Voices from the field

Voices from the field 1

Collection practices reflect the community’s strategy of sustainable land use

Mr. Somneuk Buddwarn, Ban-Thap-Heua-Parak-Moo Community, Nayok District, Trang Province, Thailand

Ban-Thap-Heua-Parak-Moo Community is located in Southern Thailand and majority of the local residents are small-scale family farmers. The practice of collecting local forest products is an important source of livelihood for food and supplemental income. Depending on the season, forest pakria (a type of bean), different types of mushrooms, honey and bamboo shoots are the more common products collected from the forest.

Collection practices reflect the community’s strategy of sustainable land use and governance, and villagers have to respect and abide by rules and norms when gathering forest products. Land is governed through collective ownership in this community. Majority of the land is devoted to chemical-free, multi-crop farming primarily for local consumption and markets. Monoculture is unacceptable to local residents and large tracts of land are used to grow trees that can be used by villagers for houses and other needs, and to avoid illegal logging of local forests.

According to Somneuk, social and ecological sustainability in land and forest use are important, and local communities living in the area for several decades have proved that people can live in harmony with forests and nature. But they are worried about state officials’ negative perceptions that local villagers cannot coexist with forests and nature.

Based on this prejudice, the government is attempting to separate local communities from nature, as is evident in the national forest master plan introduced by the military government shortly after the coup in 2014. The plan enables government authorities to confiscate local villagers’ lands and evict villagers without due process. An urgent challenge for the people of Ban-Thap-Heua-Parak-Moo is to build knowledge and awareness among state officials to understand what local communities mean by sustainability and their ways of life that are harmonious with nature.

Voices from the field 2

“No means no”

Chief Joseph Chio Johnson, Senior Elder, Jogbah Clan, District No. 4, Grand Bassa County – Liberia

For the past three years, my people and I have met with the Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO) Company to discuss their plan to take over our land and turn it into an oil palm plantation. We have met with the company more than twenty-five times and every time we have said ‘No’ to their request for land. We met with Her Excellency President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2014 and begged her to tell the company to leave us alone.

The company has continued to meet with us and insist that we give up our land. On November 3, 2015 we said to them, we no longer want to meet with you: for us ‘No means no’.

The company says it wants to help us ‘develop’. But when I travel through their plantation, the people who live and work there are no better than us. I see their children washing their dirty clothes in the stream and I see their wives fetching water from the stream nearby to use for cooking. Most people in the camp live in thatch huts; few of them live in houses with metal roof.

I am glad we still have our land. We grow our own food. With our land, we will always have our freedom and dignity. I don’t want their development that will leave my people and me landless.

Photos and more information (including a petition to help the Jogbah Clan to protect their territory) here.

Voices from the field 3

The Montoro Act: a Death sentence for village life?

Daniel Boyano Sotillo, Garden of the Well Collective, Spain

The “Rationalization and Sustainability of Local Government Act”, known as the “Montoro Act” – which has been in force since January 1, 2014 without prior dialogue and consensus with the affected administrations – will have a devastating effect on rural populations and territories in Spain.

The current rural crisis will now deepen as this law encourages the covert looting and expropriation of Local Municipalities and smaller local authorities, as well as the Open Councils* and Neighbourhood Councils – true examples of real democracy. The Open Councils for example are forms of social organization developed to manage natural resources used by neighbours. These councils do not belong to the state or to markets but instead have managed and regulated local resource systems through community assemblies and direct participation for many many years.

According to this new law Provincial Councils and their “Management Consortiums” will be responsible for the administration of public forests, common lands and water, hunting, mycology and timber resources. These consortiums are already working with large construction and services companies that seek only to extract financial benefits. The government currently calculates it can make up to 21 million euros from around 4 million hectares of rural land at a national level. It is estimated that the same law will destroy the local economic fabric, as it will result in as many as 200,000 less jobs across rural Spain.

We owe it to our ancestors, society, nature, and our own moral values to fight against this authoritarianism as an organized civil society. We must ensure the continuity of smaller local authorities and their heritage, as well as Open councils, Neighbourhood councils, and voluntary Associations of services that guarantee the participation of society through direct democracy.

* More on Open Councils here in Spanish.
– Sign against the Montoro Act here in Spanish.
– Campaign: This town is not for sale here in Spanish.

