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Author Topic: Community participation in forestry conservation vital  (Read 418 times)
indunil
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« on: October 28, 2012, 01:54:35 pm »

We learnt a lot about forests in school. We understood that forests provide the oxygen we breathe, remove carbon dioxide, help clean the air and moderate the climate. We learnt about forests regulating our supply of fresh water, helping prevent erosion and flooding, creating habitat for wildlife and providing recreation and spiritual opportunities. Forests, we were taught, are also the main source of wood for paper, furniture and building materials.

However, when we became adults, most of us did not give much thought to what we learnt in school. In spite of the number of times we have hiked through the national parks and been impressed by their beauty and diversity, we never gave much thought to the importance of forests to our existence.

According to environmental experts, Sri Lanka’s forests are facing a number of threats with regard to their sustainability. Deforestation is one of the most serious of these issues. For example, during the past two decades, we lost nearly 21 percent of our forest cover or around 490,000 ha. It is, indeed, a heinous crime.

Facts
Jungles and forests are the backbone of a society, not only because of their natural economic importance, but also because of their importance in maintaining ecological equilibrium.

Trees and forests help in formulating the seasons and, also act as a cleanser of the air surrounding human society and help in maintaining ground water levels and the water cycle too.

Let’s check out a few facts about deforestation:

Woods are fast dwindling
There is a dire need to preserve forest cover. Most predictions have forewarned that forests could disappear altogether within the next 200-300 years. When forests deplete, we also shrink our wealth of natural resources. They contain many different species of plants and herbs. Honey, resin and many other minerals sourced from forests are lost when we raze them out.

Reasons for deforestation
Agriculture is the prime cause of deforestation; most of the jungle cover is razed to the ground to grow cash crops and food grains. Farmers also reduce forest cover to turn it into grazing land for cattle and livestock. The second biggest driver of deforestation is chopping of trees for timber. Sometimes overgrazing and wildfires also reduce forest cover.

Desertification
As more and more trees are cut, the fertile soil will gradually turn into a barren desert. One of the biggest hazards of deforestation is desertification. When the shady trees are chopped down, the soil is exposed directly to the harsh, hot sun. It, therefore, dries out very quickly. The frequency of rainfall also declines as trees have a big role to play in completing the water cycle.

Climate Changes
The incidence of natural calamities will increase due to deforestation. Areas where the forest cover has altered are more likely to be stricken by floods, cyclones, storms and fires. This mainly happens because more carbon dioxide is released into the air, altering its basic composition. Thickset forests usually sop up greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide in the air.

Effect on soil

Cutting down trees also changes the composition of soil and the nutrients in it are lost. Roots hold the soil together and in their absence rain water washes away nutrients. Deforestation leads to soil erosion and increases its salinity. Even the carbon composition of the soil is affected by deforestation. Soil turns unfertile and such land cannot be cultivated for agriculture.

Threat to animals
Jungles are home to a wide variety of plants and animals. The lives of animals as well as the flora and fauna are affected greatly when trees in their vicinity are destroyed. Some of them can even become extinct. The extreme temperature changes caused by deforestation also affect animal life. Trees make their surroundings cool during the day and retain heat at night, balancing the temperature.

Local participation
The writer believes that in Sri Lanka, the plans to protect forest ecosystems have failed to address the needs and knowledge of local forest-dependent communities. Local community participation is the key strategy to current forestry conservation and management.

If wildlife and all the protected areas are to survive, it is imperative that conservation activities and communities are in harmony so that it does not constrain community livelihoods. For conservation of natural resources of the forests to be realised effectively, there is the need for integrative management that considers local communities’ stake in conservation.

The writer believes that the key issues to be addressed are:

* Identification of communities living around the forests and their socio-cultural activities,

* Identification of the contribution of local communities to the conservation of the forests and factors limiting their participation,
* The role of community-based organisations, achievements and challenges,
* The extent of human-wildlife conflicts and possible conflict mitigation strategies,
* The importance of natural resources to the local communities,
* Analysis of options to be used by the management as entry points to elicit community participation in forestry conservation.

Conserving forest resources requires stakeholders to trust one another and commit themselves to sustainable forest use. Legal or administrative procedures may have to be reformed or power redistributed to build relations of trust. Mutual trust often takes time to develop, especially if stakeholders have no previous experience of sharing decision-making or management responsibilities.

Local communities
In conservation projects, villages or local communities are sometimes identified rather broadly as a single stakeholder. It is important to question this assumption and others about local communities.

Local communities are homogeneous entities. In terms of land holding, power, and knowledge, most communities are characterised more by their differences than their similarities.

Women and men may have different interests in a forest. Landless people may desire access to the forest and its resources for other purposes than landholders. If only community leaders (who are usually male landholders) are involved in a participatory process, other interest groups within the community risk being neglected. A common source of conflict is the failure to consider the views of all community members.

Local communities live according to stable traditional values. The idea that rural communities do not change or acquire new knowledge, habits and interests is wrong. Social and cultural traditions change as people are exposed to new options, ideas and technologies. Local communities depend on the forest for their livelihood and therefore have an interest in protecting it. It is true that many people living in tropical forest areas are highly dependent on forest resources. In many countries, however, infrastructure development and access to urban labour markets have reduced local dependence on forests and forest products.

Local people like the forest and therefore want to protect it. Cultural perceptions of forests differ from group to group. Many social groups have ways of thinking about and acting towards forests which may seem conflicting to outside observers. For example, although people may ‘like’ and value forests for providing fuel wood, food, medicine or timber, they may at the same time associate them with negative meanings. Thus, forests are linked to notions of backwardness and danger, and have negative connotations for many people .

Local people practise superior forms of landscape management. Recent studies of indigenous forest management systems have shown that they can retain 50-80 percent of the biodiversity found in neighbouring natural forest ecosystems. Local or indigenous people’s knowledge should not be idealised and it should not be assumed that their knowledge or culture alone has sustained their management systems. Rather, traditional management systems should be assessed together with local people to determine which aspects can be most effectively incorporated into conservation efforts.

Top-down management
Community participation in conservation of forestry, therefore, needs to be promoted for its continued preservation. This will be in line with the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals, particularly the goal on environmental sustainability.

Striking a balance between satisfying the livelihood needs and wise use of natural resources within the forestry reserves to ensure sustainability is, therefore, the biggest challenge.

BY
Lionel WIJESIRI

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