In 2010-2011, AGTER began conducting new research into forest governance. It is extremely important explore this issue today, in a context when debates surrounding the appropriation and destruction of natural resources are multiplying. 2011, which the United Nations dubbed « the international year of forests », has ended with the failure of the UN Climate Conference in Durban. Yet again, important decisions have been put off, this time until the « Rio + 20 » conference on sustainable development, planned for next June. At international meetings on climate change, forests—and more particularly, the thorny topic of carbon credits, in association with REDD programs (an ensemble of mechanisms that are currently being developed with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions linked to deforestation and forest degradation)—constitute one of the main battlegrounds where debates between advocates for indigenous populations and small farmers, on one hand, and supporters of « foreign investment », on the other, unfold.
Because of the fundamental role they play in water and carbon cycles, tropical forests have a huge impact on ecological balance. Forest degradation and deforestation caused by industry (which often engages in illegal practices) and by the growth in agriculture (in particular, to the growth of animal husbandry) are accelerating. This process is inseparable from an explosion in land-grabbing on a large scale, which targets fertile land regardless of location. Deforestation and forest degradation are not new ; in the past they were caused by the development of monoculture and monoplantations for the production of primary materials destined for industry (agro alimentary, biofuels, rubber…). However, with the phenomenon of land grabbing, they are occurring at a much faster rate. This is why it is so vital to address questions of forest governance right now.
With the support of the Ford and Charles Léopold Mayer Foundations, AGTER has been working with partner organizations from the « Rights and Resources Initiative » Coalition in both Guatemala and Cameroon. More particularly, we are working with the Center for Development and the Environment (CED), Cameroon Ecology (CAMECO), the Trinational Agro-Forestry Cooperative (CAFT), The Guatemalan Association of Community Forestry (UTZ’CHE) and the Association of Peten Forest Communities (ACOFOP). The project aims both to build upon the important achievements and experience of these organizations in the realm of rights recognition and protection for forest populations, and to engage in a broader analysis of these topics through a comparison of forest management in two different contexts.
With the help of partners, and through extensive research, we have put together an educational package concerning forest resource governance. It is composed of a series of thematic documents based around experiences in these two countries, whose populations, and history, are very different.
These documents provide the necessary tools to better understand processes of collective forest resource management in Guatemala and Cameroon at different levels (local and national). How have forms of collective forest land and resource management been constructed, and how have they evolved over time ? In which ways, and to what extent, have they been officially recognized ? What impact has this had on local practices ?
Community groups in both countries have been managing forests collectively for a long time. They have developed complex normative management systems composed of both collective and individual rights. These systems, which are particular to each territory, have for the most part resulted in sustainable resource management : the shared interests and controls (including the imposition of penalties) associated with small-group membership have allowed for the development of solid regulatory mechanisms that have guaranteed the preservation of resources over time.
Forests bring a variety of different stakeholders with conflicting motivations and interests into contact. Forest land and resources have been pursued, consolidated, and appropriated by the state since the beginning of the colonial period, often to the detriment of local populations ; access to land in Guatemala, and to timber resources in the south of Cameroon, is a major basis for the private accumulation of common resources. As such, it is also the source of unequal power relationships between different forest users. Local forms of collective organization are currently destabilized by political and legal frameworks that fail to protect them, or, in some cases, by a lack of political and legal framework whatsoever ; by economic domination of various kinds ; by a loss of traditional cultures and local know-how, the reduction of biodiversity, and the growth of poverty…
Our work around forest governance has confirmed the belief (which we had previously advanced in the context of our work on land grabbing), that the institutions and social systems structuring relationships amongst humans and the resources upon which they depend, deserve very close attention. It is only in recognizing these systems, and in implementing measures that will allow them to evolve and adapt without threatening them, that we can protect them against the economic strategies of private parties seeking maximum short term profit through minimum investment.
February 2d, 2012
Translation from French to English : Jesse Rafert
The FAO has asked AGTER to prepare a thematic report based around work it published in 2011, entitled “The State of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture. Managing Systems at risk.” (SOLAW). You can find a link to download the report (“Hotspots of land tenure and water rights” - available only in French for the moment) in this bulletin.
You will also find the first documents from a series of “Documents on Forest Governance in Guatemala and Cameroon.” These will be completed over the next few weeks, and will be available in both French and Spanish.
The French, Spanish, and English articles and videos that we present here differ.
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