Capacity development: Coming into the spotlight in a new climate era?

Regan Suzuki Pairojmahakij, Senior Program Officer at RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests, explains the benefits of the international climate change negotiating community now recognizing the importance of capacity development as REDD+ implementation gets underway. Successful implementation, she argues, rests on capacity development efforts. 

Capacity development has long been the less glamorous sibling in the suite of climate change topics typically discussed at the meetings of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Once sidelined in favor of more dramatic negotiations on REDD+ safeguards, climate finance and agreement on global emission reduction targets, the tables may be turning for capacity development. Corridor talk at the Bonn Climate Change Conference revealed a shift in perspective beyond REDD+ design to what will come next. After 10 years of development, a landmark achievement has been reached with the finalization of the REDD+ framework during the 42nd session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA 42). RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests applauds the breakthrough consensus and welcomes the positive implications for local communities of further safeguards guidance, non-carbon benefits and joint mitigation and adaption – though stronger safeguard provisions including reference to participatory processes are still required. The anticipated climate agreement in Paris will set the foundation for the next few decades of climate action: moving the global community beyond the design and negotiation of frameworks and firmly on the path of implementation. Yet, for those involved in piloting and other readiness activities to date, it is clear that a major gulf exists between capacities required for implementation and current capacities on the ground. RECOFTC understands this first hand, regularly receiving requests from national REDD+ task forces and working groups for training on the basics of REDD+.

In a side event held jointly with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) during SBSTA 42 in Bonn, Germany last week, RECOFTC emphasized the evolving role of capacity development in the international climate change arena. The RECOFTC presentation emphasized the need for capacity development in order for the UNFCCC Convention principle of equity (Article 3, and reiterated in the draft negotiating text) to be met. While legitimate questions were raised by panelist Michael Bucki, EU REDD+ negotiator, on compelling reasons for donors to concern themselves with equity in results-based REDD+, RECOFTC takes the position that equity, particularly in forest-based mitigation solutions, is a prerequisite for the sustainability and effectiveness of interventions. As CIFOR’s Grace Wong argued, donors should incorporate equity if for no reason other than ethical imperatives.

Capacity development status and frameworks

The Non-Annex 1, or developing, countries are more than aware of their own capacity limitations. A 2014 Subsidiary Body for Implementation synthesis report on capacity-development implementation included self-identified capacity gaps such as lack of adequate policy frameworks, greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory strategies, national adaptation plans and technology action plans (TAPs), NAMAs and development of meteorological systems and models.

In 2001, the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties adopted two capacity development frameworks that address the needs, conditions and priorities of developing countries and of countries with economies in transition. These frameworks lay out a set of guiding principles and approaches to capacity development that has been widely advocated by Non-Annex 1 Parties and which RECOFTC also supports and expects to be included within the Paris climate agreement – namely, capacity development ought to be country-driven, involve learning through action and build on existing activities.

Capacity development in the new climate agreement

The Geneva negotiating text contains capacity development as one of its key substantive sections.  While options proposed for the text remain bracketed, all of the referenced options under capacity development institutional arrangements refer to the establishment of an international capacity development mechanism. RECOFTC lauds the attention and ambition that capacity development is generating in the draft climate agreement. However, words of caution are warranted. As mentioned above, existing national capacities may be considerably thinner than imagined as a starting point for some of the ambitious capacity development programs being envisioned. Balanced attention to national stakeholders is required; and not only attention to senior officials or grassroots communities alone, but towards entire stakeholder chains, including sub-national officials, other line agencies and the next generation of policymakers. Finally, for climate solutions to be sustainable, capacity development must be undertaken equitably. And, as CIFOR’s Maria Brockhaus noted in her presentation, there are significant differences in how equity is reflected in national and local-level discourses. More work needs to be done on developing context-based understanding of what equity and equitable capacity development will mean for countries involved in REDD+. Lofty principles of equity as laid out in the Convention ultimately need to be operationalized and made relevant on the ground.


To what extent has women’s rights to access and control over forest resources been recognized and addressed in forest policies and laws in Asia and the Pacific?

By Ratchada Arpornsilp, Country Program Coordination Officer, RECOFTC

Gender report coverInternational Women’s Day is 8 March. This year RECOFTC is launching the new report ‘Mainstreaming gender into forest policies in Asia and the Pacific’ which was developed as a part of the regional initiative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. It aims to shed light on how gender perspectives are being integrated or mainstreamed in the forest policies of eight countries – Nepal, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Fiji, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. The report and policy briefs for each of the eight countries included in the study are available at

While countries in Asia and the Pacific have made progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment, women’s participation and representation in forest management structures and decision-making process still have a way to go. RECOFTC’s new report asks: to what extent has women’s rights to access and control over forest resources been recognized and addressed in forest policies and laws?

All of the studied countries are signatory to key international instruments that promote women’s rights – the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the UN’s Millennium Development Goals and the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). Fiji is the only country that has not signed UNDRIP. While a number of national efforts have been developed in each country, with regards to gender concerns in forest policies, the key findings from the report are as follows:

  • Cambodia – The Forestry Law provides a legal framework for the involvement of user-groups in forest management and protection but different needs, priorities, capacities and customary practices of women and men have not been recognized. Although the Sub-decree on Community Forestry (CF) Management encourages women’s participation in CF Management Committees, no specific quota is guaranteed.
  • Fiji – Inclusion of women in the Forest Decree and National Forest Policy Statement is unclear due to an absence of gender-specific guidelines to enhance women’s participation and representation in forestry.
  • Indonesia – The President Instruction in 2000 instructs all government agencies to mainstream gender throughout the development process of policies and programs. But it is far from being adopted in any specific forestry regulations or laws.
  • Nepal –Nepal commenced to acknowledge women’s inclusion in community forestry in its Master Plan for the Forest Sector, forest law and regulation. A Gender and Social Inclusion Strategy and associated monitoring framework were developed, following by an amendment of CF Guidelines which mandate the composition of 50% women represented in CF Users’ Groups executive committees.
  • The Philippines – The National forest strategy and the Indigenous People’s Rights Act are people-oriented and have recognized the rights of people living in forest lands, ensuring access to forest resources for forest-dependent communities, including women. The Community-based Forest Management strategy mandates 30% representation of women in its committees.
  • Sri Lanka – The Forest Sector Master Plan emphasizes the empowerment of people and rural communities to manage and protect forests for multiple uses, but has no specific recognition of gender differences. The Forest Department so far has no gender strategy to facilitate women’s inclusion in forestry planning and interventions.
  • Thailand – Recognition of women’s rights, participation and representation, as well as gender differences, in forest management and decision-making remains absent in laws governing forest protection and management. In implementing some of these laws, such as the National Parks Act, women’s subsistence and income generation are hindered with the denial of access to forest resources.
  • Viet Nam – The Law on Forest Protection and Development provides equal land rights to men and women and the National Forest Strategy acknowledges the need for promoting a gender focal point unit, gender-sensitive research and capacity development of forestry officials.

In general, the report considers Nepal and the Philippines to be relatively progressive. Nonetheless, all countries still face common challenges, including 1) lack of legal framework or implementation gaps if the laws have already incorporated gender considerations; 2) lack of evidence-based research on gender and gender-disaggregated data in forestry; 3) limited technical expertise and resource availability for effective implementation and advocacy; 4) imbalanced representation of gender in leadership and decision-making positions; 5) deep-rooted gendered norms and cultural prejudices that reinforce male domination in forestry activities.

These challenges seem to always be present and there is nothing new about them. The assessment simply unpacks and supports them with more evidence. It is time to implement some practical steps to move forward. Recommendations include:

  • Hold national and sub-national consultations and dialogues to discuss and keep abreast of the issues and gaps in existing policies and practices as well as facilitate multi-stakeholder exchanges and platforms for advocacy.
  • Knowledge generation and understanding on gender rights, roles and responsibilities among forestry officials and communities.
  • Gender working groups and women’s representation with clear functions and obligations to raise women’s leadership roles and participation in decision-making.
  • Gender-sensitive monitoring and evaluation systems to develop gender-disaggregated data necessary for policy planning and implementation.
  • Gender-responsive budgets that provide specific budget allocation for gender relevant activities.

