By Rhett Butler   |  Last updated July 22, 2012
Non-governmental organizations are a driving force behind conservation efforts today. These non-profit groups fund and support all aspects of conservation from initial research to protected-area initiatives to implementation through park management and community-based conservation schemes to alliance building between government agencies and private interests. They support and coordinate grassroots movements, promote communication between all parties, and sponsor education initiatives in both developing and developed countries.

Grassroots Movements

With the recent worldwide trend of governmental decentralization, control of forest resources is increasingly turned over to local governments and non-governmental agencies. One result from decentralization is that forestry decisions can be made on a local level, more in relation to local conditions and the benefit of local peoples. In recent years, numerous local groups have assumed the role of promoting local sustainable use that more directly benefits those living in and around the forests.

Local grassroots movements, where they exist, are often the most successful form of action. These movements are sometimes able to create enough of a disturbance to delay loggers and developers from exploiting forest lands valued by local people. Grassroots movements usually result from new or increased presence of pressures on the forest from commercial interests. These movements put up protests, work to reform local laws and education, and are quite often the site for innovation and experimentation for new ideas in forest conservation.

Provided they have adequate resources, small grassroots projects can have a higher likelihood of success than foreign conservation projects directed from a distance. There is good reason for this success, since local organizations are better able to weave conservation projects into the local fabric of life, and their projects tend to be substantially smaller. These small projects can serve models for the larger national and international projects. Before adopting a conservation or land-management plan, it should be proven on a local level.

In some countries, these small movements were sometimes brutally suppressed by governments, but that is changing as grassroots efforts spread around the globe. In the 1980s the rubber tappers of Brazil became one of the best known movements. They successfully campaigned to win title to forest lands in the form of "extractive reserves" — protected areas where forest products are sustainably harvested by local communities. Another well-known initiative was led by the late Wangari Maathai, who was the first African woman awarded the Nobel Prize for her efforts. Her Greenbelt Movement led to the planting of hundreds of millions of trees around the globe.

Dani man in Indonesian New Guinea
Dani man in Indonesian New Guinea. (Photo by R. Butler)

Review questions:

  • Why are grassroots movements often successful in conservation efforts?

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