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.


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


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).


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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:

For Thai speakers

More on RECOFTC’s work in the Ing River can be found here:

A video on the Ing River can be found here:

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]


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

For more information on RECOFTC trainings and training manuals, see

[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

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.


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.


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.


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:


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:


[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.

To keep our coasts, coastal communities must benefit from sustainable enterprises

By David Ganz, Chandra Silori and Maung Maung Than

Three quarters of the world’s population living in coastal zones are in Asia[i]. These coastal communities are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, as a consequence of the dynamic economic growth being experienced in Asia that is driving a dramatic loss of biodiversity. Mangrove ecosystems – and the diversity of life they encompass – are critical for a healthy, safe and prosperous natural and social heritage. So how can mangroves be sustainably  managed, and what is the role of coastal communities themselves?   

Successfully tackling the challenges facing mangroves and coastal communities must be undertaken using a holistic approach. RECOFTC takes such an approach by testing, advocating and providing evidence of how community-based natural resource management can provide sustainable solutions for balancing human, social and economic well-being of coastal ecosystems. RECOFTC’s expertise on community forestry includes integrated coastal resource management, partnering with local communities and organizations like Mangroves for the Future (MFF).

Recently RECOFTC and partners had the privilege of awarding 18 Community Forestry certificates to 18 villages in Gwa township, Rakhine State, Myanmar. This was part of a three-year project funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Myanmar to scale up community forestry in Myanmar. RECOFTC was accompanied by the Ambassador of Norway to Myanmar, Tonne Tines, Myanmar’s Deputy Director General of Forestry, U Kyaw Kyaw Lwin and the Country Director of The Nature Conservancy (and former Executive Director of RECOFTC), Tint Lwin Thaung. Just a month earlier, RECOFTC similarly had the honor of hosting the Ambassadors of Sweden and Switzerland, Staffan Herrström and Ivo Sieber, and a representative of the Norwegian Embassy, Chatri Moonstan, to visit the coastal communities of Pred Nai, Trat Province in eastern Thailand. These coastal communities have all benefited from over 20 years of support from RECOFTC and MFF.

CF Area location map , Gwa , Rakhine AKN

As a result of the Scaling Up Community Forestry in Myanmar (SuComFor) project, RECOFTC and partners awarded community forestry certificates to 18 local community villages in Gwa township, Rakhine State, Myanmar.

Over the years, RECOFTC has been fortunate to work with MFF and have come to learn and respect the challenges of mangrove restoration and coastal resource conservation. While MFF and RECOFTC continue to invest in local participatory approaches to integrated coastal management, we are often reminded of sustainability concerns of projects, policy reform and regional coastal management initiatives. For both of the sites that we visited in Myanmar and in Thailand, success can be tempered by the increasing need for additional resources, namely donor-led initiatives. Now more than ever, there is an increasing focus on sustainable community enterprise development.

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing and outdoor

RECOFTC and partners continues to invest in local participatory approaches to integrated coastal management, but now more than ever there must be an increased focus on sustainable community enterprise development.

In Thailand, the communities of Ban Pred Nai and Ban Tha Ra Nae in Trat Province have begun to tap into the local eco-tourism market. While these communities have pursued grants to develop mangrove walkways through the community-managed coastal areas, they continue to seek outside support for their community-led conservation and development programs to restore large areas of heavily degraded mangrove forests and set up rules and procedures to effectively manage natural resources within the larger landscape. In order to bridge the gap, these communities are looking to learn from the Marriott-inspired turtle conservation program in Mao Khao Beach, where each tourist is asked to contribute to a development fund upon checking out of their resort. The same could be pursued with the communities of Ban Pred Nai and Ban Tha Ra Nae and several large resort enterprises that have started to work with youth as local eco-tourism guides to escort tourists through the community-managed coastal areas.

