Environment & Poverty Times
8 9 Intermediate organizations
In addition to examining the importance of ownership for successful ecosystem enter- prises, Roots of Resilience also looks closely at the increasingly critical role of intermediate organizations in promoting rural enterprise development. These organizations, which may be national, international or regional in scope, provide critical skills and access to key resources for rural enterprises.
An organization like Washington DC-based New Ventures, for example, provides busi- ness mentoring for small and medium en- terprises, and links enterprises to potential investors. The Rainforest Alliance, mean- while, helps small producers of forest prod- ucts to receive sustainability certification and find appropriate market pathways for these goods. Such intermediaries are often non-profit in nature, but they can also take the form of government extension services, or for-profit development companies.
The value of networks – such as farming or fishing cooperatives, microfinance associa- tions or forums that connect local officials with members of national governments – is also highlighted in Roots of Resilience as a key to the success of rural enterprises. Horizontal networks like producer cooperatives allow communities to learn from one another and take advantage of economies of scale, increas- ing the power of individual producers in the marketplace and improving the quality of goods via communication of best practices.
Vertical networks, which link producers or local organizations to international NGOs or government officials, are also critical for scaling up ecosystem-based enterprises. Where these relationships exist, it is not uncommon for practices implemented at the local level to be used as models for national standards. In Bangladesh, for example, a wetland management project piloted by a
coalition of NGOs with connections to the national government was ultimately success- ful enough at improving the health of critical wetlands and at providing sustainable liveli- hoods to local populations that the national government has used the project as a model for its national forestry law.
Resilience for the road ahead The three factors described above all con- tribute to the scaling up of rural ecosystem enterprises, and simultaneously enhance the resilience of rural communities in three ways: they make them more economically resilient – better able to face economic risks; they add to their social resilience – better able to work together for mutual benefit; and they
Forestry in Guatemala – benefits and challenges of ecological enterprises
Guatemala’s northernmost region, El Petén, hosts a unique blend of natural beauty, biological diversity, and archaeological heritage dating back to ancient Mayan civilization. The Petén’s 33,000 square kilometres of relatively undisturbed lowland tropical forests shelter 95 species of mammals, among them spider monkeys and pumas, and 400 species of birds, including the iconic scarlet macaw. The region is also home to an expanding melting pot of Guatemalan citizens: indigenous descendants of the Mayans, political refugees who sought refuge during 20 years of civil war, and economic migrants from the country’s overpopulated cities and degraded highlands. A decade ago, deforestation had diminished biodiversity and threatened forest-based livelihoods in the region. Northern El Petén serves as the setting for one of the three main case studies examined in Roots of Resilience, for it is now home to successful community-run forestry enterprises whose sustainably harvested wood and non-timber forest products (NTFPs) are attracting the attention of overseas buyers.
With the support and supervision of non-government organizations (NGOs), donors and gov- ernment agencies, community-owned forestry enterprises now steward more than 420,000 ha in the multiple use zone of the renowned Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR). These enterprises are each in charge of one distinct parcel of land – a concession – that the Guatemalan government has leased to them. Forest product sales from these enterprises have brought new employment, infrastructure, social cohesion and income. Between October 2006 and September 2007, the concessions produced some $4.75 million in certified timber sales and close to $150,000 in sales of xate (palm leaves used for flower arrangements) and other non-timber forest products. Under village management, biodiversity has flourished and forest fires, illegal logging and hunting have declined dramatically, while continuing unabated in neighbouring national parks. By 2000, the forest concessions in the reserve managed by these community enterprises had become the world’s largest tract of sustainably certified and community-managed forest. Many of the region’s enterprises meet the international certification standard of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for sustainably harvested wood, and several sell high-income finished products such as decking and floor panels in addition to timber.
This transformation of fragmented communities of farmers and illegal loggers into ecoen- trepreneurs did not occur in a policy vacuum. Government decentralization policies, which awarded communities tenure rights and resource management responsibilities, provided an enabling environment and motivation for communities to protect their forests. Substantial assistance from donors and intermediary support organizations provided the funds and the technical expertise to make the concession model work. Progress toward financial and organizational independence for the enterprises has been slow, but the more successful ones now show signs of increased resilience. The overall results have proved promising enough for policymakers to consider scaling up the effort across the region. Already, communities in Honduras are replicating the concession model, while government agencies from Nicaragua, Panama and Peru have hired members of Petén’s community-owned enterprises as consultants in sustainable forest management.
make them more ecologically resilient – more productive and stable in the face of environ- mental changes such as climate change. These three forms of resilience are critical for sustainable development. A community with these qualities will tend to develop stronger ecosystem-based enterprises, while such en- terprises will in turn enhance all three types of resilience. Importantly, a community’s level of resilience will shape its capacity to deal with systemic shocks such as climate change.
The key lesson that emerges from Roots of Resilience is that focusing on the needs of the rural poor – the de facto stewards of nat- ural resources around the world – can help address the combination of challenges that
our society faces. Supporting the capacity of these rural residents to create and scale up ecosystem enterprises is one powerful way of helping to meet these needs while building resilience within rural communi- ties. Those looking to lead a shift toward a truly sustainable global economy can find value in these lessons. Only by ensuring that the poor have lasting access to both natural resources and a vibrant marketplace can we begin to meaningfully address the environmental, economic and social chal- lenges around us and create an inclusive and green global economy?
About the author: Lauren Withey works for World Resources Institute.
International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management
The sustainable management of resources has be- come a critical objective in the effort to reconcile socio-economic development and environmental preservation. It means we need to reduce over- all resource requirements and environmental impacts to a level within the natural capacity of ecosystems, while increasing economic welfare and
social well-being. This is referred to as “decoupling” environmental impacts from economic growth. It is also associated with increased resource productivity. Increasing resource pro- ductivity is indeed a win-win strategy, in particular for developing countries at the early stages of development.
International pressure to decouple is mounting in the face of converging priorities to cre- ate wealth, alleviate poverty and protect the environment. Dealing with such a complex problem requires cross-cutting solutions. Furthermore, a general consensus about the goals and roadmaps for the way forward is needed. However, such consensus does not yet exist, as the nature and scale of the problems and the solutions are difficult to estimate. Despite the developments in environmental sciences and methodologies, the results are still disputed. The technicality of the debates has been an impediment to the integration of scientific findings into the effective management of natural resources. A solid understand- ing and consensus on the scientific basis for decoupling is urgently needed to achieve sustainable development.
The International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management (Resource Panel) was launched in 2007 to help bridge this knowledge gap. The Panel aims at providing deci- sion makers and other interested parties with independent and authoritative information about sustainable resource management. Brought together by the United National Envi- ronment Programme (UNEP), it consists of eminent scientific experts, highly reputed in the field of resource management. Its role is to provide policy relevant assessments that crystallize and evaluate the latest scientific, technical and socio-economic literature on global resource use, and highlights the means on how to move towards more sustainable resource management.
The Resource Panel expects to play a key role in linking the efforts of the business and scientific communities with policy makers. The business community, with its first hand knowledge of large scale resource consumption and the benefits of resource efficiency, has made strong contributions. In parallel, the scientific initiatives from academia and NGOs have led the way in providing a forewarning that humanity is facing severe resource constraints and key knowledge such as life cycle databases and material accounting.
For more information on the resource panel: www.unep.fr/scp/rpanel
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