by Maud Salber, RFUK Policy Advisor
Today the Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) is releasing the first of a new short film series about why, if we want to protect the world’s rainforests, local people need to be at the centre of nature conservation efforts.
As part of a global scramble to mitigate climate change, countries around the world have pledged to preserve forests by creating new national parks and conservation areas. The idea, supported by the international community and donors, is to reduce or stop human activities in forest areas.
While protecting forests is a hugely important goal, the creation of ‘strict’ protected areas in the past has led to the displacement and impoverishment of local and indigenous communities. This approach is not only deeply unjust to the people who have lived in and shaped these ecosystems for millennia, but also of questionable value in terms of protecting biodiversity and mitigating climate change.
Indeed, there is ample evidence from across the world – including from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples – that forests managed by local communities and indigenous peoples work better than exclusionary, ‘guns and guards’ protected areas.
One village chief living in a protected area in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) explained: “We have a duty to protect our forests for our children’s future. Our forest helps us to educate our children, to keep them healthy, and to feed our families… Our forest is our future, it is our life.”
In 2016, RFUK explored the shortcomings of conservation efforts in our landmark report Protected Areas in the Congo Basin: Failing both People and Biodiversity, when we looked in-depth at the impacts on local people’s rights and livelihoods across 34 protected areas in the region.
As part of our efforts to encourage people-friendly conservation, we are now launching a film and blog series, ‘Rainforest Parks and People’. Beginning with an overview of why people matter in forest conservation – and what can result if they are not engaged - the films and blogs will feature testimony from local people and will explore questions such as the difference between subsistence hunting and large-scale poaching, the importance of secure land rights, and human rights abuses by park rangers, as well as conservation organisations’ comfortable relationship with the logging industry.
We’re hoping that these films will put a human face on conservation and shed light on the real and devastating impacts that top-down conservation programmes can have on people, as well as help start a conversation on how to avoid repeating mistakes of the past — for the sake of both people and the planet.
Rainforest Parks and People Database
In a drive to promote transparency and scrutiny in conservation efforts in the Congo Basin rainforests, we have also launched a new interactive website on the human impacts of protected areas. Drawing on publicly available information as well as RFUK’s own field investigations, the ‘Rainforest Parks and People database’ presents detailed information about 34 protected areas, highlighting their impacts on people who live in them. Read more about it here.