The $30 billion Question at Doha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What should Community Forests mean to Obama?

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

President Barack Obama walks with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leadership Required: Ensuring Local Communities Benefit from Climate Finance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paving a Path Forward for Commodity Roundtables Standards

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

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

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

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

Community Forestry Must Go Beyond Subsistence to Bring Prosperity

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

Dr. Krishna Chandra Paudel

Dr. Krishna Chandra Paudel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Forestry, Again

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

Growing from Seed, by Celeste Lacuna-Richman

Growing from Seed, by Celeste Lacuna-Richman

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Organic rice field at Huai Hin Dam.

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

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

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

Regenerating the forest…and their lives

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

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

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

Huai Hin Dam Spirit House.

A Spirit House at the Huai Hin Dam.

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

18 years to build trust

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

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

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

Food Security Insurance: A rice bank

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

Some of the women community members at Huai Hin Dam.

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

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

New Handbook Helps Propagate Fungi Livelihoods that Reduce Pressures on Forests


Packaging fresh mushrooms grown under the project.

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

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

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

Stocking the Mushroom Barn

Stocking the mushroom barn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FPIC Indonesia training photo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is democracy good or bad for forests?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Community Leaders Attend RECOFTC’s Silver Jubilee in Indonesia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please click here for more information on our Silver Jubilee.

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

Bangkok UNFCCC Sessions Kick-off with REDD+ Finance Debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reducing the Gender Gap

A workshop held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on 29 June, 2012, reflected on the results of increased participation of women in community forestry management in the Prakas II project being carried out in Cambodia.

Participants engaging in group work.

Workshop participants engaging in group work.

Harnessing the skills and contributions of women working at the grassroots level – something which often goes unsung and escapes formal income assessments – is essential for any sustained success in community forestry. RECOFTC’s effort to mainstream gender concerns across its programs was the subject of a workshop organized together with Cives Mundi, a Spanish NGO, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on 29 June, 2012.

The workshop on Gender Mainstreaming in Community Forestry Management Planning reflected on lessons learned and experiences from the Prakas II Project on “Community Forestry in Northeast Cambodia,” which is funded by the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and Development (AECID) and is carried out in the provinces of Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri, Strung Treng and Kratie. While the project seeks to strengthen the institutional and technical capacities of local NGO partners and forestry administration staff in community forestry management, it has also mainstreamed gender in the community forestry management planning of 16 community forest (CF) sites with the specific objective of improving women’s participation in CF development.

The workshop was attended by 56 participants including the gender focal persons from the 16 CFs in the target provinces.

Impressive Result

It was clear from the presentations that the field trainings on gender inclusion carried out in the 16 target CF communities by the forestry administration staff, local NGO partners and RECOFTC, had clarified concepts and helped identify existing gender gaps in the development of community forestry. RECOFTC and local NGO partners – the Non-Timber Forest Product Organization (NTFP)Culture and Environment Preservation Association (CEPA), and Kasekor Thmey (KT) – had established coordination links between community forestry  gender focal persons and women members of commune councils responsible for gender, to ensure that gender issues were integrated into commune development plans and mainstreamed into the community forestry management planning process. In each CF site, two gender focal persons (32 in total) were selected by the community members themselves to lead the process of mainstreaming gender in community forestry development.

As a result of these efforts, the participation of women in community forestry activities increased significantly. For instance, more women than is usual were involved in forest management planning activities – i.e. preparations for community forestry management planning (44% women), managing development funds (24%), dividing management blocks and field verification (34%), participatory resource assessment/forest inventory (20%), and drafting community forestry management plans (31%). These results have encouraged even more women to become active in  a range of activities including capacity building trainings, workshops and study tours. Some are already engaged as members of the community forest management committees (CFMCs) and are actively involved in the decision making process.

Challenges Remain

Though gender is integrated into community forestry management plans (CFMPs), traditional norms, culture and social constructs proscribe the role of women in Khmer society, particularly at household and community levels. Some women are still not allowed to travel far to attend relevant meetings and others can barely read and write.

Besides mobility restrictions, women’s low confidence, poor literacy and limited capacity, hinder their active participation in community forestry related activities. They are usually shy and barely speak about their concerns and problems.

