REDD+, So Long as “the Poor Sell Cheap”

Jacob Phelps, National University of Singapore, discusses his recent research on the costs of REDD+ in the context of increasing opportunity costs among small-scale and subsistence farmers.

There are a number of reasons why REDD+ forest carbon has received such widespread attention. Perhaps the least romantic reason…

Low-cost REDD+REDD+ is cheap (at least on the surface).

There are strong economic arguments for implementing REDD+. Forest conservation and sustainable management are potentially large-scale, arguably low-cost strategies for reducing greenhouse gases to mitigate climate change. Low agricultural yields, geographic isolation and widespread poverty in many tropical developing countries often mean that small incentives can motivate governments and individual landholders to protect land for conservation.

Financing a large-scale REDD+ mechanism may depend on these comparatively low costs, driven by efforts to find lowest-cost emissions reductions. This potentially places subsistence farmers, smallholders, and community forestry groups at the center of REDD+ initiatives, particularly where they are willing to “sell cheap.”

Swidden agriculture, northern Vietnam (Courtesy A. Ziegler, 1998)

Swidden agriculture, northern Vietnam (Courtesy A. Ziegler, 1998)

But the poor won’t sell cheap forever.

In a recent study, my co-authors and I considered the costs of REDD+ in the context of increasing opportunity costs among small-scale and subsistence farmers.  We used the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as an example for considering how costs among smallholder farmers can change over time.  The trends we uncovered are particularly relevant in the context of the current Asian agricultural boom.

Cassava farming, DRC (Courtesy Ollivier Girard, CIFOR, 2012)

Cassava farming, DRC (Courtesy Ollivier Girard, CIFOR, 2012)

Our analysis confirmed that many small holders in the DRC would potentially be willing to participate in conservation given very small incentives.  Indeed, many subsistence farmers in the DRC suffer from low farm yields, low incomes, and high food insecurity, similar to smallholder and subsistence farmers across much of the developing tropics.

At the same time, however, many smallholder farming communities in the DRC are being targeted for agricultural support.  As in many other developing countries, farm yields could radically improve with the introduction of new disease-resistant plant varieties, increased fertilizer use, and improved transportation and market access.  This support could bring dramatic, necessary benefits to local farmers.

“Hidden” costs of REDD+

However, increasing farm yields would also increase the costs of conservation.

Farmers who were once willing to protect forests for a pittance could begin to demand more for their conservation actions. Small-scale farmers might also be displaced by immigrants and larger commercial agriculture as farming becomes more lucrative in areas that were previously less productive and/or isolated from markets.

Based on our scenarios of agricultural improvements among small farmers in DRC, we modeled that conservation costs could increase 8-20 fold within 30 years. While these were hypothetical scenarios, they illustrated how, as farmers’ costs increase, so too must REDD+ payments.

While our focus was on the Congo Basin, the findings are easily reflected and magnified in the Asian context. Rapid agricultural expansion and the recent boom in high-value coffee, oil palm, and rubber production mean that farmers’ opportunity costs in Asia are already increasing.

Further intensification of these high-value crops could reflect even greater increases in the costs of conservation.

Conservation spending may have to dramatically increase to compete with future agriculture.

Many conservation groups are actively linking agricultural improvement programs to conservation policies.  These are attractive because they promise win-win solutions for conservation and rural development, at least in the short-term. We suggest that these efforts may be overlooking the impacts of these policies on long-term conservation.

Will REDD+ still be attractive if costs increase in the future? Or will tropical developing countries and small-scale farmers only prove viable REDD+ and conservation partners while they sell cheap?

Linking conservation to agricultural intensification

To read more about this research, please visit:

Building Rural-Urban and Cross-generational Bridges to Discuss Climate Change, Forests, and REDD+

Project Officer Simone Frick reflects on a recent visit to Lao PDR, where RECOFTC’s Grassroots Capacity Building for REDD+ project is carrying out activities on the ground with the assistance of local CSOs. 

During a recent visit to Lao PDR, I had the opportunity to participate in a grassroots level awareness raising event initiated by RECOFTC’s Grassroots Capacity Building for REDD+ project and conducted by the Lao civil society organization PADETC (Participatory Development Training Centre).

In a first step, PADETC organized a national training event about climate change and REDD+ for 20 students. The students came from various disciplines and with different motivations. Ms. Thatsany for example explained that she is studying business management and is very interested in development issues. When she completes her studies she would like to apply her gained knowledge and skills in a social enterprise. She highlights that during the training she learned about considering different perspectives in a structured way to achieve a joint goal.

Students interviewing villagers at Nong Waeng village on the second day of the event.

Students interviewing villagers at Nong Waeng village on the second day of the event.

After participating in the student training and feeling comfortable in facilitating a similar event for secondary level students, Ms. Thatsany was selected to conduct a three day event in Bolikhamxay province, around a two hour car drive southeast from the capital Vientiane. Mr. Sommai, who studies mass media and also took part in the student training, was the other facilitator for this event.

Together they explained to 27 secondary level students, between 14 to 18 years old and all volunteers in the local children’s learning center, what the causes and impacts of climate change are, and the possible ways in which forests can help combat climate change through mitigation and adaptation initiatives. REDD+ was introduced as one such possibility. Furthermore, the students learned different interview techniques which they were able to put into practice the next day when they went to nearby Baan Nong Waeng to interview the villagers about their experiences with climate change and the role that the surrounding forests play in their lives. Finally, on the third day of the workshop the students met again to compile the information, the recorded interviews, and write summaries of what they learned from the villagers. The information from all the groups was then pulled together by the leaders of the children’s learning center and has ultimately resulted in a local radio program about climate change and the role of forests, told through the experiences and with quotes shared during the community interviews. These stories have also contributed to a video explaining the villagers’ situation.

Students compiling the information collected from the villagers in groups.

Students compiling the information collected from the villagers in groups.

One of the benefits of conducting these interviews was that different generations were able to come together to exchange knowledge. One of the questions asked during the interviews was: “What changes have you observed over the last decades in your village”? The woman being interviewed responded that there have been noticeable changes, such as in rain patterns and long, very dry periods with which the crops, especially rice, are often not able to cope. She mentions that her parents’ generation had full production, she herself has been harvesting around 80% in recent years and this year they only harvested 50% because it was too dry.

The opportunity to interact through the interviews was appreciated by interviewers and interviewees, younger and older generations alike. Reflecting on her exchange with the volunteer, the woman says “Through this interview we have learned again to discuss these issues. Now the older people also learn from the younger generation.”

Compiling the information collected from the villagers in plenum from the different groups.

Compiling the information collected from the villagers in plenum from the different groups.

The 15 year old student on the other hand says “It was very helpful and saddening to see the real impacts of climate change after learning about them the first day. We learned from the villagers about the difficult situations they are in and I hope we can make a change by going back and providing more information with street plays or other tools to help them improve their situation. Furthermore, several of my friends did not have the chance to participate in this training and I look forward to sharing with them what I have learned here.”

RECOFTC’s REDD+ Grassroots program is working to facilitate learning and knowledge-sharing opportunities such as this in all of our project sites in Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal, and Vietnam. To learn more about the Grassroots program, please click here.

Community Forestry: The Next Generation

Maggie Kellogg, RECOFTC’s Princeton in Asia Communications Fellow, shares highlights from a visit to a community forestry site made by key donor representatives. The community members have worked hard to develop their sustainable forest management plan so that it is reflective of their traditional beliefs, but are unsure of what the future will hold as many young people are choosing to leave the village for larger cities. 

On 7 February 2013, a group of representatives from RECOFTC’s key donors travelled together with staff members on a 3-hour journey out of Bangkok to Suphanburi province to visit the Huai Hin Dam community and their forest. The group of representatives consisted of members from JICA, Norad, Sida and SDC. The purpose of this field visit was to provide an opportunity for the donor representatives to interact directly with communities that RECOFTC has been working with over the years. It was also an opportunity for them to see the impacts of their support, as well as the challenges that still needed to be addressed. This field visit was tied together with the RECOFTC Annual Review Meeting for donor focal points that was scheduled the following day, at which representatives from the European Commission, Kasetsart University, and USAID also participated.

The visitors enjoyed touring the Huai Hin Dam community forest on a tractor-pulled wagon.

The visitors enjoyed touring the Huai Hin Dam community forest on a tractor-pulled wagon. (Photo credit: Maggie kellogg)

As the donors saw and remarked upon throughout the day, this community and their forest are unique in certain key ways. As members of the Karen ethnic minority, the Huai Hin Dam community members believe that their forest is sacred. Their deep respect for the forest and awareness of the value of natural resources translate directly into their forest management plan. As healthy forests are a priority for this community, they have been able to successfully and sustainably manage their forest, even through use of the controversial slash and burn, or swidden, method of agriculture.

The after affects of the swidden practices employed by this community can be seen not only in the charred remains, but also through the very evident fertility of the soil, in which rice, chilies, tomatoes and other nourishing plants were growing at every turn.

