Sustainable forest management: Let people play their role!

Kichwa community listens to Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) scientists informing them of their results, Napo Province, Ecuador. Photo by Tomas Munita (CIFOR)

Kichwa community listens to Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) scientists informing them of their results, Napo Province, Ecuador. Photo by Tomas Munita (CIFOR)

“I believe in logic, but for managing the forest and creating beautiful landscapes, we must put our heart in it,” says Jatna Supriatna from the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN).

Those words really touched my heart during a discussion on “Changing communities, sustainable landscapes and equitable development” on the second day of the 2014 Forests Asia Summit. The discussion itself was moderated by Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) scientist Grace Wong and featured a panel of four speakers from differing backgrounds, namely Tint Twint Thaung from The Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC), Joan Carling from the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, Permaningsih Hadinugroho from Danone Aqua, and Supriatna.

Before joining the session, I never realized that managing forests takes so many stakeholders. It became even more complex when one of the speakers talked about the relationships between various stakeholders. In managing forests, we need a lot of elements, including local communities, government, industry and non-government organizations.

From those numerous elements, I took an interest in indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples have been the stewards of their lands and resources for thousand of years. Relying on traditional knowledge and sustainable resource management practices, indigenous cultures have survived and thrived in all corners of the world, according to a report about indigenous communities and biodiversity released by the Global Environment Facility.

However, neither their communities nor our industrialized societies are immune to a globalized economy whose side effects, when left unchecked, threaten the environmental public goods that indigenous people so vitally depend upon for their cultural, spiritual, and physical sustenance, the report said.

I realized that, in Indonesia, indigenous people are losing their way of life. This is because they are losing their forests, slowly but surely, due to industry and the development of cities. In Kalimantan, Indonesia, indigenous people are facing problems including infrastructure development, the influx of mining, large-scale plantations, corruption, and pressure from many sectors.

During the discussion, Supriatna, who is chairman of the Indonesian chapter of SDSN, explained his experience of working with 38 communities across Indonesia. He firmly stated that, based on his experience, local communities and indigenous people have been disadvantaged by current forest management practices in Indonesia. He also stated that, without local communities, there is no such thing as sustainable forest management. Local communities are the focus of sustainable forest management.

Changing communities

In this era, the world is changing rapidly, meaning that countries must be ready to change too.

“How does the environment fit in these market changes?” Wong asked during the session.

For me this is a brilliant question. As there are so many interests from different sectors in forest management, it is almost impossible to see one clear solution. Why? Because market changes will drive industry to exploit forests more. However, on the other hand, forests must stay “alive” as a very important part of the earth.

Indigenous people will be kicked off their own land by changing markets that will change the forests. Carling, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact secretary-general, said that when we talk about forest exploitation, which provides for our consumption through industry or government, we also have to talk about the rights of indigenous people.

Respecting the rights of indigenous people and local communities is key. Sustainable forest management should support sustainable livelihoods, which in turn supports food security and also women and children. Equity means having rights in development.

Local communities and indigenous people are the main players in sustainable forest management. They have very significant roles in keeping forests alive, as they literally preserve them. Let us stand back and give them their right to keep forests alive and as they should be. As Supriatna said, we must “use our heart”.

Zainun Najib is a student of the University of Indonesia and a volunteer at Sahabat Pulau Indonesia.


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