Forestry forum spotlights poverty alleviation

An estimated one quarter of the world's poor depend directly or indirectly on forests for their livelihood (FAO/17690/A.Conti)



The development of a guide to enhance the role of forestry in poverty alleviation was a key recommendation of an international forum held in Tuscany, Italy, from 4 to7 September. The guide will identify concrete ways in which forest policy, legislation and programmes can be reframed to address poverty alleviation more effectively. It will also provide examples and suggestions for people involved in designing programmes to help the lives of people who live in forest communities.

The main contributions that forests and trees can make to the livelihoods of the rural poor are well known: increasing incomes, improving food security, reducing vulnerability and enhancing well-being. However, the economic relationship between poor people and forests can be affected for good or ill by a wide array of factors. It was precisely these factors that the forum, "The Role of Forestry in Poverty Alleviation", set out to identify and explore.

Attending were 50 policy-makers and experts from international organizations, bilateral and multilateral agencies, research institutions and NGOs from around the world.

Understanding forest people's reality
Participants broke into working groups to examine six country case studies -- from Bolivia, Honduras, Mali, Nepal, Tanzania and Viet Nam -- prepared as the meeting's springboard for action. "When we went into these groups, we were able to look at real situations in real countries," said Katherine Warner, FAO Senior Forestry Officer for Community Forestry. "For example, what is stopping the forestry programme in Nepal from getting more benefits to community members? From there, we could pull out specific actions that we know will have a direct impact on poverty."

A planned guide will identify concrete ways in which forest policy, legislation and programmes can be refocused to address poverty alleviation more effectively (FAO/S.Braatz)


Among the issues that emerged from the working groups were the following:

  • The importance of local people as the main stakeholders in places where forests continue to be central to livelihood systems. Meeting the needs of the poor should be the principal objective of forest management, and this should be reflected in control and tenure arrangements.

  • Secure access to forest resources. Policies are needed that recognize local rights where communal practices and systems of forest management function viably. Warner said, "Even where these policies exist, sometimes the procedures are too complex or beyond the means of the community, and in the end the rights cannot be exercised."

  • The need for broad and co-ordinated partnership between governments, external agencies and the poor. Equally important is collaboration in complementary sectors, such as infrastructure, education and agriculture.

  • The need for policies, legislation and regulations that effectively govern the use and management of forests.

An important outcome of the Forum was a sense of shared responsibility. "The findings from the Forum should help make technical and financial assistance more effective in creating benefits for the poor from sustainable managed forest and tree resources," said Hosny El Lakany, Assistant Director-General of FAO's Forestry Department.

The World Bank recently estimated that one quarter of the world's poor depend directly or indirectly on forests for their livelihood -- reason enough to generate integrated approaches to reduce poverty through sustainable forest management. Ms Warner said, "As a result of international policy commitments, poverty will get more attention than it did in the past and become more central to forestry and natural resources management issues."

26 September 2001

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