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Empowering communities in forestry laws key to stopping global deforestation

The right set of laws are crucial to ensure that ‘community forests’ are successful in halting deforestation, mitigating climate change and preserving biodiversity while also providing livelihoods for communities that depend on them, a new legal report shows.

Environmental lawyers from ClientEarth have released findings that demonstrate how important the right legal framework is for creating successful community forest systems, which grant formal management rights of forests by and for local communities and indigenous people.

Drawing on two years of research from Nepal, the Philippines and Tanzania, Communities at the heart of forest management: How can the law make a difference was launched yesterday at a Congo Basin community forest conference in Yaoundé, Cameroon.

The Congo Basin, home to the second largest tropical rainforest in the world covering over two million km², would particularly benefit from community forest systems. This is due to the rise of large-scale agriculture, logging and mining projects that have resulted in land grabs, rights violations and environmental degradation with little evidence of benefit to local communities.

ClientEarth law and policy advisor and report co-author Nathalie Faure said: “Halting deforestation is crucial if humanity is to prevent catastrophic climate change and biodiversity loss. Granting management rights to communities on forest land and creating ‘community forests’ has been proven to reduce deforestation.

“Drawing on the lessons from the Philippines, Nepal and Tanzania, we can see that the right laws are vital for community forests to be successful in providing livelihoods, while also preserving biodiversity and halting deforestation.

“These three countries prove that protecting forests and providing livelihoods is not a zero-sum game. So with inclusive laws, community forests can be a cost-effective opportunity to secure long-lasting environmental, social, economic and cultural benefits.”

Forest-dependent communities have managed forests for generations and a growing number of countries worldwide are recognising how important this community role can be. This is a paradigm shift away from the approach of conceding forest areas to companies and states to either exploit or protect them.

But key to the success of community forests are strong, clear and inclusive laws to properly empower communities to use, manage and benefit from their forests. The report sets out 10 key recommendations to ensure laws foster community forests, including:

  • Recognise links between land and forest tenure – community forestry laws should reflect community customs and uses of forests and land, including those of indigenous people, to ensure communities have clear tenure (the right of individuals or communities against forcible evictions).
  • Simplify the allocation process – allow self-determined communities to follow the process themselves with a procedure that is streamlined and inexpensive and also allows external support if needed.
  • Enable participation – the law should include specific provisions to encourage participation of all community members, especially from vulnerable groups such as women and indigenous people.
  • Enforcement – it is important to identify what constitutes an offence and clearly state sanctions and who can issue them, with clear identification of the roles and responsibilities of communities and governments.

Faure added: “Community forests are not a new concept but the models are less developed in the Congo Basin due in large part to unclear and incoherent legislation and weak governance. There is a real opportunity in the region for ongoing reforms to take into account the lessons learned from the Philippines, Nepal and Tanzania to empower forest-reliant Congo Basin communities and have their forest lands protected for the benefit of the planet.”

The full report can be found here in both English and French.

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