In times of crisis, such as the current Covid-19 Pandemic and climate change, governments must recognize how forest communities and community forestry can save us all and therefore their capacity, as well as those of civil societies and governments at local level must be built and strengthened, the Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC) said.
“Forest communities reduce the dependence of regions and countries on imported products, not only in good times but when borders are closed. Forest communities build social safety nets for us all, while mitigating climate change and other disasters,” RECOFTC said in a statement titled (RECOFTC Response to Covid-19) sent to the Forest Scribe on Friday (8/5).
The world was currently facing two crises, the organization said, citing them as the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change. The world, it said, must fight both, at the same time and with the same solution: community forestry.
RECOFTC said that when the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities are clear and strong, they are the best stewards of forests and other precious ecosystems. Indigenous and local communities are also better able to take care of themselves during times of crisis, less vulnerable to disasters and less reliant on others for food, medicines and other essentials.
“But the benefits of secure tenure and use rights go far beyond their communities. Indigenous Peoples and local communities can also take care of others. When they have secure rights, they are more able to make long-term investments in their lands and to produce products that feed and support urban populations,” it said.
It said that to allow forest communities and community forestry to build resilience to disaster for all, their capacity, as well as those of the civil society and government at local level must be built and strengthen, so that communities can negotiate and secure an equitable share of benefits. Otherwise, the world would only return to rampant deforestation and further perpetuate inequalities.
“To reduce the risk of pandemics like COVID-19, SARS, MERS, Ebola and other zoonotic diseases—and to stop climate change—we must protect our forests and the people who live in them and near them,” RECOFTC said.
In the Asia-Pacific, deforestation and forest degradation are major problems. Over the past 40 years, the region lost more than 30 percent of its forests to agribusiness and infrastructure. By converting and fragmenting forest landscapes, we destroyed habitats, driving some species into closer contact with people and domestic animals.
Research in Asia and in other parts of the world have shown that deforestation can escalate disease transmission. and also feeds climate change. In these ways the health of forests, humans, the planet and all life are interdependent.
At present, RECOFTC said that the largest remaining tracts of healthy forest in the world are home to and managed by local people: in the Amazon, the Congo, Indonesia, the Mekong and the Asia-Pacific.
“Forest communities are indeed the best stewards of our global forest estate,” it concluded.