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For forest communities without a legal footing, new guideline is a starting template

  • Environmental law group ClientEarth has developed a global guideline to help forest communities build legal frameworks that uphold their rights.
  • The new guideline lays out an elaborate and highly adaptable list of questions that decision-makers and stakeholders involved in the community forest can use to develop and review legislation.
  • Community forest enterprises are believed to be a proven mechanism for conserving forests and biodiversity, but communities’ rights are often sidelined by governments in favor of infrastructure projects and extractive industry interests.

Forest communities around the world struggling to achieve the legal recognition that would give them a greater say in how their natural resources are managed now have recourse to an independent guideline recently developed by the environmental law charity ClientEarth.

Legal researchers from the NGO have created what they call a first-of-its-kind toolkit to support laws that uphold the rights of indigenous and local communities over their forests worldwide.

“Mounting evidence shows that forest-dependent communities around the world play a key role in protecting rainforests, their biodiversity and the carbon they store,” the London-based group said in a statement published May 20.

“However, their rights to these resources often fail to be properly recognised,” it added.

A harvester carries xate palm fronds, sold for floral arrangements. Image by Charlie Watson/USAID/Rainforest Alliance Forestry Enterprises.

A study published earlier this year by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) shows that community forest enterprises are a proven mechanism for conserving forests and biodiversity. The earnings generated from their activities are reinvested into social services and development within the communities.

But the communities still struggle to obtain sustained government support in some cases, and rights to consultation are often sidelined in favor of large infrastructure projects or extractive industry interests.

The new guideline attempts to tackle the issue from a policy angle. It lays out an elaborate list of questions that decision-makers and stakeholders involved in the community forest can use to develop and review legislation.

“As national laws must be tailored to each country, the toolkit is built to be highly adaptable,” ClientEarth said. “It can be adopted by a variety of groups, including civil society organisations advocating for improved community rights.”

“The success of community forestry laws requires effective implementation to achieve healthier forests, while providing economic and social benefits to the people who inhabit them,” it said.

According to ClientEarth, the legal toolkit was modeled after community forests in Nepal, the Philippines and Tanzania, where they analyzed local laws and worked with local authorities and experts over the past year. The researchers also tested the toolkit in Thailand, which passed an act recognizing communities’ forest management rights in 2019.

ClientEarth is also promoting the use of the toolkit in the processes to reform on community forestry in Cambodia and the Congo Basin.

“Our legal experts expect the toolkit could be helpful for communities and governments in tropical forest countries, including in West and Central Africa, Latin America and in Southeast Asia,” it said.

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