A traditional and long-held view holds that the best way to conserve forests is to lock them away in protected areas. However, the results of a new study have added to a growing challenge of this approach suggesting that tropical forests designated as strictly protected areas have annual deforestation rates much higher than those managed by local communities. The new findings compliment the approach to project delivery used by ITF which encourages communities in and around forests to find new, more sustainable ways of managing the resources around them.
A new trend
Previous research from different parts of the tropics have shown that community-based management can be more effective than protected areas in slowing deforestation. The new paper, published in the journal Forest Ecology & Management, suggests these past findings may be part of a larger trend and that greater rule-making autonomy at the local level is associated with better forest management and livelihood benefits.
The research studied forests in 16 countries across Latin America, Africa and Asia. It found that protected areas lost, on average, 1.47 percent of forest cover per year compared to just 0.24 percent in community-managed forests. In addition, the range of variation within the values of deforestation rates around each of these two averages was much larger in forest-protected areas than in community-managed forests.
Manuel Guariguata, Senior Scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and co-author of the new research, pointed to the benefits of community-based management over the traditional approach of designating protected areas:
“Our findings suggest that a forest put away behind a fence and designated ‘protected’ doesn’t necessarily guarantee that canopy cover will be maintained over the long term compared to forests managed by local communities – in fact they lose much more.”
“When done properly, the benefits of community-based management can be seen over the long term, leading to greater conservation participation, reduced poverty, increased economic productivity and the protection of many forest species.”
A combined approach
Although the new research suggests that protected areas alone do not solve deforestation, their use in conjunction with local community based management is seen as key by Guariguata.
“We are not arguing that parks in tropical forested areas are useless. Instead we argue that community-managed forests are a key part of the overall forest conservation package…After decades of expanding protected areas, the need to incorporate human rights concerns and equity into management objectives is now unquestioned.”
Community-based forest management now comprises 8 percent of the total of the world’s managed forests, and up to 20 percent of Latin America’s forests.
Our role and how you can help
ITF play an important role in supporting projects that develop the ability of communities across the world to manage the forests around them and break the vicious cycle between deforestation and poverty. We work with in-country partners to develop projects that help to train and educate members of forest communities on the best ways to use local resources so that both their livelihoods and local biodiversity can flourish. You can help us to develop more of these initiatives by getting involved with our work and donating today.