In Myanmar, the communities of Long Kyo, Gwa township, Rakhine State, are in a very precarious situation. Road building and encroachment continues to threaten coastal areas and in particular a rare form of mangroves that are stunted in their growth and resemble bonsai trees. Now that local communities have been awarded CF certificates, these communities are in a better position to address threats. There is an expectation that a sustainable tourism enterprise can bring in much-needed resources to maintain the coastal resources for future generations. Despite being supported by the Rakhine Coastal Regional Conservation Association, these communities need additional support for developing economic solutions and building local partnerships with other economic development interests to help protect the mangrove and coastal resources. These communities, which have developed 30-year forest management plans (a requirement to obtain their CF certificates), are now bolstered in their ability to negotiate with outside investors or to develop sustainable community-led small scale enterprise that values the forests, rivers, wetlands and coastal resources.

Image may contain: tree, plant, outdoor and nature

The coasts of Gwa township, Myanmar, are home to a rare form of dwarf mangroves that  resemble bonsai trees.

Image may contain: 7 people, child, outdoor and nature

Now that communities have community forest certificates, local people are in a better position to participate in sustainable small scale enterprises as long as enabling conditions are met.

In each of these cases, the prevailing paradigm for RECOFTC and its partners is to promote integrated coastal management and private sector solutions which recognize that communities must have ownership the business and the businesses’ impact on their coastal resources. That is, these private sector solutions must have arrangements for communities to manage coastal resources that are built on a shared understanding between the community, local government and private sector.  There are a series of enabling factors that allow these critical elements of integrated coastal resource management to develop. These are:

  • The community has the capacity to make implementable decisions that reflect their objectives.
  • The community derives benefits from the integrated coastal resource management.
  • There are both an internal capability and external conditions for communities to make meaningful inputs into decisions on how coastal resources are to be managed.

Ultimately, these conditions must be met for sustainable community-led small scale enterprises to succeed. If outside investors are going to have entry points then they must focus on the community’s capacity to make decisions and give meaningful input into how eco-tourism or any other private sector solution is tested as a business case for sustainable community enterprise development. Organizations like RECOFTC and its regional partner MFF will continue to assist in these private sector solutions. While RECOFTC and its partners are well positioned to continue to build the community’s capacity to make these decisions and negotiate with the private sector, sooner or later, it will be very important for local institutions like the Rakhine Coastal Regional Conservation Association and the Good Governance for Social Development and the Environment Institute (GSEI) to step into this critical capacity building role.

For more information, see:

Embassy of Norway’s coverage of Scaling Up Community Forestry in Myanmar

Ambassador of Sweden Staffan Herrström’s blog on community forestry in Pred Nai, Thailand (in Swedish)

RECOFTC’s country program in Myanmar (in Myanmar-language)

RECOFTC’s award-winning video of Pred Nai communities in Thailand (in Thai and English)

ScandAsia’s coverage of  Ambassador’s visit to Pred Nai, Thailand

RECOFTC’s coverage of Ambassadors’ visit to Pred Nai, Thailand

[i] IUCN

Advancing the rights of local people: How REDD+ can continue to foster open and honest dialogues about natural assets to better manage forested landscapes

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

22 April is Earth Day! To celebrate the occasion, RECOFTC Executive Director Dr David Ganz makes the case that now more than ever we must continue to work to empower local people to effectively engage in mechanisms like REDD+ and other forms of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) to better manage their forested landscapes.

I am often asked where I stand on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation or REDD+. As RECOFTC’s new Executive Director, I am also asked where the organization stands on REDD+. For those who do not understand this issue, let me briefly explain.

In the early days of REDD+, advocates of community forestry viewed it as a new way to compensate forest users for the opportunity costs of foregoing deforestation and degradation and incentivize more “climate-friendly” livelihood options, such as sustainable small-scale forest enterprises and climate smart agriculture. Protecting rights, including livelihoods, became a major concern in REDD+ policy, e.g., as reflected in the ‘‘safeguards” adopted at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP16) in Cancun, Mexico in 2010.

However,  more than a decade after the REDD+ concept was proposed, direct payments to forest communities remain rare, while concerns about safeguarding livelihoods are increasing. The argument stands that while REDD+ has been very useful for changing the public discourse on conservation and the way national policy-makers view natural assets, the flow of investments, incentives and/or co-benefits has not made it down to the village level. Initially, REDD+ was viewed as a way to compensate actors for foregoing income-generating activities that involve deforestation and degradation. Therefore, we should have seen more smallholders and communities compensated for (or benefiting from) their opportunity costs of changing behavior and practices or development of other metrics that capture the co-benefits that REDD+ aspires to achieve.