It is important to note that gender mainstreaming is not an end in itself but a process toward gender equality. One small action from each of us can aggregately make a difference. RECOFTC strongly believes that women’s empowerment is a key component of sustainable forest management. Thus in collaboration with its partners, RECOFTC continues working to strengthen social and gender equity in all aspects of community forestry.

How China succeeded in addressing rural poverty through community forestry in Zhejiang province

On 2-8 December 2014, RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests hosted “Application of Community Forestry in Rural Forestry Reform: China’s Experience,” a community forestry champions network regional workshop held in Lin’an Zhejiang Province, China. Marlo D. Mendoza, Assistant Professor at the Department of Social Forestry and Forest Governance and Associate Dean of the College of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of the Philippines Los Baños, reflects on the positive land tenure reform made in Lin’an.

I am very thankful that I was one of the participants in the RECOFTC’s workshop: “Application of Community Forestry in Rural Forestry Reform: China’s Experience.” Those working in the forestry sector are aware of the role that forest landscapes play in national development, especially in poverty reduction. Secure tenure rights and equitable access to resources by people living in and around forest areas play an essential role in addressing rural poverty, which in turn benefits sustainable forest management: rural poor will manage forests sustainably if their livelihoods are ensured.

And what I saw in Lin’an, China was exactly that: a successful working model based on the villagers having both tenure and access rights to their resource, as well as flexibility in how to use them. Through interviews with villagers, local government officials, members of farmers’ cooperatives and private business owners, I learned that the principles of FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Tenure (VGGT) were vigorously pursued.

The Chinese government specifically instituted various policy and institutional reforms to help motivate the farmers to productively manage their land: land-use rights certificates, responsive extension services, livelihood support services, insurance coverage and  the securitization of land resource assets, among other key innovations. These reforms, moreover, were supported by the private sector, all branches and levels of government, particularly the local government, as well as all stakeholders involved. The forestry bureau was also redirected and retooled and its role was expanded to respond to the new land tenure policy conditions.

The positive outcome of the tenure reforms was amazing to see. The villagers’ ability to benefit from their resources was greatly enhanced by the possibility of raising loans based on the projected value of those resources. By receiving loans, the villagers can in turn improve the productivity of their resources by investing the loans into improving their resources. Prior to the land tenure reform, the state and village-owned lands were unproductive and degraded; but following the reforms, they were transformed into productive and profitable micro and small-scale agroforestry enterprises.

With the new wealth created by the rural population, the local economy significantly improved, creating jobs and allowing Lin’an to invest in other critical infrastructure and support services to encourage further investment in the community by the private sector. This, moreover, created further downstream opportunities and economic growth on a much larger scale: the establishment of several forest-based industries such as bamboo shoot processing, nut processing, furniture-making from wood and bamboo, and most notably, the China Roasted Nuts Food Mall, a multibillion yen, multi-use complex providing services to the growing Lin’an nut industry.

Secure tenure rights and equitable access to  forest resources supported by all branches and levels of government helped villagers make the most from their resources. Effective tenure governance reform should not only be limited to Lin’an, however. We should push such reform not only in my home country, the Philippines, but also across the Asia-Pacific region.

Why the private sector belongs at the table in climate change negotiations

Regan Suzuki Pairojmahakij, Senior Program Officer at RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests, argues that the private sector should be involved in international climate change negotiations. By partnering with local communities, the private sector has the ability to develop solutions not only to climate change challenges, but also to the economic and overall development of the world’s most marginalised communities in the process.

On 19 December, the Bangkok Post published “Time to take the power away from the polluters,” an op-ed piece written by Dorothy Grace Guerrero. In the piece, Ms. Guerrero argues that the private sector should not be involved in international climate change decision-making. This would be wrong.

Ms. Guerrero does, however, make a number of valid points. Ambition at the 20th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP20) held in Lima, Peru was disappointingly low; the resulting Lima Accord expresses “grave concern” over the likelihood that existing commitments will fail to keep temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius, much less the preferred 1.5 degrees. This will further raise pressure and backload expected progress to the Paris COP21, the next United Nations climate change conference in December 2015.

There is, moreover, as Ms. Guerrero argues, a deep and worrying chasm between the wealthier developed countries and the developing countries where populations are disproportionately suffering the impacts of droughts, typhoons and sea level rise. Similarly worrying is the inequities within countries, where marginalized populations of indigenous, forest-based or otherwise poor communities heavily dependent on natural resources are now being affected by climate-related disasters and unpredictability.

Ms. Guerrero goes on to lament that the United Nations includes the private sector in discussions leading to agreements intended to mitigate climate change and help countries adapt to the current and future negative impacts:  “The UN process has sadly been captured by and largely subordinated to market mechanisms as supposed solutions to climate chaos.”

However, market mechanisms – the tools of the private sector – provide precisely the type of innovation and agility that is required to develop the responses needed to tackle climate change.

Already, there is a growing global push towards a ‘green economy’ that is low-carbon, resource-efficient and socially inclusive. Strategic public and private investments in developed and developing countries are being directed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, improve resource efficiency and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. The private sector is essential to this push and can accelerate the necessary transition to a green economy by building on the synergies between green economy initiatives and climate change opportunities.

To put the issue in more specific terms, let’s consider the issue of forests, which are a key part of the global climate change equation given the role they play in mitigating global warming through sequestering carbon emissions. They are also an important part of helping local communities adapt to climate change impacts.

In order for forests to stay standing and continue to provide a rich and diverse habitat for biodiversity, there must be direct economic benefits for all concerned, particularly rural communities, the importance of which is underlined by the fact that in the Asia-Pacific region, over 450 million people are dependent on forests for their livelihoods. The private sector can play an increasingly important role in ensuring economic benefits for local communities by, for example, providing a market for these communities’ forest products, and help in assuring appropriate recognition of the rights of local communities in forest landscapes. Such private sector-local community partnership is growing as it is being encouraged by an international community which understands the potential the private sector has in sustainable development and poverty reduction. National governments are also encouraging such partnership, recognizing the valuable role the private sector can play in supporting sustainable rural development, including environmental stewardship, when the conditions for its engagement are appropriately designed.

Ms. Guerrero is correct in arguing that addressing climate change is urgent and related measures have thus far been insufficient. She is also correct in her claim that there are major equity and power differences between and within countries.

However, rather than seeing the private sector only as a threat, we should also see it as a critical part of the solution. It is through sustainable supply chain development by communities in partnership with private sector actors in an intelligent and strategic policy environment that we have the best chance of developing solutions not only to climate change challenges, but also, crucially, to the economic and overall development of the world’s most marginalized communities.

This piece was originally published by the Bangkok Post and has also been republished by The Jakarta Post.

The fifth IPCC report and local communities: Five reasons why we need to connect the dots

Regan Suzuki Pairojmahakij, Senior Program Officer at RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests, argues that while the latest IPCC report is groundbreaking in its strong call for global mitigation efforts, local communities can no longer be left out of international climate change negotiations because the negative impacts of climate change are affecting them more than any other stakeholder.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations panel of climate experts, has struck an unfamiliar tone of aggressive urgency with the recent release of its Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report. The report issued stark warnings in the face of minimal action on climate change mitigation to date. According to the report, reducing emissions is crucial if global warming is to be limited to 2˚C . Failure to do so, the report found, could – and already has even – lead to food and water shortages, flooding of islands and cities, mass extinctions of plants and animals and climate refugee crises.

