WWF report puts spotlight on 'Unseen Foresters', calls for greater recognition of communities' role in sustainable forest management

Posted on July, 13 2020

More than a quarter of the world’s forests are managed by IPLCs and smallholder forest users, yet their efforts often go unnoticed.
A new report published today by WWF and researched by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) calls for greater recognition of the role of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) in forest management. The report shows that local models of governance can help protect forests better than many other forms of forest stewardship. Better recognizing these “unseen” forest managers can help strengthen their forest management systems, multiplying local and global benefits and halting unnecessary forest destruction.

The WWF-commissioned research, Unseen Foresters: An assessment of approaches for wider recognition and spread of sustainable forest management by local communities, makes the case for tested, innovative approaches and better means of forest management verification in tropical countries to help recognize and spread sustainable forest management (SFM) for the huge collective and individual smaller-scale forest users. The report assesses how the approaches are implemented and how successful they can be in creating livelihoods while halting deforestation, degradation and biodiversity loss and restoring global tropical forests.

Julia Young, Director Global Forest Sector Transformation at WWF International, said: “Sustainable forest management by local communities is critical to halting forest destruction. This analysis looks at the world from the point of view of the ‘unseen foresters’ – the forest managers amongst IPLCs. We hope this research will stimulate reaction on how we can make progress together to halt deforestation and forest degradation, boost enterprise innovation and local income generation and improve sustainable livelihoods. The findings remind us that we need to focus hard on systematic and secure support for context-appropriate combinations of approaches that have already been proven to lead to positive change. We also need to find better, more innovative ways of managing and verifying locally controlled forestry, including new technologies and monitoring tools. ” 

The research focuses on two broad areas of intervention: changes to land governance and resources that can help improve IPLC rights, responsibilities and rewards, and improvements in supply chains that drive SFM community investments. It found that third party certification, when managed effectively, can be a useful tool to spread industrial SFM (medium to large forest managing companies), but for community forestry that mainly sell their products on local markets, different models are needed. 

Duncan Macqueen, one of the report’s authors and principal researcher on forests at IIED said: “Sustainable forestry is impossible without involving IPLCs. Their on-the-ground presence makes them the best option for managing forests; too often they are sidelined. Our research found a huge variety of community practices that enable people to thrive and the forests to flourish. Governments, companies and organisations need to work in partnership with and strengthen the organisations of IPLCs to expand these practices and protect the world’s forests. This is key to saving biodiversity with compassion and justice for those living in these areas.”   

Based on this commissioned research, WWF is presently identifying where to combine the most promising approaches for improving and advancing SFM undertaken by IPLCs, with two pilots to be designed and delivered over the coming year. Further collaborations and programmes of work will be sought. As results become available, outreach and engagement will be undertaken that can further recognize, verify and reward efforts and support access to equitable, fairer benefits for IPLCs.  

Unseen Foresters is part of a series of research pieces under WWF´s new performance-based programme Forests Forward that engages diverse organisations and groups to help improve forest management and responsible trade worldwide and implement innovative approaches to conserve and enhance the long-term benefits of biodiversity-rich, productive forests and healthy forest landscapes for people.