May 3, 2006

Double forest area under local control, group says

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO, Norway (Reuters) - The world should double the area
of forests under the control of local communities by 2015 as
part of an effort to combat poverty, a new international group
said on Wednesday.

The Rights and Resources Initiative, backed by several
governments and conservation groups, called for "an
unprecedented effort to strengthen local rights to own and use
forests and fight rural poverty, prevent illegal logging, and
protect biodiversity."

"The group aims to assist communities and governments to
double the global forest area under community ownership and
management by 2015," it said.

U.N. goals for halving poverty by 2015 could not be
achieved unless governments helped the 1.6 billion people who
depended on forests for their livelihoods, it said.

"That includes some 350 million indigenous and tribal
people who depend on forests for food, housing, heat, and
medicine," it said.

Their rights were often eroded by logging or by forest
clearances by rich land owners or governments, it said.

It said that local communities, including indigenous
residents, now managed at least 370 million hectares of forest
-- an area larger than India. In total, forests cover about 30
percent of the earth's land area.

Andy White, coordinating the initiative from the United
States, said that the situation for forestry ownership was
feudal because governments had tight control. Local people
could often do a better job.


"Governments control the land and people who depend on
forests often have few rights," he told Reuters. "The situation
is like Europe in the 14th century or quite like the situation
in the United States 100 years ago."

Ninety percent of forests in Africa were government owned,
he said. He said that local communities were often more
efficient at managing forests than government or logging

"Local communities are not saints but they can probably do
a better job in managing the forests," he said. Needed reforms
of laws, mapping and so on would probably cost at least a
billion dollars and take years to achieve.

The RRI said its founding partners included the World
Conservation Union (IUCN), the Indonesia-based Center for
International Forestry Research and Washington-based Forest
Trends. It has funding from countries including the United
States, Britain, Canada and Sweden.

"Significant legal and other barriers persist," said Achim
Steiner, Director-General of the IUCN.

"This initiative aims to support communities and
governments in addressing these barriers on a global scale,
building on the momentum that is already under way."