Five types of measures for mitigating climate change in indigenous and tribal territories

c. Community forest management

Community forest management is the other main promising way to incentivize indigenous and tribal peoples to take good care of their forests and use forest resources to improve their welfare and standards of living. The low deforestation rates in community managed forests reflect that. To a large extent, the funds needed for these efforts can come from the forests themselves.

In the indigenous and tribal territories of Latin America and the Caribbean, community forestry principally takes places in four contexts:40

  1. pine production in the coniferous forests of Mexico and Central America;
  2. hardwood production in the tropical broadleaf forests;
  3. forest plantations and agroforestry plots throughout the continent; and
  4. non-timber products and tourism services in diverse types of forests.

The indigenous territories of Mexico and Northern Central America have more than five million hectares of coniferous forests, especially in Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacán, Guatemala’s highlands, and the Caribbean Coast of Honduras and Nicaragua (Boege Schmidt, 2008). Hundreds of communities generate income and employment from pine forests they manage sustainably, and many have progressed towards generating higher levels of value added (Cubbage et al., 2015). Some of the most successful have diversified their activities to include production of resins and other non-timber products, rural tourism, and payment for environmental services (Segura-Warnholtz, 2014). Mexico has over twenty-five years of experience with this and its government has provided the community enterprises significant support.

There are also many indigenous and tribal communities that harvest wood from broadleaf tropical forests. Quintana Roo (Mexico), the Chiquitania (Plurinational State of Bolivia), and the Peruvian Amazon are well-known in that regard (Pacheco, 2007; Boege Schmidt, 2008; Bray et al., 2008; Gaviria and Sabogal, 2013). These have faced more difficulties than those in coniferous forests (Pokorny and Johnson, 2008). They generated promising results for decades, but some are currently facing major challenges.41

The region has a long tradition of indigenous and tribal production of coffee, cocoa, breadfruit, black pepper, plantains and bananas, and other crops grown in agroforestry systems with substantial tree cover. It also has great experience with community organization to process and market these products (Toledo et al., 2003; Jarrett, Cummins, and Logan-Hines, 2017; Juárez-López, Velázquez-Rosas and López-Binnqüist, 2017). In a few cases these systems have received support from government payment for environmental service programs and private voluntary forest carbon markets (Giudice et al., 2019; Rontard, Reyes-Hernández and Aguilar-Robledo, 2020).

©LOL KOÓPTE/ Fernanda López
Mayan woman working with wood. Cooperativa Lol Koópte', Ejido Petcacab, Mexico.

The harvesting, processing, and sale of non-timber forest products, such as oils and essences, natural fibers (including vines), fruits, mushrooms, nuts, coconuts, ornamental and medicinal plants, resins, and spring water, provide major benefits to indigenous and forest communities. Women have a central (and often unnoticed) role in many of these activities (Bose et al., 2017).

Community forestry could contribute much more to forest conservation and to community wellbeing than it has to date. The main barrier has been public policies that keep communities from being able to profitably harvest and process their wood and other forest products.42 The main regulatory and fiscal bottlenecks have been:

  • lengthy and expensive bureaucratic procedures;
  • corruption within the forest law enforcement agencies;
  • forestry regulations that lack scientific basis;
  • frequent policy changes; excessive taxes and administrative fees; and
  • overemphasis on regulating community forestry enterprises compared to efforts to curtail deforestation for agriculture or illegal logging (Andersson and Pacheco, 2004; Pacheco et al., 2008; Pokorny and Johnson, 2008).

Many international conventions, national constitutions, and judicial rulings have reaffirmed indigenous and tribal peoples’ right to use their forest resources according to their own norms and customs. Nevertheless, efforts to adapt government regulatory frameworks to these groups’ needs and cultures remain incipient (Sierra-Huelz et al., 2020).

