Webinar series on COVID-19 and the Forest Sector – Experience from Forest Communities of COVID-19 Impacts

6 January 2021
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On 28 October 2020, the FAO-EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade Programme hosted the webinar “Experience from Forest Communities of COVID-19 Impacts”. This virtual event was part of FAO’s Forestry Division’s webinar series on COVID-19 and the forest sector.

The event presented the results of two Programme-supported field surveys carried out by the University of Wolverhampton’s Center for International Development and Training (CIDT) and by RECOFTC. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront a number of pressing global challenges. Health systems have been stretched thin and lockdown measures have taken a heavy social and economic toll, the devastating impacts of which are being felt by all – from urban residents of densely populated megacities to indigenous peoples living deep in the heart of forests.

Recognizing that forest-based communities play a critical role as custodians of forest resources, the FAO-EU FLEGT Programme partnered with RECOFTC and CIDT to survey the immediate impacts of the pandemic on forest-based communities in several countries in Asia and Africa, including perceptions of law enforcement, as critical inputs towards designing suitable recovery programmes. Overall, the studies included both those communities that have community-designated forests and structures in place such as forest committees, and those that do not.

The webinar presented the findings of these surveys and identified concrete actions to support forest-based communities, as a central part of forest-sector recovery efforts. Aurelian Mbzibain (CIDT) stated that Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) surveyed in the Congo Basin – Cameroon, the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo – also suffered negative impacts of COVID-19, revealing a higher proportion of women impacted, who reported both economic losses but also an increase in domestic violence. Dr Mbzibain remarked that respondents perceived a lower presence of government forest control activities on the ground and higher levels of illegal logging, and made several recommendations, such as the need to strengthen independent forest monitoring by civil society and the ensuing need to improve access to digital technologies.  Furthermore, Dr Mbzibain encouraged strengthening participatory processes that include IPLCs and women in post recovery investment planning, ensuring that legality, sustainability and inclusive development are at the forefront of the post-recovery agenda.  As a last recommendation Dr Mbzibain highlighted the need for strong monitoring of government and private sector commitments to the fight against illegal logging, deforestation and forest degradation.

David Ganz (RECOFTC) highlighted the importance of forests as safety nets for local communities in times of crisis and the role of community forestry in protecting forests against illegalities. Respondents reported that  lockdown had reduced food security and livelihood options of forest communities surveyed. Like CIDT, RECOFTC also found that women have been more negatively affected by the crisis than men.  Dr Ganz highlighted that  where community forestry committees were present and functioning, these were able to support members to better cope with the social and economic impacts of the pandemic and to mitigate the threat of forest crime. He identified seven key actions that need to be taken to build the resilience of forest communities, including: (i) supporting and strengthening community forestry credit mechanisms; (ii) strengthen capacity of governments and community forestry committees for disaster preparedness and response; (iii) enable and equip community forestry committees to mobilize, use and disburse funds efficiently: (iv) mainstream gender equality in policies and investments; (v) strengthen capacity of community forest groups to tackle forest crimes; (vi) improve digital access to improve market access and enable disaster preparedness and response as well as market access; ( vii) focus on investment on approaches that improve both livelihoods and address climate change, such as landscape restoration and management.

Similar findings to those of these two studies were reported by Sophie Grouwels (FAO Forest and Farm Facility) with regard to pandemic impacts on Forest and Farm Producer Organizations (FFPOs), including decreased incomes, food insecurity, displacement and loss of lives. Despite these challenges, the vital role of FFPOs in responding to the COVID-19 crisis – as suppliers and buyers of a broad basket of products, as providers of a range of social protections services (health, education and child care), and as facilitators of the flow of information between local, regional and national levels  – was underlined.

The findings presented in the webinar confirmed, once more,  that communities’ role in oversight and sustainable management of forest resources is indisputable, and that stronger and better organized community structures, including FFPOs and forest monitor networks, have the capacity to build resilience for the future – resilience of both communities and of the forests themselves to withstand economic and environmental pressure. In this context, FAO remains committed to supporting COVID-19 recovery efforts which maintain long term efforts for legal and equitable forest sector with community interests and role at the centre.

The webinar also included an active Q&A session, summarized in the document attached.

The FAO-EU FLEGT Programme of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations is a global demand-driven initiative that provides technical support and resources for activities that further the goals of the EU’s FLEGT Action Plan. The Programme is funded by the European Union, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the United Kingdom

This article first published by FAO on Wednesday 28 October 2020.