Throughout the Caribbean, local communities are addressing poverty by managing and conserving forests in partnership with government. They recognise forest ecosystems as essential for the well being of our people and our communities. High on the international and regional agendas is climate change and its twin, protection of forests. The Caribbean is already feeling the effects of climate change on our economies and ecosystems. Participants to the regional conference–Forests for People, People for Forests, held on May 4-6 in Trinidad–discussed the impacts of climate change on our forests and the livelihoods of the rural poor, and explored the management of forests for mitigation and adaptation to climate change. How will projected climatic changes impact on forest goods and services and what challenges do we face in encouraging the participatory management of our forests?
Stimulating ideas emerged on how community organisations can partner with government agencies to manage forests, how can we build national multi-stakeholder forums for decision-making on forest management, new approaches being used to manage forests, the economic value of forests, and more contentious, should people pay for using forests? The conference was hosted by the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI), co-funded by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) National Forest Programme Facility and the European Commission (EC) Programme on Tropical Forests. By funding this conference, both the European Union and the FAO underscored their commitment to ensuring both environmental preservation and poverty alleviation through the development of sustainable forest based livelihoods. Speaking at the conference opening, Kathrin Renner acting Charg� d' Affaires of the Delegation of the European Union to Trinidad and Tobago, commented that while Europe has seen destruction of forests throughout its history, today EU members are committed to reforestation and other environmental protections.
She continued: "There is sometimes a misconception that environmental protection undermines economic growth but the truth is the opposite: It is environmental degradation that undermines prospects of both short and long-term development. Only when the environmental dimension is fully taken into account can we obtain the ultimate goal of lasting poverty reduction and sustainable development." "The paper is useless without us," said Phillip Thompson, Project Manager of a community-based organisation called the Buff Bay Local Forest Management Committee in Jamaica, as he referred to policies and practices for participatory forest management. His organisation has been working with the Forestry Department in Jamaica more than ten years.
Participants at the conference endorsed engaging local communities in participatory forest management and gave the following recommendations for how this should be done:
�2 Rural communities should be involved in managing forests and this provides them with important livelihood benefits.
�2 Specifically targeting the poorest people in community forestry initiatives is critical otherwise they can be left out or even hurt.
�2 Building capacity in local communities to be able to effectively participate in forest management and negotiate their own positions takes time and resources (especially with respect to climate change).
Over 80 participants attended the conference from 12 countries across the Caribbean–Barbados, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Lucia, St Vincent, and St Kitts and Nevis. People came from government agencies, non-governmental organisations, community-based organisations, regional technical assistance agencies, universities, and donor agencies. This three-day conference included one day of field trips to five sites across Trinidad.
Participants visited the Fondes Amandes Reforestation Project in St Ann's and work being done by Nature Seekers in Matura, both community-based initiatives that are helping to conserve forests and improve the livelihoods of people in the communities. Private forestry efforts in central Trinidad being implemented in partnership with the Forestry Division were also seen. A trip to the Nariva Swamp focused on how local communities are being engaged by the Environmental Management Authority, through a grant from the Green Fund, to reforest parts of the Nariva Swamp as a pilot climate change mitigation project. Another group visited a permaculture (permanent agriculture) demonstration farm in Freeport being run by Wa Samaki Ecosystems.