However, there also has been a growing realization among forest users, community and local authorities in the project sites that facilitating and encouraging women through the process of gender mainstreaming would be an effective way to increase their participation and to change the attitude towards them in Khmer society. It was learned that women often discuss, find solutions to their own problems and define their roles and responsibilities keeping cultural norms and their rights in mind, but mainly in the women’s working groups.

Encouraging women through these groups to participate in capacity building training programs, with allocation of adequate funds for applying this knowledge and skills in the field, is a proven strategy for success. RECOFTC’s training-for-action approach, adopted by the Prakas II project to support women’s involvement in the process of community forestry management planning, has been very effective.

Institutionalizing Change

The results encouraged participants to suggest adequate funds be made available to continuously build the capacity of commune and community gender focal persons through various training programs that RECOFTC offers. They also stressed the need to reactivate the National Community Forestry Coordination Committee and establish the Cantonment Community Forestry Coordination Committee where gender-related issues could be raised and discussed. Ms. Bhawana Upadhyay, RECOFTC Program Officer for Gender and Rights, noted that any efforts at mainstreaming gender participation in community forestry had to include men, particularly when working with societies where women’s roles and expectations are traditionally defined.

In closing, Mr. Edwin Payuan, RECOFTC’s Cambodia Country Program Coordinator, said he hoped that the impressive response from the 16 target CF communities would encourage other local organizations, including the Forestry Administration, to further mainstream women’s participation in the country’s Community Forestry Program.


For more information on the Prakas II project being carried out in Cambodia, please click here.

To learn more about RECOFTC’s additional efforts to integrate gender as a cross-cutting issue in all of our programs, please click here.

Can the Research Process Itself Bring About Change in Forest Governance?

Mani Ram Banjade reflects on 10 years of work with local communities, NGOs, networks and government in Nepal, and finds it is possible to make a positive change through critical action research, in a new book chapter on rethinking participation, learning and innovation.

How can action research contribute to equitable governance of community forestry in Nepal? Communities, governments and donors are increasingly concerned that despite the efforts of three decades and some notable contributions to forest conservation, community forestry has made limited contributions to livelihoods, equity and poverty reduction. Despite a third of Nepal’s population being engaged in managing about one-fourth of its forest area, why are the intended returns so disappointing?

A number of reasons are highlighted by several research and policy initiatives in Nepal. First, the existing local social structures are hierarchical in terms of gender, ethnicity and economic class requiring a major overhaul for inclusion, equity and poverty reduction to take place through community forestry. Similarly, though community forest user groups (CFUGs) are legally recognized as autonomous institutions, patron-client relationships with state officials still limit the opportunity to mobilize resources for the benefits of society at large.

Inclusive deliberations to foster change

We also were aware that no one actor could make this change happen. Therefore, we integrated active reflection and learning in our investigation into the community forestry system in Nepal, which involved diverse groups of forest dependent people as well as other stakeholders in the complex and dynamic socio-ecological system. That is, to address these challenges we forged a collaboration with local CFUGs, government forest agencies, NGOs, forest-based entrepreneurs and donors.

Our assumption was that by facilitating inclusive and deliberative processes at CFUG, meso and national levels as well as democratizing the interface of these levels, we could significantly trigger change. For that to materialize, we encouraged the CFUGs to experiment through various institutional arrangements to embolden marginalized members to participate in decision-making. Similarly, we facilitated reflective processes on how they were progressing in terms of inclusion and equity. At the meso and national levels, we promoted multi-stakeholder learning forums, which included mechanisms to include representatives and the voices and lessons from the lower level.

Did it work?

In this chapter, I include the ups and downs that I experienced as an engaged researcher. This retrospective analysis of my journey could be useful to others interested in engaged scholarship. Indeed, change resulting from our presence at all levels – from CFUGs to national policy deliberations – was very impressive. The changes include an increase in representation of, and benefits to, marginalized groups in the CFUGs, increased responsiveness of meso level actors to the CFUGs, and increased space for non-state actors at meso and national level deliberations.

Throughout the participatory action research process, sensitizing for significance of learning and integrating this learning into existing practices, was very challenging. This reminds us of the classic challenges faced by those attempting to embed research within an agenda of change. Similarly, deliberation within a governance process is usually subjected to existing power asymmetries caused by the differential possession of economic, cultural and symbolic resources within a community.