The after affects of the swidden practices employed by this community can be seen not only in the charred remains, but also through the very evident fertility of the soil, with rice, chilies, tomatoes and other crops growing at every turn. (Photo credit: Maggie Kellogg)

The donors took note of these unique characteristics, and demonstrated their interest in the community’s history and the steps that they have taken to reach these achievements. It has certainly entailed a great deal of hard work and perseverance, but the effort that this community has put into sustainably managing their forest has paid off and set them apart from many other communities like it. However, the Huai Hin Dam community members also face many of the same challenges that are confronting small, forest-dependent communities across the Asia-Pacific region. One of the most difficult of these challenges is the flight of young people out of the villages to larger cities.

There is a very apparent age gap in the Huai Hin Dam community, which is comprised of plenty of older and middle age adults, as well as young children, but is lacking in young adults. The older generations are understandably quite concerned with this scenario. They are unsure of the best way to preserve their culture and way of life, and to pass this along to their children.


Some of the Huai Hin Dam community members. (Photo credit: Maggie Kellogg)

When one of the donor representatives asked a member of the community women’s group who was accompanied by her young daughter about what she would like for her daughter’s future, the woman thoughtfully responded “I would like for her to stay and make use of the home we’ve built here, and to continue building the community…but she won’t be rich,” acknowledging that there were certain things and opportunities that the forest and life in the community couldn’t provide, and that ultimately, it would be up to her daughter to decide her own future.

Many young people from rural communities like Huai Hin Dam are finding the allure of cities and the promise of greater opportunities difficult to resist. And there is certainly a more traditional and less flexible lifestyle on offer in the village. One father spoke proudly about his two daughters, the younger of whom seems to always be saying, “Dad, you’re so old-fashioned.” While this is a sentiment voiced by young people – and a concern for parents – in virtually all societies around the world, this ethnic minority Thai Karen community’s way of life is particularly unique, and the need for it’s preservation particularly urgent.

It’s easy to understand how the young people in communities like Huai Hin Dam, who are connected to the outside, modern world in virtual ways, would like to be connected in more tangible ways. And it’s certainly difficult to imagine how traditional, agricultural-based, rural lifestyles could be more desirable to these young people, who are learning from a distance about the freedoms and new possibilities available in cities. However, an enthusiastic and active, if small number of young adults are returning home from sampling life outside of their home communities.

While some aspects of life in the community are more traditional, the community members are clearly very capable of adapting to and embracing change.

While some aspects of life in the community are more traditional, the community members are clearly very capable of adapting to and embracing change. (Photo credit: Maggie Kellogg)

We had the opportunity to meet one of these young people who made the decision to come back to the Huai Hin Dam community and work to preserve his community’s forest and traditions. Leeh is a member of the Young Seedlings Network, who is using the knowledge and support that he has gained through trainings and exchanges with other Young Seedlings across Thailand to encourage more young people to return to their villages and participate in community life. There are a few occasions throughout the year when most young people do return home to Huai Hin Dam, including New Years celebrations and the first annual rice planting. During these occasions, Leeh creates more engaging opportunities for the young people to get involved, including playing games to make community gatherings and meetings more fun and interactive.


Donor representatives, community members, and RECOFTC staff. (Photo credit: Maggie Kellog)

The donor representatives were very impressed with Leeh and his work through the Young Seedlings Network, as well as many other things about the Huai Hin Dam community forest. At the end of the visit, they shared their reflections and feedback with the community, expressing their appreciation for the community’s efforts and perseverance to hold true to their beliefs and incorporate sustainable practices into their forest management plan. The community was encouraged to keep up their efforts, continuing to address the challenges that remain, and be another proven example of the potential and power of community forestry.

One of the last words shared by the representatives was a reminder that all stakeholders – be they donor agencies, international organizations, civil society organizations, or communities – play critical roles and must work together cooperatively to advance community forestry and community-based natural resource management. This is very true for the younger generation of leaders as well, and it will be up to them to continue to strike the balance between ensuring sustainable forest management and adapting to emerging challenges.

RECOFTC’s Young Seedlings Network is working to connect young people like Leeh to allow them to communicate and share their knowledge and experiences to make their difficult task a little bit easier. If you are interested in learning more about the Young Seedling’s Network, please click here.  

Mainstreaming Women’s Perspectives in Policies and Practice in Climate Change and REDD+

RECOFTC’s Grassroots Capacity Building for REDD+ project team shares highlights from the recent national level expert seminar on Gender, Forestry, Climate Change and REDD+, organized jointly by RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests and the Department of Forestry, Lao PDR.

Expert Panel Discussion

Panel discussion at the expert seminar on Gender, Forestry, Climate Change and REDD+.

Despite some well documented studies on the extensive knowledge, skills, and hands-on experience of women in using and managing forests and natural resources in general, the current debate on REDD+ has yet to integrate the existing knowledge and specific forestry based needs and aspirations of women in its planning and policy processes. Unless addressed in time, this omission will have adverse consequences in the long run as the specific needs and aspirations of women will be ignored, pushing them further to the periphery, thus adding to their vulnerability and depriving them from the potential benefits of REDD+.

RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests and the Department of Forestry in Lao PDR together organized a national seminar on gender, forestry, climate change and REDD+ on February 19, 2013 in Vientiane, Lao PDR, under RECOFTC’s ongoing project “Grassroots Capacity Building for REDD+ in Asia-Pacific.” A total of 45 participants took part including government agencies and the Lao Women’s Union, environmental I/NGO’s, donors, and civil society, among others. The topic seemed to be of particular interest, and demand to participate in the workshop was high.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Khamphay Manivong, the Deputy Director General of the Department of Forestry, Lao PDR, reminded everyone of the important roles played by women in forest management and conservation given their specific knowledge and skills in Lao society. He then emphasized the need to recognize this in the promotion of gender equality in climate change and REDD+ initiatives. He also highlighted the critical importance of building the capacity of women at different levels so they can actively and effectively participate in decision-making processes.

One of the aims of the workshop was to bring everyone onto the same page about existing policies and plans to strengthen gender equality in forest management and national strategy development on REDD+ and climate change. A presentation by the Lao PDR National Focal Point for UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, helped audiences to understand this better. This was followed by presentations from different organizations sharing practical experiences and lessons learned from the field. The speakers helped to identify and gather key issues, challenges, and gaps in the inclusion of women as effective stakeholders in forest based climate change adaptation and mitigation. Having identified the challenges, delegates discussed approaches and methods to address and overcome them, for example by making use of opportunities for gender responsive capacity building initiatives at different levels, and communicating the experience widely in climate change discussions and policy processes in Lao PDR.

The second part of the workshop consisted of a detailed panel discussion with gender experts which elicited a very lively discussion and provided a great networking opportunity for different organizations. A number of potential areas for jointly working towards increased gender awareness, stronger policies, and plans in the forestry sector were identified.

To learn more about this seminar, please see the event press release. Keep an eye on this space for more information on the results of this seminar, including a forthcoming synthesis report and a policy brief.

Improving Rights and Benefits for Teak Smallholders

Martin Greijmans, SPO Livelihoods & Markets.
February 28, 2013, Houay Xai, Bokeo, Lao PDR

Teak Smallholder of Houaythongthai

Teak smallholders in Ban (village) Houaythongtai in Phaktha district, Bokeo province, Lao PDR, have been at the forefront in registering their teak lots since ForInfo initiated its regional project of innovation and information to support livelihoods.

ForInfo blog_Box 1Communities in this typical northern Lao village heavily depend on rice for their own consumption, with some surplus being traded locally. When they are in need of cash, Lao farmers are forced to sell a few cattle (see box 1) or standing teak trees to local traders. Both these types of assets serve the families as a savings account, which they can fall back on to pay for hospital bills, children’s education or small household investments [see our previous blog entry on this topic: Money can Grow on Trees: Teak Assets in Northern Laos].

Teak logs to be sold to local sawmills and traders for sawn timber production should have a minimum diameter at breast height (DBH) of 12-15 cm. Better prices however are fetched at around 25 cm DBH as stated by the farmers. Teak smallholders who are in need of immediate cash are forced to sell trees even if these have not yet fully reached DBH classes with higher value, losing the full potential earnings from their trees. Additionally, traders who buy teak trees from smallholders select the best trees, cut and remove them, often without making immediate payments to the tree owners. Thus the smallholder who is already in need of cash remains in an uncertain position.

Teak smallholders receiving the certificate from forest officials.

Teak smallholders receiving the certificate from forest officials.

ForInfo intends to support teak smallholders in delaying the sale of trees by providing them with an innovative collateral mechanism, which starts by mapping and documenting the available teak resources per smallholder, while also determining the current and future value of still developing tree stands [see our paper entitled “Local Processing of Logs to Increase Smallholder Share, Lao PDR,” on page 38 of ETFRN News 52]. Currently, 25 smallholder lots belonging to 21 households have been documented and certified by the provincial agriculture and forestry office, with another 14 applications in the process of approval. The remainder of interested teak rights holders [totaling 80] will also be served by ForInfo within the time span of the project.

