Thai Experts Push for Forest and Land Tenure Policy Reforms

Attendees at RECOFTC’s first Policy Dialogue on Forest and Land Tenure Review and Reform agreed on the urgent need for policy reforms to ensure fair and sustainable management of shared natural resources.

Photos and story by Estelle Srivijittakar

Agencies and organizations present social, environmental and economic implications related to current policies

Agencies and organizations present social, environmental and economic implications related to current policies

Thailand is facing pressing challenges related to natural resources and climate change, and balancing national and local benefits of conservation activities along with coordination of local and government efforts are major priorities. These issues, discussed in last year’s National Seminar, were echoed in RECOFTC’s first Policy Dialogue on Forest and Land Tenure Review and Reform held in Bangkok from 20 – 22 March, 2012, which brought together representatives from government agencies, civil society, academia, and forest communities. Coinciding with World Forest Day and RECOFTC’s 25th Anniversary, the platform was an opportunity for a group of specialists in natural resource management and human rights to gather with community forestry networks in a ‘think tank,’ deliberating on cutting-edge issues, projects, and ideas for improved natural resource policies.

On the first day, 30 leading NGO figures gathered to share experiences and best practices with other leaders in their field. The representatives presented on current government policies in land, water, forests, biodiversity, agriculture, mining, and fishing and their social, economic, and environmental implications in Thailand. They sought to identify overlapping interests, issues, and incentives for reform in each issue area and determine shared goals in advocating for appropriate policy changes. By the early afternoon, participants had agreed that fair and sustainable management of shared natural resources was at the heart of needed reforms.

More specifically, they highlighted the need for local self-management, clearer agreements between government and communities, policies that support existing cultural and ecological traditions, a system for community property, and more checks and balances to ensure fair benefits.

Attendees from the NGO session carried over their topics and discussion into the second day of dialogues, where they were joined by community forest networks and policy makers. On the policy side, the Royal Forest Department, Department of National Parks – Wildlife and Plants, Land Reform Office, and the Office of Natural Resource and Environmental Planning were in attendance to help establish a strategic plan. The discussion included five guest speakers from civil society, academia, and community forestry networks, who provided inspiring examples of fair and sustainable management of shared natural resources in Thailand.

Of interest were regulations within active communities; traditions and rituals that enhance the management of resources; community funds for natural resource management; the development of institutions and organizations that support these practices; and most importantly, how proactive community work has matured into prosperity for both environment and community.

Finally, the third day focused on the role community forestry networks can play in reforming national forest and land tenure policies. Representatives from the nine networks reached a recurrent consensus: The strength of the local-level network is instrumental in providing a model of sustainable natural resource management for the nation. Prepared for the hard work, these local leaders firmly believe that achieving local change is crucial in building the nation’s confidence and capacity in sharing natural resources.

Members of the Eastern Community Forest Network discuss which previous regional and local activities to share with other networks

Members of the Eastern Five Provinces Community Forest Network discuss which previous regional and local activities to share with other networks

To trigger change at the local level, leaders will need to assess the capacity building needs of their communities. The networks discussed various initiatives, including participatory research on mangrove restoration and on climate change adaptation, as well as youth camps, as potential activities and shared lessons learned. Based on these discussions, participants created a concrete road map for activities in the coming year both at the community and network level.  The dialogue ended with an agreement among the networks to address ‘core strategic development’ for each community in a follow-up dialogue.

While this first set of dialogues did not foster a conclusive solution for policy reform, it did provoke emotional and intellectual dialogue essential for building alliance and solutions.  This platform provided the building blocks for envisioning a future, crafting a plan to get there, and carrying it out.  These leaders – local, regional, and national – noted that a goal like propelling forest and land policies forward will take years to develop and advocate, and are ready to put in that hard work.

Click here for a list of participating NGOs, academia, policy makers, and community forestry networks

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