While working with The Nature Conservancy, I had the chance to conduct research with Professor Kathleen Lawlor.  We analyzed the initial outcomes of REDD+ projects that systematically reported their socio-economic dimensions. We conjectured that REDD+ projects could affect local well-being by:

“(1) creating  (or  blocking)  material  opportunities  for  wealth  creation  and  well-being,  such  as  jobs, revenue streams, infrastructure, and improved educational conditions;

(2) enhancing  (or  weakening)  populations’  security,  including  tenure  security,  food  security, livelihood security, and adaptability to climate change; and

(3) facilitating  (or  preventing)  the  empowerment  of  individuals  and  communities  to  participate  in decisions affecting local land-use and development. “


Eucalyptus felling in Srakaew, Thailand.

These are the underlying issues that face RECOFTC, which is committed to empowering local people to effectively engage in mechanisms like REDD+ and other forms of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) to better manage their forested landscapes. While RECOFTC works on advancing the agenda for local people to have a strong voice in climate mitigation and adaptation, there is still a perception that the social and environmental safeguards are not yet aligned with REDD+, the Green Climate Fund and more broadly, green growth finance. This is far from the case. In my humble opinion, the timing is right for even more investment in climate mitigation, REDD+ and PES, especially from the private sector.

Like other sustainable forest management initiatives, REDD+ suffers from the inability to transform government organizations and institutions into having stronger governance structures, rules, regulations and enforcement. RECOFTC remains committed to working with both state and non-state actors on climate change mitigation through improved forest conditions and improved forest governance. We have, and must, continue to remain active on issues like REDD+,  and now with donor support, we are working closely with Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreements and these government-led dialogues to hear and incorporate “local voices” for more equitable decision-making processes that strengthen forest governance in the region.

Ahleichaung CF Rakhine explaining iron wood management3

Local community members in Ahleichaung community forest in Rakine, Myanmar discuss iron wood management.

Lastly, RECOFTC also must view its engagement with REDD+ with a “no regrets” mindset — just as many countries and donors have begun to do.  Overall, the investments into these approaches and initiatives  are helping to transform the forestry sector into one that takes into account the intersection with agriculture and other land uses — a more holistic landscape approach for the Agriculture Forestry and Land Use sector. REDD+ investments have been instrumental for forestry to take on this larger perspective, as well as to update and upgrade critical infrastructure like National Forest Monitoring Systems or set up National Spatial Data Infrastructure for initiatives like One Map in Indonesia and Myanmar. In many REDD+ countries, this investment has led to the development of robust, repeatable forested landscape inventories, sometimes including ancestral rights and land tenure systems. These investments have helped create open, honest dialogue about a country’s natural assets, how they are managed and, more importantly, how local rights are allocated and/or strengthened.

Now, when people ask me whether I believe we should continue working on REDD+ and FLEGT, I can honestly answer, “Yes I do…. as it can continue to foster the spirit of community engagement in forest governance and management”.

Forests and energy: How can biomass energy benefit local communities?

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

The potential benefits of improved biomass energy production and use are massive. But for biomass energy to be sustainable, it must be managed responsibly. Dedicated efforts are needed to reach and incorporate the needs of the least powerful stakeholders, in order to ensure that this segment of society benefits.

Just last Tuesday, I had the privilege of opening the RECOFTC, FAO and UNEP 4th annual student debate on forests and energy on the International Day of Forests. During my opening address, I shared some of my insights from when I worked as an expert consultant on biomass energy and as a Director of Forest Carbon Science with The Nature Conservancy.idf

I listened intently while the students had a spirited debate on the pros and cons of using forests for biomass energy, including its contributions to reducing poverty. Over the years, I have been fortunate to be a co-author on a number of papers and book chapters dealing directly with this topic. A number of studies have pointed out that each forest context is very different. Thus the sustainable sourcing of forest biomass for energy generation and climate mitigation needs to consider the growth patterns, transportation and full life cycle of the wood to energy process.

