Abraham Lincoln said, “Democracy is a rule of the people, for the people, and by the people.”
Forest policies help to maintain a healthy ecosystem. It is important because forest area is declining, and the degradation of forests is linked to various factors combined with bitter controversies of forest land tenure and displacement of traditional forest dwellers.
We have good and bad news. The good news is that forest science is no longer a water-tight discipline about timber plantations, planning, and production studied only by ‘foresters’, traditionally dominated by men. More actors from multidisciplinary science and multi- stakeholder groups such as private companies affirm the need for inclusive forest policy. The bad news is that there is diversion of funding. Many researchers are spending time writing grant applications rather than doing the science for the people.
Worse, some of them are playing to the tune of funding and have limited say in prioritizing forest science. Therefore, they are unable to communicate science. The problem with sugar daddies – those pulling strings of forest policy – is that their role is increasingly evident beyond science, with state failure, corruption, and warfare. Under these circumstances, the future of over half of the world’s forested landscapes – critical to rich biodiverse wildlife reserves protected by the Indigenous Peoples and other forest-dependent local communities – is doubtful.
I will present the dynamics of policies on the Global South tropical forest through a social science lens. My talk highlighting the framework of equitable forest policy will examine two aspects: (a) how influential power and politics can be overcome in the forest policy for the rights of communities including women and youths and (b) what needs to be done for environmental justice. It will have a personal touch of my Indigenous Adivasi identity and case studies of tropical countries from where I belong. Belongingness of forests for people – the Indigenous Peoples – is about identity that is denied in forest policies.
Many tropical countries have progressive pro-people forest policies. After 60 years of India’s independence, the Forest Rights Act was introduced to undo historical injustice done to forest- dwelling tribal communities. Likewise, the Indonesian Constitution reserved the traditional customary forest law of Indigenous peoples, Adat, acknowledging traditional knowledge of forest-dwelling communities. The Brazilian Supreme Court recently rejected efforts to restrict Indigenous Peoples’ rights to their ancestral land. An increased number of scientific findings corroborate that healthy forests are best protected by their ancestral stewards. They are the key actors to mitigate climate change.
An ethical free, prior, and informed consent partnership with multi-stakeholders from private companies to research institutions is a way forward. My lecture is designed to generate dialogue on what next when the solution exists in the Global South through the power of collective action of the people and by the people to influence equitable forest policy.