Good governance is key to community forestry

By Dr. David Gritten, Senior Program Officer | RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests

My grandparents in Scotland would often give me a concerning look and ask me the same two questions when I would visit: 1. Where was I working? and 2. What work do I do?

After seven years, I can once and for all answer their questions! Recently, RECOFTC published a series of policy briefs under the EU funded Voices for Mekong Forests (V4MF) project, which gives me the perfect opportunity to put these questions to rest!

Question 1: Where do I work?

Simply put, I work at RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests. Our goal? To support rural communities in the Asia-Pacific region to manage their forests. This is based on the understanding that local communities know the forests the best, depend on the forest the most, have proven to be the most effective managers and have rights to their forests.

This sees us working with government and non-government organisations to ensure firstly that the laws are in place to support these communities and that the communities themselves, as well as staff from government and non-government organisations, have the capacities to make sure the rural communities can benefit from their forest landscapes, today and for future generations.

SoC_Lao-180423-11

Now on to Question 2: What work do I do?

One of the key areas of my work is under the V4MF project, working on creating a supportive legal environment, but also working to strengthen governance.

I suppose the best way to explain it is to imagine a family in, for example, Myanmar that are trying to make a living, like their parents and their grandparents, from their land, including forests.

Where there is good governance, they will have clear ownership of their land, they will know what they are allowed by law to do regarding collecting non timber forest products such as mushrooms and branches for their cooking stove, as well as cutting down trees and selling them. By having this clarity they will invest time and money in their land and they will also protect it. With the right resources they can potentially make a good living from their land.

31957830_198336777451722_1513632541960044544_n

Now consider if governance was weak. If they didn’t have a piece of paper clearly stating they owned the land, imagine if they have heard of other families in the area losing their land to companies, consider the possibility that due to this uncertainty they are unwilling to invest in their land. The likelihood of them making a decent living from their land is very limited.

The table below provides a summary of how components of good governance can impact community forestry.

Good forest governance principle Importance for community forestry (CF)
Accountability Clear responsibility for actions regarding management of the community forest
Effectiveness Management of CF meets needs of local community, especially CF members
Efficiency Maximal use of human, financial and other resources without unnecessary waste or delay
Equity/Fairness Equal opportunities for all CF members to improve or maintain their wellbeing, including application of rules in an impartial manner
Participation Involvement of CF members and non-members in decision-making, either directly or through legitimate representatives representing their interests
Transparency Clarity and unrestricted flow of information enabling all CF members and other stakeholders understand and monitor management of the CF

 

As part of my work at RECOFTC we have been assessing the state of forest governance in the Greater Mekong Subregion – namely Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam. Working with project partners we have been asking staff from government and non-government organisations of their perception of forest governance in the region and getting their ideas of how to address the challenges and opportunities identified. This has allowed us to develop a program to support the creation of a stronger legal foundation, including for supporting community forestry, and develop the skills and knowledge of key actors, including staff from government and non-government organisations so that we are all working towards improving forest governance in the region.

The English language versions of the briefs can be found here.

Planting the roots of teamwork in the Mangroves

Jeffrey Williamson | RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests 

“If survival is an art, then mangroves are artists of the beautiful,” wrote Annie Dillard while ruminating on what mangrove trees can teach us about human’s fleeting search for meaning. For Dillard it was “[N]ot only that they exist at all – smooth-barked, glossy-leaved, thickets of lapped mystery,” but also that this existence is a home, a cohort of dependent living organisms where “they can and do exist as floating islands, as trees upright and loose, alive and homeless on the water.” These thoughts settled in the back of my head as I watched my colleagues from RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests move through the thick, life-sustaining mud of the “Mangrove Natural School” in Bang Bor Lang Village, Samut Songkham Province, Thailand as part of RECOFTC’s annual team-building exercise.

Yet Dillard, despite her poetic beauty, overlooked an aspect that local communities understand so thoroughly: the tangible benefits that mangroves have on sustaining livelihoods, protecting communities from natural disasters, mitigating climate change, and securing biodiversity in ecologically vital areas. Sure, it is true that mangroves can provide a relief from existential dread, but at the same time they provide more substantial relief through their impact on everyday life. IMG_4540 

_DSF5241

According to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Mangroves in Indonesia store more than five times the carbon of upland forests. The result is massive for climate change mitigation at the global and regional level. On a more localized level, however, mangroves have complex root systems that provide suitable conditions for a vast array of fish and other organism. These ecosystems thus provide a sustainable and healthy means of livelihood production through several food products, “including honey, algae, fruit, salt, and leaves for livestock,” according to the Global Mangrove Alliance. But in Thailand, and throughout the Asia – Pacific, these mangroves have acted as life-affirming agents as well, providing protection from increasingly deadly natural disasters. As Visoot Nuamsiri, the former village chief Bang Bor Lang, described during our visit, several communities survived the tsunami in 2004 because they lived behind mangrove forests that helped lessen the storm’s brutal impacts.

Yet, unfortunately, the rising temperatures are creating visible effects, a point repeatedly stressed by the community members. The Asia – Pacific is already losing mangroves at twice the rate of other regions, with 250,000 ha lost between 2000 and 2012. And in this particular community, the statistics would make any expert, local or international, nervous if it wasn’t for the presence of the community members. Without their support and monitoring, only one mangrove seedling would survive for every 300 planted.

Nonetheless, the communities have found innovative ways to persist, including the use of bamboo fences to reduce the strong energy of the waves and trap sediments, as well as the creation of an intricate monitoring policy.  As previously mentioned, through the dedicated work of community members, the results have improved. Bounyadeth Phouangmala, country program director for Lao PDR, reflected on this during a debriefing. “We learned from the communities. They are smart and do great work, often times with better ideas than us.” IMG_1385

And in this reflection lies the point of pursuing team building activities in the field. Although the majority of RECOFTC’s staff work alongside local communities, there are, as Jonas Dahlstrom noted, a few “of us [who] are based in offices, and we can’t experience forests through our laptops.” This, reiterates the importance of connecting the reality on the ground with the work conducted in the office.  It allows certain staff members to learn through doing, practice what we preach, and question our own assumptions. As Dy Vutheara from Cambodia Country Program said, “It is important to practice the theory, because it really showed [us] the way we plant mangroves,” and reinforced the labor intensive practices that often go into conservation and livelihood production. By engaging with the local communities and participating in the technical planting of mangroves and the collection of trash, we were able to realize the deep connection found between the interlocked branches of the mangroves.

But how did we seek to achieve such lofty goals?

IMG_3219

Transferring the experience to the staff  began with a detailed presentation by Visoot Nuamsiri and other community members who described the importance of mangroves to the local community. This conversation was then put into competitive practice. Each team, of which there were six, split up their members to pursue two goals: plant fifty mangrove seedlings and pick up as much trash as possible. 

Additionally, each team had to be cognizant of their communication abilities and team spirit while completing each task. Yet, this came with its fair share of challenges. Nonette, an intern from Indonesia Country Program, understood this and was able to overcome these challenges through the use of a “universal language,” such as body language and smiles, to navigate the language barrier between team members and the community. The pictures that were captured clearly showed the reciprocal joy generated through these common understandings.

Overall the team building plan worked. Being knee deep in the mud, contributing to the continued growth of these prehistoric ecosystems, blurred our competitive nature; the positive effects of mangroves reverberated throughout the day. Instead of being members of specific countries or members of specific units, we came closer while working alongside the community members, reinforcing our vision and mission through participatory action.

_DSF5350

As one member of the red team succinctly stated, the results were humbling: “It isn’t only about one color, we had to work across teams.” Continuing to stress the theme of the day, he then summed up our activities with the follow slogan:

“Teamwork makes the dream work.”

Under RECOFTC’s New Project, Partnership will FLOURISH

Using Forest Landscape Restoration to Strengthen Private Sector – Community Partnerships and Create Lasting Ecological Stability

By Dr. Chandra Silori and Martin Greijmans

Contrary to what is often discussed on the surface, forest landscape restoration (FLR) is not simply about planting trees. And although global deforestation and forest degradation is a disturbing trend, capturing pessimistic thoughts in the form of doom-filled media titles, there are those who recognize our collective ability to address environmental, social and ecological challenges. That is why FLR has gained such traction; and this is why the forest community needs to provide insight on the additional benefits FLR provides us all, outside of simply planting trees. Let’s explore this more.

Firstly, it is important to note that there are certain global commitments that reflect a desire to address land and forest degradation:

seSF03jf9ee7T4TJsU1Iapw

FLR is in an integral position to assist in the realization of these global commitments and is promoted widely as one of the key solutions to restoring and increasing forest cover. The benefit of FLR, however, lies in its holistic approach to landscape management, thus creating holistic impacts. Not only does it address the challenges of climate change mitigation and adaptation, but it does so while also supporting forest dependent communities’ and indigenous peoples’ livelihoods and water security.  This reinforces and strengthens sound management practices while simultaneously engaging in soil conservation and protection.

So, as previously stated, FLR goes way  beyond simply planting trees:FLR is a dynamic and ongoing process that in its fullest sense restores the ecological functionality of the landscape, enhances the landscapes productivity and biodiversity, and consequently supports ecosystem services and promotes a system of multiple co-benefits. FLR accomplishes this by considering land management as a dialogue that includes a wide range of stakeholders who all have a direct interest in restoring functionality.

However, despite this diverse range of potential functionality, the focus of FLR has largely remained on the narrow and technical aspects of restoration. Other associated aspects, such as governance, participation of practitioners and other key stakeholders, the use of traditional knowledge by local communities and indigenous peoples, tenure security and associated challenges are yet to be fully understood. Therefore, when not considering and integrating these aspects sufficiently, the promises FLR holds may not be achieved.