Overall, however, the potential benefits of improved biomass energy production and use are massive. Biomass energy can provide a source of light, so a student in a poor household can study after dark. Biomass can be converted to electricity to run water pumps providing clean water. This same electricity can also increase information flows from radio, television, and cell phones. More efficient use of biomass energy can result in improved health by reducing indoor air pollution.

But for biomass energy to be sustainable, it must be managed responsibly and unfortunately the reality is that it is rarely as well managed as we would like it to be. Over use of biomass resources can compromise biodiversity and it can harm the poor because they are the ones most heavily dependent on biomass energy. Poor households can suffer from significant negative health impacts from the misuse of biomass energy. Based upon the student debates that I heard last week, there has been little progress in meeting the challenges of capitalizing on the opportunities presented by biomass energy.

As the new Executive Director of RECOFTC- The Center for People and Forests, we are also debating what our role should be toward advancing community forestry within the food-water-energy nexus in the Asia and the Pacific region. This includes where and how participatory approaches can improve co-management models in each part of the nexus. We must consider how this shift in fuel use could make a huge difference in the quality of life and economic prospects of Asia and the Pacific nations by helping the poor access safer cooking fuels, electric power, and power for transport and running machinery.

Compared with traditional burning of fossil fuels, burning biomass for energy may have  greenhouse gas (GHG) benefits. However, at RECOFTC, we are predominately concerned with the societal benefits and the opportunity to raise the voices of local people on how forest biomass resources are managed and utilized.

forAs one of the students took the time to explain during his debating stance, there also needs to be particular attention paid to gender issues in biomass energy projects. Women and children are often the collectors of biomass resources, as such a biomass project can have significant unintended negative impacts on the resource collectors. Moreover, the most economically marginal households in many communities are often those headed by females.

Changing how biomass energy sources are used and managed can have detrimental impacts on the most vulnerable in a community. Dedicated efforts are needed to reach and incorporate the needs of the least powerful stakeholders, in order to ensure that this segment of society benefits as well. RECOFTC, with its emphasis on social inclusion and gender, practices a rights-based approach that can be extended to the biomass energy field. This approach ensures that there are equitable returns for resource collectors, upon whom the burden of forest biomass collection rests. This also extends to equitable access to investment (especially micro-finance opportunities) and participation in decision-making processes.

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, from the need for countries that are exporting energy to its neighbors to those developing micro-scale distributed energy projects aimed at sustainability and poverty alleviation at the village level. Ultimately, we are all interested in energy-poverty alleviation approaches that will provide tangible benefits locally without degrading the resource base. This is one debate that I will enjoy entering into for many years to come.

For information on RECOFTC’s work on forest biomass energy, see

Indonesia can deliver on its social forestry targets with participation of sub-national actors

by Yosef Arihadi,  Indonesia Country Program Coordinator, RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests

The Indonesian government is moving further away from achieving CF targets, according to an article on, which highlights Indonesia’s CF budget cuts in 2017 to nearly half of its 2015’s budget. RECOFTC’s Indonesia Country Program Coordinator, Yosef Arihadi, offers another perspective, arguing that as long as people and communities are at the center of development, there is hope.


Two years (2014-2016) have passed since the creation of the now Ministry of Environment and Forestry, during which time there has been a two-year freeze from any expansion in Indonesia’s social forestlands.  During this time, the ministry aimed to streamline forestry bureaucracy and simplify policies and procedures for more efficient delivery of social forestry licenses.

The (central) government budget cut for social forestry into half of that compared to 2015 may seem like it is counterproductive toward achieving its social forestry target of 12.7 million hectares in 2020. However, there is still great opportunity for the forester Indonesian president to deliver on social forestry targets.

Implementation of the national target is moving down to provincial-level governments, where autonomy often lies and where more budget from the provincial sources must be allocated to support and achieve targets in each province. Likewise, donors, the private sector and CSOs can be more effective working with governments at sub-national levels, and develop more piloting with communities in the forests, and share and learn within forestry working groups to improve achievements toward social forestry targets.

Decades of top-down forestry sector decision-making from the central-level to the forest farmer level has ended, as it is clearer now that social forestry is not about forests but about people and their livelihoods, social and cultural needs and beyond. Forestry programs must have long-term development plans that are owned by local people and with finances to and from local sources at village, district and provincial levels. Decision-making must include participation from the provincial and below levels, with people and communities always at the center of development.

