Forest and Climate Change; Contributions from local communities and smallholders

Dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen 

I would like to thank the organizers of this event for the opportunity to address the very important topic of contributions from local communities and smallholders in our effort to mitigate and adapt to climate change. 

Agriculture is a major source of GHG emissions, but can also provide important contributions in our effort to mitigate climate change and adapt to a changing environment. 

An effective, sustainable agricultural sector is also crucial for the efforts to reduce deforestation. The demand for agricultural land is the main driver for deforestation. Maintaining forests might be one of the most important factors that will enable us to mitigate climate change. The most important factor will always be to reduce the utilisation of fossil energy. 

Norway has during the last years provided resources into the task of protecting forest and natural resources as a contribution to mitigate climate change and adapt to the changing environment globally. 

Our efforts will not succeed unless it involves local communities and smallholders on the ground.

We need to continue efficient agriculture, where it currently exist, to meet the raising demand for food globally. But it can't be the strategy to further exploit forests. We need the remaining forest, or rather more forest, for sustainable use of wood products, biodiversity protection and to mitigate climate change. 

The good thing is that families, smallholders and local communities, have a large potential for development based on traditional knowledge. They can better sustain themselves and improve livelihood, with supportive policies, access to markets and simple management tools. 

We should also look at these groups with an integrated approach. They are instrumental in order to reach other global goals such as forest restoration and provider of sustainable energy. It is an integral part of rural livelihood and would be part of the effort. 

It is important to approach this through the perspective of those living in these communities. They need a voice and integrity to communicate a true understanding of status, and to participate in developing policies and measures. The need to organize is obvious.  

Local communities and smallholders have received too little attention as they are lacking resources and are often kept at a distant from the decisions making. In the eagerness to develop commercial farming, smallholders and forest dwellers has been marginalized. This has contributed to poverty, food insecurity and unsustainable use of forest. 

A third of forest globally are under some form of management by families, smallholders, local communities or indigenous people. 

In my country the share are even higher. More than 80 % of the forest is privately owned. More than 60 % is combined agricultural and forest properties, family owned and small in size. 

Many would say, correctly, that the conditions in Norway differ from those in other parts of the world. It does, but it has not always been like this. 

Earlier, Norway was in a rather different economic situation. Our forests were a very important part of our economy, and was over-exploited.  Norway faced a situation with diminishing forests resources and unsustainable forest management.  

The situation became serious and a few forward-looking people decided to change the situation. Many of the actions are similarly relevant for improving forest management today. 

First task was to assess the real situation. By establishing one of the first national forest inventories in the world, in 1919, they were able to do exactly that. 

New institutions were put in place, a national forest authority, forest research and the earlier mentioned national forest inventory, among other things. Yes it has costs, but they did it when Norway participated in the competition of being the poorest country in Europe. For our predecessors, this was about getting the priorities right. We have benefited enormously from their forward-looking approach. 

Not even this effort by the authorities would have succeeded unless another important development occurred simultaneously. The forest owners and the private sector realised the need to cooperate. Forest owner associations were established, other private organisations supportive of the ”forest issue” emerged. 

By joining forces, the local communities and family owned farms strengthened their ability to act on important challenges for their forests. Together with the government they created a true public-private partnership. This partnership is still alive and vital. Each understanding its role, but together aiming for improved sustainable forest management and solid institutions to support the work. 

The forest owners, families and local communities benefited from a safer and more stable income and workplace. This encouraged further actions and development. 

My country has in place one important success factor for economic development: high percentage of female participation in the labour force. The value of full, female and male, participation in the work force is one of the main reasons for the positive economic development of Norway after WWII. Significantly more important and much higher contribution than the income generated from our export of oil and gas – and seafood. Our two main export commodities.  

Gender equality is fundamental for all societies. In agriculture, gender equality is even more fundamental. Women operate large part of the agricultural sector in developing countries. The problem is that these contributions are not reflected in the returns, influence and participation in the decision-making. Women own fewer assets and they are not secured equal returns. 

A basis for the shift to sustainable forest management in the past was to secure tenure rights for local communities and families, and the understanding that all those affected by decisions were able to state their opinions. 

Globally we face a huge challenge in safeguarding forest resources for the future and manage forests to the benefit of people and the climate. The lessons from a sparsely populated country in the north may not be copied elsewhere, but the basic principles will be the same: 

- We need the tools to monitor the development of our forest resources in order to plan for the next step. 

- Those dependent on the forests for their living and welfare should be heavily involved in the effort and they need to see the benefit of actions as a mean to income and job creation. 

- Land tenure rights must be acknowledged and respected in order to reduce uncertainty and to facilitate responsible, sustainable management. 

- Credible institutions should be the basis for policy development, implementation and monitoring of the development. 

Lessons from different parts of the world, including my own country, is that we have to mobilize a broad range of means in order to protect our forest resources and make them contribute to economic and social development and climate change mitigation. Local communities and smallholders will be the key actors in this effort.