20170523_144637.jpg

Understanding the potential impact, RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests has taken a number of steps to mainstream FLR into its programmatic approach by considering all of FLR’s associated aspects. Besides organizing regional consultations that involved private sector actors in discussing FLR finance approaches in the ASEAN region, RECOFTC has also developed capacity support for an integrated FLR approach. RECOFTC realizes, however, that this is not enough and has recently sought out more effective means of implementing FLR. This is why the Center is about to initiate the ‘Production-Driven Forest Landscape Restoration through private sector-community partnership’, funded by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Energy (BMU) of Germany, under the International Climate Initiative (IKI). The project will run for four years (May 2018-April 2022).

The overall goal of the project is to “Enhance climate change mitigation and adaptation potential of forests in Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) countries through innovative and production-driven forest landscape restoration (FLR)”. The initiative, also termed as FLOURISH will address tenure rights and governance issues when striving for FLR. In so doing, the project will result in enhanced climate change mitigation, adaptation and biodiversity conservation in in selected forested landscapes in Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam. FLOURISH is strategically aligned with national priorities and plans of the project focal countries, which will allow FLOURISH to continuously  build on the experiences in the forest landscapes and stimulate for cross learning throughout all integrated actors in the GMS.

In one of its pilots, which aims to mitigate the impacts of climate change, FLOURISH is considering to support processes aimed at replacing conventional cooking fuel (LPG and fossil fuel) with forest biomass-based pellets. This replacement strategy aims to increase carbon storage through permanent tree cover through the strengthening of bamboo and wood products value chains,providing the incentives for sustainably managing forests. In terms of climate change adaptation, FLOURISH seeks to reduce forest fires by engaging local landscape communities in increasing their efficiency in the harvesting and commercialization of timber and non-timber forest products through community-private sector partnerships. Biodiversity conservation will FLOURISH as well  by applying the FLR-approach, aimed at ensuring habitat contiguity of critical conservation areas in the three landscapes.

Overall, what stands out in FLOURISH is that its success will come from sustained community-private sector partnerships, while simultaneously addressing climate change, biodiversity and livelihoods interests.

FLOURISH is managed by RECOFTC with support from the following implementing partners: the International Network of Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) based in Beijing, the Institute of International Forestry and Forest Products of Technische University Dresden (TUD) and Nan Community College (NCC) based in Thailand.

Making community forestry in Myanmar a roaring success

Dr. Maung Maung Than |Country Director, Myanmar Country Program

When I was studying English I learnt numerous idioms – many of which still make no sense to me (e.g. it is raining cats and dogs). One that I understood and is constantly stuck in my mind is “never to leave a job half done”. This phrase has been rolling around my head for the last few weeks as I think of the recently completed SUComFor project here in Myanmar.

RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests, working with the Forest Department and various civil society partners, has recently finished the Scaling-up Community Forestry in Myanmar (SUComFor) project. The three year project, which was funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Myanmar, has been a notable success on many levels.

28378182_10155040763896695_2909053280858325811_n

The project has facilitated the transferring of 19,000 hectares of forests to 94 villages across seven different landscapes in the country. This means that 5,229 households now hold a certificate that symbolizes their tenure over the forest. Additionally, another nine villages are soon to receive their certificates.

One key component of the project has been strengthening the laws to make them more supportive to those with tenure to their forests. One example is the Community Forestry Instruction (1995). An important focus area of the original 1995 version of the Instruction was on community forest members meeting their daily subsistence needs. There was very little consideration for livelihood development. The revised 2016 version of the Instruction, however, created a legal foundation to ensure that community forestry members can commercially benefit from their forests. This includes supporting the establishment of community forest based enterprises producing value added products.

Another important area of the project has been increasing the confidence and strengthening the abilities of national and local government, civil society staff, and local community members to work together to address the challenges and opportunities they face for developing and benefiting from their community forests. In total over 5,000 people (most of them community members) have participated in trainings and other learning events under the project.

All the RECOFTC Myanmar country office and project staff have seen the incredible changes resulting from the project, yet I still have the feeling that the job is only half done. I suppose this is because of a comment made by one Secretary of a Community Forestry Management Committee. Talking about the new Community Forest User Group for which he is Secretary, he told me that he believes they “will raise living standards in the future now that [they] have management and production rights.” The future is rightly emphasized; we have much more to do.

28378515_10155040762966695_2126638396003806454_n

We have built some excellent foundations for ensuring strong community forestry in Myanmar. Now we must ensure that the individual families, communities and the country as a whole can benefit, particularly by using these foundations to ensure that local communities can make a real and lasting living from their forest. This will be achieved by using the legal basis provided by the revised Instruction, the lessons learned from increased capacities, and the fact that more households have legal rights to use their forests. If we build upon these, then we have the potential to move from a job half done to a time when all stakeholders are declaring community forestry in Myanmar as a roaring success!

The Spark for Citizen’s Monitoring Toolbox

By Monica S. Cheng and Binod Chapagain

RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests

Heraclitus once theorized that change is the only constant, formulating an apt description of our world tingling with change and adaptation. Yet change is not always intentional – it is often born out of necessity and perceived need. RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests had an introduction to participatory monitoring tools that snuggled into a similar pattern. The discussion started with RECOFTC  piloting a Community Based Forestry (CBF) Assessment Framework in Myanmar in collaboration with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). And at the conclusion, several government officials in Myanmar had shared their comments about Community Forests and its benefits via our workshops and training sessions.

Through the culmination of comments shared with RECOFTC’s Participatory Monitoring & Evaluation Team (PM&E), an intriguing story emerged, especially while talking to one of the government officials from Myanmar. When the Chief of Forestry Department (FD) asked his officials to give him information about particular CF groups, neither the CF groups nor FD officials had any documented information. Therefore, the FD officials began painting in the dark, producing documents from their guesses and approximations and sending them to their Chief. The same year, the head made a visit to some field sites, including some CF sites which he had seen those exact reports on. However, he told us that he encountered many surprises during the visit – the information he had was either incorrect or misleading!

image5

CF group members participating in ‘citizen’s monitoring in forestry’ process

The same reflection was there when we  met government officials in Cambodia, particularly in Kamphong Thom. Local CF leaders were required to provide CF reports to government systems, but did not always know what or how to save information and thus provided incorrect information.

So of course, we had to see what was happening. When we visited Ayerwaddy Delta (Myanmar) and Kamphong Thom, we soon got our answer. The local CF leaders had organized meetings with group leaders, where we were informed that they did not have the ability to efficiently manage their information. Even more so, it is terribly difficult to organize and collect data for many members. Therefore, sending their annual reports to the Forest Administration or Department was often not a priority, but rather a burden.

image2

A senior government official in Myanmar giving her reflection over the usefulness of the tools at a reflection workshop

The wearied, disorderly and listless feedback from both the government representatives and CF leaders were the triggers to start the concept of citizen’s monitoring. We wanted to find a way to measure Heraclitus’ beloved change in our contemporary world and landscapes. The feedback helped the RECOFTC PM&E team to build citizen’s monitoring foundations, bringing elements from CBF Assessment framework  and livelihoods framework. The eventual result was a toolbox designed for citizen’s monitoring in forestry. After months of collaborative effort, the tools were piloted, adjusted and synthesized to fit into an open-access product; you can find out more here.

Monica_Ou Som CF_2017

Members of the Ou Som CF, Cambodia

Financing FLR: What to consider for a sustainable investment

By Lina Jihadah – RECOFTC , Sararin Phaengam – RECOFTC 

How can we ensure that a participatory process is effectively implemented to engage local people and create sustainable investments for financing Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR)? We know that it will potentially achieve the long term ecological, social and economic benefits that FLR offers, but we still haven’t found a way! To further unpack this puzzle, RECOFTC, along with FAO and IUCN, organised a regional dialogue for stakeholders. The event aimed to provide a platform for the participants to get to know each other, discuss challenges, and contemplate opportunities for financing FLR. Having this event therefore allowed stakeholders to better understand their roles in terms of FLR and come closer to ensuring a participatory process in investing in FLR!   

image1.jpg

Regional FLR Finance Dialogue brought in FLR stakeholders in the region to discuss finance opportunities. Photo: RECOFTC

The questions discussed were relevant to achieving our goal. For example, what’s the most important thing for a sustainable investment by private sector? We would argue that it is about reducing potential risks that arise from the prominent issue in natural resource management – land tenure. This means a participatory approach that engages key stakeholders, especially local people, is fundamental.

For government officials involved in FLR, providing consistent landscape information and creating a supportive regulatory environment is imperative for a sustainable investment. Most importantly, these two principles should be respected and confirmed by all the stakeholders involved in FLR, especially local people. If care is taken to ensure the participation of local people, then this may led to a higher return of investment, particularly in areas where land tenure is concerned. As such, investors need to be assured that their investment does not impinge on unresolved land issues or further conflict over tenure rights. Hence, such information and a supportive regulatory environment will allow the private sector to assess the scale of FLR opportunities in the region and the potential socio-economic benefits (e.g. returns of investment).

image2

FLR, through integrated land use management, has the ability to achieve long term benefits. Photo: RECOFTC

Furthermore, in forging partnerships with private sector actors, government officials would need to target specific, and appropriate, financial instruments. This is primarily because private sector actors do not conduct business using the same model.  For instance, plantation companies (e.g. New Forests), commercial banks (e.g. Credit Suisse) and finance institute (e.g. International Finance Corporation) all have different objectives and requirements. Hence, government officials need to consider aspects such as the purpose of FLR (e.g. wood production, local livelihood development through agroforestry), duration of the project and amount of investment required.

28959407_10155067856211695_1580209517210107904_n

Participants discuss potential avenues of financing FLR. Photo: RECOFTC

Regarding the first question, this regional dialogue has provided us at RECOFTC a chance to better understand the areas that need to be improved to further promote sustainable financing of FLR. For example, this dialogue showed us that further conversation is needed between sectors to overcome the language barrier that is inherently present across sectors. Yet we  were able to help government officials realize the importance of collecting specific and reliable information to reduce risk. This goes a long way in targeting the appropriate financial instruments for FLR initiatives. Most importantly, however, the design of FLR initiatives must consider benefits that local communities can receive.

