17) “Community-based” conservation

It is essential to involve local communities in the conservation of rainforests. Nothing can be done over the long term without involving the people who live in and near rainforests. A variety of efforts are being made to enhance the economic status of people living in these areas. In many cases buffer zones have been established around parks and reserves, where local people can use forest resources sustainably, but where commercial interests are excluded. Health care, clean water and other services must be provided for these people. Frequently, governments or corporations obtain the benefits from the sale of forest products, while the local people receive little recompense. In Africa, wildlife and wildlife tourism bring few benefits to people living near their habitats, since wildlife is considered to be state property. Thus inhabitants bear the costs – attacks on domestic animals and crops – while reaping little economic reward. Then, to obtain money, these people often turn to poaching of wildlife, and other exploitative activities in forests. (Also, see the instance of Nepal, Part III, D22).

a. Responsible use of forest products to provide an economic base for local populations. Local people, because their livelihoods depend on continued availability of forest products, can be engaged in forest preservation. They can resist the depletion of forest resources by commercial operations, and their destruction by logging and the conversion of forest land to agricultural enterprises. Many forest products can be sustainably utilized – bamboo, birds’ nests, honey, palm hearts, fruits, nuts (cashews, Brazil nuts), gums, oils, resins (rubber, gutta percha), spices (cinnamon, mace, nutmeg), vines (rattans) and mushrooms. These resources must be controlled by local populations to provide them with subsistence and/or an economic base, but must not be exploited beyond a low level. More intensive exploitation will inevitably lead to the loss of species. As an instance, the red uakari monkeys of the Amazon are hunted by indigenous people for food. If villages are far apart, these monkeys will still exist locally, but if the villages are less than a day’s paddle apart, these monkeys become almost extinct in that area (Ryan, 1992). “Sustainable” use of this animal means minimal use. In many tropical countries, there is a strong market for wild game meat (“bushmeat”), both for domestic use and for export, but this demand is not usually controlled and is a substantial source of loss in biodiversity. Many forests, especially in Africa, have become “empty forests” because of this demand (Part III, D16). Another case in point is rattan, which is being stripped from Southeast Asian forests and rapidly depleted to provide furniture to the developed world.

For conservation activities concerned with forest product extraction to be successful, there must be reasonable demand and prices for the product as well as access to markets. It is not always easy, however, to promote a market for forest products. It may not be possible to transport perishable products such as fruits from isolated forest areas to markets, as transportation facilities are at best limited.

b. Locally-controlled ecotourism: Ecotourism can help diversify local economies and provide additional income for local populations. It contributes as much as US$1 trillion to the world economy yearly (Pimentel, et al., 1997). Nevertheless, “eco” tourism is not a benign activity, however “sensitive” to environmental concerns. The mere presence of people can disturb wildlife and disrupt their reproductive and feeding activities, and can damage forests severely, as surely as logging and land conversion. In La Selva Park in Costa Rica, so many tourists use the forest paths that the forest near the paths has become highly degraded. Similarly, the use of boats on rivers and flooded areas bring noise and pollution to pristine areas.

c. Local control of resources: In some African countries, the government has permitted local inhabitants to control wildlife. This has been both more effective and many times less expensive than traditional methods of law enforcement (which, in any case, is frequently marred by corruption and bribery). In Zambia, which has allowed local control in a number of wildlife areas, poaching has fallen considerably. Some people are trained as scouts, to restrain poaching, and safari fees are put into funds which support conservation and community development. South Africa during the 1990′s established Richtersveld National Park in agreement with local herders. The herders agreed to certain restrictions on herding activities, and in return they receive a percentage of the earnings from the park and are involved in its management. Similar “contractual” parks are being established in Papua New Guinea, American Samoa and Western Samoa (Ryan, 1992). In Brazil, rubber tappers have attempted to fight against landowners’ destructive practices by pressuring the government to establish “extractive reserves.” In such areas, the state would own the forest, but the reserves would be managed by local communities, which would use the reserve for resource extraction (Ryan, 1992). Brazil has established a number of these reserves, and similar efforts are being made in other countries. How successful such innovative schemes will be is yet unknown.

