Forests and trees drive sustainable business and empowerment

vanilla planifolia (vanilla bean vine) in the Arboretum greenhouse

Vanilla bean vine. Photo: Faria / FlickR

On 21 March, the International Day of Forests, Alison Clausen, Madagascar Country Director with the Wildlife Conservation Society explains why we should invest in saving tropical forests.

While we might all know that forests provide habitat, food and shelter for diverse species, that they regulate water supply and quality, maintain soil fertility, control erosion and store carbon, says Clausen, perhaps less known is that forests also help to regulate our climate, facilitate private sector involvement in sustainable agriculture and empower local communities.

Clausen discusses how forests “provide the opportunity to develop sustainable agri-businesses that can provide employment and revenue for local communities”.

Around Markira National Park in Madagascar, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is working with local communities to produce certified hardwoods, vanilla, clove, and cocoa in sustainable agroforestry systems.

“These traditional products from the region are highly sought after on international markets.” Communities are being provided with training and skills to not only produce quality products but also to be equal partners with the private sector in negotiating contracts and generating financial returns for their work.

“The private sector, with its power and reach, will be an essential partner in reaching global conservation objectives,” says Clausen. Private investment can also “drive long-term socio-economic development of local communities.”

She explains how forests can help to build good governance and empower local communities, which can have a long-lasting effect on ensuring sustainable economic development.

For example, there are now 67 local community associations around Makira Natural Park that manage areas of the forest. Through their work in natural resource management, the people involved have become empowered to participate more broadly in other forms of governance.

To the question of why should we invest in forests, Clausen concludes that perhaps “there are an infinite number of responses to this question depending on the circumstances.” This, she says “provides evidence of the full scope and breadth of the role that forests can play in a modern society increasingly encroaching on our last wild places”.

Read the full story in National Geographic: Forests in 25 words or less'

Kate Langford

Kate Langford is a consultant writer with close to 20 years’ experience in communicating natural resource, environmental and land management issues for various government and non-government organizations. She previously worked as Communications Specialist for the World Agroforestry Centre in Kenya and has worked in Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam and Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Scientific Communication.

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