This International Day of Forests, Ricardo, ITF’s Programmes Manager, shares how forests and rural communities depend on each other for wellbeing.
Social, environmental and economic justice are all intertwined, if we are to preserve forests, he argues, we must put communities at the heart of the restoration fight to protect and improve their wellbeing and livelihoods. And if not, we will all suffer the consequences of deforestation and environmental degradation.
Human wellbeing and forest cover should be examined as joint problems. Throughout history, changes in levels of living standards have affected forests while changes in forest cover have affected wellbeing for better or worse (CIFOR, 2009).
Many of the poorest populations in the global South live in or near forested areas, with their livelihoods being directly linked to the ecosystems services these forests provide. This makes intuitive sense because some of the poorest populations in the global South tend to live in remote rural areas. Remaining natural forests are found in remote rural areas as well.
There is a consensus that expanding the agricultural frontier into the last forested areas of the world is a costly mistake for both the people and the environment.
Instead we should preserve forest areas, while also improving the communities’ wellbeing and livelihoods. We need the public policy that:
- Transfers forest tenure to communities and individuals
- Develops community forestry
- Pays for forest environmental services, including CO2 offsetting
- Promotesaccess to markets and added value products.
“But there are also some intangible services that forests have around mental wellbeing, as well as cultural and religious functions. Sacred forests, sacred trees, community rituals and cohesion are all in danger when environmental degradation or dispossession happen.”
International Tree Foundation has worked hard for almost 100 years to keep communities at the centre of their own natural resource management. We have continually advocated for the communities to benefit from their conservation efforts, promoting the idea that without economic and social development of the communities, environmental conservation is impossible. Securing participatory management and tenure rights of the communities is of the utmost importance. Moreover, community forestry and agroforestry play a vital role in both preserving nature and enabling social and economic development.
The quantity of access to nature and the quality of that nature is correlated to the wellbeing of individuals and communities. This can be seen in the case of tangible ecosystem services such as food, medicine, construction materials, as well as water and its quality. When there is a scarcity of any of these services, or the quality diminishes, people and communities suffer directly.
But there are also some intangible services that forests have around mental wellbeing, as well as cultural and religious functions. Sacred forests, sacred trees, community rituals and cohesion are all in danger when environmental degradation or dispossession happen.
Social, environmental and economic justice are all intertwined. The wellbeing of communities and individuals in rural areas in general – though particularly in forests – are all connected. If deforestation and environmental degradation occur, we all suffer the consequences.
At International Tree Foundation, we currently support 35 partners across eight African countries. These partners are on the frontlines of forest and biodiversity preservation, fighting for the right to be the main stewards of their natural resources and improving their wellbeing. These ITF partners and community-based organisations and projects put local people and their wellbeing at the centre of any conservation effort. Be it the community groups in Mount Bambuotos, Cameroon fighting to implement a participatory forest management plan; the Women in Conservation groups working to preserve the Kakamega forest in Kenya; the Revival school projects in Zambia; the MADLACC organisation in Uganda or Forest of Hope in Rwanda, I wish to thank each and every one of the partners involved for all their daily efforts towards making this world a better place, not just for themselves, but for all of us now and for the wellbeing of future generations.
This International Day of Forest join the restoration movement and put local communities and their wellbeing at the centre of any conservation effort. Become an ITF member and make history planting trees.