Harnessing indigenous and forest community knowledge to tackle deforestation


Author: Lucy Goodman

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." This is the quote (from Margaret Mead) that Mark Burrows, Managing Director and Vice Chairman of Investment Banking, Credit Suisse used to end his keynote speech at the Forests Asia Summit in May.

I was struck at the conference by the diversity of the group of people addressing the challenge of reducing chronic deforestation, which included ministers, company CEOs and financiers. These different groups of power brokers all have critical roles to play, and at GCP we also engage with each of them as part of our strategy to reduce the drivers of deforestation.

At the same time, through our Forest COMPASS project, we also work with the people, broadly absent from the Forest Asia Summit, who have lived in and managed forests for thousands of years - indigenous peoples and forest communities. An estimated 23% of forest is under the ownership of, or designated for, forest communities and indigenous peoples in the tropics, but this subject remains vastly understudied due to the economic and political marginalisation of forest communities, with customary tenure often not recognised.

More recently, in June, these communities were represented by organisations such as Tebtebba at the UNFCCC meeting in Bonn, where they were trying to enhance communities’ roles in monitoring the non-carbon benefits of REDD+.

The aim of the Forest COMPASS project is to make international and national initiatives on forests, such as REDD+, more transparent and equitable by scaling up the adoption of forest community collected information within these initiatives. This will draw on lessons from citizen science, which has harnessed technology such as smartphones to increase the impact of community collected information.

The Forest COMPASS website will consolidate the plethora of lessons learned from existing, fragmented initiatives that have undertaken community monitoring, and present them in an online database of case studies to be launched at the UN Climate Change meeting in Lima (UNFCCC COP20) this December.

Practical information will be drawn out in case studies of these initiatives. For example, how much did the initiative cost to set up? What were the challenges? How did they make funding streams sustainable? One such case study which will be showcased is RuaiSMS, an initiative in Central and Western Kalimantan that enables community members to send SMSs to key people in local government and the police, to highlight problems they are facing in remote areas, such as land incursions by oil palm companies.

Key manuals and capacity building materials in several languages will be captured and translated on the website to smooth the path of new practitioners with guidance from those who have gone before.

Ultimately, this project will seek to create a small group of thoughtful and committed people who will ensure that communities’ knowledge and information is captured in international and national reporting on forests. We hope this will move the needle on forest community issues, and in its own small way change the world.

Interested in joining the Forest COMPASS network? Please contact us if you would like your project or project resources to be featured on the website we are developing, by emailing forestcompass@globalcanopy.org. We look forward to hearing from you.


International Forest Agendas/s