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Stakeholder participation in forest governance is key for sustainable forest management – interview with Eva Müller

This interview is part of the ‘Forest Governance Unpacked’ series with key experts in forest governance. It was developed in the context of the NewGo! project which aims to provide scientific knowledge on lessons learned from initiatives related to zero deforestation, forest restoration, and sustainable forest finance. The project sets the ground for the EFI Governance Programme.

Tell us a bit about who you are. 

Eva Müller during an international meeting.

As Director General of Forests, Sustainability and Renewable Resources at the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), I deal with a broad range of forest governance issues mainly at national level, but in the European and global context as well.

The Federal Ministry provides the overall policy framework for forests in Germany, while the Federal States are in charge of implementation. The Ministry also represents Germany in European and global forest policy-related fora such as Forest Europe or the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF). Furthermore, we support Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Action Plan (FLEGT) related projects and programmes, as well as forest governance research, for example through EFI.

In previous director-level positions at the FAO and the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), I was also involved with a wide range of forest governance issues, from overseeing the implementation of FLEGT programmes to developing forest governance indicators and promoting stakeholder participation in forest governance.

What is forest governance?

A simple definition would be that forest governance characterizes the way forests and their use are governed. The more comprehensive definition of forest governance I would give is: the way in which public and private stakeholders negotiate, make and enforce decisions about the management, use, and conservation of forest resources. Forest governance is about how decisions regarding  forests are made, who makes them, and who participates in the process. It involves policy development and implementation in accordance with the needs of the different stakeholders and principles of sustainability, as well as monitoring, supervision and law enforcement.

Why is governance needed?

Forests are usually owned by somebody, be it the state, communities, companies, or other private owners. But at the same time, they are also a public good because they provide valuable ecosystem services to society as a whole. Because of this, different stakeholders have different needs, priorities, and interests in regards to forests and their management and use. Forest governance is the process through which the “rules of the game” for forest management and use are set, implemented, monitored, and enforced. Forest governance is needed to reduce/avoid conflict and ensure the survival and health of forests in the present and in the future.

What makes governance “good”?

In line with the definition above, good governance means that public and private stakeholders negotiate, make and enforce decisions about the management, use, and conservation of forest resources. In this process, the needs and rights of the different stakeholders are taken into account in a balanced way and following the rule of law, and conflicts are resolved jointly. As a result, forests are managed sustainably.

How can it achieve the well-being of both the forests concerned and the communities depending upon them?

Evidence shows that if communities have ownership or secure tenure right to forests as well as the right to harvest and market products from them, they will have a strong interest in conserving the forests and managing them sustainably. But secure tenure is not enough. Communities also need the required knowledge of how to sustainably manage their forest resources, therefore, they need access to information, marketing skills, and access to markets for their forest products.

How should governance function?

Participation of relevant stakeholders in decision-making is key. Depending on the situation, participation may range from consultation to shared decision making. Governance should also be science and evidence based.

Who needs to be involved?

All those who have a stake in the forests and are affected by forest governance. That includes State, public, communal, and private forest owners and their associations, forest industries, and society in general. Involvement by the State does not only include regional and national forest administrations, but other relevant sectors as well.

Where is governance most needed?

Governance is most needed where government institutions are weak and where there is corruption and prevalence of illegal forest use. Governance is also very much needed where there are conflicting interests in regards to forests, and where forests are in danger of being converted to other land uses.

What are the challenges with governance today in the light of what you said in the previous question?

The challenges described under the previous question are exacerbated by climate change and by the need to feed a growing global population. Deforestation continues to be a real threat, we continue to lose our forests to conversion (mostly to agriculture), and to forest fires, storms, droughts and insect attacks caused by climate change.

At the same time, existing forests are increasingly being degraded and strong governance is needed to restore these forests. At the national level, forest governance needs to include other sectors that have an impact on forests.  At the international level, forest-related governance needs to be strengthened, because forests are a global public good.

What are the positive changes that you have seen happening in the context of forest governance?

The role of civil society in forest governance has been increasing over the last decades. In many countries, forest tenure systems have been improved, providing more rights to communities. Most countries now have a forest policy, updated forest legislation, and platforms to enable the participation of stakeholders in forest policy development. About half of the world’s  countries have traceability systems for wood products (see results of FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020). At the global level, awareness of the important role of forests has never been as high as today, however, global forest governance is still fragmented. Overall, global finance for forests has increased, especially climate financing.

Please provide an example of a success story/case study.

People walking in the forest near Brühl, Germany. Credit: J.Bolaños/EFI

I would call Germany a success-story of forest governance. German forests have clear ownership, divided between public, communal and private. Roles and responsibilities of the State in forest governance are clearly defined and divided between the Federal Government and the governments of the Federal States, the “Länder”. The Federal Government is in charge of the national forest policy and legislative framework that forms the umbrella for policies and legislation by the “Länder”. Implementation is decentralized, i.e. the responsibility lies with the “Länder”. Non-governmental forest-related stakeholders and the “Länder” are involved in the development of federal laws based on well-established processes and they can influence national forest policies. All citizens have access to all forests for recreation purposes, including private forests. And finally, Germany has a long history of sustainable, multi-functional forest management.

Read the other interviews in the ‘Forest Governance Unpacked’ series:

Community participation makes for better forest governance in Ethiopia – interview with Tefera Mengistu

Curbing forest loss with and for the local communities in Uganda – interview with Rose Kobusinge

Involving and remunerating local communities to save the Amazon – Interview with Johan Wittkamper

Visit the NewGo! project website

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