Nonetheless, there was one conclusion that was prominent: moving forward, financing FLR will likely be successful if government officials are able to cater interests of various stakeholders, especially local people whose role is central in FLR. Or, in other words, participation is key to finding sustainable financing options for future FLR initiatives.

For more about RECOFTC and FLR, please view our webpage!

The authors of this blog would like to convey gratitude to our PACT colleagues, Christy Owen and Yohann Formont, for their valuable inputs and reflections of the event and blog.  

Urban Forests and Sustainable Cities: encouraging the youth to think about a greener future

 

David Ganz, Executive Director | RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests

Earlier this week, I was fortunate to participate in the opening of the 5th Annual Student Debate on forests and sustainable cities hosted by RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forest, and our colleagues from FAO and UNEP. This event, which included eight schools –ranging from middle school to University—in Bangkok, Thailand, has been used as a fun and engaging celebration of the International Day of Forests for the past five years. Following this year’s theme, I spoke of my work as a community forester on an urban New Haven Ecology Project now called the Common Ground School.  My intent with these opening remarks was to establish a personal connection between urban forestry and sustainable cities, hoping the students could as well. This in turn helped contextualize my final insights, which sought to provide advice about the profession and the potential that these young talented students have in contributing towards the diverse field of forestry. As the Executive Director of RECOFTC, and thus a potential future employer, I hope they explore the field further and provide a fresh perspective.

_DSF3210

Providing the opening remarks at this year’s International Day of Forests Student Debate

I listened intently while the students had a spirited debate on the pros and cons of using urban forests for mitigating climate change, including its contributions to a healthier life-style. These debates reminded me of the difficulties within our region for proper urban planning, especially as urban sprawl absorbs future human populations.  I was also reminded of a few field seasons during my early career measuring trees in Sacramento, California. This information was subsequently used to maintain an urban tree database and contain Dutch Elm disease from spreading. This anecdote reminds me that Urban forestry around the world shares the challenge of maintaining viable tree health in what can be a very stressful environment for trees to flourish.

_DSF3449

Students were eager to participate in the debate

These environments will become even more stressful in the upcoming decades due to the fact that our cities and suburban areas are the places that will absorb future human populations more than any other landscape. Regarding how to manage a landscape in a sustainable manner, these population increases present both opportunities and challenges for urban centers. Opportunities exist because cities have the critical mass to support the infrastructure improvements necessary to reduce carbon and ecological footprints, create social cohesiveness and foster economic growth. The challenge, however, is how to transform urban buildings and infrastructure so that they are consistent with sustainability goals, do not significantly disrupt the regional economy, and maintain the community’s fabric and integrity of urban open spaces.

RECOFTC sees these challenges as being similar to what community foresters and Forestry Departments face when involving stakeholders from all affected land-use sectors and applying participatory decision-making processes to strengthen rural livelihoods and ensure healthier forest landscapes. Similarly, urban architects and land-use planners must take into consideration a wide variety of disciplines when considering what species to plant, where to aggregate trees to form contiguous canopies and what risks to attempt to mitigate when creating open space (including transportation corridors, public safety, and appropriate water drainage).  All of these issues and more were debated by the students during their debating stances for and against the planting of more urban trees.

As the Executive Director of RECOFTC, we are also debating what our role should be towards advancing urban forestry within the Asia and the Pacific region. This includes where and how participatory approaches can improve co-management models in urban settings.  Community forestry includes a variety of institutional arrangements such as: indigenous management of sacred sites that are cultural important; direct community control or management of forest areas; small-scale forest-based enterprises; forest out-grower schemes; company-community partnerships; and other forms of decentralized and devolved forest management. All of these co-management models can provide valuable lessons learned for better urban planning and collaboration in what can sometimes be a hectic and stressful living environment.  By supporting and assisting government, non-government, and community partners, RECOFTC has shown that community forestry and related approaches can deliver results that both improve livelihoods and safeguard the environment, especially in urban arenas where safeguarding the environment and urban forests can increase awareness of what is happening in rural areas.

As I sat there at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) regional office for Asia and the Pacific listening to the student debate, it occurred to me that I had heard these same arguments under many different socio-economic contexts. I had heard them when discussing the need for expanding countries to find a balance between the demand for high value property and green open spaces. I had also heard them from those countries that are now developing plans for urban growth and beginning to accommodate migration patterns. Nonetheless, it is clear that we are all interested in poverty alleviation approaches that will not only produce tangible benefits, but also reduce our carbon footprints. I believe this comes from a desire to maintain social cohesiveness and foster economic growth without degrading the resource base, even in urban environments. Therefore, this is one debate that I will enjoy entering into for many years to come.

_DSF3256

Hopefully here are the future minds of urban forestry! 

The Future is Now: our drive to secure gender equality across forest landscapes

by Dr. Kalpana Giri, Senior Program Officer, Social Inclusion and Gender Equity (SIGE), RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests

image1170x530cropped

Thai farmers harvest rice near Ta Pra Mok, Thailand. (Photo: David Longstreath/IRIN)

Calls for gender equality are inching their way up in the international development community. For example, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and various climate change policy agendas have included gender equality as a top priority.  The inclusion of such mandates on gender equality signals an increasing awareness and acknowledgment that we as the development community need to address gender inequality. Recent approaches call for the need to address the issue through innovative mechanisms of engagement, finance modalities, and public-private partnerships; however, these efforts will fall short if the rhetoric on gender equality is not made actionable in practice. There is thus a need to demonstrate how the common nexus between gender equality and climate change can be implemented in a fashion that delivers tangible results. Organizations that are at the forefront of translating policy to practice through tailored and targeted capacity approaches need to take progressive steps to make gender equality even more actionable.

Recognizing this, RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forest is making multiple efforts to strengthen gender equality in forestry landscapes through strategic interventions across its projects, programs, and institutional policies. To start with, RECOFTC initiated an assessment to take stock of its 30 years of operational experience of addressing gender equity and other social inclusion issues in the context of community forest landscapes in the South and Southeast Asia. This assessment was made available through Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)’s Gender Facility Support and was facilitated by Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resources (WOCAN). Findings from the gender assessment were then presented to RECOFTC’s staff during a one and half day consultative workshop in December 12-13, 2017. The workshop aimed to learn from RECOFTC’s past experiences of implementing gender equity and social inclusion, assess opportunities and challenges, and identify inputs to support RECOFTC’s next five year strategic plan (2018-2023). The workshop was attended by senior managers, country and program officers, and our human resources unit. The workshop generated a common understanding among RECOFTC staff of important concepts involved, including gender equality, gender equity and social inclusion.

IMG_7345

RECOFTC participates in a gender audit facilitated by WOCAN! (Photo: RECOFTC)

During the workshop, we identified the nexus between gender equality and sustainable forest landscapes. Throughout our tenure in community forestry development, we have understood that the long-term viability of community forest management is dependent on the inclusion of women. This is why we have adopted a fair treatment approach of gender equity and women’s empowerment to contribute towards gender equality. The goal is to ensure women’s full and effective participation, and that they are given equal opportunities for leadership; we have done this through targeted approaches of capacity building, decision making, and benefit acquisition. At the same time, we recognize that to achieve greater gender equality, we need to address other forms of social exclusion that intersect with gender. This includes realizing that class, race, caste, and ethnicity are all compounding forms of discrimination faced by women and other marginalized sections of the community, such as poor men and indigenous communities. This realization has helped us understand that gender equality and its relationship to social exclusion can, and should be, the entry-point to understand and address gender inequity and  all other forms of social exclusion. This must, however, be followed by the implementation of focused approaches and investments.

IMG_7486

VIFORA Study Tour in Thailand (Photo: RECOFTC)

Moving forward, RECOFTC will proactively use gender equity as a core business element,  which in turn will help us foster new partnerships and enhance our innovation. A series of interventions have been identified to ensure that gender equity becomes a core business element of RECOFTC’s programs, projects and operations.

RECOFTC plans to use a three-tracked approach to implement gender equity. First, it will create standards and pathways to allow for the consistent application of gender policies into our work. Social Inclusion and Gender Equity (SIGE) as a key component and well-placed strategic goal in the next five year strategic plan (2018-2023) is a positive step towards this vision. We aim to put technical and institutional mechanisms in place to allow for a greater and consistent application of SIGE policies throughout the planning, budgeting, and implementation  processes. This will be further aided by frequent monitoring and communication systems that will capture and disseminate the results. Second, RECOFTC will invest in creating strategic initiatives and programs with the intent of driving the debate on gender equity. Particularly, we will expand upon the social dimensions of emerging political, economic and environmental issues that will have direct impacts on climate action and the SDGs. Currently, we are developing a Gender Leadership Co-Lab that will foster a cadre of leaders around forestry landscape who will promote inclusive forest governance using innovative partnerships and investments. Using these innovations, RECOFTC hopes to foster public-private partnerships and engage with investors to support inclusive business models that benefit women and other socially excluded groups across its landscapes. Finally, in line with these activities, we are also committed to keeping our own house in order. We are determined to strengthen our existing policies by underscoring our zero tolerance approach to issues of gender discrimination and any forms of sexual harassment and abuse. This will make RECOFTC an even safer and fairer work environment–a core principle in our pursuit of inclusive forest management.  

IMG_5783

Women facilitators led sessions in Pakokku, Myanmar. (Photo: RECOFTC)

Making sure that the global processes of policy making consider the realities on the ground is equally important if we are to achieve a more inclusive world. Fortunately, RECOFTC finds itself in an opportunistic space to observe, inform, and implement activities that will make clear and meaningful links between global and local realities. We are especially proud to do so in the field of gender equality as we believe that our efforts will contribute towards making gender equality actionable and measurable within the global development community. Stay tuned to learn more about how we do it and what emerges out of our deliberate efforts to provide equality to all!