Although the report’s unusually stark language brings hope in the lead up to the pivotal international climate negotiations in Paris next year, the report leaves out an essential stakeholder: local communities. These communities will not only be most negatively impacted by climate change, but are essential actors in the success (or failure) of climate change mitigation efforts. Here are five reasons why local communities must be taken off the sidelines of climate change discussions and placed front and center:

  1. Local communities have clout in virtue of their numbers. Mitigation action must be taken now. Governments, however, have been hesitant to do so due to fears that this will antagonize powerful interests (typically in the energy production or associated sectors) and erode this political base. However, at least in theory, governments are accountable to their constituencies, and popular pressure (even in non-democratic countries) can be a powerful factor in shaping policy decisions. Grassroots communities are beginning to be seriously concerned about climate change (few things are as compelling as firsthand experience with climate related adversity, whether crop failure, natural disasters or an increasingly untenable living environment). Mobilizing local people, despite their limited (disaggregated) economic clout, will create necessary political pressure due to their clout in numbers, and may well serve as a compelling counterbalance to powerful economic interests.
  1. Local communities are on the front lines in suffering adverse climate change impacts, while urban populations and policymakers tend to be removed from the day-to-day realities of shifting seasons affecting crops, increasing water scarcity, changes in biodiversity due to ecological transitions and a diversity of related natural disasters. Local people have the most at stake in decisions policymakers make now (or fail to make) in reducing emissions. From both a practical and an ethical perspective, it is imperative that local people be involved in the decisions that will affect their future livelihoods.
A community meets to discuss climate change adaptation responses

A community meets to discuss climate change adaptation responses

  1. Land use change is a major source of emissions. Taken together, forestry and agriculture (the leading driver of deforestation) currently make up around 30% of global emissions according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Local people, and the national policies and regulatory frameworks that relate to their land use and most critically, their livelihoods, are key to reducing these emissions. Sustainable forest management and sustainable harvest, use and sale of forest products within an integrated landscape level approach, is necessary to reduce deforestation due to conversion for agriculture and commercial purposes. To coin a phrase: if the forest pays, it stays.
  1. Reducing deforestation is one of the most promising options for mitigation. Local people residing in and around forests are both one of the greatest potential allies in leveraging this mitigation option or one of the greatest obstacles, potentially de-railing it if their needs, interests and rights are neglected. Moreover, there are concerns about the potential erosion of local community and indigenous rights as market-based approaches to REDD+ (Reduced Emissions through Deforestation and forest Degradation) – the most promising mechanism for land-use based climate change mitigation – take shape. In order to optimize and safeguard the important role of organized local communities as valid stakeholders in rural landscapes, they must be recognized and empowered as architects in REDD+ design, implementation and monitoring.
  1. Mitigation is only half the battle in responding to climate change. If we succeed in absolutely halting emissions , even as soon as tomorrow, there will continue to be global warming for years to come, which will require adaptation to an increasing range and intensity of climate change impacts. Local communities are the canaries in the coal mines, both in providing insights into the impacts that the rest of the world will eventually experience, and in drawing upon traditional knowledge in pioneering innovative ways toward adapting to the impacts. Thus, local level experiences and strategies in adapting to climate change will (and should) necessarily re-orient the climate change discourse from international levels to a focus on local levels.

When UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke to reporters at the release of the Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report in Copenhagen, he warned, “The science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in the message. Leaders must act now. Time is not on our side.” Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists made the point even more strongly, saying that the IPCC climate experts have given policymakers a clear choice: “either put policies in place to achieve this essential shift, or… spend the rest of [your] careers dealing with climate disaster after climate disaster.” An essential part of this policy shift requires an urgent and genuine engagement with local communities globally as key partners, and support for this critical stakeholder group to play its much needed role in climate change decision-making.

This piece was also later published by Outreach, a multi-stakeholder publication on climate change and sustainable development produced by Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future.

Harvesting bamboo as a renewable energy source and improving livelihoods – a win-win solution for farmers in Lao PDR

Fabian Noeske, Technical Advisor for RECOFTC’s ForInfo Project, shares the project’s recent findings. He argues that connecting farmers in northern Lao PDR to markets in Thailand will not only help the farmers improve their livelihoods, but will also sustain biomass power plants finding the necessary supplies which have been hard to come by.

RECOFTC’s ForInfo project is testing the feasibility of harvesting bamboo to produce renewable energy; the findings have been largely positive, though not yet finalized. Bamboo must prove to be competitive with current prices of rice husk, which is currently the main source for biomass-based power generation in Thailand. But beyond the economic aspects, it is also important to consider the gains that could potentially be made: furthering a green economy while simultaneously improving local people’s livelihoods.

In Bokeo, Lao PDR, as in many northern Lao provinces, farmers are faced with an overabundance of bamboo caused by short cycle shifting cultivation. The problem: bamboo is a plant species that can cause two severe environmental issues. During dry season, bamboo sparks easily and fuels forest fires, which release stored carbon into the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming. Moreover, as an early succession weed, it out-competes long-lived tree species which act as long-term carbon stocks that help mitigate climate change by storing carbon. Ridding potential forest land of invasive bamboo is on its own a dual-environmental gain.

Dead bamboo which fuels forest fires

Dead bamboo which fuels forest fires

But two additional gains – one environmental, one socio-economic – can be made if the harvested bamboo is then converted into chips and sold for biomass power generation.

Across the Mekong River from Houay Xai, there is a potential at least seasonal demand for bamboo chips at biomass power plants in replacement or in addition to rice husk and other biomass sources. Once a biomass power plant is in operation, a steady supply of biomass – ideally with a high calorific value – is required to sustain continuous electricity generation and efficient use of plant capacities. Growing shortages and price increases of available and suitable biomass resources in Thailand have led to several power plants closing down operations. What is thus needed now to sustain this high in demand supply of energy is a reliable and steady supply – possibly even in a mix of products – of renewable energy biomass resource. If local farmers are able to access this market, they would be able to greatly improve their financial resources; in doing so, they would also help create the basis for a green economy. Why not let the bamboo burn in a place where it could be to everybody’s benefit?

Workers prepare bamboo for chipping

Workers prepare bamboo for chipping

It is also important to note that this development would greatly diversify and improve the farmers’ existing income opportunities, as well as sustain the forests that the farmers use to access forest products for subsistence consumption. Connecting the farmers to a trans-boundary biomass supply chain would allow them to create a long-term sustainable source of income and greatly improve their livelihoods, while also helping restore forests to their full potential and help mitigate climate change in the process.

So far RECOFTC has only tested the feasibility of improving farmers’ role in the raw material supply and primary processing. An evolving cross-boundary supply will require further capacity development and private sector cooperation. Moreover, a strong commitment by governments, communities and the private sector is necessary to sustain existing and create new forest-based livelihood options in a transient landscape and region exposed to extremely quick and dynamic changes in agricultural economies dominated by powerful market actors to its north and south. It will thus also be important to find further higher value products and market opportunities for the abundant bamboo raw material while also addressing existing regulatory barriers restricting the utilization, processing and exportation of the resources.

About ForInfo

Since 2011, RECOFTC, with funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, has been working on the ForInfo project, which aims to provide local people with better access to markets for forest products and environmental services through clearer and more accurate information about their forest resources.

Read more about ForInfo here

Sustainable forestry enterprises will flourish if governments place greater trust in local people

At the 2014 IUFRO World Forestry Congress in Salt Lake City, Utah, Martin Greijmans, Senior Program Officer at RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests, will present preliminary research findings that shed light on the factors that contribute toward a successful community forestry enterprise business model. Martin argues that one key factor is that governments must put greater trust in the abilities of local people.  

Enhancing local peoples’ livelihoods through community forest enterprises has been both promoted and obstructed by NGOs, civil societies and governments alike. Proponents support the notion that local people have the capacity to sustainably manage forests; opponents reject the notion.

Supporters of community forestry believe that allowing communities to develop their own forest management plans for food security and/or income generation will ensure sustainable practices as the communities depend on successful forest management in the long-term. These supporters argue that communities have the incentive to sustainably maintain forests to ensure their livelihoods; that is, letting forests degrade would ruin their future livelihoods, and that would go against self-interest. Opponents, however, stress that local people simply do not plan for the future and thus risk forest degradation.

These two opposing views both consider peoples’ ability. Supporters of forest management by local people trust community resilience and thus provide services to help strengthen local people’s resilience further by identifying communities’ needs through participatory methods. Opponents, on the other hand, develop strict regulations and introduce untested practices, which are foreign to forest users.

The latter approach is indeed tempting: governing authorities can make decisions from the top down without needing to adhere to the time-consuming approach of the participatory process, which includes local people in decision-making.

New research conducted by RECOFTC in the Asia and the Pacific region has shown, however, that sustainable practices are both inherent to community forestry enterprises and vital for communities to sustain and enhance their livelihoods. In other words, communities cannot allow forests to degrade if they want to even maintain their basic needs.

