The International Day of Forests celebrates and raises awareness about the importance of forests and trees for our planet. One third of the world’s terrestrial surface is covered by forests, supporting livelihoods for more than 1.6 billion people and hosting half of the world’s land-based species of fauna and flora. Forests, as the biologically most diverse ecosystem, also provide a critical buffer to climate change and protect watersheds as critical sources for sustainable water supply. And yet, more than 13 million hectares are deforested annually, contributing to 12-20% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Since its launch in 1992, the GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP) has supported more than 7,100 community projects – or 40% of its portfolio – committing USD$ 192 M in grants to promote the protection, rehabilitation and sustainable use of forests ecosystems across the world. Of the 876 projects specifically focusing on deforestation, 40% took place in Africa, 32% in Latin America and 21% in Asia. Following are three examples of how local communities contributed to rehabilitating and conserving precious forests in their immediate environment.
Community education programs on environmental interventions and the restoration of law and order in the area resulted overall in better land practices. In addition, every member of the community was encouraged to participate and take responsibility for tending to the trees they planted. This collective reforestation activity united the tribes. After establishing tree nurseries and purchasing 8,000 varied species of tree seedlings from the local forest agency, the Nauro managed to plant 50,000 trees, which helped avert further erosion and increased soil water storage capacity. Trees were also purposefully planted to encourage biological diversification and enhance the attractiveness of potential eco-tourism sites. Some trees, such as eucalyptus, were planted for income-generating cash-crop production. The community-driven reforestation project targeted 13,000 people, covering 7 clans in 21 villages and numerous other villages bordering Gor. Overall, around 300 hectares of forest were rehabilitated.
The local indigenous communities created a 1,230 hectare community conservation area, which they continue to monitor and track progress in vegetation, biodiversity and water resources. The project also enhanced the capacities of the indigenous people to understand climate change, forest carbon monitoring and other sustainable management issues and methodologies. U’yool’che has since been leading the replication process in 12 other communities in the region, transmitting capabilities from one community to another.
The project also conducted a series of workshops to address the community’s low level of conservation awareness and capacity for sustainable forest management. As a result, around 300 villagers were trained in improved agricultural practices, production of value-added farm and forest products and alternative income generation activities such as sustainable NTFPs management and animal husbandry. In addition, the project supported incorporation and empowerment of other surrounding communities through awareness creation workshops, economic empowerment and cooperative, sustainable management of the forest. The project served 6,700 inhabitants in the Ekuri villages. A follow-on project is currently extending the activities, while also promoting energy efficient woodstoves, agro-forestry and watershed management.