forestry activities to the country’s Integrated Strategy to Control Deforestation and Manage Forests - Bosques Territorios de Vida (EICDGB in its Spanish acronym). In August 2018, under the Forest Governance Consolidation Project in Colombia and technical assistance of the UN-REDD Programme, the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (Minambiente in Spanish) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) signed the Convention on Technical Assistance for the Implementation of the Community Forestry Model. Building on experiences in Guatemala and Mexico, the agreement aims to support the implementation of an innovative model of community forestry with a new approach that encourages sustainable management of forests and their resources; specifically to:
Train representatives of local producer organizations in market analysis and other useful business practices;
Work with producer organizations to implement instruments for inclusive governance that can further support effective policies and strengthen value chains;
Support community forestry initiatives to shape the development of inclusive value chains in four regions of the country (Antioquia, Cauca, Tolima and Valle del Cauca)
The project’s four focus regions selected by Minambiente - Antioquia, Cauca, Tolima and Valle del Cauca – have already achieved substantial progress in activities related to forest governance. The progress is due to several factors, including the Sectoral Reform Agreement previously signed by the Government of Colombia and the European Union, identifying areas of active deforestation through the Early Warning system of the Instituto de Hidrologia, Meteorologia y Estudios Ambientales (IDEAM), integration of governance processes by the Corporación Autónoma Regional (CAR), and a strong community interest in improving legality in the use of timber and non-timber products.
Under the technical cooperation program of FAO, support was given to the continuation of a South-South Cooperation process with Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia, which among its activities included an exchange of 16 representatives of local and government actors on issues related to community forestry and governance.
Carlos Nieto, a leader of the Junta de Acción Comunal of the El Carmen sector in the municipality of Remedios, Antioquia, noted that the project has served as an opportunity to realize dreams, and improve the use and management of forests in the area. He highlighted that "here, as in Guatemala, we are going to demonstrate that we can be good stewards of our forests, especially if the forests are in the hands of local communities".
Additionally, the project represents an opportunity for Minambiente to advance in the area of forest governance through working with forest communities. The activities will support the Ministry in moving forward with the objectives embodied in the 2018-2022 National Development Plan of the current government, where the theme of forest governance is particularly relevant to the agreements for sustainability and the pact for entrepreneurship and productivity.
For Olga Ruíz, a community leader participating in the process, collaborative actions and teamwork built during the process were key to achieving many of the goals proposed by communities themselves. She emphasizes that in this regard, the support provided by Minambiente and FAO has been crucial because through the improved online collaborative platforms, the trainings received and the information disseminated, the communities have gained extensive knowledge on governance and forest management they did not have before.
The participants from one of the regional environmental authorities, Corantioquia, highlighted the commitment they have made to support the process and the communities in moving towards the formalization of specific forest production activities. Previously, such activities, although a part of the traditional customs of the region, were often carried out in a poorly organized manner, without having the required permits and without taking into account the value chains processes that could further increase their quality of life.