Forest communities

Background - 10 February, 2011
Greenpeace works with indigenous communities at the frontline of forest destruction, in Indonesia, the Amazon and the Congo basin.

As many as 150 million indigenous people live in forests worldwide, relying on them for their food, shelter, medicines and cultural survival.

When logging companies and agri-businesses move in, these communities are usually the first to suffer. Around the world, we find cases in which industries have taken land from forest communities by whatever means necessary - through empty promises, abuse or force. As their homes, livelihoods and traditional land rights are destroyed, subsistence living can turn into abject poverty overnight.

Greenpeace believes that these communities hold the future of the world's forests in their hands. If indigenous communities are able to keep the right to control of their own forests, we believe that they will continue to act as guardians of the forest and protect their resources for the future, as many have done for millennia.

Greenpeace works with indigenous communities, supporting the demarcation of traditional boundaries and eco-forestry initiatives, and offers a global platform through which these communities can address the rest of the world.

Boundary marking

Deni children holding a sign that will be used to mark their territory

Boundary marking is both a social process (involving negotiations) and a physical process (identifying and marking territorial borders). Because it prevents governments from handing over traditionally indigenous territories to loggers and industries, boundary marking is a key tool in helping communities to take back control of their lands, their lives and their futures.

Greenpeace has worked with indigenous communities in Papua New Guinea and Brazil to demarcate their territories. In Brazil, we made contact with the Amazonian Deni in 1999 to tell them that some of their lands had been sold to a logging company that would come to cut down trees.

The Deni decided to take action. Understanding that boundary marking - the constitutional recognition of their rights over their territory - was the best way to guarantee the integrity of the environment they depend upon, they requested our help.

'Self-demarcation' workshops were held, so that the Deni could combine new skills in handling GPS's, theodolites and other surveying tools with traditional boundary knowledge to take control of the demarcation. When the final line was drawn, over 3.5 million hectares of Amazon rainforest were protected. You can read the full story about Greenpeace and the Deni here.


A local eco-forestry initiative, Papua New Guinea.

Greenpeace has been working with customary landowners and local non-government organisations in South East Asia (including Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands) for over a decade, helping to close down corrupt forestry activities and set up community-operated alternatives, including eco-forestry.

Using minimal impact harvesting methods, eco-forestry involves landowners felling small numbers of carefully selected trees, and processing and transporting the timber without damaging the surrounding forest. 

We estimate that eco timber provides up to ten times more profit to local communities than large scale logging operations, as well as providing employment and independence, and allowing them to keep control of their forests.


Other options for income generating activities include ecotourism and the manufacture of non-timber forest products such as cloths and bags - but these sustainable alternatives can only exist if the forest is preserved.

A global platform

Around the world, Greenpeace works in the remotest of places, bearing witness to forest destruction and gathering stories from the field. Where we can, we provide a global platform through which forest communities can send their messages to the world. 

In 2009 for example, ahead of the UN Copenhagen Climate Summit, we set up a 'Climate Defenders Camp' in the heart of the Indonesian rainforest, working with indigenous communities to focus international attention on the role that protecting tropical forests has in averting climate change.

After great success, we handed the keys to the camp over to the local community and NGOs, who continue to push for the protection of forests as a key defence against climate change.