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Experts look to the next frontier of community-led forest monitoring in Africa

01 December 2020

At a time when illegal logging runs rampant, the climate is rapidly changing and environment and human rights defenders face increasing threats and attacks, empowering forest communities to speak up to protect their lands and rights is more urgent than ever. This was the central conclusion of the virtual workshop ‘The role of ForestLink and community-based monitoring in improving forest governance’ that RFUK organised from 24 to 26 November alongside our partners in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Liberia and the Republic of Congo.

ForestLink is a real-time, community-based monitoring tool that connects local forest communities with national law enforcement to stop illegal deforestation and promote forest peoples’ rights. During the meeting, participants shared experiences of how it has exposed corruption in the logging industry; triggered landmark cases; led to important enforcement actions; and translated into improved gains for communities from social responsibility agreements with timber companies.  

Gaia Allison, who represented the FCDO and gave an introductory word to the workshop, described it as “a unique mix of empowerment and data that can be used to inform policy and dialogue.”

With ForestLink increasingly recognised as a powerful tool to improve forest governance, the 80 participants explored how to scale up and deploy the system in the face of complex and growing threats to forests.

David Young, Independent Forest Monitoring expert, said, “The problems are everywhere, so solutions have to be systemic - which is why ForestLink and Real-time Monitoring has so much to offer.”

The meeting also provided an opportunity for practitioners to share best practices and lessons learnt from the different countries such as on facilitating community driven processes, protecting environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) and managing data. Other sessions focused on how to strengthen institutional buy-in and overcoming resistance to greater transparency in the forest sector from vested interests.

Roland Harris, Programme Manager, Civil Society-Independent Forest Monitor in Liberia, said, “Attending the ForestLink workshop was really rewarding even though we're relatively new to using RTM, but the experience-sharing and all other learning curves have impacted me positively.”

This meeting marked another milestone in a journey to unlock the potential of forest guardians in the battle against climate change. Gaia Allison, reiterated "Supporting community stewardship of forests is key and will be on the agenda of next year's climate COP in the UK."

Joe Eisen, RFUK Executive Director, concurred, "Communities are not passive bystanders but have a crucial role in protecting forests. In fact, the future of our forests depends on it."

RFUK would like to thank our in-country partners for their inspiring work and dedication to the cause and all the participants who were able to join us for the event, especially to Curzon Consulting whose technical support ensured the smooth running of the proceedings and to our associates who participated and presented in the different sessions. We would also like to thank the UK AID, Waterloo Foundation, Fondation Ensemble and Tropenbos for their ongoing support for this work in Africa and Peru. 

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