Andy White, and Alejandra Martin – Forest Trends, Center for International Environmental Law
Since the late 1980s, some governments of major forested countries have begun to reconsider and reform forest ownership policies. These transitions are driven by three primary considerations. First, governments are increasingly aware that official forest tenure systems in many countries discriminate against the rights and claims of indigenous people and other local communities. Although the data are incomplete, it is estimated that some 60 million highly forest-dependent indigenous forest people live in the rainforests of Latin America, West Africa and Southeast Asia. An additional 400 million to 500 million people are estimated to be directly dependent on forest resources for their livelihoods. Around the world, indigenous people have legitimate claims to more forest areas than governments currently acknowledge.
Ranked among the 12 “megadiverse” countries in the world and fifth in global species richness, Mexico is home to a wide array of flora and fauna found nowhere else on Earth. Especially notable for its forest biodiversity, the country has over 1,000 native tree species, and Mexico’s forests cover more than 136 million acres (55.3 million hectares), representing 28.6 percent of the country’s total land area. Approximately 54 million acres (22 million hectares) of these forests (40 percent) are classified as production forests. This natural endowment is coming under increasing threat: Mexico has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, losing about 815,000 acres (330,000 hectares) of forest per year.
The vast majority of Mexico’s forests — upwards of 80 percent — are under the legal jurisdiction of communities. Through government-recognized tenure and an extraordinary degree of local decision-making authority, the last twenty five years have seen significant strides in the development of community forest enterprises (CFEs). Presently, more than 3,000 communities throughout Mexico have forest management plans and, as of June 2011, 23 CFEs held Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certificates verifying their sustainable forest management practices. Successful CFEs have contributed greatly to local development by generating employment and building community assets. Moreover, recent studies have shown that sustainably managed community forests can be even more effective than protected areas at conserving forestland and safeguarding associated environmental services.