What happens when a conservationist and a forestry company official walk into a forest?
This isn’t the first line of a bad joke. Rather, it’s the concept behind the Brazilian Forests Dialogue. Founded in 2005 and modeled after an international initiative of the same name, the Brazilian Forests Dialogue is based on the concept that establishing a discussion between groups with divergent viewpoints can help create a common understanding and trust.
In the past, forestry companies and environmental groups were often seen as conflicting forces — one group naively seeking to fence off the forest to protect it, and the other seeking to exploit the same forest for gain. For years, there was little dialogue between the two, and sometimes active opposition. But under the auspices of the Forests Dialogue — initially convened by CI and partners — people from forestry companies and NGOs began to meet and talk. And as foresters and conservationists began to literally walk through the forest together, they realized they in fact had much in common.
After all, foresters and conservationists both share a vision of a healthy forest fitting into a sustainable landscape. Unlike some other business sectors, foresters tend to have a long time frame in mind when they plan — something familiar to conservationists as well. Because natural systems like water flow, rainfall, climate regulation, pest management and nutrient cycling underpin forest production, companies have a vested interest in protecting these and other ecosystem services. And environmental NGOs recognize the need to build conservation and sustainable management into the practices of both large companies and individual landowners, making the forestry sector a natural partner.
Today the Brazilian Forests Dialogue brings together several dozen members, ranging from some of the largest pulp and paper companies in the world to small local environmental and social groups. To increase the participation of local communities and small landowners, seven regional forestry forums were also created.
Far beyond simple words, companies and NGOs have joined together to launch projects on protected areas, ecological corridors and sustainable forest management.
For example, under the Sustainable Forest Mosaics Project major pulp and paper companies, international buyers, and local and international NGOs (including CI) have joined together to create mosaic landscapes where plantation forestry fits into a broader, healthy landscape that also includes protected natural forests and agriculture, among other land uses. Another initiative, the Pact for the Restoration of the Atlantic Forest, brings together dozens of organizations from the private sector, civil society and government in an coordinated effort to reforest 15 million hectares (more than 37 million acres) of the Atlantic Forest by 2050.
These projects are transforming forest landscapes throughout Brazil. Forests Dialogue members have reached out to small independent landowners to extend the use of responsible cultivation practices. The Dialogue has established a database for sharing information to enhance better land-use planning and forest management, and new paradigms for restoration and conservation. It has also launched numerous papers, studies, and publications.
Perhaps most impressively, the Forests Dialogue led the charge this spring in convening more than 80 organizations from the private sector and civil society — including some of the most influential in Brazil — to take a strong and public stand against weakening national environmental legislation. What would have been unimaginable just a few short years ago happened: companies and NGOs stood together to demand sustainability, and fought to protect the forests and ecosystems they both care so deeply about.
The dictionary defines dialogue as “conversation, discussion or exchange of ideas, opinions, concepts for the purpose of solving problems, understanding and meeting in harmony; a political discussion between representatives of two groups or nations.” The Forests Dialogue has demonstrated this concept in the most tangible of ways: the power of words, the importance of understanding and the strength of relationships — transformed into healthier landscapes and stronger communities.
Luiz Paulo Pinto is the director of CI-Brazil’s Mata Atlantica program.