Community-based forest monitoring could be pivotal in enabling sustainable forest management


Christina MacFarquhar

Satellite images reveal the buffering effect of indigenous lands against the tide of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, illustrating the often stark divide between sustainable and unsustainable forms of forest management.

Map of Surui
The Paiter Suruí people's Sete de Setembro Indigenous Territory (TISS), in Brazil. Map data: Google, Landsat

In a new article on the Forest Compass website, we discuss the links between community-based forest monitoring and sustainable forest management.

The article shows that, although there is great variation between the cultures, practices and development trajectories of communities based in or dependent upon forests, results of studies in diverse parts of the world reveal common features that tend to support their sustainable use of forest lands and resources.

These include strong land tenure rights, which enable local communities to feel secure in making decisions that conserve resources for the future. This can mean deferring current livelihood benefits in the knowledge that this will safeguard future benefits. Another, related, factor is decentralised forest management, which, similarly, devolves authority and responsibilities to local communities, providing them with the mandate to make and enforce their own decisions.

But how are these decisions informed? An integral element of forest management, whether formal, informal, ‘scientific’, or ‘traditional’, is monitoring. Through the definition, discussion, observation and analysis of indicators and trends, forest users and decision-makers are able to identify problems, implement solutions, track the results, and adapt their actions as necessary.

In addition to providing communities with insights useful for managing resources, the information and influence forest communities are often able to gain by participating in monitoring can also help them enforce their rights, strengthening their stake in protecting the land rather than exhausting it.

In addition, as found by Danielsen and colleagues, decisions taken locally, based on participatory forest monitoring, generally have more direct impact and are taken considerably faster than those based on monitoring undertaken by scientists to inform national decision-makers. The difference in speed can be measured in years; this can have major implications for efforts to address imminent deforestation threats, but also for proactive efforts to head-off looming problems before they become insurmountable, and to adapt lifestyles to support conservation.

While national level, remote, and scientist-led monitoring are all critical for informing major, high level efforts to protect forests – and also provide much useful information to local forest managers - these should be complementary to, or integrated with, participatory monitoring initiatives involving those most likely to make decisions on the ground. Community-based forest monitoring, through its links to long-term resource use planning and local land tenure, has the potential to play a pivotal role in supporting sustainable forest management and conservation worldwide.

Read the complete, fully-referenced article.