Natural Forest Management
Indigenous peoples and traditional knowledge
Statutory laws often fail to properly recognize the customary rights of indigenous peoples, estimated to number about 60 million worldwide. Overlapping claims to forests by indigenous communities, settlers, the state, agro-industrial, timber and mining companies, and developers of infrastructure and urban areas continue to cause conflicts, including violent conflicts. Many countries lack effective mechanisms for instituting tenure reform, resolving conflicts, and ensuring the adequate participation of indigenous and other local peoples in forest management. Experience shows, however, that SFM can be implemented effectively and can contribute to the well-being of indigenous peoples when it: makes appropriate use of indigenous knowledge; is participatory and inclusive in decision-making and conflict management; facilitates access to finance and markets; strengthens capacities; and upholds the right to free, prior and informed consent and other principles of human rights. Many approaches to SFM rely heavily on local knowledge and the traditional experience of indigenous peoples.
A woman weaving baskets under the house in Thkaol Thom Village in Pursat Province, Cambodia. The baskets are used to transport fish. ©FAO/A.K. Kimoto / FAOTraditional forest-based food production systems are important parts of the cultural heritages of many countries. Traditional knowledge constitutes social capital that is often undervalued, and its deployment in SFM contributes to community empowerment. On the other hand, many forest communities are under pressure and their social structures have been weakened, jeopardizing the retention of traditional knowledge. SFM can play an important role in integrating traditional knowledge with new technology and approaches in the face of socioeconomic and cultural change in local communities.
Forest use has a strong gender dimension. In many forest communities, women are the primary users of forests, harvesting products such as fodder, fuelwood, medicines and foods. Men tend to harvest products that are required less frequently, such as timber and bushmeat. Women are usually also the primary caregivers: they use the products they harvest from forests to feed, shelter and heal their families and to earn income that they mostly spend on their families.
Elderly women carrying firewood back to their homes, Tanzania. ©FAO/Simon Maina / FAOInvolving women in forest-related decision-making at the community level has been shown to have positive effects on forest management, including by helping control illegal activities and increase the capacity of community groups to manage conflict. Securing women’s property rights to forests can also be a powerful incentive for the adoption, by women, of forest conservation measures. In many countries, therefore, greater gender equity in forest areas is one of the keys to SFM.
Children and youth
Children and youth are an important stakeholder group in SFM because they are future decision-makers, forest owners and managers. Their involvement – nationally, subnationally and locally – in the implementation of SFM is important because they have a long-term interest in natural resource management and environmental conservation. Ongoing education on the role of forests in sustainable development and the benefits of SFM implementation will help ensure that children and youth understand the importance of forests and learn skills important for their sustainable management.