On 30 December 2016, Indonesia’s President Jokowi announced legalization of nine customary forests in Jambi, North Sumatra, and West Java provinces, totaling 13,100 hectares. Central and South Sulawesi provinces have also made good progress toward recognizing the customary forest initiatives developed in districts and provinces. For example, the first step of mapping 8.1 million hectares of customary forests (out of a total 12.7 million hectares allocated for community forests under the Jokowi presidency) has already been achieved.

The legalization of the nine customary forests is a result of planned processes from communities and legislators at the district and provincial levels.  This included a series of discussions resulting in drafts and agreed policies for Governor’s Decrees or Provincial Regulations on recognition of Customary Forests. These bottom up processes arising from the community level were able to happen after the landmark Constitutional Court ruling.

Constitutional Court ruling no 35/2012 – which excluded customary forest from state forest – still has a way to go toward becoming more effective.  At the same time, other policy changes also occurred between 2012 and 2016, related with decentralization and local governance. Decentralization law No 32/2004 was replaced by law No 23/2014, which switched locus of local decision-making from district to provincial level. The legalization of customary forest under this new law is in the hands of governors through provincial regulation or governor’s decree.

From 2012 to 2016, after the constitutional court ruling, no single customary forest legalization was made for Indigenous Peoples. The transformation of the Ministry of Forestry into Ministry of Environment and Forestry, which took place during 2014 – 2016,  was the cause of the temporary halt in progression of social forestry models (Hutan Desa, Hutan Kemasyarakatan and HutanTanaman Rakyat).  With the new decentralization law, a lot of work still must be done to effectively formalize customary tenure in forests. Pressures on president Jokowi must continue to ensure effective implementation of central policy to achieve the 12.7 million ha social forestry target through adequate actions and resource allocation from provincial governments.. Initiatives from CSOs to map and document customary forests, and at the same time assist provincial parliament to draft provincial regulations, are essential.

We know social forestry cannot be achieved instantly, but there is great hope that we will reach Indonesia’s social forestry target as long as we continue to ensure that forest decision-making includes participation from the provincial and below levels, with people and communities always at the center of development.

Learn more about RECOFTC’s work in Indonesia: 

How can FLEGT truly address illegal logging?

David Gritten, RECOFTC Senior Programme Officer, discusses how FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) provides a great opportunity to address illegal logging IF it is based on strengthening the rights of local communities.

My grandparents used to have a stuffed alligator that stood on a teakwood stand beside the gas fire in their living room. As a child I never thought anything of it, never asking where it came from. It is the same about so many of the things in our homes. We never think to ask: where did they come from? who made them? who benefited from their purchase? and who may have suffered in the process? These questions are particularly important for goods coming from tropical countries, including the Asia-Pacific region. This is especially the case for tropical wood products – with many coming from unknown and often from illegal sources.

Knowing the source of the wood products in your home is important because:

DSC_0382Millions of people rely on forests for their livelihoods. According to the World Bank, more than 1.6 billion people around the world depend to varying degrees on forests for their livelihoods. In the Asia-Pacific region this number is estimated to be between 481-579 million. Considering 70 percent of the region’s poor live in rural areas, this is significant.

Illegal logging is a massive problem and destroys the lives of many forest dependent people. In Indonesia it is been estimated that roughly 60 percent of all logging is illegal, in Lao PDR and Papua New Guinea rates are as high as 80 percent and 70 percent respectively.

Thankfully, numerous initiatives are trying to address the blight of illegal logging. One initiative is the European Union’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan. The Action Plan aims to reduce illegal logging by strengthening the sustainability and legality of forest management, improving forest governance and promoting trade in legally produced timber.

The Action Plan has two main pillars:

  1. The FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) which is an agreement between the European Union and a timber exporting country to ensure that an effective system is in place to ensure that only legal timber products are imported into the EU.
  2. The  EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) requires timber importers and traders within the EU to take appropriate steps to ensure legal supply chains.

