Community Forestry Brings Conservation and Climate Benefits
At the Rainforest Alliance, we believe that there are as many reasons to keep forests standing as there are trees. Forests support local communities, providing for their most basic needs, and directly affect the livelihoods of 90 percent of the 1.2 billion people living in acute poverty around the world. Home to an estimated 90 percent of the Earth's land-based biodiversity, forests provide essential ecosystem services such as watershed protection. And they're a key asset in our fight to stop climate change, acting as carbon sinks when kept intact (but releasing unwanted greenhouse gases when cut down).
While it's impossible to ascribe a price to the total value of forests, by ensuring that local communities are fairly rewarded for their conservation efforts, we are providing them with a real incentive to maintain their forestlands. That's why we support the development of a global system for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), ensuring financial compensation for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions caused by forest loss. When implemented correctly, REDD payments will not only reduce emissions but contribute to poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation.
As part of our efforts to advance REDD, the Rainforest Alliance is collaborating with the Global Development Alliance of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Our joint project -- called the Forest, Climate & Communities Alliance -- aims to help community forest operations in Ghana and Honduras benefit from REDD, thereby increasing their ability to manage their forests sustainably and run successful local enterprises.
In southwestern Ghana -- where few community forestry enterprises currently exist -- the Rainforest Alliance and USAID are improving the forest management skills of local communities, increasing the number of sustainably managed forestry operations, and helping local people increase their involvement in REDD activities. The project will also increase the area of Forest Stewardship Council-certified land. This work is vital to ensuring biodiversity conservation and habitat connectivity; the regions in which we work house colobus and mona monkeys, African forest elephants and a huge array of bird species, many of which are found only in these areas. In addition to aiding in the protection of wildlife, by establishing competitive community forestry, we are helping to improve local livelihoods in one of the world's most impoverished regions.
In Honduras -- where community forestry has already taken root -- we are continuing our work* with locals in the Muskitia region. In this biodiversity-rich area, we are focusing on increasing the production of FSC-certified timber and non-timber forest products (such as ojon and swa+ oil), on expanding the markets for these goods and on supporting the launch of REDD pilot projects. As in Ghana, a central objective of our work in Honduras is to empower local communities to participate in regional and national dialogues about climate change and REDD.
Once successfully completed, the Rainforest Alliance/USAID initiative is expected to reap tangible rewards for communities, forests and our global climate. An additional 370,800 acres (150,000 hectares) in Ghana and Honduras will have met the sustainable forestry criteria of the FSC, protecting soils and waterways, improving local standards of living and increasing access to education. REDD pilot projects will have launched on 185,000 acres (75,000 hectares) of land, increasing incomes for some 1,000 forest-dependent families and sequestering vast amounts of carbon. And our joint efforts will have resulted in the establishment or strengthening of some 30 small and medium forestry businesses -- each of which will then have the skills and infrastructure to begin participating in REDD activities.
But the impact won't end there: the project is designed to serve as a model for the conservation community, demonstrating the ability of REDD initiatives to curb climate change, conserve forests, benefit communities and protect wildlife. Given the urgent need to mitigate poverty and stop our world from warming, it's a lesson that's as valuable as the forests themselves.
*Since 2005, the Rainforest Alliance has worked with villagers throughout Honduras' Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve to encourage legal and sustainable forestry activities, while simultaneously increasing incomes and incentives for responsible forestry.