Establishing links between different levels through networked governance or deliberative multi-level forums often proved very useful in improving community forestry governance. Skilled facilitation and coordination functions were central to the success of this process and demanded additional resources and institutional commitment to sustain engaged scholarship at meso and national levels.

Our experience shows that challenges increase in promoting and sustaining deliberative forums at the meso and national levels. Nonetheless, this would help forge effective linkages between communities and these institutions.

The journey was, however, at times very exciting and challenging. We had to encounter enormous resistance and challenges in many institutions, and had to muddle through vested interests and power dynamics at different levels, while also managing frustrations and excitements within the team. The material expectations at local level, an interest in retaining control over forest governance, the limited competency of the researchers and facilitators, and mechanistic expectations of the donors constrained these worthy initiatives. Similarly, there is very limited support from the public sector to promote multi-stakeholder and discursive policy processes.

This chapter describes how we, as a locally-based action research team, tackled the challenges and contributed towards inclusive and equitable forest governance in Nepal.


Banjade, Mani Ram (2013). “Learning to Improve Livelihoods: Applying Adaptive Collaborative Approach to Forest Governance in Nepal.” In: Hemant Ojha, Andy Hall and Rasheed Sulaiman V. Adaptive Collaborative Approaches in Natural Resource Governance: Rethinking Participation, Learning and Innovation. London and New York, Routledge: 216-256.

Contact Mani Ram Banjade at:

Please see our previous blog post in which Hemant Ojha reflects on the book as a whole, which documents on-the-ground struggles of those promoting  and facilitating adaptive collaboration, their strategies, tactics, tools and techniques to address various issues impeding learning and innovation.

Bridging the Gap Between the International Arena and Local Stakeholders

From lawyer to RECOFTC trainee to environmental journalist, Krishna Murari Bhandari has played a variety of roles in his career. Given his diverse background, perhaps there is no one better to act as an intermediary between international decision-makers and local stakeholders. Chandra Silori tells us how this RECOFTC alumnus is trying to resolve this disconnect in Nepal.

In some ways, Krishna Murari Bhandari is your typical print journalist – he works hard, is dedicated to his job, and hardly receives any recognition. For two decades now he has been writing a popular column for two of Nepal’s most widely circulated national dailies – Kantipur and Annapurna Post. As vice president of the Nepal Forum for Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ), he has written numerous environmental articles over the years. However, there are a number of things that set him apart from his fellows. For one, he is a lawyer by training. For another, he has a demonstrated passion for serving marginalized groups in the agrarian sector in Nepal, including forest dependent communities, ethnic minorities, and women.

A disconnect

Speaking on his first exposure to global climate change discussions, he immediately pointed out the disconnect between international discussions and situations on the ground: “The technical language that is used by the experts in their writings is far away from what local people can speak or understand,” says Bhandari, referring to the international event on climate change at the Eighth UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP 8) in 2002 in New Delhi, where he represented the NEFEJ. Similarly, references to sea level rise as an indicator of global warming hold little resonance in a landlocked country like Nepal. One has to find equivalent evidence, such as early or late flowering of local trees like rhododendrons, to bring the message home to grassroots stakeholders.

Basing his arguments on long years of interacting with local stakeholders, he said that despite the considerable amount of ongoing research to explain the complexity of climate change, the understanding among grassroots stakeholders on such issues is still inadequate. Complex concepts and terminologies result in poor capacity to respond to global changes at the local level. Even in urban centers, he says people may be aware of environmental issues like pollution, but their knowledge on climate change is still very new.

From journalist to REDD+ trainer

In 2009, RECOFTC’s Grassroots Capacity Building for REDD+ project paved the way for this lawyer-turned-journalist to become one of Nepal’s staunchest advocates for climate change adaptation and REDD+ grassroots capacity building. Bhandari immediately recognized the importance of communicating technical knowledge on REDD+ and climate change to local stakeholders. After attending his first international training organized by RECOFTC in 2009, he said, “I now feel more confident in my writings, as I am better informed about issues concerning grassroots stakeholders on climate change and REDD+.” He also added: “The grassroots project provided me a platform to directly talk to the local communities, ethnic minorities, women, students, youths and local government officials and learn about their issues and concerns.”

