Social component of forestry

April 30, 2010

 When I began my forestry career some 30 years ago, foresters managed in a very different environment from the one we live in today – worldwide. The forester of that last millennium worked quite independently and generally did not like being bothered too much by neighbours, NGOs and other institutions that believe they have a stake in a particular forest in any particular country.

by Michal Brink, Forestry Solutions

Social aspect of forestry

Pygmies collect food, medicines and materials from the forests in the Congo basin in terms of social
compacts with the operating companies.
Their houses are built exclusively from forest material, as they
are semi-nomadic.
Photo: M Brink.

However, things have changed fundamentally over the last decade. We now live in a global society which is well informed, primarily through the benefits provided by technology. There is also a greater concern for the protection of forest heritage, most profoundly related to the tropical forests. This has led to the development of forest certification systems, as these systems are viewed by many as an appropriate watchdog to keep forestry companies honest and responsible in their management of the forest resource.

Responsible forestry has been defined by our stakeholders as having three equal focus areas, namely, the environment (protection of soil, water, air and biodiversity), economics (sound forest management planning and operating within a credible budgetary framework) and lastly, responsible management of social issues.

During my travels to the tropical forests of the world, it has become quite evident that management of social issues is very complex. Responsible forest management requires prior free and informed consent from local communities before logging operations may commence. Some FSC certified forestry companies in the tropics have made immense strides in genuinely involving the communities living in and around their forest concessions in decision making.

For example, pygmy populations in the Congo basin have been empowered by some concessionaires to assist in identifying plants and animals that need protection during the forest planning phase. The pygmies have been fully reliant on the forest for their survival for many thousands of years and still are today.

For example, they obtain their food through traditional hunting of animals and collection of plants and insects in the forest. Some trees that are of commercial value to the concessionaire are not harvested, as they are covered in caterpillars at a certain time of the year, which are collected by these semi-nomadic people. They also know the forest extremely well and concessionaires often employ them to assist with surveys and opening up of compartment boundaries. Certain parts of the forest that are of cultural value to the pygmies will also be marked and totally protected from any logging operations.

Furthermore, no harvesting will commence before agreements are in place with all local communities – a very challenging, but finally, equally rewarding task, when considering the long term benefits.

In conclusion, I have come to realise that by genuinely engaging with communities, we as foresters have the ability to make better and more lasting decisions regarding the management of our forests. This is also true for plantation forestry operations in South Africa and we should embrace this principle in our day-to-day forestry activities.

Published in April 2010

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