These past weeks have been a reminder - even if forced - that we are in major debt to our planet. Yet, while economies are collapsing, and we are forced to live at a slower pace, our planet is finally breathing.
The message is loud and clear. We must take care of our planet and the natural resources that provide us with good and healthy food, shelter and medicine.
And so today on International Day of Forests, it’s time to celebrate not only the forests that continue to breathe life into our planet, but also the everyday guardians of these rich, yet fragile ecosystems.
So who are the people and communities that take care of these forests? They are the indigenous peoples of the Amazon, local communities from India to Uganda and beyond. Today, we would like to introduce you to one of these guardians, Florin Torba, a farmer and forest user from Albania.
Together with his family, Florian lives in Shimcan village in the region of Peshkopi, a gloriously lush area of North-Eastern Albania that is known for its mountain tourism. Yet apart from tourism, economic opportunities are hard to come by.
In Albania, more than 50 percent of the country’s territory is forest and pasture land, providing valuable social, economic and environmental prospects. Forests have the potential to provide a wealth of economic opportunities for many local communities. The question is, how can it be done sustainably?
The answer lies with the local forest communities themselves. For Florian, the forest is his home and like so many other guardians, a flourishing forest is his prime concern and priority. A study of pilot projects set up by ILC member, the National Federation of Communal Forests and Pastures of Albania (NFCFPA), showed that forest renewal was 2-3 times higher when the forest was administered by farmers rather than in other areas in common use or administered by the local government.
For now, Florin uses the forest to fulfil his family needs; firewood, fodder for the animal and food. His family also produces seedlings for forest trees, helping with forest regeneration.
Yet basic infrastructure, access to roads and even water irrigation present major problems for the local community. That coupled with the fact that they do not yet have legal recognition of their forest rights, has presented a major roadblock not only for Florian and his village, but for neighboring communities.
“We are willing to work a lot but with lack of infrastructure, it becomes very difficult”, says Florian. For the communities that do have access, local case studies show that agroforestry activities contribute roughly 40% of the total annual income of rural households (Kacani and Peri 2017). “Our entire village is connected to agricultural land or the forest, full of nut trees and medicinal plants, it’s a shame that we cannot share this.”
In addition to acting as Chairman of the Forest and Pasture Users’ Association for his region, Florin is also an active member of the National Engagement Strategy of Albania (NES).
NES Albania is helping to build trust and partnerships between government and civil society to set priorities and implement solutions to their country’s most difficult land‑related issues.
It’s also offering technical support to farmers like Florian and neighboring communities to learn how to more effectively plant seedlings, including for acacia and nut trees, medicinal plants, and non-timber forest products, as well as increase the bee population of the area. Together with the municipalities, the local community and the support of GEF Albania, 7000 poplar seedlings were planted close to the main river bank of Devoll, to protect it from erosion and flooding.
As a result of these partnerships - including with the Ministry of Tourism and Environment - NES Albania has been able to contribute to the drafting of a new law. It is currently under review in parliament, but if passed, the law will have a profound effect on farmers and forest users in the country. Including a plan to decentralise decision making powers over forest rights to local municipalities, which will in turn allow them to come to solutions and agreements with farmers directly. It would also allow farmers like Florian to sell the non-timber forest products.
For Albora Kacani, facilitator of the NES and forestry advisor for NFCFPA, “we’re not expecting a miracle, but we definitely see this as an opportunity for the relationships between local government and farmers to improve. Not only for the legal use of forests, but to allow farmers to sell their products”.
“If you help farmers to be economically stable, you are in turn helping their local communities, and the country”, claims Albora. Adding, “farmers and forest users deserve a dignified existence.”
Globally, the planet continues to lose forest cover roughly the size of the United Kingdom each year. Yet, across the globe, forests that have been given over to the custodianship of local communities see not only increased economic opportunities, but better protection. Just think, in the Brazilian Amazon the deforestation rate is 11 times lower in Indigenous Peoples’ and community forests.
The ILC contribution summary for albania 2020 - English
Learn more about how ILC is contributing to people-centred land governance in Albania