RECOFTC, along with many of its partners (governmental and non-governmental), recognises that FLEGT-VPA can provide benefits on many levels beyond addressing illegal logging. Positive dimensions are highlighted in a recent review of the effectiveness of the FLEGT Action Plan initiated by the European Commission and coordinated by the FLEGT Facility of the European Forestry Institute. The evaluation finds the Action Plan is a relevant and innovative response to the challenge of illegal logging and has improved forest governance in all target countries.

RECOFTC works on FLEGT-VPA projects in four (Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam) of its target countries. For example, in Cambodia and Thailand RECOFTC, with FAO support, is working to create an environment where those doing the illegal logging, those affected by it and those trying to control it are able to discuss ways to stop it in an effective way that, that does not penalise local communities. One key area is through providing capacity development to civil society organisations to support effective participation in VPA processes. In Myanmar, RECOFTC, also with FAO support, works with International Alert to develop the capacity of key stakeholders, particularly government staff to manage forest conflicts in a sustainable manner. FLEGT provides a window of opportunity for efforts such as these. Governments and companies realise that Europe will no longer be a market for timber products if they cannot prove the legality of these products. They also realise that to do this, they need to strengthen forest governance.

The starting point of RECOFTC’s work in this area, as with all our work, is that any efforts to achieve sustainable forest management in the region must be based on recognising and promoting the rights of forest communities, including smallholders. This comes from the basic understanding that local communities know the forest best, depend on the forest the most, are the most effective forest managers and most importantly, have rights to their forests. The VPA process provides a great opportunity to address illegal logging if it is based on strengthening the rights of local communities. However, if it marginalises these rights, as many initiatives in the past have, then it will be surely doomed to fail, and will result in continued devastation for forests and forest communities throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

For more information on RECOFTC’s FLEGT-VPA projects, visit

Community forestry and joint mitigation and adaptation: bridging old and new with a tool from Nepal

By drawing on simple tools and existing institutions, practitioners can design projects that both mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. One simple tool, known as the community forestry-based climate change adaptation (CF-CCA) framework, was developed by RECOFTC in Nepal.

Until quite recently, climate change observers were concerned with the potential tradeoffs between mitigation and adaptation. They were often wary that discussions on adaptation would derail mitigation efforts. However, given the growing urgency of the climate change problem this discourse has changed. Now, more than ever, adaptation is gaining traction in global climate change discussions. In the recently established Paris Agreement, adaptation is understood as on par with mitigation.

The two responses to climate change – mitigation and adaptation – have been understood in distinct silos. Mitigation, one the one hand, has referred to efforts to limit the amount of greenhouse gases in th (3)In addition, a growing emphasis is being placed on breaking down the silos that divide mitigation and adaptation and finding synergies between the two. This is perhaps clearest in Article 5 of the Paris Agreement, which promotes the concept of Joint Mitigation and Adaptation (JMA). JMA advocates for the integral and sustainable management of forests to simultaneously sequester carbon and adapt to climate impacts.

However, for many with experience in community forestry in Nepal, the concept of JMA doesn’t sound so new. It could be argued that JMA has been practiced for quite some time across the country’s 18,900 formally recognized Community Forestry User Groups (CFUG). In fact, research shows that community forestry in Nepal has already generated a carbon stock of more than 180 million tons over 1.6 million hectares (WRI, 2014). And given that about one third of the country’s total population has been directly affected by the institution of community forestry(Ojha et al. 2009), it is safe to say that it has played a strong role in influencing local adaptive capacity.jma-cf-cca_block_2

So, to facilitate JMA in the context of community forestry in Nepal, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Rather, we need to provide simple tools that build on the resources embedded within existing institutions and ensure that benefits accrue to most marginalized populations. To realize that goal, RECOFTC has developed a framework that enables CFUG members to lead initiatives that address both climate and non-climate vulnerabilities in the context of integrated forested landscapes.

Known as the community forestry-based climate change adaptation (CF-CCA) framework, this three-part guide enables practitioners to assess local climate vulnerability, evaluate potential climate change adaptation interventions, and implement adaptation projects. It provides tools to consider the ways in which climate change impacts interact across sectors, and it places the poor, disadvantaged ethnic and caste groups, and women at the center of all of its activities.

