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Forest-dependent people

In the final analysis, we are all forest dependent. Without the products and services provided by trees and forests, life on earth as we know it would simply cease to exist. For most of the world's population, although not for the majority of the readers of Unasylva, the dependency relationship with trees and forests is somewhat distant or diluted. Humans are increasingly urban dwellers and the link between the natural environment and products and services derived from renewable resources can he forgotten.

A significant percentage of the global population, however, has a direct relationship with forests and trees. In every region of the world there are communities that live within or immediately adjacent to forested areas, and who depend on them for their sustenance. This issue of Unasylva considers some of the issues related to forest-dwelling and forest-dependent people, and particularly their role in and relationship to sustainable forest management.

Stereotypically, the concept of forest dwellers calls to mind an image of indigenous people living deep in the forest in physical and cultural isolation. This image is often further extended to one of noble savages'' living in "perfect" harmony with their environment hut under primitive conditions and with a childlike inability to progress or look after themselves. Of course, this image is far from the truth. Because of their relationship with the land, indigenous people often have great knowledge of many aspects of natural resource management. These primary users of forest products have often developed their own, locally adapted and accepted rules on how to use the forest. Support to these groups, thus legitimizing their role as responsible forest managers, has proved to be a constructive strategy in the search for sustainable forest management.

The first three articles in this issue of Unasylva consider three different groups of indigenous forest dwellers. The first article, adapted from work by R.C. Bailey, S. Bahuchet, B. Hewlett and M. Dyson, describes the life of the central African pygmy people. Of particular note is the longstanding, mutually beneficial relationship of the pygmies with neighbouring farmers - in clear contrast with the view of indigenous forest dwellers as living in isolation. The second article, by J.C.L. Dubois, considers the uses of wood and non-wood forest products by Indians and riverain populations in the Amazon region. The third article, by L.-A. Baer, focuses on the Saami people, reindeer-herding forest dwellers living within the Arctic Circle. Of key importance in the article is the impact on the Saami lifestyle of changing land-use patterns and industrial forestry.

A basic question in working with forest-dwelling, forest-dependent people relates to understanding their views of their natural surroundings. M. Sow and J. Anderson present the results of a study undertaken in Mali to gain a better understanding of local villagers' perceptions and traditional classification of forest land in order to improve villager integration and participation in the management of the Monts Mandingues Forest, a gazetted reserve near Bamako, Mali.

The article by K. Andersson and H. Ortiz-Chour provides two examples from Latin America illustrating how the FAO l vests Trees and People Programme is exploring new ways of working together with forest-dwelling communities. The first example describes an experience of technical cooperation with an indigenous group living along the Chapare River in Bolivia, while the second depicts the consultative process with indigenous groups in Central America leading up to the Fourth Central American Forestry Congress in 1995.

The following two articles examine two areas in which the involvement or "participation" of indigenous groups is being promoted with the aim of improving their lifestyles while ensuring sustainability of renewable resources. M. Colchester focuses on some of the fundamental issues related to indigenous peoples and protected area management, giving particular attention to the need to involve local people in all aspects of the process, rather than viewing them exclusively as a source of available, affordable labour. K. Moran describes an effort to enable forest-dwelling communities with extensive knowledge of medicinal plants to share more equitably in the profits derived from the development and production of commercial medicines from natural sources.

I t would be unbalanced to consider only indigenous communities in a discussion of forest-dwelling, forest-dependent people, and the final two articles should help to broaden the perspective. R. Morandini examines the Magnifica Comunità di Fiemme, a forest-dependent community located in the Italian Alps that has managed its forestry patrimony as a common property resource for nearly 1000 years. Finally, R. Robson analyses how government forestry policy orientation has influenced the evolution of forest-dependent industrial communities in Canada from 1880 to the present day.

If there is a lesson to be drawn from this issue of Unasylva, it is the importance and mutual advantages of a closer relationship between forest management decision-makers and forest-dwelling, forest-dependent communities. The articles contained in this issue clearly demonstrate both the benefits to be derived, and the perils of not following this approach. Future issues of Unasylva will continue to attempt to stimulate further consideration of this important philosophical approach As always, input and feed-hack from our readers are actively solicited.

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