Sample certificate given to teak smallholders, in Bokeo, Lao PDR.

Sample certificate given to teak smallholders, in Bokeo, Lao PDR.

However, even with the tree collateral model under development both smallholders and local government staff are of the opinion that by systematically documenting and mapping teak tree lots on smallholders’ land ForInfo has already achieved an important step towards empowering teak smallholders.

Interviews in Ban Houaythongtai with teak rights holders and district government staff reveal that the certificate issued by the provincial forestry office represents a clear right for the tree owners and is expected to enable them to make a case against traders which do not make fair and timely payments. This belief is backed by the local government, which requires solid documentation to fall back on, [the certificate representing the right holder’s formal registration of teak stands] and play the role of mediator effectively.

ForInfo blog_box 2What is happening now in Paktha is that property rights defined in the literature by Bromley (1991, p.15) as “the capacity to call upon the collective to stand behind one’s claim to a benefit stream” emphasizes the quality of the relationship between the right holder and the institution that backs the claim. The district and provincial forestry offices are keen to scale up this success to all teak villages in the district and when possible to the remainder of Bokeo province. Their willingness to invest time into this process is aligned with ForInfo’s main objective which is improving livelihoods (See Box 2).

Forest Connect: Prioritizing Scarce Resources for Facilitated Support of Small and Medium Forest Enterprises

Kathmandu, Nepal, February 12-15: RECOFTC’s Senior Program Officer for Livelihoods and Markets, Martin Greijmans, reports on the growing alliance of countries around the globe organized in a network called Forest Connect, which has devised a new mechanism to support small forest enterprises (SFEs). In its effort to ensure focus and smart use of scarce resources the alliance deliberated if further support should concentrate on sub-sectors or follow a wider landscape approach, or rather a mix?


Participants of the 3rd Forest Connect event meet the producers of Lokta paper.

Forest Connect, established in 2007 by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and IIED (International Institute for Environment and Development) is a global association of 10-15 in-country teams supporting SFEs, further supported by a network of over 900 members. This year’s conference attracted 30 individuals and institutions from 19 countries. Forest Connect also played an active role in designing the new FAO-hosted Forest and Farm Facility that aims to support groups of forest and farm producers to engage with more cross-sectoral policy processes.

Locally controlled forest enterprises (SFEs) are known to accrue wealth locally, empower local entrepreneurship, strengthen social networks, and engender local social and environmental accountability. The environmental, social, and financial sustainability with which they operate is also fundamental for the success of Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) action plans, strategies for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), and attempts to build green economies that deliver food, fuel, and construction materials to those who need them most.

In least developed countries, structures that connect with and support SFEs are weak, and have resulted in economic failure, social conflict, and degradation of forest resources on which these SFEs depend. The Forest Connect alliance addresses this lack of connectedness and helps to build social, economic and environmental sustainability amongst SFEs by connecting them to:

  • each other by strengthening associations and alliances;
  • service providers by building business capacity to access financial and business development services;
  • buyers and investors by enhancing market links and brokering fair deals; and
  • governance processes by securing commercial forest rights and incentives by shaping policies and institutions that control the broader business environment.

For this 3rd Forest Connect event – hosted by Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bio-resources (ANSAB) in Kathmandu, country teams from Nepal, Vietnam, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Mexico, DR Congo, and Brazil prepared forward-looking reports in response to increasing threats of global climate, biodiversity loss and excessive nitrogen use associated with changes in forest land use. The increasing need to secure social foundations among the poorest groups to facilitate income generation, and food and energy security for both men and women fueled some serious discussions. The Forest Connect alliance – also attended by invited forest institutions concerned with SFEs from Guatamala, Uganda, Mali, Ghana, Canada, Finland, USA, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Great Britain – strives to support SFEs in sub-sectors that are likely to deliver solutions for these multiple challenges.

SFE sub-sectors blockThe forward-looking reports confirmed the challenges which SFEs face, each responding distinctively to its social and physical context. However, no matter what prioritized sub-sectors were identified, alliance members agreed that no single sector can provide communities with guarantees to benefit all its members. In many of the identified sub-sectors, participants identified weaknesses in terms of equity, socio-economic security, and environment, indicating that overall community needs have to be addressed carefully. Consistent for most countries is the promise to commercially develop timber and bio-energy, complemented with products and services coming from coffee, rubber, and natural NTFPs. This framework confirms a key COP 18 outcome: to adhere to a landscape approach [see also Are ‘Landscapes’ the new ‘Forests’?]. For RECOFTC this fits well with its approach in putting people first. And, by ensuring that communities obtain more and guaranteed rights to forest resources, even new sub-sectors with additional benefits may become viable.


Himalayan Bio-Briquettes

Based on the country presentations, subsequent lively discussions, and a field trip to the successful Lokta paper and briquette manufacturing producer groups, Forest Connect members envisioned a renewed strategic focus to effectively support SFEs in partaking in fair and green economies. Its prioritized components are: a) linking social enterprises with SFEs; b) capacity building of SFE facilitators, and of c) emerging SFEs; d) research and documentation of effective business models; e) communication to document best practices; f) national and international advocacy to invest in SFEs; g) development of SFE models attracting climate change and carbon finance; and h) learning and/or networking events, and where possible, f) supporting the development and commercialization of bio-energy SFEs. Where appropriate, member countries will invest in (some of) these initiatives at national level, while at regional and global levels, exchanges take place to exchange and learn. In cases where additional resources are required the alliance will require to mobilize funds, especially for initiatives where effective learning and replication between members takes place.

For RECOFTC the outcome of this event is well placed showing a mix of what its strength are: capacity building, research, communication and piloting. Interestingly is that the alliance chooses to let the market – socially and environmentally inclined – decide whether a sub-sector view or a wider landscape mode is required. Both seem to be equally important to achieve a mix of social, environmental and business goals by investing in SFEs. Choosing Lokta paper and briquette business models as an example of CSR project, Nepal shows that communities can benefit from community forestry: if they have commercial access rights to resources, are well organized and managed in a transparent manner by locally elected leaders, have a common vision, are respected by local governments, have clear social equity built in their business models and clear benefit sharing mechanisms. However, it should not be underestimated that these SFEs require time to emerge and support from organizations like ANSAB to provide readiness investment before becoming economically viable.

FAO and IIED have governed the Alliance since 2007 and are inviting RECOFTC to join as the Forest Connect hub in SE Asia to coordinate learning and sharing of national and regional SFE best practices, and also to engage in building better understanding and cooperation among SFEs, private sector and policy makers. These efforts are meant to create attractive investment opportunities for socially inclined private sector both willing to invest in poverty alleviation while also financially benefiting.

Green growth in Myanmar: an emerging democracy’s vision for future development

“Change is coming to Myanmar — the Southeast Asian country formerly known as Burma — at a rapid pace. With a burgeoning influx of outside interests looking to tap into Myanmar’s newly accessible resource wealth, the government faces some challenging choices: how to achieve its stated objective of green growth, while balancing the needs of foreign investors, preserving the environment and maintaining rural development.” –  Aaron Russell, of CIFOR, reflects on Myanmar’s aspirations for ‘Green Growth’, following his attendance at the Green Economy Green Growth Forum organized by GEGG Myanmar Association on November 14, 2012 at the Myanmar International Convention Center. Click here to read more of what Aaron has to say.

RECOFTC  was one of the participants in the forum, and Dr. Tint Lwin Thaung held a well attended parallel session on ‘Forests and People for Sustainability and Equity’ for the forum.

Mangroves under Pressure: Forgotten Wetlands in the Changing Climate

Dr. Chandra Silori tells us why mangroves need to receive more attention in international climate change negotiations, laying out the many benefits provided by these “blue carbon sinks.”

Pred Nai, Trat, mangrove forest.

Mangrove forests in Pred Nai, Trat province, Thailand.. 

This was the theme of one of the side events on Forest Day 6 in Doha on December 2, 2012.  A panel of well known coastal and marine ecologists, sociologists, policy makers, and environmentalists in Doha shared their thoughts and reminded everyone present about the importance of the mangrove and other marine ecosystems in climate change mitigation and adaptation. The capacity of mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and deposit it in a reservoir is becoming increasingly recognized at the international level. Of all the biological carbon, also termed as “green carbon” captured in the world, over half (55%) is captured by marine living organisms, also known as “blue carbon.” Mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrasses form much of the earth’s blue carbon sinks. They store a comparable amount of carbon per year to that of all other plant biomass on land. Quoting the findings of a study conducted by a team of researchers from the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest and Northern research stations, University of Helsinki, and CIFOR, one of the panelists shared that per hectare mangrove forests store up to four times more carbon than most other tropical forests around the world.