Screen Shot 2559-06-27 at 10.41.54 AM

RECOFTC’s most recent practitioner’s brief walks through the CF-CCA framework, and provides detailed explanations in order to facilitate its implementation on the ground. In addition, we provide important insights into how the framework was developed in Nepal, and best practices and lessons learned from the piloting process.
We believe that this framework can contribute to JMA both within and outside of Nepal, given its emphasis on sustainable forest management, maintaining ecosystem services, and building adaptive capacity. But, for that to be possible, communities must have strong rights to their forests and a voice in deliberative and democratic climate change decision-making processes.

For more information on RECOFTC’s community forestry-based climate change adaptation framework, click here:

For more information on the Paris Agreement, click here:

For more information on RECOFTC’s recent training on JMA, click here:


Stevens, C., R. Winterbottom, J. Springer, and K. Reytar. 2014. Securing Rights, Combating Climate Change: How Strengthening Community Forest Rights Mitigates Climate Change. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute. Accessible at

Ojha, H., L. Persha, A. Chhatre. 2009. Community Forestry in Nepal: A Policy Innovation for Local Livelihoods. Washington, DC:  International Food Policy Research Institute.


People and mangroves – towards a changing future in the Ayeyarwady Delta

Mélanie Feurer, RECOFTC Myanmar intern from 2014-2015, makes the case on why mangroves are vital for coastal communities in adapting to climate change. Her internship was part of her master’s thesis at the Bern University of Applied Sciences, School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences HAFL. Ms. Feurer is set to defend her thesis on 12th August 2016 in HAFL.

“The mangroves sustain us. We need to find ways to protect them so that they can protect us. Not only do we depend on them, but so will our children in the future,” U Hla Thein said the last time we met as I was coming towards the end of my fieldwork. He is a community forest (CF) chairman in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Delta – where the devastating storm surge from Cyclone Nargis killed many thousands of people, and destroyed infrastructure, properties and the livelihoods of many in 2008. One reason for the destructive impact of the Cyclone was the loss of mangroves along the coast. However, since 1999, the initiation of various mangrove restoration programs coupled with community forestry (CF) have helped the communities of the Ayeyarwady Delta to benefit from the mangrove products, as well as potentially reduce the impacts of future storms in the area.

Working as an intern at RECOFTC’s Myanmar Country Program office, I had the opportunity to closely observe the interactions between the people and their mangrove forests, and learn from them. What struck me the most was the seamless integration of people’s daily lives with the mangrove ecosystem. From the houses built mostly with materials from the mangrove forest to the fuelwood it provides – the proof was overwhelming.

Household producing dani sheets in Oke Pho Kwin Chaung village

Household producing dani sheets in Oke Pho Kwin Chaung village

War Kone villagers drawing changes in natural resources

War Kone villagers drawing changes in natural resources

Nowadays while fuelwood is mainly used for household consumption, mangroves provide other vital livelihood sources – mainly crabs or dani leaves (Nypa fruticans) which the villagers collect daily to sell at a local market. Mangrove products are also part of their daily diet — providing a range of vegetables and fruits as well as protein sources in fish, shrimp, crab and snails, which are all used in delicious local curries.

Sorting crab according to size for trade

Sorting crab according to size for trade

But like many areas in the world, the Ayeyarwady Delta and its local inhabitants are at risk of climatic changes. Temperature increase, irregular rainfall patterns and sea level rise have already manifested their increasingly negative effects on agriculture, particularly in rice production in the Delta. Adapting to these changes is a must for the 6.2 million people living in the Ayeyarwady Region, especially for the most exposed communities along the coast who depend on the mangroves for their daily needs.

Here are some benefits that make mangroves key for local communities in adapting to climate change:

Mangroves represent a resilient ecosystem. Mangrove trees are resilient because of their ability to restore their functions after disturbances. Mangroves can also stabilize sandbanks and prevent erosion. Well-preserved mangrove stands can build an important buffer along the coastline and in the estuaries, minimizing the impact of wind and storm surge. In Myanmar, it is believed that mangrove deforestation and forest degradation in the past contributed to the devastating impact of cyclone Nargis in 2008.