It is thus in the interest of governments to take the more challenging approach to forest management. Local people must be allowed to take part in decision-making, and their capacities will have to be developed.

If governments follow this approach, not only will their goal of sustainable forest management be satisfied, but local people’s livelihoods will be enhanced as well.

To read Martin’s working paper, “Fundamentals of viable community forestry business models,” click here.

Effective Safeguard Information Systems for REDD+ in ASEAN countries still a challenge

Dr.Chandra Silori, coordinator of the Grassroots Capacity Building for REDD+ in Asia, shares his reflections on REDD+ Safeguard Information Systems (SIS) and the way forward, based on his experience at an ASEAN pre-COP20  meeting in Jakarta, held last month in advance of COP20. Setting the sight on COP21, he asks whether ASEAN countries will get the support they need to develop effective SIS.

Although REDD+ has come a long way, ensuring effective social and environmental safeguards for REDD+ implementation is still a real challenge. Corruption and misappropriation of funds from REDD+; exclusion of customary rights holders due to lack of clarity surrounding tenure arrangements in many REDD+ countries; withholding of carbon and non-carbon benefits by the elite; exploitation of poor and forest-dependent communities by the REDD+ project proponents due to lack of awareness among such communities on REDD+; loss of biodiversity due to displacement of unsustainable forest management practices from high carbon; and low biodiversity areas are some of the essential challenges that must be overcome for REDD+ to be successful.

Last year’s COP 19 in Warsaw addressed these issues and established a framework to guide the development of national REDD+ Safeguards Information Systems (SIS) – a system for providing information on how safeguards are addressed and respected. The Warsaw COP also invited member parties to submit opinions, views and experiences on what information should be included in a country’s SIS for consideration by the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technological Advice (SABSTA) leading up to COP 20 this year.

In response to this, regional negotiators and civil society members held a pre-COP meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia last month. The meeting provided an opportunity for regional negotiators and civil society members to discuss the challenges of developing REDD+ SIS in their respective countries. Participants found that the capacities of ASEAN countries with regards to developing SIS varied significantly. For example, while Indonesia has made substantial progress, countries like Lao PDR and Myanmar are just beginning to build the capacities of key stakeholders in understanding REDD+ safeguards and the additional SIS. Clearly, we need to speed up the capacity development of the member countries in the ASEAN region with regards to REDD+ SIS. Moreover, issues regarding social and environmental safeguards of REDD+ are still ambiguous as different stakeholders have different perceptions on and understanding of safeguards and therefore different requirements in order to meet them; thus, SIS needs to be much more robust than simply a checklist of information.

It is time to scale up REDD+ awareness and capacity development initiatives in ASEAN and use them as a basis to take up more challenging tasks such as developing SIS based in countries’ existing legal, institutional and compliance frameworks. Moreover, since the implementation of social and environmental safeguards, and the distribution of related carbon and non-carbon benefits will affect the local communities the most, development of SIS needs to be a participatory process. This is also needed in order to strengthen recognition of local stakeholders’ rights and access to forest areas, a fundamental step for claiming for carbon and non-carbon benefits from REDD+. Research suggests that insecure access and tenure rights for forest-based people does not incentivize sustainable management of forest landscapes, and therefore may accelerate deforestation and forest degradation. Further, SIS development needs to be supported by raising awareness among the local level officials of forest and other like departments on the rights, roles and responsibilities of local communities with regards to REDD+.

As the global community gears up for COP 20 in Lima, Peru, and also focuses on the goal of achieving a new international climate change agreement during COP 21 in 2015 in Paris, the positive developments with regards to safeguards for the last couple of COPs need to be streamlined to support developing countries to develop SIS and the relevant capacity. We urge the UNFCCC to effectively address ASEAN’s needs.

In addition to the Joint Submission prepared by the ASEAN negotiators in response to the SBSTA call for further guidance on the types of information that national Safeguard Information Systems (SIS) should provide, RECOFTC has also drawn from the results of the Jakarta meeting in developing its own submission: “Community forestry and community-based forest landscape management: An important existing framework for safeguard information system design, implementation, monitoring and reporting.”

Forestry officials in Lao PDR take on new teak plantation management practices

Evan Gershkovich, Associate Communications Officer, provides an update on ForInfo activities in northern Lao PDR.

Houay Xai, Bokeo province, Lao PDR – In northern Lao PDR, RECOFTC’s ForInfo project is conducting trainings for local forestry officials. By introducing them to new technologies for better surveying practices of teak plantations, the project hopes to ultimately increase local peoples’ livelihoods.

“Our staff has really learned how to better conduct teak plantation management. We are sharing this knowledge with district authorities, and have even trained district staff on these new skills,” said Khame Phalakone, Director of Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Office of Bokeo (PAFO), who has been working with RECOFTC since the introduction of the ForInfo project in 2011.

Before the project, PAFO staff would calculate teak plantation areas by the number of teak trees that were planted, essentially an estimate. That is, if 10,000 seedlings were given to a farmer in one year, for example, PAFO would record that it had planted a certain number of hectares of land that year. But 10 years later, PAFO would not be able to know if the 10 or 20 hectares all still contained teak trees – the farmer might have harvested the teak trees and planted rice instead.

Since, ForInfo project staff has supported the implementation of government-sponsored teak management certificates. The certificates give farmers temporary user-rights to their land for the duration of utilization, and ultimately, ForInfo intends the certificates to serve as loan collateral based on a plantation’s current market value and commercial volume for financial institutions so that farmers do not have to harvest their teaks before they reach commercially viable sizes.

“Before farmers had this certificate, they only had memory of their land – they didn’t know the volume of the trees they had because they didn’t do surveys,” said Mr. Phalakone. RECOFTC staff trained PAFO and the District Agriculture and Forestry Office of Bokeo (DAFO) in the use of tools like global positioning software (GPS) and open-source mapping software (QGIS), and have taught the staff how to conduct on-site plantation registration surveys, forest inventories, and issue plantation certificates.

The provincial and district officials are now better able to manage the teak plantations, the farmers who operate them, and the contractors who purchase the teak timber. In the process, the officials have also gained a much better understanding of the existing teak resources and the quality of teak available in the province.

“Improving the capacities of the local officials is essential for the success of ForInfo,” said Fabian Noeske, ForInfo’s Technical Advisor. “They are learning how to manage these methodologies on their own, making the future of the project sustainable.”

The improvement of the agriculture and forestry officials’ capacities will be essential in the coming years. Although establishment of new teak plantations has stagnated recently because of other land-use options, one of the main alternative options, rubber, has been on the decline. While rubber prices are falling rapidly, and its market deteriorating, global teak prices have been on a constant rise, and its use as timber is increasing in popularity.

“With improved teak management practices, smallholders in northern Lao PDR will be able to access the growing teak markets, and will gain increased financial diversification, as well as the security of long-term savings” said Mr. Noeske.

Through better management of teak resources, smallholders will be able to improve their financial future.

About ForInfo

Since 2011, RECOFTC, with funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, has been working on the ForInfo project, which aims to provide local people with better access to markets for forest products and environmental services through clearer and more accurate information about their forest resources. In Houay Xai, Bokeo province, Lao PDR, one of ForInfo’s 8 sites in 4 countries of the Lower Mekong region: Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Vietnam, ForInfo has been working to improve community livelihoods and create access to markets from teak cultivation based on sustainable forest management principles.

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Forests and Water: Unraveling the controversy and what it means to local communities in Asia

22 March is World Water Day 2014. To celebrate the day, RECOFTC is launching its new report Forests and water: A synthesis of the contemporary science and its relevance for community forestry in the Asia–Pacific region. The report aims to shed light on the relationships between forests and water in both temperate and tropical regions. However, it finds that there is a “popular narrative” that often runs counter to the consensus views of the forest hydrology scientific community.

Regan Suzuki Pairojmahakij, Program Officer with RECOFTC, reflects on some of the discussions and reactions that have ensued through the development of the report.


