An initiative led by three forestry groups, The Forests Dialogue (TFD), International Conservation Union (IUCN) and  the Growing Forests Partnerships (GFP), has established that better benefits will accrue from forests if they are locally controlled other than by large extractive companies.

A statement announcing the findings of a report produced after series of country-led dialogues held during the past three years with over 400 forest owners, investors, NGOs, governments and intergovernmental agencies emphasised that ?to increase the incomes of many of the billion forest-dependent people worldwide, the current model for investment in forests must be turned on its head.?

According to the statement, optimising the benefits and productivity of forests requires moving from a ?resource-led? model to a ?rights-based? system of ?locally controlled forestry?, that places local control of forests at the heart of the investment process.

Indeed, the report, ?Investing in Locally Controlled Forestry?, launched Friday, September 7, 2012 at IUCN?s World Conservation Congress, shows that with the right processes in place, and under the right conditions, almost any individual or group can build a successful forest enterprise.

Buttressing this point, Chris Buss, Senior Programme Officer for IUCN?s Global Forest and Climate Change Programme, said; ?A first step is to recognise that many forests and landscapes are inhabited by people with some form of land rights,? adding ?Investors are increasingly aware they must respect these rights through recognised processes, although the practical implications of such processes have until now received less attention.?

He said the learning from the initiative demonstrates that the processes of acquiring forest rights, often result simply in compensation for loss of access to land or resources, rather than a genuine shared enterprise.

?In contrast, a ?rights-based? system places local control at the heart of the process. Under this system, the people who own or have rights over the forest are the ones who seek investors and partnerships for managing their natural resource assets,? he explained.

For her part, Minni Degawan, Project Coordinator for KADIOAN, an indigenous peoples organisation based in the Philippines, stated; ?The rights-based approach recognises local people?s autonomy and their rights to determine the land?s destiny and to gain income from its effective management.?

She added that ?Empowering local people to make decisions on commercial forest management and land, with secure tenure rights, the ability to build their own organisations and access to markets and technology can be a highly effective way of raising incomes and protecting forestry resources.?

To Peter Gardiner, Natural Resource Manager for Mondi, however, ?Communities, governments and investors all stand to gain from investing in locally controlled forestry.? Stressing that launching a commercially viable enterprise is not without its own challenges and requires adjustments to conventional investment approaches, he disclosed;  ?To facilitate this process, the Growing Forest Partnerships which includes IUCN and TFD have developed a practitioners? manual, to be released later this month, which offers investors and rights holders a step-by-step guide to negotiating commercial agreements.?

IUCN and its partners from Growing Forest Partnerships is also continuing to gather further information from investing in locally grown forests (ILCF) projects around the world and exploring the possibility of launching a pilot project based on best practices.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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