Forest communities should no longer be considered passive participants but rather as leading decision-makers in the fate of tropical forests, according to a civil-society group participating in the International Tropical Timber Council.
The Civil Society Advisory Group (CSAG), which was formed in 2002, comprises representatives of a range of non-governmental organizations with interests in tropical forests. Its expressed aim is to provide an opportunity for local voices and experiences to be heard in the Council, particularly on the equity dimensions of the tropical timber trade.
Speaking today at the 35th Session of the Council, Yati Bun, a spokesperson for CSAG, reported that indigenous and other communities now legally own as private property or officially administer at least 22% of all tropical forests, and this percentage is expected to increase greatly.
"Indigenous and other communities currently own as private property approximately three times as much forest as do private individuals and firms, and communities actively manage approximately two times the amount of tropical forest as in public protected areas globally," he said.
The policy environment, however, was not yet accommodating this change in ownership, he said.
"ITTO and most governments are not yet organized to reflect this new reality and are not playing the supportive role that these forest owners merit and need to continue conserving the world's tropical forests."
Mr Bun pointed to the continuing decline in the international trade of primary tropical timber products and the implications of this for the management of tropical forests.
"The only major, and growing, sources of investment for the sustainable use of tropical natural forests are communities themselves and payments for ecosystem services," he said.
"Unfortunately, producer governments and ITTO are not yet best equipped to orient and encourage this new trade and finance so that they serve the interests of people and the sustainable management of the resource."
On behalf of CSAG, Mr Bun urged ITTO to recognize the role of indigenous and other forest communities as tropical forest owners and managers and to "further strengthen its role in helping forest trade contribute to the livelihoods of these local people".
He also called on ITTO to carry out pilot projects to help assess the dynamism and economic efficiency of community producers and the obstacles they face in fully integrating with domestic and international market and trade of tropical forest products and services.
Drawing attention to preparations under way for the negotiation of the successor agreement to the International Tropical Timber Agreement, 1994, Mr Bun urged a revision of the proposed objectives of the new agreement to "demonstrate and show an understanding of the role of indigenous and other communities as critical, yet under supported, actors".
Mr Bun also announced that the CSAG has elected a new co-chair, representing producer countries. He is Mr Alberto Chincilla, Executive Director of the Central American Indigenous and Peasant Coordinator of Communal Agroforestry. Mr Bun himself would act as alternate co-chair for producer countries, and Mr Andy White, of Forest Trends, would continue to serve as co-chair representing consumer countries.
Background documents for the 35th Session of the International Tropical Timber Council are available at www.itto.or.jp
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