Reflecting on Partnership: How can we help the private sector better engage with local communities? A case study from Lao PDR

Deth Phouangmala, RECOFTC – Lao PDR Country Program

One of RECOFTC’s core values revolves around engaging multiple actors in a participatory approach to sustainable community forestry, and here at Lao PDR Country Programme (LCP), we have had ample opportunity to prove the effectiveness of such an approach. In recent years, Lao PDR has seen an increase in foreign investment, infrastructure development, and expanding agribusiness production. Consequently, one important stakeholder is often left out of discussions regarding community forestry related initiatives: the private sector.

By not actively engaging with the private sector, we are missing an important opportunity to improve the livelihoods of local communities. Working with the private sector also provides an opportunity to curtail potential harmful business practices that can lead to deforestation. In Lao PDR, however, RECOFTC has managed to successfully engage and take advantage of the private sector’s interest!

DSCF3223For the past ten years, Stora Enso Lao PDR (SEL), a Scandinavian plantation/Agroforestry Company, has been working with local communities in Savannaketh, Saravanh and Khammuan provinces in the south to plant eucalyptus trees on leased and rented land. This is not a small operation either. SEL agroforestry model currently covers a total area of 3,000 ha, which overlaps with approximately 2,350 households in 47 villages and 9 districts. Not only does SEL benefit from this engagement, they also bring benefits to local communities through land leasing, a village development fund, the provision of labour via a plantation model, unexploded ordnance clearing, and rice and other crop production between the tree spaces, whereby trees are planted in rows separated by 9 meters. The Stora Enso model can be seen as a responsible forest business model, which with the support of RECOFTC and local partners can be further scaled up to improve livelihoods for a larger population, including in the areas of gender equality, food security and access to markets.

SEL has often upheld admirable standards when working with local communities, but it was, and still is, set on continuously increasing them. With such a large operation, however, it is often difficult to improve at desired rates. This is where RECOFTC’s specialties have helped so far. As an organization that focuses on capacity development, we were in a suitable position to help SEL’s field staff understand better how the company wants to be perceived, the benefits of working with local communities, and the ways in which the company can better consult and engage positively with communities. To promote this, RECOFTC joined a partnership between SEL and Village Focus International to develop the capacity of SEL. This was graciously supported by MRLG, with advisory services from IFC.

DSCF3166

As the common goal of the partnership was to improve and strengthen SEL’s field staff’s capacity to engage with the local communities in the company’s target areas, we followed a genuine participatory approach. This approach included both communities and the field staffs of SEL, focusing on training in the areas of Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC) concepts, facilitation skills, conflict transformation, and value chain development. Partnering together for five sessions, we were able to demonstrate how strengthening social safeguards and ensuring proper methods of consultation and consent can be beneficial to both the community and the business operations. Sessions included interactive training and study tours, workshops, field tests and subsequent coaching sessions.

Our initiative was successful, and we have been able to record favorable progress: “Unlike the old days, right now the team is applying the FPIC process in their target villages,” noted Songkha Latpho, a SEL staff member on the Land Team in Sepon district, Savannaketh. Not only did RECOFTC improve the capacity of SEL’s field staff, but they also improved facilitation skills and community engagement. Mr. Latpho also conveyed this fact: “The decision making process … is now made by the whole communities, including the women, after sufficient information is given by the SEL team.” Now, we are more confident that their trained field staff engages with local communities in a respectful and productive manner, one that takes into account gender roles and includes a more collective approach to the marketing and selling of community products. Finally, as previously noted, this initiative benefited local communities as well. By utilizing participatory measures throughout this partnership and specific communications tools, such as the video on Good Faith Negotiations, the communities were able to better understand SEL business practices and increase their own voices in potential future partnerships. In sum, this initiative helped secure good and fair governance, the right to secure one’s livelihood, and produced sustainable management practices, both from a community and business lens. We are grateful to have contributed to this partnership.

As this initiative has shown, the private sector can benefit from the proper engagement with local peoples. At this very moment, we are discussing how SEL can further their ability to reach out to more communities, diversify crops and livestock, and introduce these communities to new markets. All partners agree that inclusion of local people in value chains will be beneficial for everybody and we are looking forward to finding new ways to improve the quality of life in the region! This partnership between RECOFTC, SEL, VFI, local communities and other civil society organizations working in Laos is one of the many examples of how participatory approaches in community forestry can act as a catalyst for change. By harnessing the skills and perspectives of multiple stakeholders, community forestry is a medium in which our mutual pursuit of equity, sustainable forest management, and a more just society can be realized.

Making forest landscape restoration a reality

Ben Forrest – Communications and Research Coordinator | Asia-Pacific Network for Sustainable Forest Management and Rehabilitation (APFNet)

With commitments in place including the Bonn Challenge to restore 150 million hectares and the APEC 2020 Goal to boost forest cover by 20 million hectares by 2020, the international community is making strides forward in tackling forest degradation. These targets require large areas of forests to be restored, meaning that adopting a landscape approach can have significant advantages.

However, restoring forests at the landscape level is a highly challenging, complex task. Not only do the requirements of a diverse range of stakeholders need to be incorporated into FLR strategies, but there is also a need for strong political will, adequate financing mechanisms, and sufficient capacity and human resources.

What are some of the ways that these can be addressed? In light of our recent workshop entitled “Realizing Forest Landscape Restoration Goals in ASEAN Member States” held in partnership with RECOFTC—The Center for People and Forests and China’s State Academy of Forestry Administration (STAFA), we thought it pertinent to answer such a question and highlight the four key components required for successful forest landscape restoration: enabling policy environment, strong and clear tenure rights, financing, and good governance. These components were the backbone of our workshop.

Increasing collaboration through policy dialogue

APFNET

Executive Director of APFNet Mr. Lu De (middle) participates in a panel discussion at the 4th APEC Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Forestry in Seoul, the Republic of Korea, 30 October – 1 November 2017

Supporting regional policy dialogue is one of the four key pillars that form the basis of APFNet’s activities (alongside capacity building, demonstration projects, and communication and information sharing). By bringing together high-level forestry officials from different economies, the stage is set for increased coordination and collaboration.

Ministerial-level meetings such as both the APEC and Greater Central Asia Meetings of Minsters Responsible for Forestry help reach consensus on tackling regional issues including increasing forest cover, combating illegal logging and addressing other transboundary issues such as forest fires and pests.

By highlighting the importance of sustainable development and management of forests to social, economic and environmental development, and the need for closer regional cooperation in forestry, ministerial-level meetings help forge agreement and partnership at the highest level, providing a strong foundation for large-scale restoration and landscape initiatives.

The importance of land tenure

At the other end of the scale, having clear tenure laws in place has a direct impact on those who rely on the forest to make a living.

By clarifying land usage rights, tenure reform can play a key role in improving the livelihoods of forest dependent communities.

However, tenure reform alone is not able to enhance the livelihood contribution of forests. It is necessary to increase productivity of forest products, and also add value to what is being produced.

Indeed, this is the case in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), where people living in or close to forests earn part of their livelihoods through processing and selling timber and non-timber forest products (NTFPs).

APFNET1

Wood processing machinery can help local communities add value to the products they produce

Forestry enterprises in the region are faced with many challenges, including a shortage of production technology, outdated equipment and a lack of funds.

APFNet’s “Supporting Small Community-Based Forest Enterprises in the Greater Mekong Sub-region” project aims to address these challenges and improve forest management in the region by providing them with wood processing and furniture production technologies and equipment.

Secure land tenure provides the foundation for increased productivity and value addition, which can in turn improve the livelihoods of forest dependent communities.

Involving the private sector

While a strong policy foundation and clearly defined land tenure laws are clearly integral aspects of FLR, a lack of financing for forest restoration, management and planning can stop such efforts in their tracks.

Funding can come from a range of sources, including government, civil society organizations, the private sector, institutes and individuals, but is often hard to obtain.

Part of the battle in securing funding from the private sector is raising awareness of issues related to forestry, and highlighting them in a way that resonates.

The APFNet Fund is beginning to do this in the Chinese context. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a relatively new concept to Chinese companies, although many are beginning to see the value in supporting more socially and environmentally focused activities.

The project “Carbon Sink Forests Plantation and Rehabilitation”, supported by the People’s Insurance Company of China (PICC) Foundation, is an example of this. The project promotes sustainable forest management and rehabilitation through plantation development, growing saplings and sharing best practices to support effective management and protection of the forest.

APFNET2

Projects such as that supported by the PICC Foundation are examples of how the private sector can be involved in restoration efforts

Getting the private sector on board is one way of diversifying the funding streams needed for FLR and can help scale-up restoration initiatives, contributing significantly to their economic, social and environmental dimensions.

Good governance: the role of monitoring and evaluation

Finally, good governance is essential for harnessing the potential of the political will, land tenure laws and financing behind FLR efforts.

APFNet draws on developed economies’ experiences in jurisdiction, public involvement and development of resource and forest plans to improve the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) efforts of its members. This is vital as robust M&E measures the effectiveness of efforts, which is particularly important in FLR where there is the need to show the progress of initiatives to a wide range of stakeholders.

Having strong policy backing, land tenure that works for those that rely on the forest, sufficient financing and good governance are all integral components of FLR. APFNet works with partners such as RECOFTC and STAFA to contribute its experience in these areas, helping forge effective strategies for making FLR a reality.

 

Want a healthy natural environment (and headache free)? One key step is respecting the rights of local communities

David Gritten, RECOFTC -The Center for People and Forests

My head is sore. Nothing to do with Bangkok’s air pollution problem I think. It is more to do with reading the countless news articles of how we are abusing our natural environment (and each other). One result is that there are vast areas of degraded land covering the world. The area of degraded land in Asia varies according to whom you ask, but it is estimated to be between 12 million to 2,501 million ha – that is a lot of football pitches/fields (and another sore head as I try to understand this scale).