Research attributes this ability of mangroves to store such large amounts of carbon, in part, to the deep organic-rich soils in which it thrives. Mangrove-sediment carbon stores were on average five times larger than those typically observed in temperate, boreal, and tropical terrestrial forests, on a per-unit-area basis. The mangrove forest’s complex root systems, which anchor the plants into underwater sediment, slow down incoming tidal waters allowing organic and inorganic material to settle into the sediment surface. Low oxygen conditions slow decay rates, resulting in much of the carbon accumulating in the soil. In fact, mangroves have more carbon in their soil alone than most tropical forests have in all their biomass and soil combined.

However, despite such a substantial role of mangroves in absorbing atmospheric carbon, all the panelists unanimously agreed that mangrove forests have yet not been given due attention in the global debate on climate change. They need much more attention in the UNFCCC climate change talks, on the level of that given to other forest ecosystems, such as terrestrial forests and peat lands. Interestingly, in a way, mangroves combine both, tropical and peat land forests together, and have the highest productivity of any forest ecosystem on earth.

Mangroves perform a variety of useful ecological, bio-physical, and socio-economic functions. They not only serve as breeding grounds for a variety of fishes and other marine fauna, but also protect the inhabitants of coastal areas during natural calamities such as storms, typhoons, and tsunamis, by serving as natural barriers. Such natural calamities are projected to increase in future due to increased anthropogenic pressures, and climatic changes. From a socio-economic point of view, mangroves provide a variety of benefits. Serving as a breeding ground for fishes and other marine fauna, they provide an income source to the local fishermen communities, while mangrove wood is used to make charcoal and also as wood fuel for cooking. Values of mangroves for honey, fodder, edible seeds, and medicinal properties have also been documented widely.

Thus mangrove forests play both, mitigation and adaption functions in the changing climate.

But unfortunately mangroves are being rapidly destroyed all over the world, at a higher rate than tropical forests. The range of anthropogenic pressures on mangroves are on a constant increase.  For example, Southeast Asia, which has 22% of the total mangrove cover in the world – the largest share amongst all the 124 countries in the world – faces severe pressure from commercial shrimp farming and charcoal making. Every year thousands of tons of shrimps are exported to the western markets. Looked at another way, this means transporting carbon to these countries, as shrimps are reared at the cost of cutting down thousands of hectares of mangroves. Due to the cutting down of mangroves, the wet soil dries up very quickly, releasing more carbon into the atmosphere, at a substantially higher rate, as mangroves have more carbon in their soils. Estimates suggest that a range of between 150 million to 1 billion tons of CO2 is emitted annually due to the destruction of mangrove forests globally. All these are important factors to consider when pushing the agenda forward to include mangroves in climate change mitigation and adaptation frameworks.

In this context, RECOFTC’s work in promoting community based conservation of mangrove forests in Pred Nai village, Trat Province on Thailand’s eastern sea board (through its Thailand Country Program) is an important intervention and contribution to promoting a participatory approach in the conservation and management of mangroves. The Thailand Country Program of RECOFTC continues to work in Pred Nai village and has recently initiated a grassroots level, community based learning center there. This network of natural resources and environmental conservation initiatives links and establishes communication between concerned units at the provincial level and community members who play a vital role toward natural resource conservation in Trat. These efforts also promote policy support for local authority decentralization, and provide technical and technological support to local officers on natural resources management planning, and strategies on strengthening community self-management. This is an important initiative to better understand the roles of mangroves in local livelihoods and also for climate change mitigation and adaptation at the local level.

Are ‘Landscapes’ the new ‘Forests’?

Regan Suzuki, program officer with RECOFTC, reports from the COP18 in Doha, Qatar.

Focusing on landscapes allows for broader, multi-sector approach.

Focusing on landscapes allows for broader, multi-sector approach.

We are witnessing a shift. Ever since 2007 when REDD+ first appeared on the table in Bali, forests have benefited from a profound image makeover. For five years now, forests have been the hero of the climate change discussions taking place everywhere from the gleaming convention halls of the UN Conference of Parties to local government offices fielding interest from the private sector and NGOs in establishing REDD+ projects. For the first time in a very long time forests have taken center stage. And yet, there are indications that the star of a stand-alone forest sector may be waning.

CIFOR’s much appreciated Forest Day, held at the last five COPs following Bali, has been a critical meeting point for many working in forestry issues. A celebration of forests: replete with incisive debates, a festival-like atmosphere and a who’s who of the forestry field. However, Forest Day 6 in Doha this year will be the last. Peter Holmgren, CIFOR’s new Director General, eloquently brings a close to an era in a blog arguing that the work needed to be done in drawing attention to forests has been a success. That at this juncture we must now move beyond our familiar sectoral domains and into the relatively uncharted territory of ‘landscapes’.

Sustainable Forest Management Requires a Multi-sectoral Approach

While perhaps without the same explicit goal of ‘coming out of the forest’, parallel moves towards fostering inter-sectoral approaches are growing in momentum. On the morning of Friday, November 30th, ODI organized a roundtable on strengthening inter-sectoral collaboration in REDD+. Participants unanimously echoed a common theme:  to protect forests, we need to think beyond them. Only when water, agriculture, mining, and other relevant sectors and industries are brought to the same table will we have a chance at stemming the drivers of deforestation. To remain within the silo of forestry will ultimately curtail the sustainable management of forests.

And yet, apple pie concepts such as improved cooperation between sectors are much easier said than done. While we may analyze at length the hurdles to such congenial collaboration, the practical logistics and even more importantly, the will to engage with competing sectors may prove to be an almost insurmountable roadblock. Perhaps a new paradigm is in order: a re-framing of the questions and the ways in which we operate. To truly employ a landscape-based approach requires a massive shift in how we view and manage our natural resources.

What does this mean for local communities?  It remains to be seen, but is possibly a step in the right direction. Not only is a more integrated understanding of forest ecosystems helpful in and of itself, it is equally important in relation to the communities living in and around forests. There are some 250 million to 1 billion people worldwide, depending on which numbers one uses, who are classified as ‘forest dependent’. And yet this sectoral classification risks simplifying these people’s relationship to the natural environment and the multiple other systems with which they engage (e.g., socio-political and economic). Communities have a range of dynamic livelihood and subsistence strategies; single sector classifications can limit their ability to adapt to changing contexts. For example, one of the reasons the Community Forestry Bill in Thailand has struggled to be legislated is the unwillingness to grant forest access rights to ‘farmers’. However, it would be most difficult to find any ‘forest communities’ that do not practice some form of agriculture for subsistence purposes.

Perhaps the time has come for a more nuanced and integrated view of both land-use types and the communities that engage with them.

Gender Mainstreaming in COP 18 Gets a Boost

A landmark decision on women’s participation in climate change negotiations at COP 18 in Doha is critical for ensuring gender equity in this and other development goals, says Dr. Chandra Silori, RECOFTC’s Coordinator for the Grassroots Capacity Building for REDD+ Project. 

UNFCCC's side event "Gender and Climate: Moving beyond the Rhetoric" at COP 18 in Doha.

UNFCCC’s side event “Gender and Climate: Moving beyond the Rhetoric” at COP 18 in Doha.

Day two (November 27, 2012) in Doha was ‘Gender Day’, with two back to back side events, the first on Gender and Climate Innovation: Breakthrough Changes for Gender Equality, and the other on Gender and Climate: Moving beyond the Rhetoric, organized by the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The second event was attended by distinguished women, including Her Highness Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees – Qatar Museums Authority; Ms. Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland and President of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice; Ms. Elena Manaenkova, Assistant Secretary General of the World Meteorology Organization;  Ms. Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General; Ms. Nawal Al-Hosany, Director of Sustainability at  Masdar, Abu Dhabi; and Ms. Julia DuncanCassell, Liberia’s Minister of Gender and Development.

New Challenges and the Role of Women

While highlighting the significant contribution of women in influencing sustainable consumption and production at the community level, safeguarding the natural environment and biodiversity, preserving traditional knowledge and judiciously allocating adequate and sustainable resources within the households and community, the panel reminded the audiences about some of the extraordinary challenges that we are facing today. By 2030, the world’s population will need 50% more food, 55% more energy, and 30% more water. Besides the growing challenges of food security, Ms. Mary Robinson reminded everybody that of the 7 billion people in the world today, 2.7 billion people in the rural areas still depend on wood fuel and livestock dung cakes, which have serious health impacts.

There is no denying the fact that women are central to fulfilling these growing household needs. Strong suggestions were made to adopt a gender smart approach by supporting decision making institutional structures at the local level that can be accessed equally by both men and women.  These kinds of discussions highlight the need for climate change talks to be given a human face, as we are talking about half of the world’s population who will need to be actively involved for these initiatives to have any chance of success. We must recognize that the intellect, energy, and ingenuity of local communities can be used to find equitable solutions to the global problem of climate change. Without engaging such a large proportion of the world’s population, climate change solutions will fail to deliver on ground.

