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FAO launches guidelines for forest usage permissions to benefit the society

logging in kenya forest

A stack of timber which was allegedly harvested illegally from Mt. Kenya forest. Photo by David Njagi.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has launched the first voluntary guidelines for forest concessions or permissions in the tropics to make concessions more transparent, accountable and inclusive for the benefit of some of the poorest and most isolated communities in the world.

This has come at a time the government in February this year, temporarily banned logging and timber harvesting in public forests. However, this later on in March caused opposition from a forests activist group, Kenya Forests Working Group (KFWG) which condemned the action as one which goes against the principles of forest management and utilization hence the FAO guidelines could be of help.

The voluntary guidelines for forest concessions launch happened during the 13th session of the UN Forum on Forests which is part of Sustainable Wood for a Sustainable World, a new initiative of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests led by FAO and developed jointly with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), the World Bank (WB) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Over 70 per cent of forests in the tropics used for harvesting timber and other forest products are state-owned or public; most of the public forests are managed through concessions that governments give to private entities or local communities.

Tropical African countries include Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mayotte, Mozambique, Reunion, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda in the East while in the west are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Liberia.

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The forests of tropical Africa cover around 18 per cent of the world total and span an impressive 3.6 million square kilometres in West, Central, and Eastern Africa. The region is rich in regards to biodiversity and is home to a remarkable ecosystem.

Forest concessions have existed in many of the world’s poorest nations for decades, but their contributions have not always been positive. While they have generated more jobs and better income for people in remote areas, in many cases, they have also left behind a trail of degraded forests and tenure conflicts, says the new Making forest concessions in the tropics work to achieve the 2030 Agenda: Voluntary Guidelines.

Forest concessions can be poorly managed due to a lack of adequate skills in tropical forest management; weak governance; over-complicated rules and expectations; focus on short-term benefits, leading to overharvesting; inadequate benefit sharing, infringement and lack of recognition of local people’s rights; no economic returns.

Most forest losses in the past two decades occurred in developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America, highlighting the need for a better management of public production forests in the tropics.

The new voluntary guidelines build on lessons learned to offer practical guidance for a more sustainable management of public production forests in the tropics through concessions.

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“The guidelines are a reminder to all parties that along with rights, come responsibilities. They highlight the need for strengthened political commitment at national and subnational levels, and clear and transparent legal and institutional frameworks,” said Eva Muller, Director of FAO’s Forestry Policy and Resources Division, at the United Nations Forum on Forests in New York where the guidelines were launched.

“If well managed, forest concessions can have multiple socio-economic and environmental benefits and increase the value of standing forests for present and future generations. All in all, they can improve the lives of rural communities in some of the poorest and most isolated parts of the world,” added Muller.

How can forest concessions be useful?

Forest concessions are legal instruments between the state and a private entity or a local community that confer rights to the latter to harvest timber or other forest products in the short-term, or manage forest resources in the longer-term in exchange for payments or the provision of services.

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When well-managed, forest concessions can:

  • curb deforestation and reduce forest degradation;
  • enhance the provision of ecosystem services and reduce carbon footprint to combat climate change;
  • ensure sustainable forest production and strengthened forest value chains;
  • create employment opportunities and services;
  • generate local and national revenues that can be invested in forest conversation, and better health and social services;
  • and bring, overall, substantial contributions to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Practical guidelines for all

“Packed with practical recommendations, the voluntary guidelines offer a framework for planning, implementing and monitoring forest concessions to support sustainable forest management,” said Thais Linhares Juvenal, FAO Senior Forestry Officer and coordinator of the guidelines.

The guidelines provide a set of principles to be respected by all stakeholders during the full cycle of concessions, and tailored recommendations for specific stakeholders – governments, concession-holders, local communities, donors, non-governmental organizations.

The guidelines also include a self-assessment tool so that stakeholders can verify if enabling conditions for sustainable forest concessions are in place.

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New perspectives

The voluntary guidelines offer suggestions on how to shift from short-term harvesting objectives, which can lead to forest degradation or even deforestation, to long-term forest management, building the case for true sustainable forestry in the tropics.

For a longer-term, more comprehensive use of forests, the recommendations include: growing and harvesting agroforestry products (herbs, nut and fruit trees and shrubs) and agricultural crops alongside harvesting of timber and other wood products; replenishing of commercially important trees to avoid their extinction in the future; and more investment in silviculture – the active management of forest vegetation to make forests sustainable.

Building on best practices around the world

The guidelines build on best practices of forest concessions around the world, and are based on consultations with more than 300 technical experts from the public and private sectors, and representatives of civil societies from Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America.

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