Photo credit: J. Broadhead, FAO 

Recently, I was thrown off balance. I learned that the brontosaurus never existed. The archetypal dinosaur of my elementary school books has since been found to be an imposter – a trick of science due to the mistaken (or fraudulent) assembly of skeletal remains belonging to entirely different dinosaur species more than a century ago. And yet, the impact of this knowledge reverberated a bit more sharply than would be justified by a simple correction of fact. How is it possible that this cornerstone of our imagined prehistoric world never existed?

A comparable disruption of commonly held belief has been occurring within my own sphere in community forestry.  The popular belief in question is that of the ‘sponge theory’ whereby forests have long been credited with ‘regulating’ hydrological systems – capturing water during rainy seasons and gradually releasing this throughout dry seasons. The sponge theory may well be supported in the very specific geo-physical context (namely the Swiss Alps) in which it originated, but is increasingly being seen to have less validity, if not downright detrimental land management implications, in regions such as humid tropics and sub tropics. Popular media and policy-makers throughout the region continue to embrace the sponge theory as a deeply held axiom and its resulting influence on public opinion has been profound. Propounded everywhere from school text books to newspaper headlines – forests, or the lack of them, have been associated with flooding, with the existence (or otherwise) of springs, and even local-level rainfall events. And these popular beliefs seem to be nowhere more closely held than by foresters themselves.

“Much folklore and many myths remain about the role of land use and its relation to hydrology, and these hinder rational decision-making. This is particularly true in relation to forestry, agroforestry and hydrology: claims by enthusiastic agroforesters and foresters are often not supportable. The perception that forests are always necessarily ‘good’ for the environment and water resources has, however, become so deeply ingrained in our collective psyches that it is usually accepted unthinkingly. The view is routinely reinforced by the media and is all-pervasive…” (Prof. Ian Calder, 2005)

 When RECOFTC decided to engage in issues related to water, for which a respected forester and hydrologist was tasked to produce a report on community forestry and implications for water management, Forests and water: A synthesis of the contemporary science and its relevance for community forestry in the Asia–Pacific region, few here were prepared for some of the results. As a community forestry capacity development organization, an exploration of community forestry and its presumed contributions to improved water regulation and access seemed innocuous as a topic.  And yet, it very quickly became a rabbit hole in which our epistemological machinery was suddenly laid bare with unsettling results. The pervasive sponge theory, not only may not be relevant to the geo-hydrology of this region, but may be the complete opposite of what good science suggests. Institutional consensus has led us to grudging agreement that there is a body of science that argues that forests, and particularly afforestation, may reduce ground and water flows (although this needs to be nuanced as dry season and total annual flows). However, this continues to be viewed as a one part of the evidence. The truth however, as pointed out in Gilmour’s report, is that barring several very specific and justified exceptions, there is no compelling scientific evidence contesting this.

The key findings of the report, simplified considerably, with relevance for community forestry and the regional forestry sector, are as follows:

  • Both natural and plantation forests managed by communities can produce hydrological benefits, but these are mainly locally specific, i.e., felt mainly on-site or nearby rather than far downstream. In absolute terms, hydrological benefits of forests are less than popularly believed.
  • Trees produce biomass by using water for growth processes. Generally, trees that are fast growing and produce a lot of biomass use a lot of water, thereby reducing both total annual as well as dry season flows.
  • Community forests in the Asia-Pacific region tend to commence in most cases with degraded lands that have lost their water storage capacity due to reduced infiltration rates. As forests are planted or restored, water yields can be expected to decline further and remain low for decades.
  • In small catchments and for small rainfall events, forests have a limited capacity to regulate stream flows. For large catchments and particularly for large rainfall events, forests have limited demonstrated capacity to regulate stream flows compared with other well-managed vegetation types. [1]
  • Increases in peak (flood) flow as a result of clearing forests are observable for small to medium size rainfall events in relatively small catchments. The major determinants of large scale flooding at all catchment scales are: rainfall amount and intensity, antecedent rainfall and catchment geomorphology—not vegetation type.
  • Community forests normally occur in a landscape mosaic of agricultural, grazing and forest land of different tenure—not all of it community managed. Management of community forests can contribute to these wider objectives, but the hydrological impacts of individual treatments at local levels will be diluted as the catchment size increases. 

What are we to take from this? The overarching lesson to be learned is the fallible and iterative nature of knowledge and the means by which we come to conclusions about the world. Related, is the often logic-defying strength of our conviction in certain axioms. It can be surprisingly difficult to wrestle beliefs out of the popular domain once embedded (in fact, science knew that the brontosaurus was wrong all the way back in 1971 – it has taken more than 30 years for this revision to gain ground in the popular imagination). For the field of community forestry, failing to conduct our work through employing the most current and rigorous science puts vulnerable communities and ecosystems at risk. If the sponge theory does not apply here, we have an obligation to consider alternatives and support communities in making the best land use management decisions on the basis of the best knowledge and models we have available.

[1] This effect can be enhanced with technical measures like check-dams and other water retention structures.

Local people need a good forest

Dr. Tint Lwin Thaung, Executive Director of RECOFTC, discusses one of the key challenges in community forestry. To meet expectations about the role of community forestry in poverty reduction, we must promote community forestry models that aim to move beyond subsistence scale. The size and quality of forest land actively managed by local people is crucial.


Ban Prednai community mangrove forest, Trat Province, Thailand
Photo credit: Nick Wilder

Today, 21 March, is the International Day of Forests. The Day celebrates and raises awareness of the importance of forests. But when we say forests, what kind of forests are we talking about, and to whom are they important?

Here at RECOFTC, we know that an effective approach for improving forest conservation is strengthening the active control of communities over their forests. A recent RECOFTC report finds that the benefits of community forestry (CF) can be significantly and cost-effectively scaled up if governments increase the area of good quality forests under community management (among other factors)[1]. As an organization with its ‘ear to ground,’ we know that the good quality part of this statement urgently needs to be addressed.

We know that there are frequent complaints about poor quality (in terms of potential for productivity) land given to local people under CF arrangements.  This land often consists of degraded forest area, and the local people who depend on these forests are struggling even to obtain minor forest products. Sometimes managing this type of degraded land becomes more of a burden for local people than a benefit, due to threat of fire. While the capacity for natural regeneration of degraded land is possible, time is a key factor for local people who depend on forests to meet their subsistence needs.

The RECOFTC report finds that despite the fact that forest areas under CF management have increased from 150 million ha in 2002 to 180 million ha in 2012 in 14 countries in the region, information such as type of forests, status of regeneration, productivity and ability to support ecological functions and forest production is mostly lacking.

There is much evidence that proves that local people time and again have demonstrated their ability to protect forests and manage production forest more effectively than public agencies.  For example, a report from Rainforest Alliance studied 12 communities that managed over 400,000 ha of highly commercially valuable forests in the Maya Biosphere Reserve of Guatemala[2]. The communities earned around $10 million annually from the sale of timber and non-timber forest products from the forest concessions. The study found that in this area managed by the communities, there was a slower deforestation rate than in adjacent ‘core protected forest’ areas. This is just one example of how local people need good quality forest land to manage, and that everyone benefits as a result.

Thus we need to work toward CF models that go beyond subsistence scale. High expectations about the role of CF in poverty reduction will be impossible to meet without CF models that go beyond subsistence scale. The size and quality of forest land given to local people is crucial.

Our policies and practices must aim to obtain good quality forest lands for local people in order to result in positive change. Evidence shows that local people will manage their resources more effectively if they are provided with a proper enabling environment.  Even for degraded land, there are models for restoration that can meet the objectives and needs of local people. Technical and financial support in line with traditional knowledge and the capacity of local people are essential to yield lasting impacts of local people’s participation in forest management.

As we work to increase the area of forest lands managed by local people, we must also be mindful about the impact we are aiming for in our endeavors. Please join us on the International Day of Forests – and beyond – in taking the initiative to work toward securing not only more forests under community management – but good quality forests – so that we can progress toward the goal of empowering local people to effectively and equitably engage in the sustainable management of forested landscapes.

