ForestLink – putting the power to save forests in local peoples’ hands

An audience at The Royal Institution (RI) in London heard how millions of ‘community forest monitors’ could be mobilised by a new system devised by RFUK that enables them to report illegal logging in real-time.

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The meeting, on June 24, heard from Georges-Thierry Handja, RFUK’s mapping coordinator that the system had already been successfully tested in Cameroon. Using smartphones linked with some simple gadgetry to a satellite system usually used for text messages and phone calls, communities could report illegal logging, environmental crime and human rights abuses directly from some of the most remote parts of the planet.

James Acworth, an expert who has been involved in forest management in Africa for more than 25 years explained how ‘joint control’ of forests between local communities and governmental agencies had successfully reduced illegal logging in a project in Cameroon 10 years ago. The project had showed that local people can be very effective in reducing forest crime – but sadly the project had stopped due to lack of funding. “Now we have stronger civil society and improvements in technology, we need to bring these ideas back,” said Mr Acworth.

David Young, an expert in independent forest monitoring, had worked with RFUK to assess the challenges and opportunities surrounding community-based real-time monitoring – such as how to ensure that communities have the right incentives to be engaged in such initiatives, how to verify ‘crowd-sourced’ information, and how to link community-monitoring with official enforcement agencies. “We need to explore ways to make real-time information on infractions directly available to international timber markets,” Mr Young said.

Julia Falconer, Senior Forestry Advisor at the UK Department for International Development said that the system had “real potential”; that there is a broad consensus at national and international level that what DfID is seeking to do is work more effectively with local communities; with indigenous peoples and community forestry.

“We have the space in terms of forestry but often lacking in the capacity to actually make this happen.” Ms Faloner added that there is a real demand for information about what is happening in the forest compared to 10 years ago and processes like the EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade initiative have gone some way to create a demand for better forest governance.

“Where we are managing to create that demand, this kind of information [real-time forest illegality reports] can be quite powerful,” Ms Falconer said. “ForestLink is a good tool.”

RFUK’s executive director, Simon Counsell said. “It could play a major role in helping to put the power of forest governance more into the hands of communities.”

Following on from the event earlier this year, RFUK, will be testing the ForestLink system in Cameroon, DRC, Ghana and Peru.

The video webinar of the event is available to watch here.

For more information of ForestLink, click here.

If you have any further questions or requests for information, please email us info@rainforestuk.org