If communities have large volumes of commercially valuable timber and government or international funds pay their advisors, community forestry enterprises generally do well. But they often find it difficult to sustain themselves if those resources disappear, largely due to high transactions costs (e.g. expensive studies required for permits, trips to resolve administrative problems, extensive paperwork, and administrative fees).

Funding for forestry installations and equipment and operational costs is similar. Even when they have great forest resources and good credit histories, indigenous and tribal forestry enterprises can rarely get loans from commercial banks. Special government and donor programs and projects help resolve that bottleneck for a time, but when they end the communities are often forced to depend on advances from buyers for their working capital (Mejía et al., 2015).

Governments usually make less efforts to control non-timber forest products than timber. Even so, communities that seek to transition from informal to formal non-timber activities and receive support for their programs or projects often face problems (Laird, McLain, and Wynberg, 2010; Delgado, McCall, and López-Binqüist, 2016).

The same applies to much of the wood, fuelwood, and charcoal indigenous and tribal families produce informally. These activities generate substantial income, often with minimal environmental damage or government regulatory enforcement, but existing regulatory frameworks impede these communities from formalizing their activities and taking them to another level.

©LOL KOÓPTE/ Fernanda López
Indigenous women from the Mayan People working with wood. Cooperativa Lol Koópte', Ejido Petcacab, Mexico.

Box 4 The Petcacab Ejido: an example of good Mayan forest management in Quintana Roo, México

For thirty years the Mayan indigenous community of Petcacab in Quintana Roo was left with no choice but to allow the Maderas Industrializadas de Quintana Roo (MIQRO) company to extract large volumes of mahogany with little benefit to local inhabitants. Even though the community formally owned the land, the government authorities of the period had given MIQRO a concession, which allowed it to harvest the timber, without the community’s consent. That situation changed abruptly in 1983, when the government allowed the communities to directly manage and benefit from their own forest resources and began the Pilot Forestry Plan (Plan Piloto Forestal) to support community forestry enterprises.

Now, Petcacab has been sustainably harvesting its timber for almost forty years. It is a relatively prosperous community, with about 1 000 inhabitants, which sold USD 1 687 315 in forest products in 2016. It owns 51 176 hectares, of which it uses 81 percent for forestry, leaves 10 percent for strict conservation, and uses only 9 percent for agriculture and other purposes. Its forests are full of jaguars, deer, Guatemalan black howlers, tapirs, lowland pacas, pheasants, wild turkeys, and toucans. It sends 300 000 board feet of wood to Central Mexico each year, directly generating 280 jobs. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has certified the good management of its forests. It processes its own wood, as well as wood from four neighboring communities.

The forest provides much more than just sawn boards to Petcacab’s Mayan inhabitants. A 2006 study found they used 197 plants and 66 animal species. Community members sell wood palings and guano palm leaves as construction materials, charcoal for barbecues, wood furniture and handicrafts, natural chicle gum, and honey. They hunt and fish for their own subsistence. Local indigenous women formed their own carpentry business, called Lol Koópte’, which uses sawmill residues to make furniture. The community also uses part of its conservation area for ecotourism.

From the beginning, the government has provided Petcacab with technical and financial assistance. Among other things, the National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) has given them forestry incentives to design their forest management plan, pay for independent forest certification audits, establish the Maya women’s business, and create a charcoal cooperative.

None of it has been easy. Petcacab’s first community forestry enterprise collapsed due to bad management, and they replaced it with a more decentralized approach. In 2007 Hurricane Dean severely damaged the community’s forests. Despite almost forty years of hard work and dedication, the community still finds it difficult to raise funds for new initiatives. Even so, Petcacab has advanced notably since the days of the MIQRO company, and the outlook looks favorable. SOURCE: Ramírez Barajas, Torrescano Valle and Chan Rivas, 2006; La Jornada Maya, 2017; Ejido Petacab and Polinkin, 2016; La Jornada Maya, 2018; Distrito Centro, 2018; CNF, 2019.

