Supporting Participatory Forest Management: RECOFTC hosts Regional Model Forest Network-Asia Board Meeting

Lena Buell, RECOFTC Assistant Communications Officer, writes on RECOFTC’s support for the Regional Model Forest Network- Asia board meeting, held in Bangkok October 4-5 2011. Based partly on an interview conducted with IMFN Secretariat Executive Director Peter Besseau.

Managing and maintaining a vibrant forest ecosystem requires the strengths and insights of a diverse group of people. The Regional Model Forests Network-Asia (RMFN-Asia) is a branch of an international network seeking to bring more voices into forest management—and recently collaborated with RECOFTC to sharpen the network’s strategic vision and deepen its ability to support Model Forests around the region.

The RMFN-Asia is part of the International Model Forests Network (IMFN), established by the government of Canada in the 1990s after a spate of forest-related conflicts there involving environmentalists, governments, indigenous peoples, communities and forest workers. The government piloted what it called ‘Model Forests’ throughout the country, forming partnerships between different user groups to work together to create an approach, or model, of sustainable forest management that made sense within the specific features and circumstances of a given landscape.

While the “model” responds to local needs and values, all model forests share a set of six defining principles that all Model Forests share, whether in Indonesia, Canada, or Cameroon. These principles give the network coherence and provide the foundation for networking among members all around the world.
What is a Model Forest? Model Forests are based on an approach that combines the social, cultural and economic needs of local communities with the long-term sustainability of large landscapes in which forests are an important feature. They are voluntary initiatives linking forestry, research, agriculture, mining, recreation, and other values and interests within a given landscape. Model Forests are as much about the people who sustain themselves from the forest as they are about trees and forest products—they’re a fully working landscape of forests, farms, protected areas, rivers and towns.
Peter Besseau is the Executive Director of the International Secretariat, and has been working with the International Model Forests Network (IMFN) since 1994. Peter sat down with me to discuss his work during a break in the RMFN-Asia’s early October board meeting, hosted by RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests. Clearly excited by his work, he spoke with enthusiasm about the history of the network and where he sees it going next. “We speak very strongly to the social science aspect of sustainability, which historically has been a gap,” Peter says. “The tough thing is how people understand the demands they place on ecosystems and the tradeoffs in the choices they make. That’s something we do in a very direct way, so we fill an important niche.”

Crafting a roadmap for the future

The Regional Model Forests Network – Asia was founded in 1998 with funding from the government of Japan through FAO, and with technical support from the IMFN Secretariat. In 2005, the Network called on RECOFTC to help develop a strategic plan to guide the organization over the next several years. RECOFTC and RMFN-Asia had worked together before, with RECOFTC supporting  the Ngao Model Forest in collaboration with the Royal Forest Department of Thailand and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment since 1998. The resulting Plan featured six focal areas that would form a roadmap for the Network moving forward:

•    Exploring ecological goods and services provided by forests;
•    Promoting poverty alleviation and food security;
•    Enhancing forest cover and biodiversity conservation;
•    Ensuring water security;
•    Improving governance and law enforcement for sustainable forest management; and
•    Assessing climate change vulnerability and facilitating community adaptation

Unfortunately, the network has lacked sufficient resources so far to implement its new objectives. Interested to explore ways to broaden available resources, the Network planned a board meeting for October, 2011 to discuss potential collaborative fundraising opportunities. On the top of the list was the idea of Payments for Environmental Services (PES), so the IMFN approached RECOFTC for training and facilitation.

Supporting the Network through training and facilitation

Peter turned to RECOFTC because “it has great people skills, convening power, facilitation skills, knowledge of the region, and knowledge of forest issues,” he says. “RECOFTC has their finger on the pulse of a lot of issues that are important to Model Forests.”

RECOFTC Senior Program Officer, Toon De Bruyn, led participants from China, the Philippines, India, Thailand, Costa Rica, and Canada in a PES workshop exploring its income potential for Model Forests throughout the region in the years ahead. The idea was that the Model Forests could use the resources at their disposal – the environmental services provided by their forestland – to generate income to support the sustainability of their organization in the long term. Since financial support for Model Forest sites is primarily the responsibility of stakeholders, developing sustainable income chains through PES might help ensure that poorer model forests maintain the same momentum and vibrancy as those with more significant donor investment.

The next day, the PES training participants shared their newfound knowledge at the RMFN-Asia board meeting. Peter observed participants discussing ideas for stronger collaboration on a number of different ideas, including forest restoration and PES.  While there are obvious differences between the forests—the Asia Regional Network is made up of eight forests in six different countries—the network members strongly supported more regional collaboration and the need for regular exchange and communication.

The main outcome of the workshop was an outline for a project proposal to strengthen regional cooperation on forest restoration, to be submitted to APFNet. In addition, RECOFTC and the RMFN-Asia are discussing possible avenues for collaboration between our two organizations during implementation of the proposed project, as well as further strengthening of the network as a whole.

Peter sees great potential for future collaboration and cooperation between RECOFTC and the International Model Forests Network. There is a certain synergy that exists between the work of our two organizations, each striving to support the human side of forest management, that sets a strong foundation to work together again.

For more information about RECOFTC’s work in community forestry, forest livelihoods (including PES), and facilitation services, visit our website.

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