Direct causes of deforestation and rights abuse
Community and civil society assessments of deforestation drivers in the nine countries confirm that agribusiness expansion and conversion of forests for pastureland (Colombia, Paraguay, Peru), palm oil plantations (Colombia, Indonesia, Malaysia), soybeans (Paraguay) and other commercial food crops are major drivers of deforestation in Asia and Latin America. Agribusiness is emerging as a growing threat in Africa, with oil palm expanding rapidly in countries such as Liberia. In Asia, pulping of natural forests for paper and cardboard and establishment of industrial tree plantations (acacia, rubber) are a major driver of forest loss, land grabs and rights abuses (Indonesia, Malaysia).
Community experiences in Africa (Cameroon, DRC), Asia (Malaysia) and South America (Guyana, Peru) show that industrial logging remains a key driver of forest damage and a forerunner of permanent forest conversion as logging roads open up remote forests areas to miners, landless farmers (often displaced by mega-projects elsewhere) and agro-industries. Access roads linked to large dams and commercial mines are likewise closely correlated with forest loss and encroachment on community forests. Besides reducing forest cover, oil and gas development and mining are responsible for major pollution of rivers, wetlands and drinking water in forest areas, often with severe consequences for human health and well-being (Guyana, Peru).
Underlying these direct causes are powerful indirect drivers, usually interconnected and common to virtually all countries featured in this report. Such indirect drivers identified through the country assessments and collective analysis by workshop delegates include:
- Insecure community tenure rights perpetuated by discriminatory and outdated land and forestry laws that fail to recognise and protect collective customary rights of forest peoples over their lands.
- Flawed and unjust land acquisition and concession allocation frameworks controlled by government bodies that claim forest lands as ‘state land’ without respect for pre-existing customary land rights.
- Unlawful leases and sales agreements to national and foreign companies made without FPIC, rendering many – and in some countries most – resource concessions and forest conversion permits illegal under both national and international law (DRC, Guyana, Indonesia, Liberia, Malaysia, Peru).
- Illegal land markets and land speculation (Colombia, Paraguay, Peru).
- Weak forest governance and crime, including links with money laundering from illicit crop cultivation and drug trafficking, with illegal earnings reinvested in logging and mining.
- Corrupt political systems where income from logging, land leases and concessions is a means of elite enrichment and a source of funding for party-political campaigns (Indonesia, Malaysia, Peru).
- Company and government manipulation of community leaders to engineer ‘consent’ and divide communities to remove opposition to roads, logging, mining and agribusiness developments
- Perverse legal and economic incentives, such as legal targets for biofuel production and subsidies and tax breaks for agribusiness and agro-fuel expansion (Colombia, Peru).
- Racist attitudes and discrimination on the part of decision-makers and forest authorities that see forest peoples as ‘backward’ and their land use systems as ‘unproductive’ and in need of ‘transformation’ or ‘modernisation’.
- Ineffective law enforcement and weakening of environmental regulations to facilitate forest clearance and attract foreign direct investment in agribusiness and extractive industries (Paraguay, Peru).
- Economic growth policies promoted by international financial institutions such as the World Bank based on industrial concessions, liberalisation of land markets and the large-scale extraction, production and export of commodities (timber, food, fibre, minerals, hydrocarbons).
- International trade and ‘free trade’ agreements that expand commodity supply and increase trade flows at the expense of forests and forest peoples.
- Unsustainable and growing global demand and consumption of ‘forest risk’ commodities including meat, livestock feed (soya), palm oil, minerals, oil, gas and biofuels.
- Weak or absent national and local mechanisms to implement progressive laws, national and international court rulings and international conventions on human rights, environmental protection and sustainable development.
- Lack of regulation of big business and investments, with ineffective sanctions that fail to change unsustainable and unlawful practices (such as paltry fines).
- Lack of robust safeguards combined with superficial due diligence carried out by public and private banks financing agribusiness, mining, energy and infrastructure investments in forests.
Country assessments presented in the workshop warn that many of these indirect drivers are set to intensify in comes years and will likely increase pressures on forests and forest peoples. In many countries, for example, existing national plans and production targets promote massive expansion in palm oil and biofuels (Indonesia, Peru, Colombia, Liberia). Mineral and hydrocarbon concessions are also covering more and more areas of forest, most of which is occupied by forest peoples (Colombia, Peru, Cameroon, DRC).
Weakness of current efforts to halt deforestation
Workshop delegates agreed that current national and international policies and initiatives to slow or halt forest destruction are failing to address the key underlying drivers that propel deforestation and enable the invasion of forest peoples’ lands. In all countries assessed, the industrial forest concession and land leasing model remains firmly in place, yet it is this same model that is responsible for systemic rights violations and forest destruction. Delegates questioned the effectiveness of ‘zero deforestation’ pledges made by governments and big business and highlighted the huge disconnect between policies on biodiversity and forest conservation, on the one hand, and prevailing unsustainable development models and practices, on the other. Business initiatives and voluntary standards intended to prevent natural forest loss and uphold community rights are often ineffective because they lack robust compliance and verification mechanisms. Participants identified serious shortcomings in company tools to protect high conservation value forest (HCVF) and ‘high carbon stocks’ (HCS), as currently these approaches fail to understand and safeguard local customary systems of rotational forest use including shifting cultivation and utilisation of extensive areas for hunting, gathering and regeneration of forest species.
Solutions and alternatives
To safeguard forests and uphold community rights, workshop delegates agreed that it is essential that national and global efforts address the underlying causes of forest loss, abandon industrial concession models and adopt genuine community-based development and conservation policies. Numerous workshop participants also stressed that the ways that forests are defined and how deforestation is measured and evaluated also requires reconsideration, including changes that distinguish between unsustainable permanent forest conversion and short-term small-scale sustainable land use change and forest regrowth linked customary land use systems.
Forest peoples everywhere are calling for a more inclusive public debate about the future and use of forests and for community participation in forest monitoring and the resolution of disputes, including through land restitution. Governments need to value local and national self-reliance and resilience, prioritise social investment, strengthen enforcement and establish effective complaint and redress mechanisms, with support from bilateral donors, multinational companies, international financial institutions and other intergovernmental bodies.
Securing Forests, Securing Rights highlights the many rights-based alternative approaches to curbing deforestation advocated by forest peoples. Forest communities have shown the way by resisting expropriation of their land and territory, undertaking community mapping and forest inventories, combining modern small-scale agro-forestry with customary practices, and campaigning for forest land tenure and governance reform to secure their collective rights within countries’ formal legal frameworks, tackle corruption, and democratise decision-making and benefit sharing. Forest peoples’ customary rights to land, territory and forest resources must be fully protected in law and in practice – most of all the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) over developments and projects that are likely to affect them, which ultimately means the right to say no, if in their judgment the costs of a development outweigh the benefits.
The evidence is clear that where forest peoples’ rights are secure and respected, forests are also secured, healthy and intact. These assertions are backed by a growing amount of scientific and empirical evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of community conserved forests and territories, including evidence contained in satellite information and detailed field studies (see below). They stressed the vital need for national and global policies and initiatives to give greater recognition to the unique ability of forest communities to live sustainably in and with forests. Their identity, customs and spirituality are founded on a deep reverence for the forest and on the knowledge that without forest they cannot exist as distinct societies, and their livelihood strategies are premised on the need to minimise, localise and make temporary impacts on the local environment.
We hope that all who read this report will join us in supporting the aims and recommendations of the Palangka Raya Declaration and work with us in the fight to save the world’s forests and to safeguard rights of forest peoples everywhere.