Local and indigenous communities play an important role managing and protecting forests. Research published in 2014 by World Resources Institute and the Rights and Resources Initiative concluded that community-managed forests experienced an average deforestation rate that is eleven times lower than land outside their borders. Legally recognized, community-managed forest amounts to 513 million hectares or an eighth of the world’s forests, and there are many more community-managed forests that have yet to receive legal recognition.
In Indonesia, the issue is particularly acute. AMAN, a coalition of indigenous rights groups, estimates that up to 40 million hectares of forest currently claimed as state land by the government is managed by local and indigenous communities. These communities are now filing claims to get the government to grant legal recognition to their traditional lands. The process promises to be slow, but ultimately could have a dramatic impact on forests in the country, curbing conversion of community forests for industrial pulpwood, rubber, and oil palm plantations.
Legal recognition of these lands is but a first step. To shift toward more sustainable rural development, the government, the private sector, and some communities need successful models to emulate. These could emerge from approaches long practiced at a local level. These range from harvesting non-timber forest products to establishing eco-tourism to preserving areas of old-growth forests for biodiversity and ecosystem function.
To highlight some examples of communities protecting and managing forests, Mongabay is developing a collection of case studies via on-the-ground research by our Indonesian team.
The first set of 15 profiles is now available at news.mongabay.com/community-forests. These include communities in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Flores, and West Papua in Indonesian New Guinea. We expect to add 15-20 more profiles in coming months.