Community Forest Management in Latin America: a commitment to conservation and sustainable development
©UN-REDD, a community in Peru
Forest loss has serious environmental, economic and social consequences, resulting in the decline of livelihoods dependent on forest resources. With forest loss, communities also face water scarcity, habitat destruction, endangered species and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Changing the course of deforestation requires urgent measures, including a commitment to conserve and manage forests with integrated and inclusive territorial approaches.
One such approach is Community Forest Management (CFM), which oversees a planned and diversified use of forests by local populations. In Latin American countries, this model has enhanced forest conservation and sustainable use of forest resources, while at the same time improving the livelihoods of local forest-dependent communities.
The CFM approach is often implemented along with other interventions that are aimed at poverty alleviation and environmental protection. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, such an integrated approach is imperative and timely as it tackles deforestation, as well as the associated health and socio-economic impacts.
At this critical moment in history, we need to urgently create alternatives that allow us to move towards community-driven forest conservation. Taking one important step in this direction, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), within the framework of the UN-REDD Programme, gathered four Latin American countries – Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Peru - in a virtual workshop called “Exchange of Community Forest Management Experiences in Latin America.” Here is a summary of the experiences shared.
Community Forest Management in the Embera Wounaan region of Panama
"It is gratifying to see what we’ve achieved,” said Rafael Valdespino, the administrator and community technician of the Marraganti Balm Forestry Company in the Embera Wounaan Comarca in eastern Panama. “Previously, we relied on outside-community technicians to conduct tree inventories and develop the Annual Operational Plans (POA). Now, we take care of these tasks ourselves.”
Strengthening their technical capacities and empowering communities to take the lead are both core objectives of the technical assistance process, which is supported by the government and partner organizations, including WWF and the UN-REDD Programme. The funds the community receives from CFM activities are invested in improving the livelihoods and housing of the 800 inhabitants of the community. As a result of this work, 174 homes have been already improved.
"Implementing CFM has enabled our community to be more aware and use forest resources more sustainably,” said Valdespino. “We are their guardians.”
Community Forest Management in Ecuador: forests that smell of cocoa and vanilla
Kallari, which means beginning in Quechua, is also the name of one of the most important community organizations in the Ecuadorian Amazon province of Napo. Led by Carlos Pozo, the Kallari Association manages an area of 1,000 hectares involving 21 communities and 5 districts with an aim to sustainably produce, process and market agroforestry products, such as vanilla, cocoa and guava. This has improved the living conditions of the partners – 95% of which are from indigenous communities - and preserved natural and cultural biodiversity. All of the produce is grown free of pesticides and chemicals, thanks to the richness of the soils, a partial result of good management that communities have practiced ancestrally, known as the chacra.
Kallari provides technical assistance to forestry producers with quality products. One recent development is a line of energy drinks for elite athletes. The drink is made from guayusa, an Amazon rainforest plant that has been traditionally used by the community at the start of each day to help them in carrying out their work in the field.
According to Pozo, one of the biggest challenges is maintaining the balance between quality and price, but the community has managed to obtain several quality certifications. With recent incentives and revenue from their activities, the communities reinvest funds back into their livelihoods.
Forests, rivers and conservation: Community Forest Management in the Yurumanguí River Basin of Colombia
The black community of the Yurumanguí River basin has ancestrally occupied 54,776 hectares since the mid-16th century, when black slaves were brought from Africa to develop mining activity in the basin. Their community forests are well-preserved and rich in biodiversity, ranging from mangroves to mountain forests. The CFM, adopted by their Community Council, has helped the community continue to conserve and diversify forests for present and future generations.
"More than 400 years of forest conservation has resulted in a harmonious relationship between the community and nature," said Graciano Caicedo, the community leader. Wood harvesting is based on ancestral techniques that are linked to the community’s patron saint of festivities, the phases of the moon and the tides.
The community and its forest activities are aimed at strengthening identity, territory, participation and autonomy, self-development, collective well-being and alliances and solidarity. These principles are summarized in community’s slogan: "For the conservation of our natural resources and the environment, territory of life, joy, and freedom." (Por la conservación de nuestros recursos naturales y el ambiente, territorio de vida, alegría, y libertad)
Community Forest Management in Peru: experiences of native communities of Yamino
Marcelo Odicio, head of the native community, Yamino, talked about a CFM initiative located in the province of Padre Abad in the Ucayali region of Peru.
There, the Kakataibo indigenous people populate a forested territory of about 30,537 hectares. Founded in 1996, the community is now made up of 300 people, or 60 families, who depend on economic activities such as harvesting wood, bananas, tourism, handicrafts and forest conservation.
Currently, the community has agreements with several wood-harvesting initiatives and companies. One of these companies is Empresa Maderera Negocios Forestales H&F SAC. The community is a member of the board of directors, forest monitoring and surveillance committees. They have incentives for forest conservation and monetary transfers from the National Forest Conservation Program to strengthen monitoring, community management and sustainable business practices.
They have also made progress in strengthening the monitoring committee’s responsiveness to potential threats from deforestation, hunting and illegal fishing. The income the community receives from CFM is invested back into the community to improve housing and other services such as the health center, school and communal office.
"The active participation of the community in the forest inventory has increased the community’s feelings of territorial ownership," said Odicio.
Forests for Life
This diversity of experiences in CFM makes it clear that, although the model is essentially the same, there are differences in the way each community adapts to national regulatory frameworks and generates revenue to improve the quality of life and forests.
Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities of Latin America are the true guardians of forests, as they are the ones dependent on forest resources, and as such, they are deeply invested in sustainable forest management. These communities combine their technical capacities with traditional knowledge to create an approach that, as one of the local community members noted, does not intend to: "leave forests without any use, but to rather manage these landscapes sustainably."
The recording of the webinar on “The Exchange of Community Forest Management Experiences in Latin America: Advances and Challenges” can be found here.
Adriana Yepes, Regional Advisor for REDD+ and Sustainable Forest Management, UN-REDD Program, FAO Colombia
REDD+ Team Leader, FAO Forestry Division
Lucio Santos, Forestry Officer – REDD+ LAC Coordinator, FAO Subregional Office for Mesoamerica
Technical Advisor, Community Forestry and Monitoring, LAC