In Suriname, income from logging within community forests goes mostly to companies and village leaders, rather than to community members. This was one of the conclusions of a study conducted by Tropenbos Suriname in 2020. It prompted 14 indigenous communities to request training in benefit sharing.
Although all of Suriname’s forest land is formally state owned, the government does issue community forest permits to indigenous and Maroon communities, who depend on forest resources for their livelihoods. Such a permit gives a community the right to practise small-scale agriculture, collect non-timber forest products and sustainably harvest timber. In this way, community forest permits are expected to improve local livelihoods and sustainable forest management, which will also contribute to achieving Suriname’s climate change objectives. There are currently 101 community forests in Suriname, covering an area of about 818,000 hectares.
In 2020, Tropenbos Suriname took a closer look at these community forest permits, to find out whether they have had the expected outcomes, to identify the conditions for success, and to determine the role that civil society organizations (CSOs) can play in shaping these conditions. The study involved interviews with professionals from CSOs, academia and the government, as well as focus group discussions in several indigenous and Maroon communities.
The review showed that many community forests are used by commercial logging companies, often as part of an agreement between the company and a village leader. Such an agreement allows the company to log the community forest; in exchange, it shares a part of its revenues with the community. However, these arrangements often lack transparency, and it is not uncommon for payments to end up in the pockets of village leaders. The review also found that guidelines for sustainable logging are often not followed, leading to forest degradation.
The results of the review were published in a briefing paper, including recommendations for CSOs. This paper then formed the basis for an online seminar with representatives of communities, CSOs and government agencies. Seminar participants agreed that contracts between companies and communities need to become more transparent, and to include benefit-sharing mechanisms and detailed requirements for sustainable logging practices. There was also consensus that communities need more support to develop forest management plans, negotiate better deals, and monitor the practices of third parties. Both the government and CSOs have a place in this. The discussion was frank and open, and resulted in clear action points for improvements. Following up on these, Tropenbos Suriname continues to work with the relevant government agencies and CSOs, especially in strengthening their capacity to support communities.
After the seminar, representatives of 14 indigenous communities from the Para District — the forestry centre of Suriname — asked Tropenbos Suriname to further inform them on the findings of the community review and help build their capacity. In response, Tropenbos Suriname plans to provide community-level training in designing management plans, negotiating better deals, and improving monitoring. The training will also assist communities with setting up governance systems and fair benefit-sharing mechanisms. In this way, Tropenbos Suriname helps to shape the conditions for successful community forestry, so that community members will be able to benefit.