Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Society is abandoning its rural roots, as evidenced not only in Spain but in other countries with heavily forested, natural areas around the world. Rural-to-urban migration is a global trend that is causing smaller populations in rural areas, fewer opportunities for those who stay, and lack of oversight of natural resources.
Although forest property and management models are different in every country, there are models of commonly owned or managed forests in many parts of Europe (especially in Spain, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia and some eastern European countries) and an increasing interest in approved approaches towards their management. It has become clearer over the years how important property structure is for the preservation of nature and a sustainable local development. The amount of land with antiquated property structures in Spain is some 1.5-2 million hectares (15,000-20,000 square kilometers) - an equivalent area to the whole country of Slovenia.
This type of land is called “pro indiviso” (not divisible) as the owners have a “share/participation” of the land and not a “piece.” The civil code requires a majority decision to do anything to the land, from maintenance to enterprise such as sustainable harvesting. After more than 150 years and around four generations of land ownership, it has become nearly impossible to keep track of inheritors or co-owners of these lands, and it is thus very difficult, or virtually impossible, to reach any sort of decision concerning land use.
The economic, social and environmental consequences of rural degradation are well known. However, these consequences are deepened by the difficulty of managing or even intervening in many areas because of the lack of knowledge about the real ownership of the land. According to the United Nations Forum on Forests, these property issues are a main cause of forest neglect worldwide.
Due to this situation, locals are paralyzed with an unusable natural resource they cannot even maintain. This has profoundly negative consequences, including heightened risk of fires and plagues and missed opportunities for income-generating activities in areas where most development options are based on exploitable natural resources.
To place the current land situation in historical context, the unique land ownership structures in Spain are rooted in the “Desamortizaciones” period. At the end of the 19th century, Spain was embroiled in a process in which the State carried out a confiscation process of land belonging to the church, the army and the municipalities. Many rural inhabitants considered this process a danger for their own survival, as they mostly lived from the resources of the land that was being confiscated (forests and woodlands where they obtained wood, nourishment for animals, etc). At that moment and with great sacrifices (by selling their cattle or lending money from usurers), they organized and bought back the land at the public auctions or directly from nobles or big landowners, becoming co-owners of these properties.
In several other parts of Europe, problems very similar to those that Pedro is addressing in Spain (but with differing historical origins), are widely prevalent, and the need for fresh approaches to the management of collectively owned forested areas is correspondingly pressing. Not surprisingly, therefore, the potential impact of Pedro’s work is by no means confined to the Spanish setting.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Pedro has launched a new management model of co-owned forest areas in Spain called “Montes de Socios” (Partners/Shareholders woodlands). The model establishes clear, partnered ownership and management of the forest, rebuilds rural identity, and makes forests a collective responsibility.
Through its “Management Boards,” a legal structure that Pedro has resurrected from ancient tradition and passed into law, new markets have been created around the forestry industry, creating opportunities for real profit capture. Simultaneously, Pedro is building a community to safeguard forests. These Boards gather a symbolic number of co-owners of these different properties, contributing powerfully to the environmental protection in areas that were almost abandoned until now.
This new mechanism is designed to foster the collaboration among people that still live in the countryside with others that live in the cities and even in other countries. The common linkage between these people is that they are the legal inheritors and rightful owners of a tiny portion of land that their ancestors collectively bought. With this structure, the model gives each individual a small share of individual ownership in the land collective; however, instead of encouraging personal gain, Pedro is incentivizing the group support of common projects that focus on the preservation of the natural resources and the local and rural development.