Large-scale, international forest agendas such as REDD+ have the potential to help or hinder efforts to protect and promote the rights of the millions of people living in, or dependent on, forests. At the same time, strong community rights to land and resources can be central to the successful implementation of these forest agendas by enabling communities to manage forest lands sustainably. So how can we make sure that local community rights are protected, for the sake of both communities and forests?
One potentially powerful tool is community-based forest monitoring. This can allow members of forest communities to be closely involved in observing, assessing, and taking action in response to changes in their forests, including changes that result from international forest agendas.
External agencies or organisations might be able to monitor actions that are taken to promote forest peoples’ rights, such as efforts to disseminate information or hold meetings and consultations. But it will be far harder for them to understand the impact of these actions without the close involvement of the communities themselves in data gathering and analysis – for example, to understand communities’ actual experience of consultations, their understanding of information disseminated, or the impact of policies on their health and wellbeing.
Community-based forest monitoring can also allow traditional or ‘informal’ resource monitoring methods and skills to be recognised and protected (rather than replaced). Such methods may already be highly effective in informing sustainable resource management and protecting access to resources that are important for local livelihoods and cultures.
In addition, where new and compelling data gathering and visualisation methods, such as mapping, are provided to communities, this can help them assert their rights in negotiations with government agencies and private companies.
Critically, the need for the participation of forest communities in international agendas such as REDD+, FLEGT and the CBD has been recognised within their formal texts and agreements, and community-based forest monitoring offers an important way to fulfil this commitment.
Community-based forest monitoring alone cannot, of course, solve all problems associated with community rights, which are also influenced by major factors such as government policy and enforcement. However, forest monitoring systems in which local communities have significant influence and ownership can help to ensure that their views, decisions and rights are heard and respected, and that their knowledge and practices can continue to support local and global efforts to address deforestation and forest biodiversity loss.
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