Community forest enterprises in poor nations call for level field in use of forest lands and access to world markets

21 July 2007, Rio Branco, Brazil

Community sawmills generate local jobs and build
professional skills in timber processing and business
organization and management. Photo: Salvador Anta Fonseca

Leaders of community forest enterprises in Africa, Asia and the Americas called today for their governments to extend to traditional communities the same rights and financial support provided to the world's largest timber companies.

"Only with support and access to land and markets can forest communities continue to conserve the world's remaining tropical forests while helping to fulfill the world's commitment to bring an end to poverty," said Alberto Chinchilla, representative of the Global Alliance of Forest Communities.

The announcement was made in Rio Branco on the last day of an international conference on community forest management and enterprises organized by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), IUCN – The World Conservation Union and the Global Alliance of Forest Communities. Also supported by the governments of Brazil and the State of Acre, the meeting brought together 250 participants from more than 40 countries.

For five days, participants at the conference debated the problems confronted by inhabitants of tropical forests on three continents. These included a lack of legal access to land and financial support, excessive red tape, high taxes, and markets that are out of reach because of distance and bureaucratic barriers.

Their experiences were confirmed by the results of a study issued during the conference. According to "Community-based Forest Enterprises in Tropical Forest Countries: Status and Potential", community forestry enterprises employ more than 110 million people worldwide, among them Indigenous peoples and other forest dwellers. Such enterprises harvest wood and collect bamboo, rattan, fibers, nuts, resins, medicinal herbs, honey, wood for charcoal and other natural products to increase local wealth.

The new study suggests that forest communities are responsible for the management of around 370 million hectares of natural forest. In so doing, they provide environmental services important in combating climate change and protecting water sources, biodiversity and the natural landscapes prized by the international community.

Though fragile and with few financial, technical or technological resources, community forest enterprises worldwide make an annual investment in forests of US$2.5 billion. Despite having an important impact on the conservation of natural resources, according to the new study, these enterprises must carry on a daily battle against bureaucratic and other barriers.

"Inflexible regulations, high taxes and exceedingly slow approval rates are preventing our survival," said Ghan Shyan Pandey, leader of the Federation of Forest Communities of Nepal (FECOFUN). His thoughts were echoed by Franklin Chaqui, a representative of Tupiza Forest Community Enterprise in Panama, who was also at the conference.

"Our communities are isolated and the governments need to have policies that are effective and designed for us," he said. "If they don't support our work, the forests will fall into the hands of others, who lack the commitment we offer as traditional inhabitants of the forest."

The conference in Rio Branco has become part of the history of this new movement in forestry, according to participants. "This meeting has demonstrated the great power and potential of local communities to save the forests and avoid terrible human tragedy," said Augusta Molnar, of RRI.

Participants at this first global meeting of community forest enterprise representatives made a series of recommendations. They included a commitment to:

  1. work together to ensure that legal access to land and natural resources be included in the laws and/or constitutions of individual nations.
  2. lobby governments to provide lines of credit dedicated exclusively to community enterprises.
  3. adopt measures to combat poverty and encourage social justice and policies of inclusion within communities.
  4. call for the immediate suspension of high taxes imposed by governments on forest community enterprises.
  5. seek economic and administrative help to reach the consumer markets for sustainable products.
  6. create, through ITTO, a special fund for financing community organizations.

Africans Commit to Furthering Support for Community Forest Enterprises

Twenty-six officials and community leaders from twelve African nations yesterday called for "substantial support" for the continent in realizing the potential of community forest enterprises.

At an international meeting on community forestry enterprises in Rio Branco, capital of Brazil's Amazonian state of Acre, the entire contingent from Africa issued a statement urging further discussion of a "time-bound plan for systematically expanding community forest tenure, management and enterprise in African countries to agreed achievable targets by 2015."

The authors said they were struck by the extent to which communities in Asia and the Americas have control of forest lands, and noted in their statement that "the environment for community forest tenure, management and enterprise in Africa is particularly challenging."

"Progress is going to require the kind of honesty we haven't seen in a long time," said Kyeretwie Opoku, coordinator of the NGO Civic Response, which works to empower West African community groups on issues relating to mining, water and forestry. "This underlying problem of land ownership plagues all of us. You have to give people a chance to live their own lives, using their own resources."

The authors of the African statement noted that they had been influenced by the results of the RRI study that was issued during the conference.

In their statement, the African participants called on ITTO and its partners to support a meeting in 2008 to further discuss a plan for supporting community forest enterprises, one that would set targets and a date by which they would be met.

Anicet Minsouma Bodo, an official with the Minister of Forestry of the Cameroon and one of the signatories, said that the results of the study released at the meeting, and the presentations he had heard regarding successful enterprises from Africa, Asia and the Americas, had inspired him.

"Cameroon is putting into place new procedures for dealing with the forest with the participation of communities and civil society," Bodo said. "Now we will take into account the outputs of this conference in this process. Cameroon will do what it can to take the results of this meeting to heart."

Success with Butterfly Farms in Tanzania

Among the case studies presented at the conference was that of a butterfly export business, run by farmers in Tanzania's Usambara Mountains, a biodiversity hotspot of global significance. Farmers there earn a meager living on small plots of land, producing cash crops such as cardamom, cloves, coffee, tea and bananas. They have no electricity and little access to health and education services. But the impact of the butterfly farm is starting to show, according to Amiri Saidi, who has been working with the butterfly farmers as project manager for six years.

"There have been many changes," Saidi said. "The income of participating farmers has increased by at least 20%; some are now focusing entirely on butterfly production."


ITTO is an intergovernmental organization promoting the conservation and sustainable management, use and trade of tropical forest resources. Its 60 members represent about 80% of the world's tropical forests and 90% of the global tropical timber trade. ITTO's policy work stresses the need for equitable, participatory and community-based processes in forest management and forest landscape restoration and provides practical advice to forest managers on how to develop such processes. ITTO's project work is assisting many small forest communities to develop sustainable, forest-based enterprises. For more information, visit

The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) is a new coalition of organizations dedicated to raising global awareness of the critical need for forest tenure, policy and market reforms, in order to achieve global goals of poverty alleviation, biodiversity conservation and forest-based economic growth. Partners currently include ACICAFOC (Coordinating Association of Indigenous and Agroforestry Communities of Central America), the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Civic Response, the Foundation for People and Community Development (FPCD), Forest Peoples Programme, Forest Trends, the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), Intercooperation, the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and the Regional Community Forestry Training Center for Asia and the Pacific (RECOFTC). For further information, visit the Web site at: