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The Bushmeat Dilemma: Forest communities will hunt, but can they do it sustainably?

Local usage isn't the problem - rather, it's skyrocketing demand from cities and markets.

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HYDERABAD, India (15 October, 2012)_With bushmeat accounting for as much as 80 percent of fats and proteins in diets across the Congo Basin, most experts agree: The dilemma is not whether forest-dwellers should be allowed to hunt and eat animals captured in the wild, but how to do it sustainably.

Some, like Tahir Rasheem of the Indigenous Peoples and Community Conserved Areas and Territories’ Consortium, believe the answer lies with those who rely most heavily on the meat.

“It is about giving the choices back to local and indigenous communities,” he said, “and letting them make the decisions on how best they can, and will manage their territories.”

He said trade of bushmeat (as opposed to subsistence usage) would plummet as a result.

“The current unsustainable harvesting and use of wild resources is having a detrimental impact on biological diversity, ecosystem integrity and on people’s livelihoods,” said Robert Nasi, director of the CGIAR Research Programme on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

Bushmeat, a crucial source of protein, fat and iron for millions of forest-dwelling communities across the globe is often the cheapest and most readily available food source. Each year, an estimated five million tonnes of bushmeat is traded in the Congo basin alone and 579 million forest mammals are killed in Central Africa.

The problem was discussed at the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Conference of the Parties 11 in Hyderabad, India, this week.

Noelle Kumpelle of the Zoological Society London urged the CBD to work with scientists, development and agricultural institutions to find alternative proteins to wild meat predominantly from fish and livestock production. She also urged the CBD to adopt the revised Recommendations of the Liaison Group on Bushmeat.

Kumpelle continued “it’s important to look at both “usage” of wild meat – defined as that which indigenous and local communities eat for their consumption and sustenance – and “production.”

The current unsustainable harvesting and use of wild resources is having a detrimental impact on biological diversity, ecosystem integrity and on people’s livelihoods.

It’s the latter, which refers to the selling or exploitation of bushmeat generally bound for urban markets, that is not sustainable.

And it’s a practice that has grown, sharply, in the last two decades.

That’s in part due to the breakdown of traditional management systems in forested areas, an increase in the ownership of firearms and weak governance structures within local and indigenous communities.

Customary and traditional knowledge systems for forest and natural resource management, meanwhile, also have been replaced with centralised decision-making, often from city offices, from those disconnected from forests.

Nasi said while that may be worrying, it’s not necessarily all bad news.

“The long-term persistence of the trade suggests it can be sustainable for resilient species,” he said.

Trophy hunting, meanwhile, is also a key problem, generally from the urban elite who enter wild animal-dense areas and proceed to poach.

The pro-indigenous, pro-community camp vehemently maintains that if local and indigenous communities already have protection and monitoring schemes in place, particularly traditional customary knowledge practices, the possibility of this happening will most likely decline.

Again, these groups “are inextricably dependent upon the natural environments they inhabit, making them the least likely to destroy, and the first to seek to conserve and protect them,” said Rasheem.

It’s an argument, again, for greater decision-making power in the greater wild-meat debate.

Rosie Cooney, who works with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, agrees.

“We have numerous examples where community forest, natural resource managed schemes have seen an increase in species biodiversity,” she said.

“The Takana indigenous lands of Bolivia is a great case in point with a marked increase in Caiman populations.”

She also cites the need to find wild-meat alternatives if the issue is to be effectively tackled.

Roland Melisch of TRAFFIC (the wildlife-trade monitoring network) urged Parties to the CBD to adopt the Recommendations on Bushmeat and to “establish sound decision-support systems so that bushmeat-related management decisions would be evidence-based on best available, objective data and information (including traditional knowledge).”

CIFOR’s research on bushmeat is part of the CGIAR research program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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Topic(s) :   Food security Community forestry Food & diets Rights Bushmeat