20170523_144637

Forest Degradation in Mae Chaem, Thailand (Photo: RECOFTC)

What is the cause of this degradation? There are various reasons, but one key factor, that is universally acknowledged, is the weak tenure and rights of those living in and around forests. Because tenure and rights of the real forest owners are being ignored it means that there is little to no land stewardship. Where you get strong tenure and rights for locals, you get buy-in, ownership, protection and sustainable investments; where these rights are ignored or abused, you get the loss of natural forests and massive land degradation.

As countries in the region work to restore the degraded land (see the table below for an overview of some Southeast Asian countries) they must keep in mind that tenure and rights is at the heart of any of these efforts – in other words, without clear and strong rights for local communities most restoration efforts are doomed to fail.

Table 1. Degraded land, forest cover and reforestation targets of majority of ASEAN Member States (AMS)

Screenshot (14)

Sources: FAO and RECOFTC (2016), RECOFTC and AWG-SF (2017)

RECOFTC is working with various stakeholders to ensure that restoration efforts do not get caught in the trap of failing to respect the tenure and rights of local communities. This is one of the key reasons why we advocate for forest landscape restoration (FLR) – including its emphasis on effective participation of the local communities in any restoration efforts and ensuring that the tenure and rights of these people is clear and strong.


What is FLR?

Forest landscape restoration (FLR) is the ongoing process of regaining ecological functionality and enhancing human well-being across deforested or degraded forest landscapes. FLR is more than just planting trees – it is restoring a whole landscape to meet present and future needs and to offer multiple benefits and land uses over time.


RECOFTC is implementing a capacity development program covering the key areas of forest landscape restoration. This program is partly based on a capacity development needs assessment that is helping to identify the key capacity gaps to achieving successful forest restoration through FLR. The multi-functional program that includes addressing issues of tenure and rights, livelihood development, and the financing of FLR, targets various stakeholders ranging from government to the financial and private sectors as well as the general public.

DSC_0151

Let’s all get rid of our headaches and take care of our forests!

RECOFTC’s capacity development program of training, research, strategic communication, and piloting and demonstration, places a great deal of emphasis on the general public. In other words, YOU, recognising that one WE can address the various environmental challenges facing US is the first step. Come learn more, and we can realise this together at the 2nd People and Forest Fair, which will highlight Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) at the BACC Bangkok on 4 March 2018.

I am looking forward to being headache free, and so should you…

Enhancing human rights through responsible community forestry: a case from Myanmar

Khin Moe Kyi, Khin Thiri, Kerry Woodward & Jeffrey Williamson – RECOFTC

On the 10th of December 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR sets out the inalienable “economic, social, political, cultural and civic rights that underpin a life free from want and fear”. These rights are extended to “all people, at all times, and in all places”.

Human rights, though inalienable, are secured through various political, economic, cultural and social measures. Community forestry has played a part in supporting local communities to realise their rights. Strengthening land tenure, empowering women to assume leadership and decision-making roles in their communities, and facilitating livelihood activities have all contributed to the realisation of the economic, social, political, cultural and civic rights of communities living in forested landscapes.

Moreover, community forestry provides us with an example of how secure community rights, local knowledge, and clear roles within forest management can enhance socio-economic development whilst concomitantly maintaining healthy ecosystems.

CFcertificate awarding ceremony (2)

Strengthening community land rights through community forestry

A community forest  (CF) can be established in any forested area, aside from protected areas. Ethnic communities can formalize their rights over traditionally managed land through securing CF certificates. Some ethnic groups in Myanmar have been able to demarcate the boundaries of their traditional land through establishing community forest boundaries and signs, and consequently have reduced the frequency of encroachment into their forests.

Securing fair land rights is the first step in voicing local needs within official fora. By obtaining CF certificates, local communities can pursue equity and justice through legal avenues. A path that has often been historically denied to these communities.  “If there is any land abuse by outsiders in our community forest, we can challenge them from a legal point of view, thanks to the CF certification,” reports U Mya Thin (CF chairperson, Taung Kan Kalay village’s CF, Bago region, Myanmar).

U Win Kyi, a Ranger from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, agrees that establishing CFs reduces illegal or unsustainable forestry practices from outsiders. “Illegal logging has been reduced in Ya Haing Bya village community forest area. Local communities are actively participating in forest management activities. They patrol their CF areas regularly to prevent illegal logging, hunting and wildfires,” he says.  In so doing, local communities have been empowered to fight for their rights.                                                                                                                                                                   Empowering women and securing rights through community forestry

Beyond empowering whole communities, CF also empowers integral stakeholders, including women. Inclusive participation of all stakeholders is crucial for CF establishment. Participation is ensured through capacity development trainings and awareness raising programs. Often, women do not participate in public events or local politics; if they do, it’s generally in a supporting capacity. CF programs, however, promote and create spaces where women can participate as decision makers. Consequently, women who may have traditionally remained silent in public spaces can share their knowledge and contribute to forest management programs. In addition to promoting the right to govern, women’s participation in decision making is vital – and a precondition – to securing other economic, civic and social rights.

IMG_5511 (2)

“In the past, women had no chance to participate in village development activities. After participating in training and awareness raising programs about gender mainstreaming by RECOFTC, women like me have become members of the community forest user group and decision makers in the community forest management committee,” confirms Daw Hlwe Kwee (CFUG member from Chin State)

Through the realization of women’s inherent right to participate in the governance of communal land, CF provides women with the ability to acquire additional access to resources. Equity of resources is important to the economic right of securing one’s own livelihood and contributing to one’s community.

Fostering income generation and economic rights through community forestry

Acknowledging and respecting local knowledge, wisdom and practices in resources extraction and preservation are vital to ensure the sustainable management of forests. In Myanmar, people have long practiced shifting cultivation. Combining these traditional land use practices with modern approaches can lead to effective and efficient forest management systems. For instance, in Chin State, cultivation of elephant foot yam – a traditional crop – on fallow land in agroforestry systems has increased cash income for local communities. By restoring community access to forests, CF provides the opportunity to engage in traditional farming practices, and facilitates opportunities to secure a sustainable livelihood. In securing this important right, CF helps enable further social and economic progress.

“We not only have a community forest certificate,” reports U Naing Shein (CFMC member, Par-Kon’s CF, Chin State), “but we have also finished natural forest conservation activities (silvicultural practices) for this year. So, we can see that valuable tree species have regrown in our community forest. I can say that local people can improve their forests and life by establishing a community forest.”

IMG_4129 (2)

In Myanmar, it is clear that through community forestry local people have been able to  secure community land rights, promote women’s rights, and foster income generating activities. Community forestry is both environmentally sustainable and facilitates the advancement of universal human rights.

Knowledge is power: protecting forests with carbon assessments and open data

Kerry Woodward – RECOFTC

Carbon assessments in Northern Thailand have proved instrumental to communities advocating for the protection of their forests. Communities in Chiang Khong district have been under pressure to capitulate to the incursions of a planned Special Economic Zone that would cover their community forest.

IMG_0276 (wide)

While the forest was full of resources and culturally significant to people living in and around it, the community struggled to articulate the value of their forest in terms that would be understood to outsiders. “[Communities could] only see the traditional value of the forest in terms of the medicinal plants or wood that can be used, we can now highlight the value to people outside of the community”, says Sayan Khanmueng from Living River Association (LRA).

Policy implementers should have a complete picture of the value of natural resources and landscapes to local people if they want to implement policy that offers beneficial outcomes for all the stakeholders in forested landscapes.

As outsiders, it may be difficult for external agencies to appreciate the diversity of economic and cultural benefits that communities derive from forests. This is certainly understandable and warrants a new approach to community engagement on forests and the benefits they offer.

Forest ecosystems provide services for people on both local and global scales. The most commonly recognized ecosystem service is the role that forests play in carbon sequestration, with REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) as an international mechanism designed by the international community intended to maintain and enhance this service.

New tools such as Global Forest Watch and SERVIR-Mekong’s EcoDash, allow for greater appreciation of forests and biomass. While these open source tools provide global and regional insights into forest resources and services, they do not always lead to local empowerment.

IMG_0301 (wide)

RECOFTC has been working with communities in Chiang Khong District in an effort to help communities highlight the value of forests to policy makers and external agencies, and to empower communities with scientific knowledge of their forests. The aim of this capacity development is not to undermine national level carbon accounting or monitoring, but rather to empower local communities to understand carbon within the context of broader natural resource management (NRM).

So far RECOFTC has trained eight villages on measuring the carbon content of their trees. The method involved measuring the circumference of trees and then inputting the data into software which calculated the carbon content of their forests.

The information was used in three ways. Firstly, it was used for internal awareness raising about the potential value of the communities’ forests beyond the immediate livelihood products – wood, mushrooms, fruit. The forests have value in terms of carbon sequestration, and potentially offer economic value in carbon credits. Secondly, the information has been fed into the communities’ natural resource management plans. Finally, the information was used to negotiate with local authorities to protect the forest from becoming a Special Economic Zone (SEZ).

_MG_0212 (wide)

Sayan Khanmueng confirms that “the data has been used for public awareness, we can show how much carbon is stored, and we can show the value of trees in terms of how much oxygen they produce.”

The experience in the Ing Watershed highlights the power of knowledge and the open data movement. The community now understands the importance of forest mapping, inventories and scientific knowledge in advocating for forest protection and for the maintenance of community livelihoods. Moreover, the information they have collected in the process has already had beneficial impacts for the community in serving as a negotiation tool and in informing natural resource management plans.

 

Supporting local communities to secure land rights

Jonas Dahlstrom, Lok Mani Sapota and David Ganz – RECOFTC

Over half of the world’s land area is managed through customary, community-based tenure systems by local and indigenous communities that depend on these lands for their livelihoods. However, only 10% of the arable land is formally recognized as being owned by these communities. In addition, there is minimal recognition of the women that make up 43% of the global labour force for agricultural systems. Land ownership is central to providing food, income and savings for the future of women, local communities and Indigenous Peoples; yet, it is rarely equitably allocated or managed. Land security is also fundamental in stimulating investment and growth, particularly when trying to prevent land-grabbing and forced migration.