[1] For more information, see ‘Sustainable forest management: how can it be scaled up’, available at:, and ‘Community forestry in Asia and the Pacific: Pathway to inclusive development’, available at:

Making forestry work for women

On 8 March 2014, RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests celebrates International Women’s Day to honor women’s important contributions to community forestry throughout the Asia and the Pacific region.


a Thai woman weaving the organic thread
Credit: Bhawana Upadhyay

At a recent gathering of forestry professionals to discuss gender mainstreaming in forest policy, Dr. Tint L. Thaung, Executive Director of RECOFTC, highlighted the gender divide in the forestry sector, and the urgent need to address it.  “Even today, the forestry sector is perceived by many as a ‘man’s’ profession,” he said.

Statistics from the forestry sector in this region back this up. For example, female staff at one forest ministry make up a mere three percent of employees.  Community forest user groups are not reaching the target of 50 percent female inclusion. In another typical example, one ministry has 12 percent female staff, with the majority hired in administrative positions.

Addressing the various challenges to gender mainstreaming in the forestry sector require multi-dimensional approaches. Fundamental questions need to be explored to inform these approaches: how would gender responsive national forest policy help achieve gender equity in practice?  What are the intervening factors and how do we address them? All forest-related interventions need to be seen through a gender lens to recognize these fundamental issues.

a Nepali woman collecting fodder Credit : Rupa Joshi

a Nepali woman collecting fodder
Credit : Rupa Joshi

Amidst a discussion on gender disparity during the gathering, a participant from the Philippines shared her observation on a paradigm shift in gender inclusivity in the forestry sector in her country. Forestry courses, which were traditionally predominantly male, have shown increases in female enrollment. Currently, women outnumber men in forestry courses three to one. In fact, there are more female staff in the Forest Management Bureau of Philippines, with some occupying the most senior positions.

While female representation is important, however, it is not enough. It is critical to understand that gender mainstreaming is just a process and not a panacea in itself. Unless efforts are made to change mindsets, through awareness raising and developing capacities of stakeholders, achieving gender equality in forestry seems a far cry.

RECOFTC strongly believes that women’s empowerment is a key component of sustainable forest management. Thus in collaboration with its partners, RECOFTC is working to strengthen social and gender equity in all aspects of community forestry.

We would like to wish you a Happy International Women’s day and look forward to working together towards strengthening social and gender equity in community forestry.

Deforestation and community-outsider conflicts

RECOFTC’s own Ahmad Dhiaulhaq was recently asked to be a guest blogger for “The Broker”, which is “an independent platform and online magazine on globalisation and development, bringing together cutting-edge knowledge and expert opinions from researchers, policymakers and practitioners”. The original version can be found here.

palm oil 1

Deforestation-related conflict reflects the power relations between forest users.

Whenever the media discuss the consequences of deforestation, they often focus on the environmental impacts, like the loss of forest cover and biodiversity, habitat fragmentation, soil erosion, and the loss of carbon contributing to climate change. However, a large amount of research has highlighted that deforestation, including conversion of forests to other land uses like plantations, agriculture or mining, can also have social consequences. One of the most frequent is conflicts between local communities and external actors like logging, plantation and mining companies and government agencies. These are known as community-outsider conflicts.

The link between deforestation and conflict can clearly be seen when overlaying the location of deforestation around the world, as presented in the findings of the recent publication in the journal Science, with where forest conflict hotspots are found. This shows that, for example, Southeast Asia is one such hotspot. The nature and scale of forest conversion basically make conflict inevitable because of competing interests and claims, thereby often undermining the needs and interests of the local communities that inhabit the land.

Forests in Southeast Asia serve as a home for 120-150 million – primarily indigenous – people who rely on forest resources for their livelihoods. In addition, because they consider them as their own, most indigenous forest people see themselves as inseparable from forests, especially in relation to their beliefs, culture and way of life. Therefore, deforestation can be detrimental to many aspects of their forest-dependent lives.

Deforestation-related conflict reflects the power relations between forest users. It is an area in which the legitimate power and interests of different forest stakeholders, like the government, investors, concession holders, local communities, and NGOs interplay. The way in which one of these parties uses its power can be a cause of conflict when it impedes and is unacceptable to other parties. Southeast Asia’s forest policy and governance has a long history of ‘state knows best’ mentality, which is reflected in top-down decision making and in the authority to the government given by laws and regulations, and a history of strong influence of corporations and other businesses in forest management. In order to boost economic development, the governments of Cambodia and Indonesia, for example, conceded significant tracts of land to private companies for investment in large-scale plantations and agriculture expansion through a concession system, which often not only leads to forest degradation but also undermines the rights of local communities.

Considered as a ‘less powerful’ party in comparison with the government and large companies, local communities are especially vulnerable to the displacement and dispossession of land, access restriction and disturbance of sources of livelihoods. Many conflicts arise when local people feel or perceive injustice due to outsiders’ interventions to their forest and land. Unfortunately, weak governance, unclear tenure and economic development policies that prioritize global and national interests over local needs and aspirations only exacerbate the situation.

For companies, conflict with local communities can significantly increase their financial risks, leading to higher operating costs, disruption of or even closure of their operations. Free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) can be an important tool to prevent such conflicts. This can be achieved through early consultation with local communities, participatory social and environmental impact assessments, and non-coercive negotiation between the companies or government and local communities. Mutually acceptable agreements resulting from these efforts can provide greater security for the company and reduce the aforementioned financial risks.

It is unfortunate that many efforts to curb deforestation through forest conservation also often lead to conflict. There are many cases where the establishment of protected areas in Southeast Asia, like national parks, where the intention is to prevent or eliminate human exploitation and occupation of forests, does not include early consultation and actually excludes local communities that have been settled in the area for generations. More recently, global efforts to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus (REDD+), are expected to exacerbate current conflicts, or even generate new ones. Conflicts might arise because REDD+ is expected to create new zoning regimes, which in turn results in more restrictions to forest access, overlaps with other land uses, and competing claims over land, forests, and carbon.

To prevent and mitigate the negative impacts of deforestation-related conflicts, a robust and sound conflict transformation approach is critical. This includes identifying and addressing the overarching issues that can cause conflict in external forest interventions like forest conversion, conservation or REDD+. Researchers at The Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC) have developed a predictive framework to identify areas that are possible sources of conflicts in forest management: access and use, benefit distribution, competing demands, conflict management capacity, leadership, legal and policy framework, participation and communication, quality of resources, and tenure security. Unless these issues are addressed, it is likely that conflict over forest intervention may arise.

For current conflicts, a timely and proper conflict transformation approach to address their direct and underlying causes is essential. In the event that conflicting parties cannot resolve the conflict by themselves, negotiation assistance by a third party might be needed, such as via a mediator. Our recent study suggests that mediation plays a crucial role in transforming forest conflicts in Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia. Mediation facilitated by a third party has provided a platform for multi-stakeholder dialogue, helped build trust between parties, created an environment for positive dialogue, and has assisted in problem-solving processes.

In the long run, meaningful changes at the policy level should also be pursued, especially since many forest conflicts are policy-driven. But as long as government policies and regulations ignore and/or fail to secure the rights of local people, and tenure is unclear, the roots of conflict may not fully be withdrawn.

Read the full publication. “Mediating forest conflicts in Southeast Asia: Getting the positives our of conflicts over forests and land” HERE.

 Photo by Ahmad Dhiaulhaq in Jambi, Indonesia.

Asking hard questions about community forestry brings us full circle


Written by Regan Suzuki, Program Officer

The forestry sector is mid-stream in a fundamental transition, navigating the need to balance multiple priorities ranging from improving rural livelihoods, climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation. Over the past few months, RECOFTC has immersed itself in a process of self-reflection. A series of in-house and external events and publications such as, “Community forestry in Asia and the Pacific: Pathway to inclusive development”, have focused a spotlight on questions of primary importance to an institution devoted to community forestry. These include the very definition of community forestry. Is it communal title over forest land? Is it the existence of a community forest management plan? Or can it be broad enough to include small holders with plantations? As markets, political systems and ecologies become more porous, so too do our conceptual definitions need to adapt and remain responsive.

