Beyond dialogue: building trust to save the people’s forests and support development

Experts agree that greater trust between local communities and government is necessary.
What can we do better to build trust between local communities, governments and other actors? Tomas Munita / CIFOR.

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LIMA, Peru— If there is one thing that everyone involved in forest governance can agree on, it is the need to build trust within and between groups, as voiced by experts and indigenous leaders during a panel discussion at the Global Landscapes Forum, on the sidelines of the UN climate change meeting in Lima.

The discussion was organized by the Governors’ Climate & Forests Task Force (GCF), Sustainable Tropics Alliance and the Forest Based Livelihoods Consortium.

Much has been said about establishing platforms for multi-stakeholder dialogue, where government, civil society, indigenous groups and private sector actors can come together. And local governments are in a very good position to foster this dialogue, said moderator Rosa Maria Vida, the Executive Director of the GCF Fund. Dialogue is fundamental, she said, but it will not be enough to reduce deforestation.

The Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) is a unique subnational collaboration among 26 states and provinces from Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Spain and the United States that seeks to advance jurisdictional programs for low-emission rural development (LED-R) and reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) through performance-based incentive systems and multi-stakeholder processes. The panel organized by the GCF and partners brought together a range of actors, including governments, indigenous and traditional communities, and the private sector to examine the progress—and persistent obstacles—along the pathway to LED-R.

We need a common language, and LED-R can provide this through understandings such as more forests equals more food

Peter Holmgren

To start with, there are different levels of dialogue. Frequent practice has been that “megaprojects only consult with local communities when they know that the communities will agree with implementation,” said Edwin Vasquez, Coordinator of COICA, the coordinating body of the indigenous organizations of the Amazon basin.

“There is dialogue at the beginning, but then there is no shared vision,” added Levi Sucre Romero, an indigenous leader from Costa Rica. Local communities view this as lack of political will and coherence when megaprojects they don’t agree with get the green light from governments.

In the case of the state of Jalisco, Mexico, “there has been a historical lack of enforcement of environmental regulations,” said the Secretary of Environment and Regional Development, María Magdalena Ruiz Mejía. But this is changing now with the Secretariat taking an active role in environmental conflict resolution whenever it is solicited by local communities, gradually but steadily building trust.

However, if local people on the ground still get criminalized and arrested for protecting their forests, it poses a major obstacle to establishing trust, said Mina Setra, Deputy Secretary General of The Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelagos (AMAN).

So what can we do better to build trust between local communities, governments and other actors?

“First and foremost, give land rights and tenure security to indigenous peoples so that they can combat the big threats related to megaprojects,” Vasquez underlined.

A fundamental comprehension and understanding of values is another initial step, Romero said. The recognition of the historical role of local communities in conserving ecosystems is essential to achieving this goal.

Dande Tavares, from the Company for the Development of Environmental Services (Companhia de Desenvolvimento de Serviços Ambientais) in Acre, Brazil, noted that they factor in the historical contribution of indigenous communities for “building-up” and delivering ecosystem services in the design of benefit-sharing mechanisms.

“We need a common language, and LED-R can provide this through understandings such as more forests equals more food,” said Peter Holmgren, Director General of CIFOR. “We cannot only use deforestation as the common language,” he added.

And if trust is established, then we don’t have to worry about having different priorities at different levels and scales, Holmgren added: “Diversity in setting priorities is a good thing that we should embrace.”

It will be a bumpy and long journey to build, or in some cases regain, the trust of indigenous communities in South America after the recent tragic killings of indigenous leaders in Peru and Ecuador. But it makes it an even more urgent and necessary journey.

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