Voices from the field 4

When foraging all respect certain collective norms

Ms.Kusuma Kampin, Huaykontha Community, Lom Sak District, Phetchabun Province, Thailand

“We know what, when and how to collect from the forest. Normally we collect different types of mushrooms during rainy season, bamboo shoots in early rainy season and, bamboo worms and local vegetables in the summer” said Kusuma, when asked about the practice of gathering products from the local forest.

Gathering forest products is still an important source of food and livelihood for villagers in Huaykontha community. It is primarily for food and small family income. There are no written “rules” for gathering practices, but all villagers are required to respect certain collective norms, for example: not taking all bamboo shoots and leaving at least one shoot to grow; making holes in the bamboo to get the worms, but never cutting down the bamboo.

Huaykontha is located in a disputed area where governmental officials have accused villagers of illegal encroachment and settlement in the forest, but where villagers claim they have been residing since long before the land was designated as a sanctuary. Since the military coup in May 2014, villagers have faced increased threats and intimidation from government officials, who have tried to limit land access and use by villagers, particularly in agricultural lands, and introduced harsh punishment for collecting forest products. However, because of strong community cohesion and cautionary measures (including regular monitoring of the movement of officials in the area), the villagers are able to continue their traditional practices.

The arrival of outsiders to gather local forest products is also a challenge worrying the Huaykontha community. Outsiders gather for commercial purposes and in destructive ways that degrade and deplete the forest, and give government officials justification to accuse community residents of destroying the forest and impose severe punishment. According to Kusuma “these people come and go but we live in the community, their practice creates lot of problem to us. The role of the state should be to protect and uphold the way of life and livelihood of local villagers but they never do that. They always see us as criminals. They never try to understand that our way of life is sustainable, this is the problem.”

Voices from the field 5

I learnt to be the spokesman for the forest

Jean François Mombia Atuku, RIAO General Coordinator, Democratic Republic of Congo

My early childhood was spent on the Congo river. I used to love taking my dugout and travelling the river from one end to the other. And just as the children of the forest knew all the trees and varieties of plants, I knew every little part of the river in the most intimate detail.

I love the river but I also love the forest, which is why I like to defend it against the threats posed by companies of all sorts that are working in the utmost impunity in my country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. I learnt to speak on behalf of the forest when I was working with the Pygmy communities in the village of Boteka.

In all the provinces of the Congo there is serious pressure on natural resources, and communities are facing serious threats to ensure their families have food on the table. Companies are destroying the forests and the fields and very nutritious species such as caterpillars are in the posses of becoming extinct. Yet these caterpillars are the basis of these communities food and play an important cultural role in their lives.

People in our villages live mainly from agriculture, but in recent years, it has become difficult to practice this agriculture as much land has been stolen from our communities to be given to multinationals such as Unilever and Feronia. We need to get this land back otherwise it will be even harder to feed our populations. The struggle of RIAO and its members is very important to stop the inequalities and put an end to colonialism in the fields of the DRC.

Voices from the field 6

Woodlands is not just planting and harvesting

Vincent Magnet, Nature sur un Plateau, Limousin, France

My name is Vincent, I am 40 years old and I work as a volunteer for a local association. Nature sur le Plateau works in the Millevaches Plateau, a medium-sized, hilly granite mountain. It has very few inhabitants and is located in central France. Our territory currently has a lot of forest (54%). Woodland has replaces the moors as a result of the rural exodus. This woodland takes two very different forms: deciduous trees have sprung up and masses of softwood trees (conifers) have been planted in monocultures. At present, massive woodland clearance is taking place in both.

There is a general lack of knowledge of woodlands and forests and how to manage them correctly. Our association proposed to our local officials that an area of four hectares of public softwood land be made available for the association for a long time. This would be done so that it could be managed in several ways and thus show the local population that woodlands do not simply boil down to planting and harvesting.

There are many arguments in favor of having continuous, mixed (deciduous and softwood) woodlands without systematic clear cutting:

• Ecologically speaking, by cutting down old trees here and there, we can keep the forest in place and maintain its biodiversity. The small forest aisle is quickly filled by saplings underneath. It has been proven that mixed and stratified perennial forests are much more resilient to different risks (storms, pests, drought, disease).

• Economically speaking, it is always better to cut down old and higher-quality trees. A tree’s volume increases at a faster rate in the second half of its life and the material is better. Without clear cutting, forests do not have to grow from scratch every time, thus wood is continuously and permanently produced.

• Finally, from a social point of view, the collective stewardship of woodlands creates many jobs that are both well perceived and well paid. Job-creation in local wood-related industries can also quickly generate genuine local wealth whilst still preserving the quality and the diversity of the forest ecosystems.