RECOFTC has not restricted the conceptual grappling to its own corridors. In addition to the Third Regional Forum for People and Forests , which resulted in Community Forestry Action Plans to strengthen community forestry efforts among regional, national and community stakeholders, RECOFTC involved senior level government officials from Asia-Pacific working on community forestry in a week-long investigation of the merits, challenges and ultimately, future of community forestry in the region. The outcomes from the week-long Community Forestry Champions Network event were profound. The questions that guided the event were those overarching the sector. What key challenges face practitioners, policy makers and communities pursuing community forestry? What compelling arguments exist for community forestry, if any? And finally, fundamentally, is community forestry viable going forward? Involving 23 senior government officials and policy makers from countries ranging from Laos PDR and Myanmar to China and Papua New Guinea, there were clear differences in national legislative, cultural and economic contexts. And yet, the commonalities in responses were striking. Challenges to community forestry are numerous. Even some of the participating officials were initially not entirely convinced of its competitive advantages.  However, after a week of openly considering these challenges and subsequently the benefits accruing from the involvement of local communities in managing forest landscapes, there was not a single ‘champion’ who did not consider that community forestry offered the best package of strategies and benefits to meet widely divergent needs and interests. Through a process of rigorous self critique, appreciation for the role for community forestry was strengthened.

In the end, there is no doubt that regulatory barriers need to be removed. More and better research is required to demonstrate the multiple benefits derived from community forestry at national levels. Local communities need to derive real and competitive livelihoods from forest landscapes and this may mean a greater acceptance of timber harvesting in community forests. A rights-based approach is fundamental and should underlie any conservation of carbon sequestration initiatives. However, despite these pressing demands on community forestry, there was seen to be no real challenge or alternative to the viability of community forestry going forward. As long as there are local communities living in forested landscapes and as long as proponents of community forestry are willing to be responsive, dynamic and adaptable, there is a real and legitimate rationale for the promotion and up-scaling of community forestry – and many would consider, moral imperative.

What do government officials responsible for implementing community forestry in the Asia-Pacific region think are the challenges to and arguments for community forestry in their countries? Watch RECOFTC’s ‘Community Forestry Champions Network’ video to find out. 

REDD+ is at a crossroads – and it’s no time to get impatient

Dr.Chandra Silori, coordinator of the Grassroots Capacity Building for REDD+ project , shares his reflections on REDD+ and the way forward, based on his experience at the Oslo REDD Exchange 2013, held last month. Setting the sight on COP19, he asks whether the expectations of the global and local community from REDD+ will ever be addressed.

More than 450 delegates from all over the world, representing civil society organizations, policy makers, academia, grassroots organizations, indigenous peoples organizations and media, gathered in Oslo at the end of October for the Oslo REDD Exchange 2013. The event was a chance for participants to review progress and discuss ways to revitalize REDD+, albeit in a setting where many arrived with the feeling that REDD+ is on life support, if not already dead. But is it really?

In her welcoming remarks, Ms. Tine Sundtoff, Norway’s Minister of Climate and the Environment, a newly created ministry that was about a week old at the time of the Oslo Exchange, stressed Norway’s commitment to being a part of the global climate change solution, which includes REDD+. Applauding the role of CSOs and NGOs in the fight against climate change, in particular those invited to showcase their results in the ‘results bar session’, Ms. Sundtoff highlighted that Norway is committed to further strengthening its development assistance to promote sustainable development pathways, poverty eradication, and strengthening the rights and active participation of indigenous people and local communities in decision-making process.

Ms. Frances Seymour, Oslo REDD Exchange 2013 Program Committee Chair, used an analogy where, in a basketball game, a time out 17 seconds before the end of the game was followed by a remarkable turnaround for the losing team, which scored 8 points to level the score. For REDD+, two days in Oslo were like the basketball game’s time out.

Simplicity and ability to bring about transformative changes were cited as key characteristics of REDD+ when it first appeared on the global platform. But now a key question is: has REDD+ lost both of these characteristics? The reason for such reflection is the fact that REDD+ has taken longer to bring about change than originally envisioned. But we must not forget that no single mechanism has ever before mobilized so much political attention, or financial resources, for tropical forest conservation and management. At this juncture for REDD+, it is critical not to get impatient. Rather, we must review what we have achieved so far, and come out with a specific agenda on how to move REDD+ forward.

Replying to a question on whether anything has changed over the last few years, Dr. Carlos Klink, National Secretary for Climate Change and Environmental Quality of the Ministry of Environment of Brazil, said that while many may question the ability of REDD+ in delivering tangible benefits so far, a review of the progress made during the last few years certainly reflects positive change. For example, REDD+ has provided a way for indigenous peoples to advance difficult and challenging issues at the national level in various countries, and even at the international level, and putting these issues in the outcomes of various COPs, such as the Cancun Agreements reached at COP 16, which advocates for clearly defining land tenure, promoting the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples, and adopting the human rights based approach for implementing REDD+ programs on the ground.

Over the two days of the Exchange, rich discussions filled the various parallel sessions, which focused on a wide range of important but yet-to-be-resolved issues around REDD+, spread across three major streams – The Landscape Approach, REDD+ Relevant Commodity Supply Chains, and Analysis, Concept and Methodology Development.

The REDD+/Landscape Approach calls for bringing in new actors into the REDD+ debate, which should not remain limited to large forested countries, such as Brazil and Indonesia, but should spread to more forest nations as it provides an opportunity for the reversal to forest loss. In this context, the call for engaging with the private sector seems to be getting louder and more prominent. Besides bringing various sectors and actors together, reviewing contradicting policies and drafting enabling policies to pursue the landscape approach, defining clear rights for indigenous people and other forest-dependent communities and equitable benefit-sharing mechanisms are important areas that will help REDD+ succeed in landscapes. However, this is easier said than done, as bringing various agencies and stakeholders together was cited by many as a real challenge, as was the development and implementation of complementary policies. Floundering political will was cited as another big risk to REDD+ and therefore political will and commitment is a must for sustaining REDD+.

Other suggestions on the way forward included analyzing the feasibility of various options within the complex landscape of REDD+, including devising transformative changes at various levels for building technical, social and political capacity of key stakeholders, including women and other marginalized groups; delivering on financial commitments, improving governance at national and local level, developing methods and approaches to measure impacts; and promoting REDD+ as a new low carbon emission model for rural development.

COP 19 is already underway in Warsaw, and it will be interesting to see how REDD+ moves forward there. Will COP19 deliver on the expectations of indigenous people and grassroots communities, whose very livelihoods are dependent on the forests, or add more frustrations to already impatient global and local communities? Until November 22, we await the answer to this question.

Why REDD+ needs local communities, not the other way around

A commentary by Regan Suzuki, program officer at RECOFTC

Focusing on isolated islands of community forestry as entry points for REDD+ is not the answer. But we need to beware throwing the baby out with the bath water. Rather than dismissing community forestry due to legitimate concerns of leakagethe answer is to look for ecologically acceptable strategies that meet the multiple, and sometimes competing, needs of local stakeholders.  RECOFTC calls for an acceleration of the devolution of management rights of land and natural resources to local communities.

The recent series of Go-REDD articles for discussion by UN-REDD Asia Pacific on the topic of community forestry: REDD+ and Community Forestry, revisited (October)”  and particularly, “Pondering the Role of Community Forestry in REDD+ (September),” raise a number of legitimate challenges associated with the design and implementation of REDD+ in community forestry sites.

Serious discussions of the overlapping frameworks for community forestry and REDD+ are timely. As the Bluffstone et al. article referred to in the September Go-REDD article points out, the extent of collective forest management has more than doubled in the preceding 15 years (granted, the starting point for area under recognized community title is low). In addition to its expanding role as a recognized forest management approach, community forestry is being seriously considered as a potential modality for the implementation of REDD+ projects and activities. UN-REDD notes this both in the October Go-REDD article, as well as in its policy brief on benefit sharing approaches for REDD+ which presents Participatory Forest Management (including Community Forest Management) as one of three likely approaches for REDD+ along with Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) and Forest Concession Management. While there is much to recommend community forestry as a suitable approach to REDD+, there is a thicket of difficult issues that surround the marrying of these objectives. Not least, are the arguments mounted on either side of REDD+ debates, either that REDD+ has the potential to strengthen the equity claimed by community forestry, or conversely, to tip the delicate balance away from the rights and interests of local communities.