Improving Women’s Participation in Climate Negotiations

While reminding everyone that empowering women does not mean disempowering men, all the speakers emphasized that COP 18 provides an important opportunity to make women’s voices heard in climate change negotiations. Doha needs to build on the strong foundation provided by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the ground work done in Durban at COP 17, and more recently at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). All of these have recognized  women’s leadership and their vital role in achieving sustainable development, and particularly the Rio+20 outcome document has emphasized the impact of setting specific targets and implementing temporary measures when appropriate for sustainably increasing the number of women in leadership positions, with the aim of achieving gender parity.

While reminding audiences about the recent progress in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment in international climate change policy, as well as some aspects of women’s representation in the UNFCCC bodies, these events pointed out that much remains to be done. In Doha, therefore, a draft resolution has been proposed for a new decision to promote gender equality through improving the participation of women in UNFCCC negotiations and in the representation of Parties in bodies established by the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol. Further, on December 5th, the President of COP 18 will have a ministerial level meeting with all parties to push this agenda further.

These are certainly positive and significant steps forward to further strengthening gender mainstreaming in climate change negotiations, and they send a strong political signal. Furthermore, these significant developments will ensure that women and men elected to UNFCCC bodies and involved in the negotiations will continue to fully address the gender dimension of climate change at future conventions. More importantly, at this crucial juncture of discussions on sustainable development goals and the post-2015 development framework, a landmark decision on women’s participation in climate change negotiations at COP 18 in Doha will be an important foundation for renewed commitment to the critical development goals of advancing gender quality and women’s empowerment.

Stepping out of the REDD+ Shadow – Forests and Adaptation

Jim Stephenson highlights why more attention needs to be paid to forests and adaptation in the UNFCCC process and points to the new RECOFTC Community Forestry and Adaptation Policy Brief launched yesterday.

Community Forestry Adaptation Roadmaps in Asia – 2020

Community Forestry Adaptation Roadmaps in Asia – 2020

For those of us with hazy recollections of the middle of the last decade, it is easy to forget that when REDD+ was assigned to the mitigation stream under the UNFCCC, many commentators, including indigenous peoples, thought it should straddle both adaptation and mitigation[1].

Since then discussions on forests in the UNFCCC have been dominated by REDD+, with little attention being paid to their vital role in the success of climate change adaptation. We see glimpses of this role being recognized again, most explicitly with Bolivia’s proposal for a ‘Joint Mitigation and Adaptation Mechanism’ for forests. This follows on from Durban Decision 2/CP.17 that joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests could be developed, largely based on Bolivian negotiators’ interest in promoting non-market approaches to REDD+.

Such a joint mitigation and adaptation mechanism for forests would be something to be welcomed and may go far in dissolving the artificial boundaries between them in the forests and climate change agenda.

This mechanism could play an important part in recognizing and supporting the role of community forestry in climate change adaptation.  Throughout 2012, RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests has been analyzing the vast potential of community forestry to strengthen the climate resilience of rural communities across the world through diversifying livelihoods, increasing food security, leveraging existing institutions and knowledge, and advancing disaster risk reduction.

You only need to glance at the numbers to see how important forests are for climate adaptation amongst the rural population. A global comparative study by CIFOR concludes that forest products provide on average one fifth to a quarter of household income in rural areas globally[2] – a vital source of livelihood and income diversification in times of climate uncertainty. Forest ecosystems are more resilient to climatic change than agricultural ecosystems and contain a greater diversity of plant and animal life – for example the Lao population uses over 700 species of forest plants, insects and fungi for food and other uses[3] with each species responding differently to climatic change.

This diversity also strengthens the food security of communities, particularly in times of climate related crop failure. When households have access and extraction rights over a forest they can diversify the range of species consumed, thus providing a broader intake of vital nutrients. The Lao PDR National Biodiversity Strategy estimates that non-timber forest products (NTFPs) contribute between 61-79% of non-rice food consumption by weight, and provide an average of 4% of energy intake, 40% of calcium, 25% of iron, and 40% of vitamins A and C.

However, this tremendous potential of forests to support community adaptation is impaired in many countries by a lack of rights for communities to access these resources. Even where community forestry rights are given, there is still a need to identify and remove legal barriers which restrict commercial and livelihood activities, and hinder access to markets. NTFP collection restrictions for local communities should also be reviewed and reduced, albeit with sustainable extraction limits in mind.

While some national adaptation plans mention community forestry, these references tend to be superficial in nature. There is a need to mainstream community forestry into national adaptation planning and support existing community forestry networks to integrate climate adaptation strategies in forest management planning.

These are just a handful of issues to be addressed in taking community forestry forward in climate adaptation. A fuller range is presented in RECOFTC’s newly launched Policy Brief ‘Community Forestry Adaptation Roadmaps in Asia – 2020’. This Brief provides a concise overview of the Roadmap project, with key findings and recommendations, along with sample ‘Roadmaps’ to 2020 for selected countries. The full set of five country Roadmaps (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam) will be launched in early 2013.

Watch this space….

[1] RECOFTC, FAO and CoDe REDD (2012). Forests and Climate Change after Durban: An Asia-Pacific Perspective.

[2] Angelsen, A (2011). ‘The economic contributions of forests to rural livelihoods: a global analysis. Oral presentation at the PEN Science Workshop: Exploring the Forest-Poverty Link: New Research Findings’. University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK, 13-14 June 2011.

[3] RECOFTC and NAFRI (2007). Status of Community Based Forest Management in Lao PDR.

The $30 billion Question at Doha

Jim Stephenson, Program Officer, provides an update on early side events at COP 18, Doha.

Welcoming session at COP 18 in Doha. Photo from UN climate change’s Flickr photostream.

As we look to the future of REDD+ finance in the COP negotiations, it is worth reflecting on what has been achieved so far – a subject which provided a fascinating contrast in messaging at yesterday’s side events.

At the Fast-Start Finance Information Event we heard from the Parties that, to some peoples’ surprise, the US$ 30 billion target for ‘Fast-Start Finance’ from 2010-2012 had been surpassed. While this is open to further research and clarification, huge numbers were reported even by individual countries, ranging up to US$ 17 billion, with a healthy chunk of this funding reportedly going towards REDD+. From the snapshot of Parties reporting, it was difficult to calculate whether the approximate REDD+ partnership target of US$ 4.5 billion in REDD+ Fast Start Finance had been reached, but it did not seem far off and was comfortably at 10 digits.

So three years and billions of dollars later, are we any nearer to tackling some of the “Persistent Issues” which face REDD+? The Ecosystem Climate Alliance’s side event of the same name suggested not, and questioned why, despite the large amounts of bilateral, multilateral, and private funding directed at REDD+, we have not seen much in the way of expected results (though there are clearly some important exceptions).

One of the Alliance members, The Rainforest Foundation Norway, claimed that far too much REDD+ readiness funding and time had been directed towards MRV (Measurement, Reporting, and Verification – in their estimation 40% of REDD+ funding to date) when more fundamental issues such as land tenure and governance do not receive these levels of attention. A question I myself asked last year.

At the same event, Dr. Tim Cadman made good on his promise not to send the audience to sleep by giving a fresh perspective on how REDD+ efforts do not yet recognize and support what he terms ‘stakeholder driven governance’. Using Arnstein’s Ladder of citizen participation he showed how current REDD+ standards and safeguard systems only amount to what Arnstein describes as ‘Tokenism’ (i.e. informing, consultation, and placation). Dr. Cadman points out that we need to be aiming higher if REDD+ is to support good governance principles, moving from consultation and placation to partnership, delegated power, and even citizen control over REDD+. I would suggest that some of the leading standards and principles do aim at partnership with local stakeholders, but it is certainly agreed that we should be aiming higher.

RECOFTC has long believed that community forestry is an excellent way to aim higher and achieve partnership, delegated power, and citizen control over REDD+, allowing it to be locally driven rather than imposed by external actors.  During the Q&A session indigenous representatives repeatedly pointed to the fact that in their home countries REDD+ is being ‘pushed aggressively’ onto them by developers and governments. This is a fertile breeding ground for misunderstanding, manipulation, and eventually the failure of REDD+, ignoring the fact that ultimately local people hold the key to its success.

We hope that as Parties in Doha look beyond Fast Start Finance and begin to program the intended increase of climate funding to $100 billion per year by 2020, much more attention is paid towards supporting good governance and the meaningful participation of local people.

What should Community Forests mean to Obama?

In the midst of President Obama’s much anticipated visit to Southeast Asia, RECOFTC Communications Officer Ann Jyothis describes how community forestry could align with and fulfill many of the objectives that the US has outlined for its potentially growing involvement in the region.

President Barack Obama walks with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

President of the United States Barack Obama walks with Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Image taken from The Nation,

As expected the media flurry of political and economic analysis of the Obama administration’s rising interest in Southeast Asia is raising speculation about the “true agenda” of his visit to Thailand, Myanmar and the ASEAN meeting in Cambodia this week. How will an emerging Myanmar, set to be the chair of ASEAN next year, affect the geopolitics of the region? What will be the economic and social impacts of ASEAN’s free trade zone proposal? These are a few of the important questions raised by many in and around the region. But here, we ask a relatively simple question: What could community forestry mean to Obama’s view of possibilities, in this region?

