Forest communities are heard at the 2015 World Forestry Congress in South Africa

Forest communities are heard at the 2015 World Forestry Congress in South Africa

the Netherlands - 11 September, 2015

Indigenous Peoples, local communities and family smallholders met in strength during the 14th World Forestry Congress in Durban this week, and their voice was heard. Representing many millions of those who live in and live off the forest, they shared their views at a weekend-long pre-Congress meeting, and during dozens of dedicated side events and sessions during the following days. Coalescing around the Building Momentum initiative of the Forest and Farm Facility and numerous partners, “this focus on producer organizations is unprecedented, compared to any previous congress”, one senior analyst commented.

The great value of exchanging experiences between forest communities from around the world was expressed by many. And this was summed up best during one evening of sharing stories by Norman Dlamini of Forestry South Africa, an organization in the host country which supports thousands of smallholder farmers who invest in, and manage, tree growing on their own land. “Before you can trust someone, you need to know if they care for you. We need what we call ubuntu”*.

Organized around the Congress’s number one theme on forests for socio-economic development and food security, the desires of indigenous peoples, local communities and family smallholders became crystal clear. But this was no overnight apparition. The consensus of opinion in Durban was possible only after two years of regional dialogues in Africa, Asia and the Americas, complemented by the gathering of experiences from around the world in several books published specially for the event.

And on Thursday 10 September, they delivered their consolidated views to a high-level plenary session that gathered the conclusions from the entire congress. From Canada, Vietnam, Guatemala and Kenya, four representatives from national and regional organizations, two men, two women, took the stage to present in person four key messages.

  • Indigenous peoples, local communities, family smallholders, women, men, young and old, and their organizations, already manage a third of the world’s forests. They are also major investors and landscape custodians, and they and their forests play a critical role in ensuring food security and nutrition, local livelihoods, responding to climate change, and meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Indigenous peoples, local communities and family smallholders have the potential to do much more. But to ensure they play a greater part in the solutions to local and global challenges, serious and renewed actions are needed to secure their tenure rights, strengthen their organizations, improve services, provide fair access to markets, and increase finance and investments at all levels.
  • We urge governments and non-government actors to directly consult with indigenous peoples, local communities, family smallholders and their organizations, to engage as equal partners in prioritizing, developing, implementing and monitoring forest-related policies and programmes that meet their needs and demands.
  • Indigenous peoples, local communities, family smallholders have the numbers, the knowledge and are vital for the future of the world’s forest.

Held only every six years, this year’s overarching title is Forests and People: Investing in a Sustainable Future, and the voice of the people was heard, loudly and clearly, and directly from those who represent them. This alone is a message, and a statement, and one that we can only hope is taken up as a matter of urgency by policy and private investment, so we can move quickly forward in meeting humanity’s challenges – together, and immediately.

See also:

*Ubuntu is a Nguni Bantu term roughly translating to human kindness. It is an idea from the southern African region which means literally "human-ness" and is often translated as "humanity toward others," but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity… Since the transition to democracy in South Africa with the Nelson Mandela’s presidency in 1994, the term has become more widely known outside of southern Africa, notably popularized to English language readers by Desmond Tutu.
[Source: Wikipedia]

 **Photo credit: ©FAO/Giuseppe Carotenuto

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