World Rainforest Movement

The impacts of conservation

The workshop organized at the World Social Forum on “Displacement and Forest Communities” (1) enabled participants to better understand the essential injustice of the prevailing approach to forest conservation and at the same time to realize that it is incapable of conserving forests.

The world is deeply concerned about deforestation, particularly in the tropics. However, forest loss is directly linked to a development model based on the exploitation of the resources contained in forest areas: wood, minerals, oil, hydroenergy, soils for tree plantations and other profitable monocultures. The end result is not development but deforestation and forest degradation leading to loss of livelihoods, impoverishment and displacement of communities dependent on forests.

Although that development model is increasingly challenged by peoples’ movements, governments are unwilling to change it. At the same time, some corporate interests are pushing for the conservation of those resources they need to protect: biodiversity and water. In most cases, this means the conservation of pristine forest areas, which contain high levels of biological diversity and are the sources of water. Those resources are strategic for the pharmaceutical and the biotechnology industries. For the former, it implies potential profits through medicinal plants while for the latter it means maintaining a wide genetic pool available for genetic engineering. Transnational water companies are increasingly interested in accessing the same type of forest areas, rich in water resources. In the three cases, they have an interest in preserving those forest areas as intact as possible, but no interest at all in the survival of the people that inhabit the forest areas they wish to appropriate.

The mechanism promoted worldwide to ensure forest conservation is consistent with the above interests: the demarcation of “protected areas”, void of people. The areas chosen are usually the most biologically rich and are in most cases occupied by forest peoples that have managed the forest sustainably. In fact, the area was already protected by them. But once the government declares it as “protected”, it implies the eviction of the people living there. This outrageous injustice is rarely perceived by the public at large, who either ignore the existence of forest peoples or believe -influenced by the government through the media- that forest people are a threat to forests and that therefore need to be removed to ensure forest conservation.

Through the implementation of that mechanism, millions of people have been evicted from their home -the forest- and have thus lost their means of livelihood. This process is continuing until now, in the name of nature conservation.

But nature is not being conserved. The declaration of protected areas implicitly declares at the same time which areas are “unprotected”: all the rest. When a government proudly declares that “10% of the country is under a protected area system”, it is also declaring that 90% is left unprotected and open for destruction.

Additionally, the eviction of forest peoples implies that the forest is no longer truly protected and that illegal activities (logging, hunting) will begin to deplete the forest resources.

Experience worldwide shows that the best way for ensuring biodiversity conservation is to incorporate conservation to production systems. Experience also shows that the best way to protect forests is to empower those communities that have a real stake in forest conservation: forest communities. They are the traditional and true guardians and recognizing them as such is the starting point in forest conservation.

(1) Workshop organized by the National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers, Delhi Forum and World Rainforest Movement. Panelists: Ricardo Carrere, WRM; Usha Romanthan, lawyer, researcher and activist; Milton Fornazieri, International Secretariat/MST; Ashish Kothari, Environmental Action Group; Anil Garg, activist; Smithu Kothari, Lokayan. The following people gave their testimonies on the impacts they suffered under the type of conservation summarized above: Phubri Devi, from the region of Kaimu, the district of Soubhadra; Shamila Ariffin, activist from Sahabat Alam Malaysia; Babu Uram, from the Pathri region, district of Haridwar; Kanak Sing from the Munda tribe, Jharkhand State, member of the Save the Forest Movement.