“One of the main messages which is going to come out from the whole World Forestry congress is the importance of the forest for food security and livelihood, as well as for climate change,” says Jeremy Campbell, manager of the Forest and Farm Facility programme at the Food and Agriculture Organization.
“And we see these two things can only be achieved together. And we will definitely be trying to create a platform for indigenous people and local community producer organizations to get their message heard,” Campbell told RFI via telephone in Durban.
The FAO’s Forest and Farm Facility programme, already working in Zambia, Gambia, Liberia and Kenya, has helped scores of farmers.
“Liberian farmers…are raising honeybees. They are also collecting rattan that are used to make chairs for the market,” says Julius Momolu Bass, National Coordinator of the Farmers Union Network of Liberia in Monrovia.
“They are also using the forest to get spices... to use for consumption and income. More besides, you have pit sawers. These are people who can do selective wood conservation and saw them into timbers, and use it locally for construction,” he adds.
The programme is currently underway in Lofa, Nimba and Grand Cape Mount counties, but Bass hopes to expand the Forest and Farm Facility programme to five more forested areas in Liberia, including Grand Gedeh, River Gee, Grand Kru, Margibi and Rivercess counties.
“The forest is producing! It’s doing a lot when it comes to the livelihood of our farmers in Liberia,” adds Bass.
“In most parts of the world where indigenous people’s rights have been recognized, you can clearly see the boundaries of the forest and how they are maintained,” says FAO’s Campbell.
But in many places where indigenous forest people have had their rights denied them, or have been moved off their lands, rampant illegal logging and badly-managed forests are evident, says Campbell, which includes the problem of deforestation throughout Africa.
He sees deforestation as a symptom of the neglect of indigenous people, local communities and smallholders. “By improving tenure in the forest for indigenous people and local communities, by really focusing on the livelihood of small producers and helping to strengthen them so they have a long-term stake and are recognized in their role, by, for instance helping to legalize and develop more sustainable wood and charcoal producer organizations, there’s the full range of activities that go with strengthening local communities,” he says.
The Forest and Farm Facility was launched earlier this year in Kenya with the Yaaku indigenous people in Laikipia, and in Nakuru, in part with the Ogiek people.
For Geoffrey Wanyama, the CEO of Farm Forestry Smallholder Producers Association of Kenya, it was important to involve local government officials from the start. He says that they created a committee with the local farmers and the county government officials so that the people who were previously disenfranchised are now part of managing their own initiatives.
The program also looks for ways indigenous farmers can bring their products to market, whether it’s improving road conditions or making contacts with other areas, he says.
“The activities we are implementing are to help producer groups develop business ideas around their products,” says Wanyama. “We are looking at bee keeping, we are looking at tree nurseries, we are looking at things like poultry, but trying to combine that with forestry, of course. And we are also looking at fruit trees in two areas with the support of the Forest Farm Facility programme,” he adds.
Both Wanyama and Bass are in Durban to show what producers in their countries have done with the programme, but also to see if the program can be expanded to other forested parts of their respective countries.
FAO’s Campbell says that he has driven through the forested areas in each of the countries where the Forest Farm Facility programme was launched, and he was impressed by the organization of farmers there.
“Farmers are getting organised, small sawmills are developing, there’s people with seedling nurseries, all sorts of forest products, businesses developing. I think that that African producers, if they’re given the right to support, can really lead the way… and transform rural Africa,” says Campbell.
He says a lot still needs to be done from a policy standpoint, and investment is vital.
“But when invested in, they are the solution,” he adds.