©LOL KOÓPTE/ Fernanda López
Mayan Women from the Lol Koópte' Cooperative, Petcacab Ejido, Mexico.

Independent agencies that certify sustainable forest management recognize the need to adapt their approaches to the communities’ conditions and needs. Hence, they have designed specific national standards for these types of forest management (Wiersum, Humphries, and van Bommel, 2011). Nevertheless, these processes probably can gain greater impetus until formal government forestry regulations are adapted to the needs and realities of indigenous and tribal communities.

So, along with tenure and compensation for environmental services, forest management is the third component that must be strengthened through additional funding and policy reforms. This would make it more profitable, sustainable, and socially beneficial, and provide an incentive to avoid land use change and forest degradation. Specifically, what is needed includes:

  • A substantial increase in public, non-governmental, and private funding, including for non-timber forest products and tourism, as well as wood products, which provides for the inclusion of women and youth. More funds are needed to prepare plans and obtain permits, build and maintain secondary roads, and purchase machinery and equipment, as well as for working capital, training and technical assistance, community monitoring, independent audits, and marketing. This could take to form of grants, loans, or equity capital. Funds from payment for environmental service programs should also support forest management.43 Whatever the modality, the funding systems must be adapted to the indigenous and tribal communities’ specific needs, and that the communities understand the arrangement and can decide for themselves whether they want to accept the conditions.
  • A simple and culturally sensitive regulatory approach, which is adapted to the needs of the groups involved. This approach should prioritize training, technical advice, and other incentives over policing and control (Hirakuri, 2003). Rules and procedures should be adapted to local conditions and needs and as simple and easy to adopt as possible and based on both empirical and academic knowledge and steps taken to ensure those affected can help define the rules and monitor compliance.44 Government authorities should support the processes’ outcomes (Ostrom, 1990).
  • Stronger – and in some cases new – capacity to provide technical, organizational, and marketing advice to the community forestry enterprises. Specific mechanisms will vary, but in every country there is a need to improve management, organizational, and commercial aspects, and not just the forestry practices. Value chains, identification of new markets, and negotiations between communities and intermediaries must also be strengthened. Marketing based on location of origin and type of producer, as well as different types of social and environmental certification can be useful tools.
  • The communities themselves can do much of the monitoring of these systems of production. That reduces costs, facilitates adaptative management, and helps communities to own the management process. Recent studies show that participatory monitoring methodologies can generate high quality reliable data (Balderas Torres and Skutsch, 2015; Mateo-Vega et al., 2017; Yepes et al., 2018).

The immediate priority should be to reactivate forest management initiatives in the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Mexico, Peru, and Central America that had made major progress but were weakened by changes in public policies and the COVID-19 pandemic. It would also be important to prioritize support for indigenous and tribal territories where pressure on forests is growing rapidly, as in Brazil and Colombia.

  • 40 Many mestizo communities are also involved in community forest management, but they are beyond the scope of this study.
  • 41 Although their members are mostly mestizos, the community forest concessions in Petén, Guatemala, provide a good example of the great potential for community forestry in broadleaf tropical forests when there is a favorable policy enabling environment (Blackman, 2015)
  • 42 As the Independent Evaluation Group of the World Bank (IEG) has said, “Participatory Forest Management, when implemented effectively, has delivered livelihood enhancing benefits as well as positive environmental outcomes. But its potential is often hampered by the failure to devolve true authority to communities and by regulatory environments that often discriminate against small producers. Where this is the case, the benefits enjoyed by communities may be too limited to provide sufficient incentives to ensure sustainable forest management” (IEG, 2014).
  • 43 It is also important to reduce the taxes and administrative fees that the community enterprises pay. It does not make any sense to fund these groups with one hand and take the money back with the other.
  • 44 For example, one might eliminate certain requirements in the case of low intensity logging, permit the use of chainsaws to saw timber manually, and promote regional forest management plans, rather than separate plans for each community or forest.