There is a gap between customarily held and formalized tenure of land which is undermining local, national, and global efforts to reduce poverty, deforestation, and food insecurity. Bridging this gap and recognizing the importance of land tenure is also needed to tackle climate change and gender injustice.

A recent conference in Stockholm brought together 300 people from around 60 countries to discuss: Reducing inequality in a turbulent world: scaling-up strategies to secure indigenous, community, and women’s land rights. The conference, hosted by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) and its partners, highlighted that many countries face similar constraints to formalizing and securing the land rights of local and Indigenous Peoples. Scholars, including those gathered at the conference, have often suggested that these issues could be overcome through increased participation and better engagement among stakeholders to develop inclusive and mutually beneficial partnerships with local and indigenous communities.

20171004_071911.jpg

Summarized in an RRI video, the conference set out strategies to understand the barriers that must be overcome to help secure land rights for communities and the power of convening a multi-stakeholder dialogue. The land rights movement is vital for identifying potential roles that stakeholders, particularly the private sector, can adopt in supporting local and Indigenous Peoples.

Two of the barriers identified are:

  1. Inadequate legal and regulatory framework (including women’s or Indigenous Peoples’ right to own land); and
  2. Limited capacity among stakeholders for effective collaboration (derived from social and gender injustices, and a lack of political will among government authorities and legal knowledge among communities).

Stakeholder involvement and collaboration have been identified as integral components to formalizing land rights. So what role can the various stakeholders play in ensuring that the voices of local and Indigenous Peoples are actually heard, and that they contribute to recognizing customary land rights?

Governments are key institutions in recognizing customary land rights. Governments, through facilitating development of appropriate policy, law and regulatory means, should ensure that communities have legal documentation and can enjoy clear rights and control of natural resources. More investment is needed in the capacity development of relevant agencies and the skills of their officials. Moreover, government actors should educate communities of their rights and encourage the private sector to follow relevant standards.

The private sector has emerged as a change agent in addressing land tenure issues and inclusive growth. Most notably by recognizing communities’ rights to land, including them in production chains, and providing jobs. Many private sector actors are portrayed negatively in the media for failing to acknowledge community land rights, risking their reputation and potentially incurring financial losses. A response for private sector actors should be to develop strategies consistent with international land standards and community needs through intensified communication with local and Indigenous Peoples. An increasing number of private sector actors are becoming aware that improved socio-economic conditions in communities can have positive business impacts. The private sector should also push governments for policy changes that are amenable to land rights justice.

Civil society can be instrumental in supporting governments to overcome capacity and resource gaps in ensuring community land rights. For instance, through working with government to overcome barriers in engaging with communities. Additionally, civil society can pressure policy makers by communicating land rights issues at national or even international levels, and disseminate knowledge to local and Indigenous Peoples about their rights. Civil society organizations should lead partnerships with governments and the private sector to develop sensitive and inclusive strategies for marginalized communities to obtain adequate support and fair internal distribution of benefits.

To scale up partnerships among civil society and the private sector, academia, researchers and practitioners should support other stakeholders by analyzing and highlighting successful examples of long-term business-civil society partnerships, such as the benefits of improved land rights to broader development goals. Communities are often unaware of their resources and land rights and are can be excluded from decision making processes. Still, communities should never be seen as passive bystanders. Through active participation in multi stakeholder dialogue they can work towards getting government, private sector and civil society to support their demands for land rights, and in turn, secure their livelihoods.

Supporting communities to secure land rights

Finally, the government, private sector and, in some instances, civil society would benefit from an improved understanding of communities and a forum to discuss recognizing customary land rights in an open and transparent manner. At the next Community Forestry Forum, RECOFTC- The Center for People and Forest and its partners (like RRI and those at the Stockholm conference) will facilitate a neutral gathering that promotes active listening between these various parties.

Active listening is essential to moving past traditional stereotypes of government, private sector, and non-government and civil society organizations. A safe environment for dialogue must be created for these parties to speak about how to move ahead with securing land tenure rights and opportunities to recognize customary, community-based tenure systems. Each participant has to feel that every other participant is acting openly and honestly in the dialogue, with the intention of truly understanding one another. Only in this way can trust between participants be built and a more just land rights system be realized.

The importance of outreach and conservation awareness for Protected Area management

Md. Shams Uddin, Manager-Landscape Planning, Ecosystems and Biodiversity, USAID Climate-Resilient Ecosystems and Biodiversity (CREL) project, Winrock International, Bangladesh.

The Protected Areas (PAs) of Bangladesh are the most biodiversity rich areas of the country.  Sadly, they are threatened by a range of pressures including land encroachment, illegal and excessive extraction of forest products and a lack of funding for management and enforcement. This is exacerbated by the steadily increasing human population living in and around the PAs and their increased demand for forest products and services.

People-centered forest management approaches have been sponsored by the Bangladesh government to meet increased demand for forest products, conserve biodiversity and maintain ecosystem services. These approaches have included community forestry, social forestry and engaging communities in the co-management of protected areas.

Protected Area (wide)

Protected area – Bangladesh

While these approaches have made progress, a greater focus on outreach and conservation awareness that builds on and integrates into these efforts has the potential to further reduce threats to biodiversity in protected areas. Outreach and conservation awareness could target and engage rural populations living in and around PAs to build positive attitudes and behaviors to reduce threats to biodiversity.

Awareness initiatives use a variety of media directed at community leaders, forest resource users, students and government partners. They create opportunities to engage a diversity of stakeholders in jointly improving the understanding of the importance of biodiversity, develop positive attitudes for conservation and initiate action towards sustainable solutions for biodiversity conservation.

Government and non-government organizations have successfully engaged in outreach and conservation initiatives including: tree plantation campaigns; celebrating globally recognized biodiversity days (e.g. World Environment Day, World Forest Day, World Wildlife Day); organizing conservation awareness campaigns in schools; supporting interactive and popular theatre (drama, songs); sponsoring forest visit programs for journalists, youth, and students; and writing and publishing biodiversity related stories targeting radio, newspapers and TV. The use of social media such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram for scaling outreach is only just beginning to be capitalized upon.

Mangrove restoration (wide)

Mangrove restoration site

To achieve sustainable conservation of biodiversity in PAs, a program that integrates outreach and awareness initiatives into mainstream protected area management is needed. In achieving this goal, it is important to establish a unit within the Forest Department that is integrated into the existing PA Management Unit with funding for adequate staffing. A key initiative overseen by this new unit would be the establishment of working groups in Forest Divisions comprised of the FD, the District Cultural Officer, the Education Officer and the Cultural Group representative. The working group would be tasked with reaching a consensus on the priority threats for their specific protected areas and designing effective outreach and conservation awareness activities that target key stakeholders in the PA to include students, women, youth, religious leaders, local elites, potential political leaders, business associations, clubs, social issue associations, community members and local journalists. Importantly, such outreach and conservation awareness programs must be coordinated with local government departments, civil society and non-government organizations (NGOs) to raise awareness of and support for wildlife and forest management rules and acts.   

Co-management committee meeting (wide)

Co-management committee meeting

It is important to work with local communities to raise awareness of biodiversity issues, and to ensure that local people are at the forefront of conservation. Local communities are often most impacted by environmental degradation, have a significant stake in maintaining healthy landscapes, and have cultural and economic ties with forests.

By working with communities and with a dedicated Outreach and Conservation Awareness Unit under the overall leadership of the FD, biodiversity conservation efforts could be strongly enhanced to achieve national goals for sustainable biodiversity conservation.

Contact: msuddin.shams@gmail.com

Landscape approach: Lessons from the Ing Watershed in Thailand

Jonas Dahlstrom & Binod Chapagain, RECOFTC

Taking a landscape approach in implementing activities is central to RECOFTC’s upcoming strategic plan. A landscape approach focuses on stakeholders at a scale that is small enough to maintain a degree of manageability, whilst simultaneously operating in a context large enough to be able to deliver multiple outcomes to stakeholders with different interests. The approach emphasises the interdependence of natural resources, people and communities. All natural resources impact each other and their use is interconnected with existing social and economic systems.

The logic of landscape programming is that program staff and partners should always consider the impact of their activities on the broader landscape. For instance, a project aimed at improving social benefits through growing a particular plant in a community should consider the ways in which this activity might impact the wider social, financial and ecological systems (no matter what the actual goal of the activity might be). As no system stands alone in a globalized world, RECOFTC believes that taking a landscape approach is the way to proceed to ensure lasting improvements in human well being and healthy forests.

In fact, RECOTFC’s approach aims to build lasting relationships with all stakeholders and achieve a common vision for what that landscape should look like and provide in terms of services and products.

Ing river (wide)

The Ing River

This blog reflects the lessons from conversations with several stakeholders, including local communities, civil society organizations, fishery department, royal forest department, and the chamber of commerce in the Ing Watershed in Northern Thailand earlier this year.

Our first lesson from the trip was that the objectives of all stakeholders have to be considered to accurately understand social and environmental impacts in a landscape. From an academic angle, it is important to understand the ambitions of all actors when measuring a landscape’s (or community’s) ability to adapt to climate change. Without knowing all players’ intentions it is difficult to make future predictions about environmental or social impacts. Furthermore, from a social angle communities will be best off when local and external stakeholders collaborate for mutual benefits, such as income generation and sustainable resource management.

The second lesson, as shared by community representatives, was about the younger generations’ contributions to bring changes in forest management with the help of technology, specifically through social media. The youth in one community have contributed to an improved online system to store, manage and benefit from data for various natural resources. They also developed connections with young people who migrated from their villages to towns and cities to gain their support in information management. The youth in the community were able to build a new informal network and connect with other communities and forest department officials. These new avenues of information sharing have led to new opportunities for local people to understand the diverse resources in their landscape, as well as increasing youth involvement and leadership in sustainable natural resource management processes.

The third lesson was that improved management of landscape resources by local communities contributes to reforestation, rehabilitation of original species, and ecological restoration. Reforestation and the protection of wetlands has helped local people to deal with climate change impacts, such as preventing flash floods, which used to occur when their resources were depleted.