There are several important omissions, however, that warrant discussion. First, is a clear understanding of what is meant by ‘community forestry.’ In its very first sentence the September Go-REDD article refers to forests under the management of communities and individual households, the subsequent sentence inferring that these are the constituents of community forestry. This is not interchangeable with the definition of Community Controlled Forests (CCF) used in the Bluffstone et al article, which refers to it as a specific form of common property management – an intermediary between public and private forest tenure rights. Nor does it reflect the ‘small c’ community forestry as described in RECOFTC’s strategic plan, which takes a broader view referring to a large range of local management options of forests including: “all aspects, initiatives, sciences, policies, institutions, and processes that are intended to increase the role of local people in governing and managing forest resources.” This ranges from management of sacred sites to small-scale forest-based enterprises, forestry outgrower schemes and company-community partnerships. Community forestry, in its more contemporary, flexible interpretation, encompasses the multitude of sustainable interactions local communities have at the interface with forest landscapes.

Associated with the concerns of fair compensation of local communities raised by the Go-REDD article, are higher-level questions of equity on national and international scales. Legitimate concerns continue to be voiced by civil society and others that REDD+ and even community forestry in some state-controlled contexts, pose restrictions on forest use that in combination with community level labor inputs and foregone opportunity costs, far outweigh benefits attained and rather instrumentally serve state agendas. REDD+ risks bolstering such agendas and offloading to local communities the burden of meeting national conservation goals, sweetened with prospective incentives, under a cloak of ‘empowerment’. Certainly, this is not the case in community forestry contexts broadly where genuine rights and benefits such as those pointed to in the October Go-REDD blog, are well documented., However the restrictions imposed by REDD+ on forest exploitation may be a move in the direction of meeting national and international conservation and mitigation objectives at the cost of real rights at local levels. To take this point on macro level equity further, carbon offsetting to allow continued emissions and energy inefficient development trajectories in developed countries may come directly at the expense of local communities in developing countries. Enhancing forests and afforesting for carbon sequestration goals requires higher consumption of water than other land uses, and where there may be growing threats of climate-related water and food security, these global mitigation goals may come into direct conflict with adaptation and the basic needs of local communities. As articulated in the joint RECOFTC – Global Alliance for Community Forestry submission to the UNFCCC in 2009, REDD+ can and must be additional to basic approaches of sustainable forest management (SFM) with decision-making and benefits devolved to local communities; not the reverse. This may be the most pragmatic ‘safeguard’ to ensuring both social and environmental objectives through REDD+.

The concluding statement in the September Go-REDD article is misleading: “This is not to say, that the idea of linking community forestry with REDD+ should be abandoned. Rather it means, that focusing on community forests while neglecting key drivers of deforestation and forest degradation may hinder the effectiveness of REDD+ activities. Nobody wants to see that happen.” The message could be misinterpreted to imply that community engagement is instrumental to the successful implementation of REDD+ activities. Rather we understand that the intended point is that targeting isolated community forestry sites as entry points for REDD+ miss the forest for the trees:  real and tangible reductions in forest-based emissions nationally depend on closing the leakage loop. Misguided focus on islands of community forestry will lead to leakage and displacement similar to what has been seen in Oddar Meanchey. RECOFTC’s position is that in order to avoid this, the answer is precisely to accelerate the handover of forest lands to local communities – whether it is for ‘big C’ community forestry or for decentralized management by smallholders. While this may lead to more production oriented forest management strategies in some cases and even forest conversion in others, the strengthened rights and livelihood options of local communities is vital to the long-term equitable and sustainable management of forests in the region.  Focusing on REDD+ while neglecting community (or local level) rights over forests may threaten the most vulnerable communities, and ultimately the global commons. This would be an outcome that nobody wants to see happen.

Dr. Tint Lwin Thaung: The Way Forward: Walking the Talk, With the Local People


Dr. Tint Lwin Thuang

The Executive Director of RECOFTC, Dr. Tint Lwin Thuang, was invited to blog in anticipation of the “Scaling-Up Strategies to Secure Community Land and Resource Rights” conference in Interlaken, Switzerland. The conference aims to “take stock of current efforts, identify promising strategies, and catalyze new alliances and action” related to land and resource rights. Dr. Tint Lwin Thuang’s blog points to strong and secure rightsgood governance, and fair benefits as the steps forward to secure land and resource rights for the local people. His post also discusses findings from a new research report on the state of community forestry in Asia, which will be launched during the Third Regional Forum on Community Forestry in November, 2013.

Stay tuned for more information.

Conflict and Cooperation in REDD+: Which way are we going?

RECOFTC’s Ahmad Dhiaulhaq, Forest Conflict and Governance Researcher, shares highlights from a recent paper on “Predicting Future Conflict under REDD+ Implementation,” the product of a collaboration between RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests and Forest Action Nepal.

Effects of land-grabbing

Effects of land-grabbing. Photograph source: Mak Remissa/EPA, via The Guardian

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) as a climate change mitigation instrument is an attractive way for developed countries to achieve their emission reduction targets, as well as an incentive for developing countries to sustainably manage their forests. While this may seem like a tidy win-win situation, it’s quite a bit more complicated than that. The ongoing discussions have highlighted the risks (e.g. conflict), as well as the opportunities (e.g. cooperation), that are inevitably part of REDD+ implementation.

Conflict might arise because REDD+ is expected to create new zoning regimes, which in turn result in more restrictions to forest access, overlap with other land uses, as well as competing claims over land, forest, and carbon. On the other hand, cooperation is possible if REDD+ implementation can address the array of existing forest management issues, including clarification of land tenure and rights. It is believed that the success of REDD+ hinges on its ability to address these existing challenges.

RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests recognizes the importance of addressing all of these fundamental issues (for the success of REDD+ but also for other forest management interventions) and seeks to address them by developing the capacity of various stakeholders in community-based forestry and natural resource management (e.g. local communities, policy makers, academics, practitioners). One of our approaches to capacity development is through strategically using research by organizations such as FAO, CIFOR, IUFRO, Wageningen University and Gajah Mada University to develop a sound knowledge basis for our capacity development. When our trainings focus on issues regarding which there is no current, relevant research, we conduct the research ourselves, as was the case with our work on conflict transformation.

One of RECOFTC’s recent research projects is trying to look at the existing and possible future sources of conflict in REDD+ project sites. We began by developing a preliminary predictive framework (Patel et al. 2013) to identify possible sources of impairment that may result in conflict over the management of forests and natural resources and then applying this framework to case studies in Nepal and Vietnam, with work ongoing in Cambodia and Myanmar. The study demonstrates that the framework can help in identifying, understanding and to some extent, predicting possible sources of conflict not only in REDD+ sites but also in forest management in general.

The research found that the following can be sources of conflict in the REDD+ sites: access and use restriction; benefit distribution; competing demands; conflict management capacity; leadership; legal and policy framework; participation and communication; quality of resources; and tenure security (Patel et al. 2013). It is argued that unless these fundamental issues are addressed, the battle against climate change through REDD+ is likely to lead to conflict amongst REDD+ proponents, national government agencies, and the communities themselves who are the key guardians of one of the most important tools in climate change mitigation.

Understanding possible sources of conflict is crucial to conflict management (and therefore project management). To reduce the potential for impairment and conflict under REDD+ implementation (and other externally driven forest management practices), stakeholders must be equipped to recognize and address these sources of impairments in a timely manner. The failure to do so will likely have considerable impact not only on the forest-dependent communities but also on the success of REDD+ itself. When forest conflict arises, local communities are often the most adversely affected and withstand the worst of its costs. In terms of REDD+, conflict would disrupt the implementation process and impact the credibility of the REDD+ mechanism and its proponents. Conflicts could also lead to intentional forest destruction, which would be detrimental to efforts to mitigate global climate change.

More information on “Predicting Future Conflict under REDD+ Implementation” can be found here.


Patel, T.; Dhiaulhaq, A.; Gritten, D.; Yasmi, Y.; De Bruyn, T.; Paudel, N.S.; Luintel, H.; Khatri, D.B.; Silori, C.; Suzuki, R. Predicting Future Conflict under REDD+ Implementation. Forests 2013, 4, 343-363.

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.

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