The Congo and Amazon Basins make up the largest area of rainforest on this planet, home to approximately 60 million people, including several million indigenous peoples (IPs) who are dependent upon the forest for their livelihoods.
In some areas, the very existence of rainforest is evidence that forest communities are not only effective forest managers, but have skills and familiarity with environmental protection that others could learn from. However, such skills and knowledge are frequently not recognised and these peoples are often wrongly accused of being responsible for forest degradation. Industrial logging, agricultural clearances, oil and gas exploration, government policies and even nature conservation efforts are evicting the very people from the forest who have been its custodians for centuries, displacing and marginalizing forest dwelling communities.
Lacking official identity papers, forest peoples are often not recognised as citizens. Without this recognition it is hard for them to even claim the most basic rights. Most indigenous and other forest communities lack secure rights to the lands they have inhabited and protected for hundreds, even thousands of years. Where they do have rights on paper, they’re rarely implemented in practice, meaning that crucial rights of communities to own lands are not recognised at all.
Consequently, decisions about the forest are often taken without any thought on existing rights, and communities are marginalized and excluded, frequently losing land, homes and livelihoods in the process. Many suffer genocide, land theft, high mortality rates and human rights abuse; and have been pushed out of their rainforest homes and now live on the side of roads.
It has been well documented that forest communities’ knowledge and practices of managing their environment and natural resources are among the most effective means of forest protection. But, without effective and secure management arrangements that allow for this to take place, and without the empowerment and education of forest communities themselves, forest protection cannot be achieved in a sustainable manner.
The Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) actively works to reduce the rate of rainforest destruction and disenfranchisement of indigenous and forest communities, primarily in Central Africa’s Congo Basin, and South America’s Amazon region. RFUK is one of the few organisations linking human rights and the environment. We support forest peoples in exercising their rights which contributes to reducing rainforest destruction.
The role of rights in forest management is crucial. Many forest conservation or extraction projects are planned and managed by the state or other external institutions; the final decisions are rarely within reach of communities. These processes often ignore a crucial point: forest people are dependent upon and have rights to the forests in a way that other actors do not. Forest-dependent peoples’ rights as decision-makers must be recognised.
Instead of purchasing land or conserving forests purely for their biodiversity-value, RFUK works to promote respect for community rights and use of those rights, tackling the root of problems related to deforestation.
RFUK takes on the challenges of forest communities’ lack of management of lands and resources through assisting forest peoples to map and demarcate their lands and resources, and to make use of this information as a basis for advocating for their rights. This work is developed based on participatory processes to ensure that communities are adequately informed to decide what they need and how they want the information to be used.