International Cooperation and Development

Looking after our planet’s forests to help secure our future

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Some 1.6 billion people – one in every five people in the world – depend on forests for their food and livelihoods. But a growing global population needs more food and land – putting forests under increasing pressure and exacerbating inequality across tropical forest regions.

The European Union works with its partner countries around the world to boost sustainable and legal forest management, promote trade in legally produced timber, and prevent illegal products from reaching the EU. That’s why it established an Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade, known as FLEGT, in 2003.

FLEGT sustainable forestry

FLEGT has produced a number of timber trade deals with partner countries, called voluntary partnership agreements, or VPAs. The EU makes sure that VPA negotiations always involve all affected stakeholders. The VPAs themselves can provide real benefits to the communities who rely on the forests for their livelihoods – and especially indigenous groups and women – and thus help address inequality. The stories below from Guyana, Honduras, Liberia and Vietnam show how they can make a real difference on the ground.

Sustainable timber industry, Vietnam
credit Tim Barker

Gender equality

Norma Rodríguez, the first female president of Honduran Federation Agroforestry Cooperatives
Norma Rodríguez, the first female president of the Honduran Federation of Agroforestry Cooperatives

Worldwide, women earn on average only half as much as men. However, forests offer sizeable opportunities for women to generate income. So FLEGT trade deals can help bolster their participation in decision-making – and, with it, gender equality.

Norma Rodríguez, the first female president of the Honduran Federation of Agroforestry Cooperatives, is confident the trade deal her country has recently agreed with the EU will help create a brighter future for the women she represents. 

We are hopeful that the deal will provide us with more job opportunities. Getting more women into work will improve the situation all round,
- Norma Rodríguez

In Guyana, significant progress has been made towards gender equality in the forestry sector, and with the VPA now ready, women in Guyana see the potential for more gains. For Pradeepa Bholanath, head of planning and development at the Guyana Forestry Commission, the VPA will usher in greater involvement for women in community decision-making at a community level.

Pradeepa Bholanath, head of planning and development at the Guyana Forestry Commission
Pradeepa Bholanath, head of planning and development at the Guyana Forestry Commission
It’s an exciting opportunity for women to be creative.
- Pradeepa Bholanath, head of planning and development at the Guyana Forestry Commission
Gertrude Nyaley, Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority
Gertrude Nyaley, Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority

In Liberia, too, women are taking a greater part in FLEGT-funded projects and are beginning to take up leadership positions in forest governance bodies. Experience here shows that this can bring even more benefits. According to Gertrude Nyaley at Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority, "when women they are involved in making decisions, they are keen that any change they make benefits households, children and the community at large."

When women they are involved in making decisions, they are keen that any change they make benefits households, children and the community at large.
- Gertrude Nyaley, Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority

To Kim Lien of the Centre for Education and Development in Vietnam takes a similar view. “Women look at things more holistically, so they consider the family and the community, not only business.” Young Vietnamese women running small businesses are looking at the VPAs as a way of reaching international markets and developing their businesses.

Kim Lien, Centre for Education and Development - Vietnam
Kim Lien, Centre for Education and Development - Vietnam
Women look at things more holistically, so they consider the family and the community, not only business.
- Kim Lien, Centre for Education and Development - Vietnam

Indigenous people

Indigenous people around the world often lack adequate social protection and economic resources, and are more likely to suffer from malnutrition. Clearly, in the European Union’s efforts to build a more equitable world and support a sustainable development agenda, indigenous people cannot be left behind. Almost 70 million depend on forests for their subsistence and income. For this reason, curbing illegal logging and improving forest management and governance are key to their very survival.

Field testing, Honuras

Thankfully, the EU’s insistence on fully inclusive negotiations around timber trade deals under FLEGT means that indigenous peoples should always have a seat at the negotiating table.

When the national forest authority in Honduras, decided to issue timber harvesting rights to some indigenous individuals but not the whole community, the VPA negotiations provided space for a push for more equal decision-making and resource-sharing. The Tawahka people – the smallest indigenous group in Honduras – want to use the VPA to assess how to make forests a common resource. This very VPA process has reached stakeholders in the country’s most remote areas, enabling all communities to voice their opinions. And at the same time, these groups and the timber industry have gained a clearer insight into each other’s views – paving the way for a shared positive outcome. Some stakeholders have even suggested that a similar approach in other sectors would be good for democracy in Honduras.

Good news for community involvement

In Liberia, thanks in part to the VPA negotiated with the EU, local communities are benefiting directly from the commercial exploitation of their forests for the first time. The sustainable forest management and economic development policies that have stemmed from the VPA have helped reduce inequalities by empowering women and have reduced conflict between logging companies and communities.

Community Forest Liberia

To promote community involvement in the forest governance process in Liberia, the government has actively invested in Community Forestry. Under this approach, a community is allocated areas of forest to manage for commercial and non-commercial purposes, giving them the chance of better livelihoods and brighter development opportunities.