Globalizing local communities


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Globalization does not just affect trade and communications. Even things as inherently local as helping communities benefit from forests are being globalized. People from around the world are coming together to share information and experiences, promote public awareness, and press international agencies and negotiations to support policies that favor local people.

In the last twenty years at least nine international networks have sprung up to promote community forestry. ’Bridging the Gap: Communities, Forests, and International Networks’, written by Marcus Colchester and four of his colleagues and published by CIFOR, looks at the lessons from their experience.

The early networks, such as ODI’s Rural Forestry Development Network (RFDN), the Regional Community Forestry Training Centre for Asia and the Pacific (RECOFTC), and FAO’s Forest, Trees, and People Program (FTPP), mostly provided information about community forestry to professionals working in donor projects and government agencies. These networks informed many practitioners and generated excitement but found it difficult to change the policies that held communities back.

Other networks have focused more on advocacy. The World Rainforest Movement organizes campaigns to pressure the big international agencies and environmental negotiations. IUCN had a working group (IUCN-CIFM) that tried to influence the inter-governmental discussions about forests at the United Nations. ACICAFOC in Central America and FAN in East Africa have pushed for changes in national and regional policies, as well as promoting exchanges between their members.

Looking at what this all has meant on the ground in seven specific countries (Brazil, Cameroon, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and Uganda), it is clear the networks have helped to motivate and shape the ideas of some key individuals and to achieve greater acceptance of community forestry in general. Nonetheless, the links between the global efforts and the national dynamics are complex and many other important groups and individuals don’t even know the networks exist.

Although the international networks seek to support community forestry in most cases the communities themselves don’t really participate in the networks. Most don’t have email, many cannot speak the languages used by the networks, and they find it hard to interact with the professionals on equal terms. Each network has only a small number of active people and it is practically impossible for them to really conduct dialogue with large numbers of small farmers.

It is still not clear how low income people can participate in a meaningful way in our increasingly global world. But we need to keep looking for ways to bridge that gap. As long as we have international aid agencies, worldwide communication networks and multinational companies, our communities are also going to need international efforts to watch out for their interests. This report provides good guidance about how to make those efforts succeed.

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Further reading

To request a free print or electronic copy of this paper in English, French, or Spanish, you can write Nia Sabarniati at:

You can also download the report and some of the background documents from the CIFOR webpage at:

(To access the background documents go to "previous forestry highlights" and stroll down to "lessons for international community forestry networks".) To send comments or queries to the authors you can write Marcus Colchester at:

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