Mangroves along the estuary

Mangroves along the estuary

Mangrove forests provide major contributions to local livelihoods. In the study area, 25 percent of the total income is from mangroves. The main product is crab (80%), followed by timber, fuelwood and dani. Income from these products is especially important for community members ranked as very poor because they derive 34 percent of their income from the mangroves – with potential extra earnings of as much as US$3 per day from selling crabs. Dani thatching (used as house-building material), can also bring daily extra earnings for women. These incomes are on par with the daily labor rates of US$2 – US$3. However, labor opportunities are low in the region.

Girls preparing dani sheets for their livelihood

Girls preparing dani sheets for their livelihood

CF member showing me a caught crab

Community Forest Management Committee member showing me a caught crab

Studies suggest that forests are more sustainable when managed by local communities. In the Delta, I have learnt to understand the importance of mangroves for the local people and have seen their concern about illegal logging and forest degradation. Because of the local people’s long-term interest in maintaining and managing the mangrove ecosystem, they will protect their forests given the right tools and support. Therefore, commitment for sustainable forest management paired with clear rights and alternative income opportunities is an effective way to ensure lasting forest resources and services.

Taking measurments in a mangrove plantation

Taking measurments in a mangrove plantation

CF mapping in War Kone village

Community Forestry mapping in War Kone village

Local communities need mangroves not only in times of natural disasters, but more so in their daily lives. To ensure long-term benefits, we need the commitment of all stakeholders and stronger policies that will support the communities in protecting their forests from illegal logging and other disturbances causing degradation in the still young mangroves. We need to value the mangrove forests both for their products and their protective functions — and more importantly, for the people whose lives are harmoniously intertwined with them.

To achieve the SDGs, listen to the voices of the forest

David Gritten, RECOFTC Senior Programme Officer, makes the case on how it is imperative to listen to those who know the forest best – local communities living in and around forests – to achieve the SDGs.

“The strongest voice is the one based on truth” so my (Yoda like*) grandmother once told me. Well, my grandmother would have heard the voice of Ms. Yuliatin, a 29 year-old preacher, from the village of Jember, Indonesia, loud and clear thousands of kilometers away in Scotland as Ms. Yuliatin requested the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission to hear her voice, and the voice of her fellow villagers.

At RECOFTC, we advocate for strengthening the voices of those living in and around the forests. This is based on the simple understanding that they know the forest best, depend on the forest the most, have proven to be the most effective forest managers and most importantly, have rights to their forests. This is why we feel it vital these voices are heard.

The recently concluded Asia-Pacific Forestry Week (APFW), organised by FAO and DENR in the Philippines, brought together over 1300 people (mainly government officials, and NGO staff) to discuss the challenges facing forests in the region and share stories of success. At the event, RECOFTC together with the ASEAN Social Forestry Network (ASFN) organized a series of sessions on the topic of “Serving society: forestry and people”,  focusing  on the recently launched Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Stream included sessions covering areas of how community forestry can support achieving the SDGs.

During  the APFW, each of the organisers had the opportunity to share their  findings and a single recommendation with the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission (APFC). It was a great opportunity to encourage the Commission to support community forestry.

Enter Yuliatin, a participant in RECOFTC’s regional project on Grassroots Capacity Building for REDD+. Speaking in Indonesian language, with only powerpoint slides  translating her message, she more than captivated the Commission members. Her story is one that is felt by millions in the region – the importance of forests for her village, her family and for her. She expressed her desire for people throughout the region to understand this, to hear her voice and to hear the voice of her fellow villagers. She  wants people to understand the insecurity that she and the rest of the village feel about threats to their forests, including  threats driven by the lack of clarity in the tenure and rights they currently have for their forests.   

Looking at the SDGs, one can  see how  community forestry can help us achieve all the Goals, not only only Goal 15, which focuses on ecosystems. Hearing the voices of Yuliatin, of those living in and around the forests, is vital if we are going to achieve the SDGs.  Listening to Yuliatin’s story and heeding the call of those living in and around forested areas is critical to the achievement of the SDGs. After all it is they who hold the knowledge to sustainably manage forest resources and just as importantly the desire to do so.

*She isn’t small and green and talked backwards, it was more that is she is all knowing like all grandmothers.

%d bloggers like this: