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.

Community Forestry: The Next Generation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Expert Panel Discussion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improving Rights and Benefits for Teak Smallholders

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

Teak Smallholder of Houaythongthai

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

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

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

Teak smallholders receiving the certificate from forest officials.

Teak smallholders receiving the certificate from forest officials.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Himalayan Bio-Briquettes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mangroves under Pressure: Forgotten Wetlands in the Changing Climate

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

Pred Nai, Trat, mangrove forest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are ‘Landscapes’ the new ‘Forests’?

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

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

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

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

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

Sustainable Forest Management Requires a Multi-sectoral Approach

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

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

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

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

Gender Mainstreaming in COP 18 Gets a Boost

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

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

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

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

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

New Challenges and the Role of Women

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

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

Improving Women’s Participation in Climate Negotiations

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

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

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

Stepping out of the REDD+ Shadow – Forests and Adaptation

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

Community Forestry Adaptation Roadmaps in Asia – 2020

Community Forestry Adaptation Roadmaps in Asia – 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch this space….

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

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

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

The $30 billion Question at Doha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What should Community Forests mean to Obama?

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

President Barack Obama walks with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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