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  • Indigenous biodiversity 'crucial' to forest futures

[HONG KONG] Forestry experts are calling for an increase in the use of native tree species in reforestation projects, arguing that they are better for biodiversity and can slow the pace of global warming.

The recommendation appears in a report published by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) that was presented during the UN climate change conference in Doha, Qatar, earlier this month (2 December).

It was written by 60 leading forestry experts, who assert that forests are more than just carbon warehouses: they also shelter most of the world's plant and animal species, and supply impoverished communities with food, fuel and as much as 59 per cent of their incomes.

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John Parrotta, an international forest-science policy analyst with the US Forest Service and chair of the committee that prepared the report, says that deforestation and forest degradation must be checked to boost biodiversity and help remove carbon from the atmosphere.

He explains that, although it is costly, tree planting may be necessary for reforestation in certain places and should be targeted at areas where the restoration of forest cover will yield multiple benefits for communities. These include improved water quality, soil erosion control, crop pollination services and the provision of timber and non-timber products.

"While there is no one-size-fits-all model, there is increasing evidence that mixed-species planting, including those designed especially for the restoration of native forest ecosystems, generally offer greater advantages than single-species plantings for biodiversity recovery, as well as a broader range of valuable ecosystem services for people," Parrotta tells SciDev.Net.

Christoph Wildburger, IUFRO's coordinator for global forest expert panels, says the report comes at a crucial time for the ongoing negotiations on measuring, reporting and verifying REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).

The rate of deforestation — mainly resulting from the conversion of forests to agriculture — was estimated to be 13 to 16 million hectares per year between 1990 and 2010, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

REDD+ provides mechanisms and financial incentives to developing countries to implement policies, programmes and projects designed to reduce greenhouse gases and prevent the destruction of forests.

Duncan Macqueen, head of the forest division at the International Institute for Environment and Development, tells SciDev.Net that local people are a critical determinant of whether forests survive or are cleared for other land uses. Ignoring the presence of local people is inadvisable for REDD+ schemes, he says.

Wildburger also emphasises the importance of including local people in forest planning.

"Poor recognition of property rights, for example, may exclude [local people] from decision making, limit their access to forest resources, deny them access to potential benefits from markets and may also facilitate land grabbing," he says.

Link to full report

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.

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