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?

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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.

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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 Duncan-Cassell, 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, http://www.nationmultimedia.com.

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

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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.

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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

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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.

FPIC – Capacity for REDD+ in Indonesia Advances with Support from RECOFTC

RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forest’s Senior Program Officer Toon De Bruyn shares some highlights from the first ever training on Free, Prior, and Informed Consent in support of Indonesia’s national strategy for REDD+.  

Photo from RECOFTC's training on FPIC in Indonesia, September 2012.

“Once I came here I learnt that FPIC is not a one time activity. We need to create a situation where a community can give their consent for an activity as it goes on.” (Photo reproduced with permission from SATGAS). 

Indonesia, the country with the highest area of tropical forest in Southeast Asia is also the region’s biggest economy. While this has not always been good news for forests, recently the country’s rates of deforestation have gone down and commitments to the international regime to reduce deforestation and forest degradation (known as REDD+) hold promise that the trend will continue.  Developing REDD+ and securing strong and clear rights for local communities and indigenous people over their traditional forest lands is a priority.  The right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC), is expected to cement these other rights firmly in the REDD+ infrastructure.

FPIC Indonesia training photo.

“In my province we have a number of REDD+ project proponents and this training gave me new insight, new inspiration and new knowledge to encourage project proponents to implement FPIC.”  (Photo reproduced with permission from SATGAS).

Between 17 and 21 September 2012, 20 participants from across Indonesia worked with expert facilitators from RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests, during the first ever training on FPIC in support of the implementation of the REDD+ national strategy. The first part of the training however, was designed as a high level seminar open to a wider interest group.  Various proponents of REDD+, representing community forestry, private companies, the National Forestry Council, and indigenous and local people shared their experiences and views on FPIC with over 70 participants. Expert presentations helped to develop the views on key questions surrounding FPIC: What is FPIC, who benefits from it and why is FPIC important for REDD+?

Photo from RECOFTC's training on FPIC in Indonesia, September 2012.

Participants were encouraged to draw from their own experiences and share their ideas in group activities.  (Photo reproduced with permission from SATGAS).

During the training, participants explored core values of FPIC, designed processes to seek consent, and developed criteria for assessments and mechanisms for recourse. Training participants represented key stakeholders for the REDD+ National Strategy, and included members from the task force itself, government officials, academics, CSO representatives and NGO members from both the pilot provinces and the priority provinces for the REDD+ National Strategy. During the training RECOFTC demonstrated its trademark approach to training, which builds on sound experiential learning principles. A diversity of methods such as role-play, debate, group presentations, and fishbowls were used to present principles, processes, and tools aimed at unpacking Free, Prior, and Informed Consent.

For RECOFTC this is a critical area for capacity development, and this particular engagement with the Indonesian REDD+ Task Force presented a strategic opportunity to develop capacities for a more people-centered forestry.

Please click here for more information on RECOFTC’s work with FPIC.

Is democracy good or bad for forests?

Markku Larjavaara of the Finnish Forest Research Institute comments on his recent article, “Democratic less-developed countries cause global deforestation.”[1]

I had the chance to work in an international organization in Malaysia from 2005 – 2007. I noticed there that donors from rich countries wanted to fund mainly forest projects that were promoting democratic approaches such as community forestry and participatory planning. During my travels around Asia, I spoke with villagers, local scientists and civil servants and got the impression that most favored a much less democratic top-down approach to forest management. I heard about illegal forest encroachers in the Philippines trusting that the candidates in the next elections would be willing to exchange land for votes, and about the dramatic deforestation that occurred in Indonesia after the more autocratic Suharto era. I also learned of rapid increases in forest area in Japan already in the first half of the 18th century, in South Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, and in China and Vietnam more recently, all places which had very non-democratic regimes during those times.

These observations piqued my interest and led me to analyze forest area change relative to level of democracy. Forest area change from 2000 to 2005, according to the FAO, plotted against three independent democracy indices weighted with the forest area, showed a very clear decreasing trend for the up to 137 developing countries for which data was available. Developing and democratic countries with a large forest area such as Brazil and Indonesia were losing their forests rapidly while non-democratic China and Vietnam were experiencing an even faster change, but in the opposite direction. Much later, when I was preparing a manuscript to report my findings to the International Forestry Review, I found that the FAO had published a new dataset and that the patterns remained clear for the 2000-2010 period, although they were less apparent than for the shorter 2000-2005 period.

Is democracy bad for forests, or could my findings be explained in another way? The patterns are so clear that it is practically impossible that they would have been caused only by chance. Could it be that the non-democratic governments would more likely forge their forest area statistics than the democratic ones? This is certainly possible, but as the interest is in forest area change and not in forest area per se, this alternative explanation is very unlikely. It’s much more likely that democratic developing countries were actually losing their forests and that non-democratic countries were gaining more forest over last decade. Was this really caused by democracy itself or is the correlation without causality?

Scholars have pointed out many ways that democracy benefits the environment. Non-democratic leaders benefit from unsustainable exploitation more than their people do, whereas democracies allow environmental activism, which can influence policy directly, or indirectly via public awareness, which is also enhanced by the free press. In addition, it has been claimed that democratic leaders interact more with scientists and the leaders of other countries to facilitate international solutions to environmental problems. There seem to be so many ways in which democracy should lead to an increasing forest area. However, my findings were the opposite: more democratic countries had a more negative forest area trend. Therefore, something else is needed to explain these results.

