Timor-Leste and FAO work to revise forest policies to benefit local communities

The Government of Timor-Leste (GoTL) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) are revising the National Forest Policy and Community Forestry Policy in an effort to promote sustainable forest management for the benefit of local people, it was announced today.

Deforestation and forest degradation pose a threat to the livelihood of the rural population comprising 80 percent of the people of Timor-Leste.  Over 70 percent of East Timorese households are located in rain-fed uplands, and these include the poorest households.  Most of them experience food insecurity during the lean months of the seasonal production cycle. Foods collected from the forest help them to survive these lean periods, but availability of food from the forest declines as a result of deforestation, unsustainable agricultural practices and recurring wildfires.

Deforestation and forest degradation also affect the environmental services provided by forests resulting in degradation of the watershed areas as well as reduced capacity for mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

Restoring and maintaining the health of the forests covering half of Timor-Leste’s land area requires an effective national forest policy, effective arrangements for involving the rural population in forest management as well as effective institutions for policy implementation.  The policy revision process initiated by GoTL and FAO is the first step to achieving more effective forest policy and sustainable forest management.

“The multi-stakeholder approach pursued in this policy revision is in line with FAO’s concept of policy as a negotiated agreement among stakeholders,” said Vili Fuavao, FAO Deputy Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific and FAO Representative for Timor-Leste. “In Timor-Leste, the rural communities are the primary stakeholders, as a result of their dependence on forest for their livelihoods and their customary claims on most of the forest lands.”

“It is timely to revisit the National Forest Policy to evaluate its effectiveness and to find ways to improve it as in the last decade there have been so many changes in our country which have led to a forest loss rate increase up to 1.7 percent per year compared to conditions over the last 10 years,” said Raimundo Mau, Director General of Forestry Directorate. “Tackling climate change, food security and improving the well-being of rural population are important for Timor-Leste and National Forest Policy should support this,” he added.

Representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the National University of Timor-Leste, NGOs and international development partners will review their experiences and lessons from forest policy implementation in the multi-stakeholder workshop.

Their deliberations and recommendations will inform the design of policy review process in the country. The participants will also advise on key priority actions to be taken immediately, including the arrangements for effective consultation of rural communities, in order to ensure more inclusive forest policy that respond to the need of the people.