Boonrueng Wetland24 (wide)

Ban Boonreung wetlands in the Ing Watershed

It was also clear that local people alone cannot manage the landscape where multiple actors have interests. Effective and sustainable landscape management requires mobilization of the migrant population; collaboration with multiple actors; use of information technology to share and learn; and importantly, long-term sustainable landscape planning with funding commitments from government, private sector and funding agencies. The need to consider multiple actors interests is also important if we are to avoid the more destructive elements that  economic policies can have on environmental and social issues.

In managing ecosystems local people hold the key to effective landscape management and healthy landscape resources (e.g., water, forests and land). Their participation is crucial to build long-term solutions and prevent potential conflicts over resources. In fact, environmental and social issues cannot be addressed without the informed participation of multiple actors, including local women, men and youths and their access to relevant information. In the Ing Watershed, youth demonstrated their ability to organize and disseminate information, which was a catalyst to establishing connections between local communities, broader civil society and government. The Ing Watershed experience shows that informed participation has ultimately benefited the landscape, resources, environment and people living in the area.  

Boonrueng Wetland13 (wide)

RECOFTC staff together with local community in Ban Boonreung

Read more on RECOFTC in the Ing Watershed:
https://www.recoftc.org/press-releases/civil-society-groups-gather-ing-watershed-forum-world-water-day

For Thai speakers

More on RECOFTC’s work in the Ing River can be found here:  https://www.recoftc.org/project/%E0%B9%82%E0%B8%84%E0%B8%A3%E0%B8%87%E0%B8%81%E0%B8%B2%E0%B8%A3%E0%B8%AD%E0%B8%99%E0%B8%B8%E0%B8%A3%E0%B8%B1%E0%B8%81%E0%B8%A9%E0%B9%8C%E0%B8%A5%E0%B8%B8%E0%B9%88%E0%B8%A1%E0%B8%99%E0%B9%89%E0%B8%B3%E0%B8%AD%E0%B8%B4%E0%B8%87

A video on the Ing River can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oj9L0AZPwxs

How can we assess the rights and benefits of forest-dependent people in new holistic ways?

by Jonas Dahlstrom, Programme Officer, RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests

The livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people in the Asia-Pacific region are dependent upon forest resources. Their livelihoods are strongly linked with how they interact with forest resources and other stakeholders in managing forests. However, tools to assess the rights and benefits of forest-dependent people are somewhat limited.

drying paper mulberry bark (Phonxiong Wanneng)Local communities’ involvement in forest management is viewed in various ways; one widely used theoretical term for this is ‘community forestry’ (CF). It refers to ‘initiatives, science, policies, institutions and processes that are intended to increase the role of local people in governing and managing forest resources’. The argument goes that the more local people are aware of and are protected by rights, the higher is the likeliness that their way of living will contribute to healthy forests. In other words, local people hold the key to sustainable forest management. [1]

Current examples of CF assessment tools include A framework to assess extent and effectiveness of community based forestry (FAO, 2015)[2] and Criteria and indicators of sustainability in community managed forest landscapes (CIFOR, 2000)[3]. RECOFTC aims to build on these by developing a more holistic CF assessment framework that looks at forests from angles that include availability of natural resources, tenure rights, governance, participation, adaptive management and how to meet local needs.

In Southeast Asia community forestry is reported to have great potential and positive impacts in reducing deforestation and poverty, providing significant economic, environmental and social benefits from landscape to national levels.[4] This is important as countries around the world strive to achieve the  sustainable development goals (SDGs), particularly in reducing poverty (SDG 1), food security (SDG 2), achieving gender equality (SDG 5) and the protection of forests and biodiversity (SDG 15).[5]

MG_4644

However, because of different cultures, types of landscapes and financial situations in Southeast Asian countries, there have been difficulties to share lessons on when community forests work, and when they do not. To tackle this challenge, RECOFTC is developing a manual that outlines practical ways to analyze community forestry at the local level. By doing so we hope to support governments, communities and civil society organizations, or whomever has an interest in understanding CF.

This work is meant to help forest officers and local communities develop ideas of how different community forests can be improved and be able to link to broader development agendas such as the SDGs. The manual builds on RECOFTC’s long experience in CF and includes themes such as rights, benefits and livelihoods.

You can support us! Are you a researcher, local community member, forester, NGO worker or someone with experience in community forestry? We need your help to explain what is needed for a community forest to reach its full potential to make our manual as relevant as possible. You can support us in many ways. For instance, by explaining what you consider are the keys for community forests to be successful in supporting local people’s needs;  helping us to test our work; or  offering general suggestions related to what a manual like this could look like in order to be easy to read and easy to use.  Please email your comments to jonas.dahlstrom@recoftc.org

For more information on RECOFTC trainings and training manuals, see www.recoftc.org/training

[1] The data includes 62 countries across all regions as reported by Gilmour, D. (2016). Forty years of community based forestry: A review of its extent and effectiveness. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. FAO Forestry Paper 176.

See also: RECOFTC. 2014. Current status of social forestry in climate change mitigation and adaptation in the ASEAN region: Situational analysis 2013. Bangkok, RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests

[2] Gilmour, D et al. 2015. A framework to assess extent and effectiveness of Community Based Forestry (CBF). Forest and Agriculture organisation (FAO)

 [3] Ritchie, B, McDougall, C. Haggith, M. Burford de Oliveira, N. 2000. Criteria and indicators of sustainability in community managed forest landscapes. Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

 [4] RECOFTC, 2016. Current status of social forestry in climate change mitigation and adaptation in the ASEAN region: Situational analysis 2016. Bangkok, RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests (in press)

[5] For detail see RECOFTC (2013). Community forestry in Asia and the Pacific: Pathway to inclusive development. RECOFTC-The Center for People and Forests, Bangkok.

 

Multi-stakeholder engagement for natural resources management: lessons from landscape restoration in Mae Chaem, Thailand shows that collaboration is key

— Lok Mani Sapkota, Atcharaporn Daisai, Warangkana Rattanarat & Martin Greijmans, RECOFTC

Forest landscape restoration (FLR)  offers a way to restore both degraded forests as well as the surrounding degraded landscape whilst offering socio-economic benefits to people in the wider area. The Mae Chaem model in Thailand is one real-life success story that shows that FLR can contribute to solving multiple problems in the landscape, and that multi-stakeholder collaboration is the key to success.

Mae Chaem 1

Mr.Sakda Maneewong, director of public participation at RFD’s Community Forest Management Bureau, explaining the Mae Chaem FLR site to RECOFTC.

The Mae Chaem model of FLR intended to address declining agricultural productivity, environmental pollution, and deforestation. Local and higher level government agencies, civil society organizations, academic and research institutions and private sector actors all worked together with local communities to understand the problems they are faced with and to identify and implement solutions. This multi-stakeholder approach of finding a shared understanding of the problems and implementing joint interventions has already provided a number of benefits to the Mae Chaem landscape, and beyond, in just two years.

The Mae Chaem model has offered multiple livelihood benefits for the debt-laden local community, who have suffered financial losses in their previous production systems. For example, 42 families in one community had debt of 18 million baht in total. In identifying the root problem, the Mae Chaem model provided the local community with financial flexibility by freezing and refinancing loans through partnerships with local and national financial institutions, for example Bank of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives. Additionally, the model has facilitated an increase in incomes by helping local communities to gradually switch from unsustainable corn monocropping — which was reported to be in sharp decline in recent years due to the use of pesticides, soil erosion , and insufficient soil moisture to more sustainable options such as agroforestry and upland rice farming.  Furthermore, the organic rice now being produced can be consumed by local communities as well as sold at a premium in markets, unlike the corn which was used for cattle feed. With support from the private sector, local communities have been linked to markets for selling organic products , consequently minimizing the need for agricultural land for subsistence and allocating more land for forest restoration.

Mae Chaem 2

Landscape of Banthap village in Mae Chaem district. The area is mostly bare and is used for cultivation of corn after the onset of the monsoon.

In addition to strengthening food security and enhancing the livelihood of local communities, the Mae Chaem model offers environmental and social benefits. For instance, it forbids pesticide use and avoids the use of fire on agricultural land. While it may take years to see health benefits from reducing pesticide use, the cessation in the use of fire on agricultural land has already relieved tensions between local people and inhabitants of neighboring Chiang Mai — the source of this tension was haze and polluted air from burning off. Haze and air pollution have been successfully minimized through initiatives such as a policy of zero burning for 60 days during a period when the air flows from the Mae Chaem towards Chiang Mai.

Consequently, by making progress towards addressing one another’s land use and related concerns, trust among the  stakeholders involved in the Mae Chaem model has been strengthened. They have together divided land into three different categories and have developed strategies and plan to restore forests considering local communities’ need and degradation status of lands.  As part of that, in the first year they constructed terraces, build trench to retain water and planted multipurpose plant species on selected area they identified as degraded (shown on photo below). This increased trust has boosted confidence to scale up collaboration for the greater cause of restoring forested landscapes and improving local livelihoods through locally negotiated processes.

The Mae Chaem model, which is the first of its kind in Thailand, also pointed to issues and gaps that need to be addressed for scaling up and providing sustainable outcomes. Although central and provincial stakeholders were found to be supportive of the development and implementation of the model, stakeholders reported the need for more connected and flexible central government policy and harmonized working procedures among government agencies. Such flexibility and harmonization is needed to facilitate integrated planning and development, and for implementing tenure related agreements among stakeholders at the local level. Financial, technical and information resources need to be significantly increased given the large amount of ground work the stakeholders need to undertake and the capacity development required to move forward.