It often takes decades before the benefits of reforestation projects outweigh the costs. Could it be that non-democratic leaders have more information and can understand the consequences of forest area change over large spatial and temporal scales better than the poorly educated voters in democratic countries can? Non-democratic governments are potentially more stable than democratic ones, since democratic leaders need to make sure that voters are satisfied before the next elections. My guess is that there is a causal link and democracy really does cause deforestation relative to non-democracy, but whether the new or conserved forests in a non-democracy make people happy is another question.

 


[1] Larjavaara, M. 2012. Democratic less-developed countries cause global deforestation. International Forestry Review Vol.14: 299-313.

Community Leaders Attend RECOFTC’s Silver Jubilee in Indonesia

RECOFC’s Silver Jubilee celebration in Indonesia was organized on 20 September 2012 in Jakarta. The event was attended by 30 participants representing government officials from the Ministry of Forestry, donor agencies, NGO partners, and community leader representatives.

Guests participated in the celebration of RECOFTC’s Silver Jubilee.

Indonesia is a key country for RECOFTC given the wealth of its forest resources and the millions of local people who depend on them for their subsistence. Despite the commitment of the central government to boost community forest development, lack of capacity at provincial and district levels has hampered progress to date. The process of acquiring official permits for community forests remain slow due to complicated procedures and bureaucracy, not to mention the lack of support provided to community forest proponents. Reversing this power equation and “Putting the Last First,” as recommended by Robert Chambers in his publication of that name, should be the norm for local government units.

These were some of the candid reflections at a panel discussion held in Jakarta on 20 September, 2012, to mark the 25th Silver Jubilee of RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests. The panelists were Mr. Subhan, a prominent community leader from Labbo Forest Village, Bantaeng district, South Sulawesi, and one of the first officially recognized village forests in Indonesia; representing the government was Mr. Haryadi Himawan, Director of Land Rehabilitation and Social Forestry at the Ministry of Forestry; and Mr. Kusworo, from Flora and Fauna International, who was the civil society representative.

The participants credited the strong commitment and collaboration amongst the villagers of Labbo, RECOFTC, the district government, and the University of Hasannuddin, as key to the successful realization of the first Village Forest. Legal recognition and the ensuing security have already resulted in better management of forest resources and improved livelihoods – in one study, the income from coffee has increased some 50%.

However, the slow follow up in recognizing other Forest Villages has caused concern. RECOFTC’s field and capacity building work, particularly with the Center for Forestry Education and Training (CFET), Bogor, Indonesia was seen as both relevant and warmly appreciated in this context by Dr. Agus Justianto, head of the organization. Indeed, RECOFTC has had an active training program in Indonesia for over 14 years and recently renewed its MoU with the Government to widen and deepen its support for the community forestry movement.

The event was attended by 30 participants representing government officials from Ministry of Forestry, donor agencies, NGO partners and representatives from communities. The informal gathering provided a good opportunity for networking and a better understanding of RECOFTC’s activities in Indonesia with the scope for widening collaborations in the near future.

Please click here for more information on our Silver Jubilee.

Please click here to be directed to our Indonesia country program page.

Bangkok UNFCCC Sessions Kick-off with REDD+ Finance Debate

Jim Stephenson comments on the first day REDD+ discussions at the Bangkok Climate Change Conference.

The additional sessions of the Ad-Hoc Working Groups began yesterday in Bangkok, with REDD+ finance taking up two conference halls’-worth of attention through the snappily titled ‘Workshop on financing options for the full implementation of results-based actions relating to REDD-plus, including modalities and procedures for financing these result-based actions’.

An area where progress is urgently needed in the run-up to COP 18 in Doha is how ‘results-based’ REDD+ will be financed. The good news is that there has clearly been much work put into debating and analyzing the options, backed up with formal party and observer submissions in March, work-shopping and a UNFCCC technical paper published in July.

During the final session, the Chair was moved to remark that each Party was beginning their statement with ‘as has already been said’ or ‘we are in full agreement with’. Typical workshop idiom – but in UNFCCC discussions, Parties have a duty to defend their interests. Perhaps the consensus on these issues, at least at this stage, is building.

The areas of consensus are fairly non-contentious issues – such as the need for diverse sources of both market and non-market based finance for REDD+, including the need to determine the role of the Green Climate Fund in REDD+ financing in time for Doha. Though not contentious, this is very important. The $4.5 billion in public funding promised as part of the 2010-12 ‘fast start finance’ for REDD+ readiness has under-delivered, and achieving progress towards results based finance clearly requires a diversified financing base to reach the scale needed. Coordinating the diversification process would be the real challenge – Parties point out that managing and reporting so many different finance flows could add another burden onto the governments receiving these funds.  To address this potential issue, the need for a well organized and transparent UNFCCC REDD+ mechanism was highlighted, in order to unify these funding streams and simplify the finance disbursal process.

Another area highlighted by the Parties was the need to recognize the diversity of what REDD+ ‘results’ are, which has large implications for the scaling up of REDD+ finance in lieu of a compliance carbon market.  Some feel that the ‘co-benefits’ of REDD+ should attract their own funding regardless of the carbon market, such as watershed services, biodiversity conservation, poverty alleviation and sustainable commodities. The norm is now to put the ‘co’ in co-benefits in quotes, recognizing that these benefits should gain equal footing to the carbon emission reductions in REDD+. If this happens these benefits could be mainstreamed in the ‘payment for results’ framework, hence expanding the potential funding pools for REDD+.

Better still would be the recognition of improved governance in the forest sector, including advances made in community forestry law and implementation, as ‘results’ to be rewarded.  This would also reinforce the incentives for Parties to properly implement or even exceed social and environmental safeguard standards, something very much welcomed by RECOFTC.

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