Essentially this question would arise from a more nuanced dialogue on climate change adaptation and mitigation. Given the current global outlook on the climate, it is pertinent to ask whether the US administration will raise climate issues in its discussions with Southeast Asian leaders this week, since, in reality, the scope of US foreign policy and trade interests are critical to the future of several forests and forest communities in the region.

In fact, almost every issue that Obama is expected to discuss during his visit is strongly connected to the forests of Southeast Asia, specifically, increased trade partnerships, energy and security cooperation, human rights and job creation.

The State of the World’s Forests report from 2012 emphasizes the historical connection between forest, markets and the expectation of higher living standards. Forests have always had a key role to play in trade, beginning with long timber for shipbuilding which enabled global trade, to guitars from Gibson Guitar Corp., which violated the US Lacey Act by purchasing and importing illegally harvested wood materials into the United States from Madagascar and India. Community Forestry is based on this connection between forests, markets and people; it embraces a sustainable livelihood system that enables caring for the forest as a livelihood production system rather than a finite resource base for windfall commercial gains.

Although the enforcement of laws such as the Lacey Act demonstrates the willingness of US lawmakers to take illegal wildlife trade and deforestation seriously, it has largely overlooked the human rights aspect of environmental degradation. The link between local people’s rights, natural resource management, and climate change adaptation and mitigation is widely missing in dialogues on climate. This brings us back to the question: What could Community Forestry mean to Obama?

The ASEAN region is endowed with rich natural resources and a strategic location providing economic advantages for international shipping and foreign trade. According to a report published by RECOFTC – The Centre for People and Forests and ASEAN Social Forestry Network (2010), millions of people across ASEAN countries depend, directly or indirectly, on a range of economic, environmental, and socio-cultural services derived from forests. With 49% forest cover in the region (FAO 2010), forest-based industries contribute significantly to economic growth, providing employment, raw materials, and export revenues. These natural resources play an important role in the economic and socio-cultural sustenance of the over 50% of the ASEAN region’s population who live in rural areas (FAO 2010). In effect, any trade and energy policies in this region must take into account that local communities and indigenous peoples view their assets and culture as an integral part of resource management (RECOFTC 2010). Disregard for this will lead to and has led to conflict over natural resources, especially land tenure.

Issues intrinsic to biodiversity conservation, deforestation and climate change are addressed within the scope of community forestry, which is a decentralized and democratic process, enabling a sustainable relationship between forests and the needs of human beings. Community Forestry can play a significant role in supporting economic stability while ensuring that local people’s rights and share of benefits are protected and strengthened. At a deeper level community forestry offers a reinforcement of governance processes in countries where democratic institutions are young or fragile. Over the past decade, several ASEAN countries, including Cambodia, have begun to realize the importance of giving land tenure to people and forests.  As a result, some ASEAN governments have begun to officially recognize the role of local people in managing their forest resources.

Community forestry is symbolic of a people based approach to poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability. As the US agenda for Southeast Asia unfolds, it is hoped that initiatives such as community forestry are given due significance in regional policies and agreements that will have an impact on climate change adaptation and mitigation, and human rights in the region.

Leadership Required: Ensuring Local Communities Benefit from Climate Finance

Regan Suzuki, RECOFTC Networking and Stakeholder Engagement program officer, writes from the Climate Investment Fund Partnership Forum in Istanbul, Turkey, presenting a win-win climate finance scenario benefiting both local communities and investors. 

A vicious cycle exists in the financing of climate change activities. So said Myrna Cunningham, president of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, during the opening session of the 2012 Climate Investment Fund Partnership Forum in Istanbul, Turkey (November 6-7, 2012). Financiers of climate compatible development activities, particularly the private sector, require deliverables to be met and view the limited capacity typical of rural communities as reasons to circumvent them and engage with ‘higher capacity’ actors. The opening session of the Forum underscored the need for climate financing investments, by banks and by the private sector, to be profitable.

Investments tend to be made in, and channeled through, those with education and skills, fundamentally speaking the same ‘language’ as the financiers. This tendency results in the exclusion of rural communities – including indigenous people and women – from the benefits of training, capacity building, and job creation that accompany climate financing. The omission of rural communities from information sharing, training, and engagement bars their full engagement and reinforces their exclusion on the sidelines.  

However, this scenario is neither inevitable nor necessary. In the days immediately preceding the Forum, a landmark deal was signed between the South African Government and independent power producers for the country’s first renewable energy procurement contract, worth some US$ 6.5 billion. Public-private partnership contracts of this scale are rare and the South African green energy deal lays out an innovative model for such engagements and significantly, the involvement of local communities.

The procurement process gave preference to bidders involving local communities, women, and youth and explicitly sought to localize implementation and benefits. Localization requirements were non-negotiable and despite initial resistance by the private sector bidders, in the end all complied.  The 28 renewable power production projects are spread across some of South Africa’s most rural and least developed provinces. In addition, bidders have committed to including community development initiatives within a 50-kilometre radius of each project and some R3 billion have been collectively earmarked for socio-economic development and the empowerment of women in the energy sector. The renewable energy deal in South Africa serves as a ‘path finding’ model of private sector engagement with progressive policies potentially leading to transformative impacts.

The take away message is that while private sector involvement in climate resilient development initiatives such as REDD+ need to be profitable, they needn’t be so at the cost of local communities.  This, however, involves tradeoffs as outsourcing internationally or to those with well established skills and capacities, is often the most efficient path. Companies and financiers are held accountable to clear deliverables and they will understandably seek to achieve those in the most cost and resource effective fashion. 

In order for it to make sense for companies to work together with local communities despite the risks and costs this entails, it becomes the role of policy makers to level the playing field. They must establish clearly as minimum standards, not as fanciful ideals, that project developers and implementers hire locally, specify their strategies for local engagement, and most importantly, invest in the capacity building of local communities and otherwise marginal groups.

COP 17 in Durban brought about a reluctant consensus by all stakeholders that in the interest of long-term sustainability, market-based REDD+ financing is no longer up for debate. We must learn from stories of success such as the leadership and innovation displayed by South Africa in addressing the difficult issue of engaging the private sector without compromising national and international obligations to rights holders. 

Paving a Path Forward for Commodity Roundtables Standards

On 16th – 18th October 2012, Forest Peoples Programme, with the support of RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests and funds from the Rights and Resources Initiative, organized a technical workshop to review commodity roundtables standards on Free, Prior and Informed Consent, customary land, conflict resolution and high conservation values.

Concern about the long term social and environmental implications of accelerated land acquisition has grown and there has been a proliferation of standard-setting in the private sector suggesting how certain norms and procedures should be respected by investors. The workshop was held with the participation of six voluntary commodity standards (Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, Roundtable on Responsible Soy, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, BonSucro, Shrimp Aquaculture Dialogue and Forest Stewardship Council) and concerned NGOs.

The purpose of this workshop was to compare and stimulate review and discussion of the various commodity systems and operational procedures to identify their strengths and weaknesses with the aim of drawing out the key lessons from each of them. By clarifying current operational standards and proposing ways of making the standards more effective, the workshop aimed to harmonize existing voluntary standards with each other and with international law. As the first of its kind, the workshop brought together different standards to focus discussions on how the following four issues are (or are not) accommodated and incorporated in the standards: 1) The right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC); 2) Recognition of legal and customary rights (particularly in regards to land and natural resources); 3) Conflict and conflict resolution mechanisms and; 4) Protection and management of areas containing high conservation values including areas crucial for environmental services, livelihoods and cultural identity.

Insightful and critical cross-comparison ensued and an exploration of how these themes could be better recognized and/or secured through the standards, and, going beyond the standards themselves, how they could encourage the inclusion and translation of these themes into wider legal and policy reform. The workshop resulted in a realization of the need for greater consistency of use of key community protections by commodity roundtables, as well as of the need for systematic information sharing between commodity roundtables about workable certification standards relating to the issues above.

Community Forestry Must Go Beyond Subsistence to Bring Prosperity

In an honest and inspirational speech, Dr K.C. Paudel, Secretary of Nepal’s Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, tackled some of the big policy challenges for Community Forestry in his country and the region.

Dr. Krishna Chandra Paudel

Dr. Krishna Chandra Paudel

Leading community forestry professionals from 11 countries in Asia and RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forest’s top management made up a team of 31 delegates who met for a week in Nepal for a Community Forestry Champions Meeting supported by the Rights and Resources Initiative. Nepal was chosen as the host country for its significant advances in community forestry – it has some 18,000 registered Community Forestry User Groups (CFUGs) – and the opportunities it offers to demonstrate how community forestry initiatives can contribute to addressing multiple rural development challenges, following a decades-long forest regeneration program supported by AusAID in and around the Kathmandu valley.

On the last day of the meeting, delegates had the opportunity to listen to Dr K.C. Paudel, Secretary of Nepal’s Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation (MFSC). In a speech that went to the heart of the challenges facing people, forests and governments today, Dr. Paudel raised some important issues before ending with his vision that “Community Forestry must go beyond subsistence to provide prosperity.” Both inspirational and honest about the challenges facing the government of Nepal, Dr. Paudel exemplifies the rare combination of having the right person in the right job at the right time, given his long years as a forester and his stewardship of the ministry at a time of political uncertainty. Here are some highlights from his speech:

“It has taken two and a half decades to build trust with local communities. We have some 18,000 CFUGs today with various constitutions; some are fairly primitive, others are advanced and they differ due to customary practices, composition of forests, the level of understanding of the community and our own ability to demonstrate and impart impact with truthfulness. There are some forces such as an unstable political climate which leads to weaker law enforcement so illegal smuggling of high value products, deforestation, poaching are some challenges we face at present.

“Nevertheless, we are now revising our 20-year-old Master Plan for the Forestry Sector, taking into account our experience and international conventions that we abide by, such as the one on biodiversity. We are having high level national consultations to decide some key questions: How much forest do we need? How much increase do we need in agricultural productivity? The interim constitution is favorable to forestry and we intend that 40% of our land should have forest cover, so we intend to halt deforestation by 2020 – or at least to halve it.

“This is also important for climatic patterns, REDD and biodiversity negotiations.  What are the pros and cons of these negotiations?  Why should poor countries pay for the historic pollution from rich countries? We agree with the fundamentals of reducing carbon emissions but what is the right balance for growth? Should the levels be the same for India and China as Nepal?

“The other question is: if half of Nepal is under forest cover, should we not be delivering half of the national GDP?  These are some of the questions we need to respond to when we ask for more budget allocation. Government investment is nowhere near enough and we are facing new challenges. Should we change our behavior on consumption for instance? Is the same amount of timber needed for construction today with new technologies?

“When it comes to governance, I sometimes wonder if people are not behaving as well as they used to. There is more competition for, and depletion of, natural resources thanks to pressure of population and the failure to deliver goods and services. Corruption is a challenge and one wonders: is the political system itself exploitative in nature? Forestry is more about governance and social aspects and this needs to be reflected in university curricula so that more attention is paid to the needs of local people instead of technical aspects. We also have to balance this with other sectors that have an impact of forests and ecosystems.

“In community forestry we are often working with people who never went to school. Making all of them good foresters will take time. The involvement of local people in preserving biodiversity, sequestering carbon, subsistence livelihoods – ultimately the forests are in the hands of these indigenous people who are the custodians and rights holders. So how can we keep them profitably engaged – imagine if one million can do good what a huge positive impact that would have.

“However, benefit sharing is the biggest challenge.  What is an equitable threshold? Disputes arise either at the beginning when boundaries are being set or later when it comes to sharing benefits from mature forests between users. This picture becomes even more complex when it comes to sharing benefits from carbon without clarity of land tenure. This also requires a lot of investment – training people to calculate carbon, manage their natural resources  – but it’s the only way to keep them happily engaged.  After all, if a bank is hijacked you only lose money. But if a forest is destroyed you lose a hundred years of investment – timber, NTFPs, biodiversity, climate impacts – community forestry is vital to protect this.

“We have different community forestry management systems and we have used several strategies to regenerate our forests. We have a vision of “forests for prosperity.” Subsistence is not enough: we need to deliver something bigger. But how?  By prioritizing employment—both small scale and industrial. We want forest-based industries like small size furniture production. Should we build capacity for NTFP harvesting for private sector? Provide more infrastructure for development of eco-tourism? How flexible are our policies? Because right now some of this is being challenged as unconstitutional under the Forests Rights Act.

“We have 790 CFUGs in the uplands where government is making a big investment in planting 1.5 million ha with 1.25 billion trees. The communities are working in 85 areas developing seeds for trees, coffee, cocoa etc. All this falls under different ministries  – industry, environment and forests. Private sector is investing because of CSR and some for profit. We encourage them to be facilitators not exploiters of communities. Why should they not share in benefits from hydropower or home stay under eco-tourism?  We need to create perennial sources of sustainable forest management and where poverty is acute, the need for benefits is immediate.  Poverty is a problem, land tenure is secondary. With community forestry we have given 100% legal rights to communities.”

Social Forestry, Again

Celeste Lacuna-Richman, Environmental Policy Lecturer at the University of Eastern Finland (UEF), discusses the importance of designing forestry programs that take into account the realities faced by communities on-the-ground.

Growing from Seed, by Celeste Lacuna-Richman

Growing from Seed, by Celeste Lacuna-Richman

In Finland, the forestry sector is so well-integrated into the larger society that the concept of “social forestry” seems to be superfluous.  Thus, for more than the decade that I have been teaching Social Forestry in the University of Eastern Finland (UEF), the focus has been on its practice in developing countries, particularly on the use of Community Forestry by the state in many of these countries to decentralize forest management.  One interesting observation from all these years of teaching is that students from most European nations take for granted that the forest laws in their countries have been enacted based on the conditions that occur in their particular country.  Students from Asia, Africa and Latin America tend not to make this assumption so easily.

The practical problems that poor households and communities face in trying to sustainably manage forests range from establishing land ownership and land use rights, to marketing forest products, and everything in between.  Despite this situation, and for the longest time, the language of forestry has been one of experts deciding what is important and local people having to conform to standards set elsewhere.  The requirements for local forest dwellers to conform to technical standards for sustainable forest management have, for the past decades, been amplified by an increase in international agendas to conserve forests to prevent biodiversity loss (CBD), mitigate climate change (REDD+), certify timber (FLEGT) and others.  Although these standards and agendas are important and indeed, necessary, they do ask a lot from forest dwellers in developing countries, usually the poorest (rural, non-owners of farm land), most marginalized (indigenous, new migrant, possibly disenfranchised) people on earth.  As usual, the problems lie in the implementation.

The challenge of simultaneously conserving the world’s forests while improving the livelihood of the people who depend most on these resources almost seems impossible to achieve, but it has been done.  Meeting this challenge lies in acknowledging, both in practice and in law, the rights of these people to these resources.  The failures of forest conservation and reforestation were blamed on top-down management in the past.  More recently, the problems of democratizing reforestation efforts have been given greater attention.  Perhaps the strategy which has been given the least attention is the place to start, and this is, the coordination of both “top-down” and “bottom-up” approaches to forest conservation and reforestation.  The ways this coordination can be done vary with each country that attempts it, but several developments make it more possible at present than it ever was.

First, information is more easily accessible today, partly because of the Web, partly because personal networks regarding forestry and in fact, almost any discipline, cut across vertical barriers now (of social status, academic standing, income groups) as they do through horizontal ones (of academic discipline, government, industry-affiliation and others).  Second, these personal networks are often built on existing communities that could support another objective such as reforestation, better than an organization or network newly-formed solely for such a purpose.  Third, paradigms have been tried, and have succeeded to some extent.  However, these are not feasibly transferred to a different context – something that every consultant tasked with implementing “best practices” to another area can probably attest to, or every migrant for that matter.  Finally, the weakness of the “top-down” approach, the cost, the jargon which obscures the facts, and the bureaucracy that delays practical solutions, are only matched by the boundaries and fragmentation of the “bottom-up” approach.

It is time to salvage what is useful from decades of forestry experience, and match it with the economic and political realities faced by the individuals and communities who are tasked with implementing forestry programs.  Simply, so that “social” forestry is synonymous with forestry in every place it is practiced.  Initiatives such as the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) to externally-initiated change in natural resource use, which was initially for indigenous communities, but now also can be utilized by non-indigenous forest communities, is one such move to bridge the gap.

Making the Bali Declaration Effective: The Phnom Penh Workshop on Human Rights and Agribusiness


Participants of the Phnom Penh Workshop on Human Rights & Agribusiness.

On 9th – 11th October 2012, Forest Peoples Programme and Sawit Watch, with the support of CLEC and funds from the Rights and Resources Initiative, co-organized a workshop, ‘Making the Bali Declaration Effective: The Phnom Penh Workshop on Human Rights and Agribusiness’, as a follow-up event to the Bali Workshop on Human Rights and Agribusiness of November – December 2011. Hosted by the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM), the workshop benefited from the participation of National Human Rights Commissioners from Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore and Timor-Leste, the Indonesian representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), concerned Southeast Asian NGOs (CEDAC, CPN, CHRAC, FNN, CCFC, IDEA, TERRA, ELSAM, CCHR) and of the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Food and on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The purpose of the workshop was to consolidate the outcomes of the Bali Workshop and the Bali Declaration on Human Rights and Agribusiness by encouraging the AICHR to receive or (better) recognize the Bali Declaration and to encourage the AICHR to urge Members States to implement it nationally. The wider goals were to encourage the AICHR to receive complaints and recommendations to inform standard-setting; to encourage the AICHR to sanction an international fact finding process to look into cross border agribusiness cases of human rights violations; and to explore possibilities for the establishment by ASEAN of a regional human rights instrument for Southeast Asia. The published proceedings of the Bali workshop were also distributed on this occasion.

Informative updates on the situation in agribusiness and human rights across the Southeast Asian region were shared by National Human Rights Commissioners, and the workshop participants gained important knowledge about the AICHR and the progress being made to establish an ASEAN human rights mechanism. A field visit to a sugarcane Economic Land Concession in Koh Kong, Southern Cambodia, provided revealing firsthand insights for all participants on the realities of land grabbing, food and water insecurity and forced evictions by transnational corporations, in this case, a Thai and Taiwanese joint venture, for which the Thai Human Rights Commission has found prima facie evidence of violations of human rights including the right to life and the right to self-determination.

The workshop resulted in a joint statement by all participants appealing to the Cambodian Government to resolve the long standing land conflict in Koh Kong Province, and to the European Union, the sugar importers Tate and Lyle and the American Sugar Refining Company to investigate the continuing human rights violations. A follow-up meeting in 2013 is planned to review progress made on the action plan developed jointly by the NHRIs and CSOs on this occasion.

“The Forest is Our Supermarket…and We Don’t Need Money”

RECOFTC’s first Executive Study Tour on food security brings up questions on need, greed and forest creed.


Organic rice field at Huai Hin Dam.

With the steep rise in global food prices pinching millions of poor rural households, families are becoming more dependent on natural resources for their sustenance. RECOFTC –The Center for People and Forests, has been working with local communities living in and around forests in the Asia-Pacific region for 25 years, trying to understand the challenges and solutions for improving their lives through community forestry.

On October 12, 2012, RECOFTC organized its first Executive Study Tour on “Forest and Food Security” for 11 senior government and civil society professionals from four countries in the region. The group visited the ethnic minority Thai Karen village of Ban Huai Hin Dam, some three hours  west of Bangkok, and spent the day listening to their story of settlement as refugees 200 years ago, the threat that led to the formation of their community forest in 1995, and what it means for their way of life today.

In a materialistic world, it’s important to remind ourselves that there are also people who regard money as meaningless when life depends on the preservation and skillful use of natural resources. It’s a powerful message that resonated throughout the presentations made in the morning, the lunch served from forest products, and the walk through an organic farm and agro-forest plantation in the afternoon.

Regenerating the forest…and their lives

Tracing the story of the community forest on a hand drawn map, the Village Head Mr. Joe Kueng Ba Ngamying  recounts how a logging concession from 1974-89 led to the loss of farming land for the community and destroyed the forests and watersheds, leading to drought, loss of sustenance and great distress for the community. Continued encroachment of the open land even after the concession ended in 1989, brought the community, now 567 strong, together to preserve their environment and their way of life. With support from NGOs, the community forest committee was formed in 1995, boundaries were demarcated, and regulations for the joint and sustainable use of natural resources were put in place.

RECOFTC has been active in the area since 2000, helping the community sustainably manage and monitor utilization of their forest resources through a project called “The Thailand Collaborative Country Support Program” until 2008. Action research on Bamboo monitoring and planning for the community forest was completed by 2004, after which RECOFTC acted as a facilitator for boundary demarcation and resource management. Two years later, RECOFTC included Ban Huai Hin Dam in its youth-focused “Strengthening Young Seedlings Network: Youth Capacity Building for Sustainable Natural Resource Management,” project under which capacity building work still continues.

Today, life has improved visibly for the community: “We get clothes, food, medicine and shelter from the forest,” says Mr. Noei Aimchan, Chairman of Community Forest Committees of Ban Huai Hin Dam. “The forest is our supermarket. When you go to the supermarket, you need money. We don’t need money but we need to educate people how to use the forest.”

Huai Hin Dam Spirit House.

A Spirit House at the Huai Hin Dam.

Mr. Kwai Ngamying, the local wise man and advisor to the community forest committees, describes a way of life based on inversing the consumerism of the West: “In the West we believe that forests belong to people, but in the East we believe people belong to the forest.” It’s a telling difference fortified by reverence and rituals that have sustained the community for decades. Rituals that include meditating in the forest to know oneself, planting food as offerings for other living creatures and testing one’s wisdom by navigating a maze through the forest during a festive season.

18 years to build trust

To avoid conflict, the community has divided the forestland into zones for growing food, conserving wildlife and plant species, and for human habitation. The creation of a Pu Toei National Park in 1997 presented some problems as it encompassed an area traditionally used by the community for sustainable rotational agriculture. As we walked in that area admiring the abundant vegetables, fruit and grain crops, a committee member explains that trees are felled in a particular way to level a field for planting so that the stumps stay alive and can regenerate when the land is lying fallow. “We had to prove that we could conserve the forest and even improve it with our cultivation methods,” he says, “before the National Park authorities would agree to let us use it. It took 18 years for us to build the trust but we have a good understanding today.”

Through organic farming, the community has ensured a bumper crop of papayas, potatoes, eggplants and bananas and a particular variety of organic rice that is not available in the market. They deliberately  introduce different species on residential and forestland  to enrich the forest ecosystem and diversify the biosphere.  “We don’t use any chemicals here because we make our own organic fertilizer from rice husk and dung,” explains Mr. Kwai Ngamying, as we walk around a compost heap to examine the bark of a medicinal tree. “It’s quite strange, but if you have these leaves when you are sick, you get well. But if you have them when you are well, you may die,” he says, giving us an example of the forest lore which sustains communities even if it seems contradictory to outsiders.

Traditional medicine thrives in the many residential gardens which function as pharmacies, providing a range of remedies for common ailments. Delegates were offered a bitter brew made from forest herbs but many give up after the first few sips from their bamboo cups. I can vouch for the powerful cleansing properties of that drink however, after 24 hours.

Food Security Insurance: A rice bank

Being the basis of nutrition, a rice bank has been established in a small wooden hut opposite the community hall.  Under a barter system, a family may borrow up to 20 buckets (1 bucket = 15 kg.) of rice, but must replace it with 10% interest by the next season. The community also reserves a percentage of their collective cash for the poorest families, ensuring that the food security of all is preserved.

Some of the women community members at Huai Hin Dam.

The women of the community make their own important contribution to livelihood activities. Mrs. Lamyai Kongkae, the head of a women’s group from a neighboring village is here today to learn from the study tour discussions. Like the other women in the village, she is attired in a beautiful hand woven sarong and blouse that would not look out of place around the best addresses in town. Young girls are dressed in white by contrast, to signify purity. Pastel pinks, dusky browns, blues and red, the women look splendid in their ethnic creations. A selection of table runners, scarves, bags and other items woven by the women using natural dyes and the finest cotton are on sale.

The delegates buy presents for family members back home and suggest the women take up the activity on a commercial basis. This startles them as they are used to producing and harvesting only enough for their needs. It is what differentiates them from the consumer culture prevalent outside these communities.  The villagers don’t see a particular value in acquiring more than they need. As one of them points out:  “First you own the land, but later, you become the land.”  Trying to instill these creeds in a younger generation is more challenging they say, because development paradigms from the west are impacting their ancient belief systems. As the youth leader says, “In the west you protect forests with fences, here we protect them with love.”

New Handbook Helps Propagate Fungi Livelihoods that Reduce Pressures on Forests


Packaging fresh mushrooms grown under the project.

Organic mushrooms may seem like an unlikely solution to poaching and illegal logging, but Freeland Foundation is championing this low-impact crop as a viable eco-friendly option for villagers living around protected areas in Northeastern Thailand. With support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Freeland’s Surviving Together program is training former poachers to cultivate organic mushrooms, then seeding and nurturing their businesses with small loans, wholesaling and marketing support.

Many individuals have benefited from the program and are now able to make their living in a sustainable manner. As one graduate of Freeland’s training program, Boonrod Muangchan, says: “Once I started my own business growing mushrooms I started to get a steady income. I love the forest, I want to protect it. I feel sorry for what I did in the past.”

Drawing on the knowledge of its Thai trainers, Surviving Together has just published a practical guide to growing mushrooms organically. Available in Thai and English, the manual covers topics from nurturing spores and building barns, to dealing with pests without chemicals, and recycling materials. This publication is designed to help spread the uptake and benefits of sustainable, low-impact, organic agriculture.

Stocking the Mushroom Barn

Stocking the mushroom barn.

Organic Oyster, Shitake and Yanagi mushrooms being sold at local markets are in such high demand that farmers simply can’t grow enough. Freeland is trying to increase sales to higher value urban markets in Bangkok, banking on restaurants and consumers willing to support organic produce that helps conserve nature and alleviate rural poverty.

The pilot has been successful in propagating forest-friendly alternative livelihoods and measurably reducing poaching in nearby forests. It was even highlighted as a top global sustainability solution at the Rio+20 conference in Brazil earlier this year.

Freeland is seeking partners and sources of micro-finance to help replicate the successful pilot along the border of the vast Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex and around other vulnerable landscapes in Thailand and neighboring countries.

Check out this video to hear more from the program participants.

For more info and to stay up-to-date, follow the Khao Yai Experience.


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