While it may take years to see whether, and to what extent, the Mae Chaem model of FLR will restore the degraded forest and its surrounding landscapes, the multi-stakeholder engagement that emerged in the process is encouraging. It emphasizes the necessity for local communities to have clear and secure rights to manage natural resources, as involving them in natural resource management decision-making contributes to ensuring their livelihoods are not endangered. Additionally, there is a need to create environments for local government authorities and other stakeholders to engage at the local level through supportive policy, laws and procedures. These aspects of the model are instrumental in encouraging local communities to move towards a more sustainable path of restoring the forested landscape and working with other stakeholders in managing the landscape.

Mae Chaem 3

Part of the Ban Thap landscape where land development has begun by planting multipurpose plant species, constructing terraces, and building trenches and conservation ponds for retaining water from rainfall.

Read more:

Forest landscape restoration for Asia-Pacific forests
https://www.recoftc.org/reports/forest-landscape-restoration-asia-pacific-forests

Community forestry and collaborative land management systems must do more to protect women’s rights

by Dr David Ganz, Executive Director, RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests

While there are a number of legal entitlements for women to assert their voices in forest decision-making processes, land rights advocacy groups are finding that collaborative land management systems are not yet doing enough to protect the rights of women. This message was voiced by gender experts from around the Asia and the Pacific region who met 23-24 August for a Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) meeting, hosted by RECOFTC in Bangkok, on gender and land tenure in Asia.

IMG_2330_

Despite efforts over decades to raise the bar on women’s empowerment in the natural resource management fields, a recent RRI report – Power and Potential – analyzed national laws and regulations concerning women’s rights to community forests. Of the three regions included in the study, community-specific legal frameworks provided the highest level of protection for women’s community level inheritance but the least amount of rights under national legal frameworks (recognizing women’s rights in a country’s constitution, legislation, policy, regulations and/ or contracts). This means that in the Asia-Pacific region, much more must be done to protect the rights of women. Community forestry (CF) and collaborative land management is just an entry point, and other sectors must be engaged for broader advocacy gains. Further, the voice from community forestry advocates is not yet strong enough to lead to national constitutional reforms, thus awareness-raising and broader coalitions are needed.

 
To help address this issue, RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests – is developing the capacities of a new generation of gender champions. RECOFTC’s leadership and capacity development programs are playing a transformative role in strengthening women’s active participation in civil society platforms, where women’s leadership has proven to be a valuable political voice. For example, community forestry has played an important role in enhancing leadership capacities of women in Nepal. In the recent elections in Nepal earlier this year, 22,000 representatives were directly elected to lead local municipalities. Of these, 712 are CF leaders, including 228 women CF leaders, exemplifying how capacity development of CF leaders, including women, is directly linked to leadership roles in government.

IMG_9828

This type of targeted training and capacity development has and is encouraging women to serve more effectively at the national, provincial and/or community levels, as well as in universities and key institutions where they work. By providing technical support to organizations, it will be possible to improve the capacity of these organizations to address issues related to gender inclusion and women’s empowerment, both of which will strengthen the organizations themselves. The Center is continuing to strengthen our work to promote gender inclusion and women’s empowerment through both new staffing in our gender program, as well as stronger initiatives to develop women’s leadership skills on the national, provincial and community levels.

 
These capacity development efforts will not be fully effective, however, if they are not supported by an enabling policy environment that recognizes and values women’s roles and responsibilities. To raise awareness of and advocate for gender equality and women’s empowerment on forestry, natural resource management, and climate change issues, RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests will facilitate policy analyses, dialogue and networking at the landscape, national and regional levels. Community forestry facilitates strong local and landscape level governance. The participatory decision-making that CF brings at the local level can play an important role in addressing issues of weak governance that often affect forests in the region. The Center will need strong policy analyses, dialogues and a targeted communication and knowledge management strategy to synthesize and disseminate lessons learned to ensure wider reach and impact.

IMG_9822

Participants in the recent RRI workshop also discussed the importance of collective contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. All of the participants in the workshop recognized the importance of contributing to the SDGs but also the ability to go beyond standard reporting to call for more action, better monitoring and institutional reforms beyond just the metrics. Through supporting the SDGs, our collective vision is to empower local people, especially women and marginalized groups, to be more equitably engaged in the sustainable management of forested landscapes. The Center stands ready to work with partners in and beyond its focal countries to achieve the SDGs on gender equity and women’s empowerment in the natural resource management fields so that our local partners may address issues related to gender inclusion and women’s empowerment, both of which will strengthen organizations themselves.

For information on RECOFTC’s work on gender, see: https://www.recoftc.org/basic-page/social-inclusion-and-gender-equity

 

Meeting ASEAN’s social forestry targets: How far have we come on meeting the ‘social’ dimensions of social forestry?

by Binod Chapagain and Tian Lin

Since 2012, RECOFTC and the ASEAN Working Group on Social Forestry conducted three studies that analyzed government data on the status of social forestry in Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam. This blog explores the findings of the three studies to understand the social achievements of national social forestry targets.

Overall, the good news is that governments in the region have made much progress in increasing the number of hectares under social forestry. This means that now, more than ever, more forest area in Asia is managed by local people who possess official community forestry agreements. While this is good news, it’s important to understand what this means in terms of enhancing the well-being and livelihoods of local people.

Upon examining the data, we found a lack of information on the ‘social’ dimensions of social forestry on the national level. Social forestry, also known as community forestry (CF) or community-based forest (CBF) management, is defined in various ways. Principally, definitions of social forestry revolve around the bundle of rights (tenure) of local and indigenous people over forest resources [1]. RECOFTC, as the pioneer social forestry organization in the Asia and the Pacific region, defines it in a broad sense as “…all aspects, initiatives, sciences, policies, institutions and processes that are intended to increase the role of local people in governing and managing forest resources.” Community forestry includes but is not limited to the informal, customary managed land as well as formal, legally-recognized land in a forest landscape. This type of management is intended to provide social, economic and environmental benefits to primary rights holders.

While customary social forestry practices in the ASEAN region have roots in ancient times, formal social forestry has been practiced for the past 30 years. Overall, in terms of meeting national social forestry targets, most countries in the region have progressed at a slow pace. This pace must be accelerated in order to meet the targets countries have set for themselves [2]. The total target for the region is slightly over 20 million hectares [3]. Except for Viet Nam, none of the ASEAN countries have reached 50% of their target. Cambodia and Myanmar are still below 15% of their targets, whereas Thailand and the Philippines are close to reaching 50%. The goal for the Philippines was set for 2008, however, the government of the Philippines has yet to set a new end date. In the ASEAN region, only 10 million hectares (about 4%) of forests are under social forestry out of the total officially designated forest land of 245 million hectares [4]. The status of social forestry by country against the national targets is presented in Figure 1.

2017 Infographic_N_F_03

Figure 1: The status of social forestry by country against the national targets

Figure 2 shows the pace of change in the number of community forests over the last six years. Social forestry area in the region has grown by 3.4 million hectares in six years, between 2010 and 2016 [5]. On average, the growth of social forestry is slightly more than half a million hectares per year in the region.

2017 Infographic_N_F_02

Figure 2: The pace of change in the number of community forests over the last six years

Social forestry, by name, links people to the management of forest land. However, collection of data on land under community management is not systematic. Some countries, including Cambodia and Myanmar, keep records of the number of households involved in social forestry processes, but many other ASEAN countries do not have a system to record this information. RECOFTC has tracked families who are living in rural areas of ASEAN countries and found that about 312 million people, or about 54% of the total population, have close associations with forest resources for their livelihoods. However, the irony is that they have legitimate access to only 4% of the forest resources.

Furthermore, RECOFTC has projected the number of local families who are involved in CF through the use of indirect indicators [6]. Based on estimated figures, RECOFTC finds that that the total number of forest user group members have increased while per capita CF area has decreased. In RECOFTC focal countries, the area of CF has increased by 5.3%, whereas the number of families involved in CF has increased by 17% between 2013 and 2016 [7].

Although social forestry potentially can contribute multiple benefits to society, the pace for bringing these benefits about is slow. Moreover, existing data on social forestry only records forest cover in terms of hectares. The role of social forestry in terms of providing social and economic benefits to people — such as enhancing livelihoods and wellbeing of local communities – needs to be more systematically collected in all ASEAN countries.

RECOFTC studies have found that social forestry has been instrumental to empowering women and marginalized people to develop their leadership capacity. It has also provided employment to local people through the development of enterprises and contributed to their income through supply of timber and non-timber forest products and agro-forestry activities. Anecdotal evidence suggests that these all have the ability to contribute to gender equity and reduce hunger and poverty. Furthermore, community-based forest management has helped increase forest areas in some countries, contributing to carbon sinks as well as climate change adaptation. These are also key areas of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Social forestry can demonstrate their contribution to SDG targets if ASEAN governments improve their record keeping and reporting on socio-economic aspects of forests. However, some preliminary analysis suggests that the social forest per capita has decreased over the period, and this may also reduce the possibilities of nurturing people and environment by the nature.

This blog is developed based on the findings presented in Social Forestry and Climate Change in the ASEAN region: Situational Analysis 2016. The report will be launched at the upcoming 7th ASEAN Working Group on Social Forestry conference, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 12-14 June 2017.

For more information on the ASEAN-Swiss Partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change project, see: https://www.recoftc.org/project/asfcc

Endnotes:

[1] Greijmans et al. (2015). Building blocks for viable community forestry enterprises: Community Forestry Principles. RECOFTC, Bangkok, Thailand.

[2] RECOFTC (2017). Social forestry and climate change in the ASEAN region: Situational analysis 2016. RECOFTC, Bangkok, Thailand.

[3] The target year for Cambodia is 2029; Indonesia 2014; Myanmar 2030; The Philippines 2008; Thailand 2025; and Viet Nam 2020.

[4] This blog does not include the figures from Brunei Darussalam and Singapore as they do not have official social forestry program.

[5] RECOFTC (2017). Social forestry and climate change in the ASEAN region: Situational analysis 2016. RECOFTC, Bangkok, Thailand.

[6] The projection is made for Thailand, Indonesia and Viet Nam

[7] Data from internal RECOFTC records for Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Viet Nam, and Thailand.

%d bloggers like this: