Rwanda Wins Gold for Forest Conservation Blueprint

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 26, 2011 (IPS)

Government policies are seldom lauded, yet Rwanda’s forest policy has resulted in a 37-percent increase in forest cover on a continent better known for deforestation and desertification.

Rwanda’s National Forest Policy has also resulted in reduced erosion, improved local water supplies and livelihoods, while helping ensure peace in a country still recovering from the 1994 genocide.

Now Rwanda can also be known as the winner of the prestigious Future Policy Award  for 2011.

“Rwanda has sought not only to make its forests a national priority, but has also used them as a platform to revolutionise its stances on women’s

rights and creating a healthy environment,” said Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement.

She issued a statement for the award ceremony in New York City last week just days before her death from cancer in Nairobi Monday at the age of 71. “Rwanda has been a very divided country since the 1994 genocide but this policy is helping to bring peace and value to the people,” said Alexandra Wandel, director of the World Future Council, which administers the Future Policy Awards.

The World Future Council is an international policy research organisation based in Hamburg, Germany that provides decision-makers with effective policy solutions.

“Our aim is to inspire other countries to adapt these successful policies to their individual needs.” said Wandel told IPS.

This year’s award celebrates the UN Year of the Forest and highlights the critical importance of forests around the world – and especially for the 1.6 billion people who directly depend on them, she said.

Some 20 forest-related policies were submitted this year. Rwanda’s National Forest Policy was awarded the gold while The Gambia’s Community Forest Policy and the U.S. Lacey Act and 2008 amendment received the Silver Awards. An international panel of experts selected the winners based on policies that were the most effective in the conservation and sustainable development of forests for the benefit of current and future generations.

The evaluation criteria for the best forest policies are wide-ranging, including delivering essential benefits to local people now and in the long term, said Jan McAlpine, director of the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat and one of the judges.

“The panel (of experts) receives a detailed analysis of the effectiveness of the policies that has been ‘peer-reviewed’ by NGOs, and others,” McAlpine told IPS. “It’s rare that a country gets complimented for doing something good.”

The biggest threats to forests are oil palm, cattle and agriculture such as soy production, she said. Forest policies in most countries need to be changed usually because they are focussed on timber production or on conservation and don’t consider forests as key part of the ecological, social and economic landscape, she said.

There is “huge interest in looking at good policies that are replicable”, she said. “It is very impressive what the World Future Council is doing.”

This year, Rwanda’s forest policy was the hands’ down winner. “It’s quite stunning what they’ve accomplished,” said McAlpine.

Despite enormous land pressures from a growing population, Rwanda was able to increase forest cover 37 percent since 1990. Massive reforestation and planting activities that promoted indigenous species and involved the local population were undertaken, and new measures such as agro-forestry and education about forest management.

Rwanda’s forest policy has brought a range of benefits, including a better water supply, reduction in erosion, improved livelihoods and better quality of life overall. The goal is to cover 30 percent of the country in forest by 2020.

“There was a strong consensus in selecting Rwanda’s National Forest Policy in a continent where the prospects for forests are generally bad,” said Wandel. “The jury was also impressed by Rwanda’s land tenure reforms, including giving women equal rights to inherit land.” Rwanda’s success gives hope for other countries, she said. 

Africa’s The Gambia won silver for its innovative policy of handing control of forests to the communities that use them. Despite being one of the world’s poorest countries, Gambia’s Community Forest Policy has reduced illegal logging and resulted in a net 8.5 percent more forest cover while reducing poverty.

“The policy has led to the development of new markets for dead branch wood and other forest products which benefit women and rural populations economically,” Wandel said.

The other silver went to the U.S. for its criminally-enforceable ban on importation of illegal timber, called the Lacey Act. The U.S. is the first country to address the major global problem of illegal logging that results in corruption and environmental damage, and costs producer countries billions of dollars in lost revenue.

The Lacey Act and its 2008 amendments have forced importers to take responsibility for their wood products. That helps to reduce illegal logging by withdrawing the huge rewards received by illegal loggers from the international market.

“One of our jurists from Ethiopia said the U.S. law acts like a global enforcement mechanism, helping the weakest countries to reduce their illegal logging,” said Wandel.

The European Union has developed similar legislation.

“We need visionary policies which support a sustainable and just world and protect future generations,” said Wandel.

First published as Rwanda Wins Gold for Forest Conservation Blueprint – IPS

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