Brussels, Belgium – The EU-funded Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG) II Program had a final meeting before its completion in early 2017. The participants suggested ways to ensure that the Program’s results are long-term.
The FLEG II Program, which aims to improve forest law enforcement and governance in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine, is concluding its activities in the region. The final Steering Committee meeting for the Program was held in Brussels, Belgium December 12–13, 2016.
In his opening remarks, Vassilis Maragos , Head of Unit, European Commission emphasized that “ The European Union is committed to the development and strengthening of relations with the Eastern Neighborhood countries. Illegal logging and associated trade are causing significant losses, including negative effects on health and economy, and are also causing a loss of biodiversity. The EU has supported FLEG over several years due to Program's benefits for citizens, especially in local communities. This support is also a contribution towards sustaining ecosystems and addressing climate-related challenges ”.
“ This has been our keystone work related to natural resources and their governance. As you know, the World Bank has been committed to ending poverty. And in a region that holds over 20% of the world’s forests, we certainly cannot think about the well-being and resilience of the bottom 40% of the population of the countries without thinking about how we can make better use of the natural capital of the forest ”, said Valerie Hickey, Practice manager, World Bank. The World Bank – together with WWF and IUCN – has been implementing the EU-funded Program.
During the meeting, Tuukka Castrén, Team Leader of the Program from the World Bank, presented some key elements of the work done in 2016. Among other achievements, the Program…
The participants discussed the Program’s key long-term achievements that will continue to benefit the region after its completion. The following are the six key ideas highlighted by most speakers:
1. The structures that FLEG has created – such as the National Program Advisory Committees (NPACs) - helped the institutional reform process, and provided independent and valuable data at the right moment to the right people.
“ All countries created national advisory committees. This committee has become the most successful forestry structure in Azerbaijan, which brought together government, NGOs, donors, international organizations, and other stakeholders ”, pointed out Shamil Huseynov , chair of FLEG II National Program Advisory Committee in Azerbaijan and representative of the National Parliament of Azerbaijan.
Since the Program was launched in 2012, FLEG II has published over 100 research papers, reports and textbooks on its website www.enpi-fleg.org , which were downloaded over 10,000 times and thousands of copies were also distributed in print.
“ By now, thanks to FLEG, we know and understand 90% of our problems. It’s time to solve them based on this knowledge ”, said Martun Matevosyan , FLEG II National Focal Point for Armenia and head of state non-commercial organization “Hayantar”, responsible for managing forests in Armenia.
An example of a positive impact of FLEG data on forest users is the information on EU Timber Regulations, which was in high demand with the website visitors. FLEG produced a Guidance Document on applicable Russian legislation offering step-by-step recommendations, which helped the Russian forest business comply with the new regulations (learn the story of one such forest entrepreneur from a FLEG video ).
After the Program is over, NPACs will continue to meet regularly in Azerbaijan and some other countries; the FLEG II website will continue to run with all reports and studies available for 10 years.
2. FLEG has contributed to making forest management and governance more transparent.
“ The most important thing is to form an environment where society is ready to take the correct decision. FLEG has prepared the “fertile soil” for taking these correct decisions in Ukraine ”, stated Yuri Marchuk , FLEG II National Focal Point for Ukraine, advisor to the Head of the State Forest Resources Agency of Ukraine.
“ FLEG has destroyed the barrier between the forestry sector and society ”, remarked Rahim Ibrahimov , FLEG II National Focal Point for Azerbaijan who heads the Sector Forestry Department at Azerbaijan's Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources.
In Armenia, FLEG II launched a public forest monitoring effort, helping Armenian citizens expose illegal forest activities to the world. In Ukraine, FLEG II held a competition for journalists for the best reporting on forest issues, which increased the quantity and quality of forest journalism in the country, thus promoting transparency in the forest sector, which has traditionally been one of the most non-transparent sectors in Ukraine. In Moldova, FLEG helped Agency Moldsilva, the country’s central authority in forest management, develop an improved “Forest Communication and Knowledge Plan” and redesign the government forestry website, aimed at making the sector more open to the public.
3. FLEG has built educational and professional capacity in the forestry sector and involved a younger generation and a broader society in forest management.
“ FLEG provided educational and discussion platforms that helped form and consolidate a professional community of forest experts in Russia. These experts are in great demand and are included in the decision-making process in Russian regions and on the national (federal) level ”, observed Marina Smetanina , FLEG II Program Coordinator in Russia for the World Bank.
FLEG II set building up human resource capacity as a priority area in Russia. In particular, a textbook on “Law Enforcement and Governance in Forest Use, Protection and Renewal” developed by FLEG II was recommended by the Academic Resource Association of Forestry Education for students of master’s and bachelor’s degree programs and already is in high demand by training institutions.
In Azerbaijan, FLEG II supported active young foresters’ groups for children and developed tutorials and curricula for graduate technical schools, ministry training institutes, and schoolchildren.
4. FLEG has fostered collaboration between local communities and the forestry sector and has facilitated community participation in the sector for sustainable forest management.
“ As soon as local municipalities in Georgia learn that sustainable forest management can contribute to agriculture, to real income, they become ready to endorse it. We have full support from the very local level thanks to FLEG II ”, said Marika Kavtarishvili , FLEG II Program Coordinator in Georgia for IUCN.
In particular, FLEG II supported the transfer of forest management within the Tusheti Protected Landscape from the central Government of Georgia to the people of this mountainous province. Having been under centralized and uncertain authority for almost 100 years, the valuable and beautiful forests of the Tusheti Protected Landscape had not received adequate attention. This is the first case of decentralized forest management in Georgia and the first time these forests have been under local control since the Soviet period began there in 1921. Lessons learned from this activity were disseminated to other countries covered by FLEG II.
Another successful example of engaging local communities in forest management is from Russia. One model of local reserve management has led to increases in household incomes of 15% on average, and the ecotourism successes around the Polistovsky Nature Reserve are spreading to other forest communities, inspiring them to become more active in counteracting illegal logging.
5. FLEG has boosted intersectoral collaboration and partnership of national governments with international organizations such as the EU and the World Bank.
“ FLEG has created a universal «interpreter» from the European “forest language” to the language of the Eastern Neighborhood countries, from a “bureaucratic” language to the language of local communities ”, said Andrey Zaitsev , FLEG II Program Coordinator in Russia for IUCN.
6. Finally, FLEG has increased collaboration between neighboring countries on forest management.
“ It is very important that there are regional and international forest protection and anti-wildfire projects because forests and fires don't know borders. The cooperation between Armenia and Georgia started on FLEG initiative and will continue beyond FLEG ”, pointed out Martun Matevosyan.
Georgia and Armenia have worked together on a Memorandum of Collaboration in order to find solutions for common forest problems such as illegal logging and fires.
Another example is FLEG II’s bilateral cooperation efforts between Belarus and Russia, which explored the benefits of the “resource center” model of ecotourism and ways to engage local communities, businesses, and public officials in forest management.
All countries provided their sustainability plans and exit strategies, which ensure the long-lasting impact of FLEG achievements beyond 2016. The participants agreed that the work started by FLEG should continue, both at the national level through efforts by national governments, and on the international level through other existing platforms, such as FAO and climate change initiatives. Due to the constant paradigm shift in the sector and the scale and growth of the challenges that forests in the region are facing, the work started by FLEG must – despite considerable results already achieved – is only half ready and needs to go on.
“ Economic pressures, needs to diversify, and pressures from climate change are growing. For making development resilient, it is important to make a stronger case for environmentally sustainable, lawful opportunities of forests' economic use. The idea that the sector would benefit, if non-compliance was unprofitable, needs to be at the core of forest policies and management. We need to make happen an economy of compliance, the economy of sustainable forestry ”, said Angela Bularga , FLEG II Program Manager from the European Commission.
The Program will continue to run until February 28, 2017, to finalize all reporting and procedures.