Photo: FUNDAECO Black Pepper plot. Photo courtesy of FUNDAECO.
United Nations New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) endorser Rainforest Trust is making progress on three of the 10 goals that constitute the NYDF through the execution of its mission. By purchasing and protecting tropical habitats, it is making advances on goal 1, while its work helping indigenous and other local communities gain land rights and develop more sustainable activities directly impacts goal 10 and goal 4, respectively.
Since the international conservation organization’s founding in 1988, it has purchased and protected more than 18 million acres of tropical habitat - almost 18 times the size of Grand Canyon National Park - with plans to more than double this amount to 50 million acres by 2020 through its massive SAVES Challenge. While this seems like a small dent in the effort to halve the rate of natural forest loss by 2020, as called for in NYDF Goal 1, Rainforest Trust’s contribution is globally significant because these acres are a strategic collection of some of the most important habitats for threatened wildlife and local communities.
“For example, our work to establish the San Luis Community Reserve in the Philippines with the Daluhay Daloy ng Buhay may only protect some 86,487 acres - not a large area in a global sense - but nonetheless an incredibly vital protected area as it safeguards a breeding pair of the Critically Endangered Philippine Eagle, eliminating the likelihood of the species extinction,” Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman said.
Rainforest Trust’s selection of areas for protection is fundamentally grounded in science coming from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. For 50 years, the Red List has assessed the risk of extinction for most of the world’s vertebrate species, and many of its invertebrate and plant species. These data are then incorporated into IUCN’s Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) initiative that identifies the most important sites for the threatened species. Many of these identified KBAs remain unprotected, and this is where the conservation organization focuses its efforts.
However, challenges are immense.
“With human population increases and the need for resources growing every minute, the ability for conservation organizations to respond is not growing on a parallel level,” Salaman said. “The best way to get around this is by focusing on the most vital habitats. We do this by reacting as quickly as possible, given time constraints, to threats on these most important areas, and then directing our resources and efforts accordingly,” he added.
Rainforest Trust sets out to protect these essential sites through local partnerships and community engagement. It is becoming more evident in the conservation sector that when communities are brought into the conservation conversation, efforts are not only more immediately effective but also more sustainable, a significant component to long-term protection.
Engaging communities takes many forms. Whether it is helping indigenous communities in the Amazon gain titles to their land so they can prevent resource extraction by outsiders, or providing outreach and training to communities in Tanzania that replace their wood-burning stoves with more efficient methods, Rainforest Trust and local partners always keep the needs of the local communities at the forefront of their conservation efforts.
“We don’t just see the acres we save as land for protection,” Salaman said. “We see them as the ‘back yards’ of thousands of people who rely on them for fresh water and food supplies. And these local communities play a key role in helping us ensure that protected areas truly stay protected.”
This has resulted in establishing numerous programs that transform many aspects of community life from forest-degrading activities to forest protection activities. For example, the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group, with Rainforest Trust’s support, is implementing several community sustainability projects as part of the joint Magombera Nature Reserve project, including sustainable fuel training for 400 community members, where they learn how to make more efficient cookstoves out of mud. This training will being in 2019 and focus on the community members that use the most wood for cooking, and women, as they are the community’s primary cooks. Within this project, the local partner is also consulting with the villages on how to use land effectively and efficiently in the future, how to bring in tourist revenue to help them promote wildlife viewing and the protection of intact forests and how to manufacture community crafts to sell to the tourists. All of these result in either a better understanding by communities of their resources or new revenue streams that reduce their dependency on forest goods, both of which are necessary for long-term sustainable management of forests.
Another great example comes from one of Rainforest Trust’s local partners in Guatemala. Fundación para el Ecodesarrollo y la Conservación (FUNDAECO) is implementing community projects that focus on family planning, as overpopulation is a significant environmental concern. They operate a network of 21 health clinics that help women obtain and understand their reproductive rights. The local partner also runs a program called “ecovillages” where it promotes sustainable development and economic alternatives that support biodiversity conservation. The ecovillages are built together with the local community and support a wide range of activities that include development of community ecotourism sites; production of handicrafts, textiles, fruit, ornamental flowers, coffee and rubber -- all products that provide more financial reward with less resource use; intensification of agriculture and improvement of crops for food security, including corn and beans; sustainable management of sheep to promote natural regeneration; and certified community carpentry. FUNDAECO is currently implementing these activities in one of Rainforest Trust’s projects -- Sierra Santa Cruz Protected Area -- and will begin implementing them in another -- Cerro Amay Cloud Forest -- before the end of the year.
Rainforest Trust is supporting similar projects all over the tropics. As it works toward its goal of 50 million acres protected by 2020, these land titling and community sustainability activities will remain an integral part of the process. And in the coming months, Rainforest Trust will begin to look beyond 2020 for a new challenge to help drive its momentum to protect rainforests, save species and support local communities, maintaining its focus on these three NYDF goals.
About the Author
Alyssa Wiltse-Ahmad is the Media Relations Officer at Rainforest Trust
Follow Alyssa on Twitter @Alyssa3W
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