Involve local people in conservation: Efforts to involve local residents in conservation will not be easy, as they are as a rule suspicious of government bodies and workers, who are frequently ill-trained, corrupt and incompetent. They are often no fonder of people from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), whom they may regard as paternalistic and exploitative. Not all local people are interested in conservation, either, but are mainly concerned with immediate economic advancement. However, some local groups have been helpful in conservation efforts. The Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon (mainly composed of indigenous groups) opposed the opening of Pacayu-Samiria Reserve to oil exploration. Most such actions, however, have had limited effect, as they are confronting powerful economic and political interests.

One of the Field Museum of Chicago’s Environmental and Conservation Programs cooperates with the Cofan, an indigenous group in the Ecuadorian Amazon, to manage rainforests and species in their area. They and the Cofan have established a population-recovery program for two endangered species of river turtles (Podocnemis unifilis and Podocnemis expansa). The Cofan, with the aid of Field Museum staff, are raising hatchling turtles for release into the wild, and are no longer collecting eggs nor hunting turtles for food. Moreover, they are attempting to use their 130,000 hectare forest, the Reserva Ecologica Cofan de Bermejo, sustainably, and to do so, they have banned the hunting of certain animals – parrots and monkeys, as well as turtles, and have limited the hunting of other species. The use of poisons and dynamite for fishing is prohibited and forest resources are protected. Wood may not be sold, for example. Their relatively pristine forest stands in contrast to the clear-cuts, cattle ranches and farms that surround it (Brinkmeier, 2000; Lundmark, 2002). In Australia, aboriginal groups are struggling with the government to retain some title rights to the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area. They maintain that the current forest is, in fact, the product of their traditional system of forest agriculture and management, including the setting of fires (“fire-stick farming”), although the latter is prohibited by law in rainforests and is opposed by the managers of this reserve area. Here the concept of a world heritage area conflicts with the perception of the indigenous groups that the land belongs to them. In the long run, a joint approach to management will probably result (Hill, Baird & Buchanan, 1999). In Zimbabwe, the Communal Area Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) has had some success in resource protection through the return of some proprietary rights over wildlife to local people. Over the 17 years of the program, the number of elephants shot has declined, and the income which local people have obtained from wildlife has risen from zero prior to 1989 to US$4.9 million in 1996 (Getz, et al., 1999).

The Rainforest Conservation Fund project at the Reserva Comunal Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo in the Peruvian Amazon, is another case in point. By assisting residents living in the vicinity of this reserve with agroforestry of desirable fruits and other products (aguaje palm fruit, camu camu) to provide them with a livelihood without exploiting the virgin forest, and by aiding them with community development projects, RCF has been able to enlist many villagers in monitoring and conserving the reserve. At present the villagers are preventing the re-entry of commercial fishing, hunting and logging interests in this area. (See this website for further details of “Projecto Aguaje.”)

Much forest land is public, but the government often has little control over it. For example, in Indonesia, a country with 143 million hectares of public forest, as of 1990 there were merely 17,000 full-time field staff members in the Ministry of Forestry. Each staff member was responsible for 8000 hectares of forest. At the same time, more than 30 million Indonesians live near these forests (Ryan, 1992). They must be enlisted in conservation in order for conservation efforts to succeed. (The situation since the fall of the Suharto government is even worse, because of the anarchic conditions and political instability; see elsewhere in this document for more about Indonesia.) Ultimately, local control may be the best hope for saving many rainforests. Greater control in all aspects of access to and management of forest areas must be accorded to local residents, and less to politicians and economic interests (both domestic and international).

Durning (1993) proposes three essentials for reducing the destruction of rainforests. It will be necessary to restructure property rights to the forests, the pricing of forest products, and the decision-making powers over forests. Presently, timber and forests are undervalued, and the prices paid for forest products are not commensurate with the ecological damage inflicted in extracting them. The power to control forests is in the hands of the few and powerful who profit greatly from deforestation, and not in the hands of those who depend upon it.