Harvesting forests: more transparent, accountable, pro-poor

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) recently launched the first voluntary guidelines for forest concessions in the tropics to make them more transparent, accountable and inclusive – all for the benefit of some of the poorest and most isolated communities in the world.

The FAO recommendations include growing and harvesting agro-forestry products and agricultural crops alongside harvesting of timber and other wood products.

Over 70% of forests in the tropics used for harvesting timber and other forest products are state-owned or public; most of the public forests are managed through concessions that governments give to private entities or local communities.

Forest concessions have existed in many of the world’s poorest nations for decades, but their contributions have not always been positive. While they have generated more jobs and better income for people in remote areas, in many cases, they have also left behind a trail of degraded forests and tenure conflicts.

Forest concessions can be poorly managed due to a lack of adequate skills in tropical forest management; weak governance; over-complicated rules and expectations; focus on short-term benefits, leading to over-harvesting; inadequate benefit sharing, infringement and lack of recognition of local people’s rights; no economic returns.

Most forest losses in the past two decades occurred in developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, South-East Asia and Latin America, highlighting the need for a better management of public production forests in the tropics.

The new voluntary guidelines build on lessons learned to offer practical guidance for a more sustainable management of public production forests in the tropics through concessions.

When managed well forest concessions can:

•         Curb deforestation and reduce forest degradation;

•         Enhance the provision of ecosystem services and reduce carbon footprint to combat climate change;

•         Ensure sustainable forest production and strengthened forest value chains;

•         Create employment opportunities and services;

•         Generate local and national revenues that can be invested in forest conversation, and better health and social services;

•         Bring overall, substantial contributions to achieving sustainable development goals.

Practical guidelines

The guidelines provide a set of principles to be respected by all stakeholders during the full cycle of concessions, and tailored recommendations for specific stakeholders – governments, concession-holders, local communities, donors, non-governmental organisations.

The guidelines also include a self-assessment tool, so that stakeholders can verify if enabling conditions for sustainable forest concessions are in place.

The voluntary guidelines offer suggestions on how to shift from short-term harvesting objectives, which can lead to forest degradation or even deforestation, to long-term forest management, building the case for true sustainable forestry in the tropics.

For a longer-term, more comprehensive use of forests, the recommendations include: growing and harvesting agroforestry products (herbs, nut and fruit trees and shrubs) and agricultural crops alongside harvesting of timber and other wood products; replenishing of commercially important trees to avoid their extinction in the future; and more investment in silviculture.

The guidelines build on best practices of forest concessions around the world, and are based on consultations with more than 300 technical experts from the public and private sectors, and representatives of civil societies from Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America.

Case studies

Brazil only introduced forest concessions in 2006 but has already had significant results, proving that concessions based on transparency and monitoring can conserve natural forests by developing markets for products and services from sustainably managed forests, which led to greater social welfare.

Concessions for Guatemala’s public forests are granted to communities and companies for timber and non-timber products. All 340 community members of one concession benefitted directly from the profits, which averaged about $1,200 per family. The concessions also generated 16,000 jobs, bringing additional benefits to the community members.

The Borneo Initiative is a foundation established in 2008 that promotes the sustainable management of forests in Indonesia. It provides financial and technical assistance to concession-holders linking them to a professional network of experts to guide them through the process. It has already led to an increase of more than 2 million hectares of natural forest area.

In 2001, the government of Cameroon appointed the first independent observer to monitor forest law violations, such as illegal logging, and uphold forest law compliance. This has improved forest governance, both in terms of transparency and public information disclosure.





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