FAO-supported forest policy in Gambia wins award

Innovative approach empowers people, combats deforestation

21 September 2011, Rome/New York - Gambia's Community Forestry Policy, put in place with support from  FAO, has won silver in the 2011 Future Policy Awards as one of the world's most inspiring and innovative forest policies.

Three policies which most effectively contribute to the conservation and sustainable development of forests for current and future generations were chosen as prizewinners today by the World Future Council at UN Headquarters in New York.

Rwanda's National Forest Policy was proclaimed the first prize winner while the US Lacey Act with its amendment of 2008 and The Gambia's Community Forest Policy shared the Silver Award.

Gambia, with the support of FAO and other development partners, has developed and implemented the first policy and legislation in Africa to provide local populations with secure and permanent forest ownership rights. Transferring forest tenure from state ownership to management by local communities enabled them to reduce illegal logging and forest fires, slow desertification and benefit from using the forest products.

Right policies

"The success of the Gambia's Community Forest Policy proves that even in the world's poorest countries, with the right policies and legal framework in place, rural populations can benefit economically from forests and significantly improve their food security and environment," said FAO's Assistant Director-General for Forestry Eduardo Rojas-Briales.

"The Gambia's experience has shown that the challenge of sustainable forestry can be attained through the government's willingness to empower rural populations," he added.

Gambia has managed to buck a strong deforestation trend in Africa, with over 350 villages managing 12 percent of the country's forests and a net increase in forest cover of 8.5 percent over the last two decades.

People power

FAO Goodwill Ambassador and Olympic track legend Carl Lewis, who attended the Awards ceremony, said that "the Gambia's people-centered approach has been highly successful and represents a model to replicate in other countries with similar forestry environment."

Between 2000 and 2004, FAO has facilitated the introduction of economic incentives in the community forestry concept. In 2009 Gambia joined the National Forest Programme Facility hosted by FAO and received help with expanding community forestry areas and enhancing the capacity of stakeholders to derive economic benefits from community forestry. A recent FAO-supported project provided assistance to the revision and popularization of the forest policy.

It is intended that by 2016, nearly half of the forests in Gambia will be under community management. Communities have established producer groups, generating income from forest management.

Based in Hamburg, the World Future Council is a political advocacy group led by 50 leading personalities from all five continents. It focuses on environmental and social issues with the aim of safeguarding the rights of future generations.

Photo: ©FAO/Antonello Proto
Rural village scene with baobab trees, Basse, Gambia.