Realizing the opportunity at hand under the grassroots project, he helped mobilize, guide, and train local journalists to write, edit, and publish several articles on environmental issues, including climate change. This innovative project has trained over a hundred barefoot journalists. Sometimes, all you need is one champion to get things moving.

A well-deserved recognition

Not surprisingly, partner organizations of the RECOFTC Grassroots project, such as the Federation of Community Forest Users, Nepal (FECOFUN), also recognized his invaluable contribution to the project: “Mr. Bhandari has contributed significantly in the grassroots project and advocated the concerns of the forest user groups at different levels through his writings,” says Apsara Chapagain, FECOFUN chairperson.

Recently, his article on land rights issues of the high profile Rashtrapati Churia Conservation Program in the Terai (lowland) region of the country, so impressed the President of Nepal that he was invited to several rounds of discussions to get firsthand information on their land rights. Since then, Mr. Bhandari has been attending high profile meetings related to the Churia conservation program as well as a number of other expert group discussions on climate change and REDD+. His priority at these meetings is to represent the grassroots and civil society viewpoints, to give voice to their concerns in an arena where they might otherwise not be heard. Nurturing this channel of communication is an essential part of our project’s strategy of ensuring that the concerns of grassroots stakeholders are heard at the highest level in the land.

To read Bhandari’s article, ‘The President Chure Conservation Program’: Good Project-Bad Management” (Nepali), please see ForestAction Nepal’s website. For more information about the project in English, please click here.

Scoping a Path for Community Forestry in Myanmar

Ronnakorn Triraganon found an enthusiastic response from a cross-section of stakeholders at a two day roundtable meeting in Naypyidaw. 

One of the local leaders who wanted to have community forests directly serve their village's needs.

One of the local leaders who wanted to have community forests directly serve their village’s needs.

A key challenge facing Myanmar as it opens up to outside development aid and trade is the careful management of its abundant natural resources and forests. It has the opportunity to put some sound environmental and community forestry policies in place, before the negative impacts of unplanned growth lead to irreversible losses. Building the country’s capacity to manage its forests equitably while protecting them and using them as a sustainable natural resource is a big task, but one which begins with small steps. RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests has been operating in Myanmar to support community forestry development since 2011.

On 13 – 14 August 2012, the Planning and Statistics Department and the Forest Department under the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry of Myanmar together with RECOFTC, jointly organized the First National Community Forestry Roundtable Meeting with key actors in community forestry. Supported by the Royal Norwegian Government through the Norwegian Embassy in Thailand, the aim of this meeting was to identify, consolidate and prioritize recommendations made in previous Community Forestry events so government agencies and civil society could explore potential opportunities for its development.

Though only a few tree species can grow in dry zone area, local ones have been protected for village use.

Though only a few tree species can grow in dry zone area, local ones have been protected for village use.

Altogether there were 39 like-minded people from the Planning and Statistics Department, Forest Department, Dry Zone Greening Department, University of Forestry, and representatives from civil society who wanted to make community forestry in Myanmar more progressive. At the roundtable meeting, participants gave priority to six main interventions that could support community forestry development. They include the development of a community forestry law, establishment of a community forestry government unit, a capacity building and research program for government and non-government personnel, establishment of a national working group, and a neutral platform for practitioners. Brief ideas and plans for making each intervention viable were discussed. Participants from both government and civil society were happy to share their commitments and contributions to support these interventions. They appreciated the roundtable as a good start for bringing practitioners from government, academic institutes, and civil society together, and supported the idea of holding such meetings regularly.

RECOFTC gained great support from the Ministery of Environmental Conservation and Forestry

RECOFTC gained great support from the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry.

In a follow up, the Forest Department of the Forest Research Institute together with RECOFTC, conducted a Community Forestry Action Research Formulation Meeting for research teams from different line agencies and representatives from civil society. The event was supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) through the ASEAN-Swiss Partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change (ASFCC). The meeting was set against a backdrop of efforts by the Government to promote community participation in forest management, however it requires some research to overcome barriers to improving community forestry in the country, as well as embracing the opportunities available.

The meeting aimed to help participants understand the fundamentals of action research and how participatory action research fits with community forestry; create a framework for developing a Participatory Action Research (PAR) project or undertakings related to community forestry, and finally to design an action research plan to address key issues in forest management and community forestry.

There were 30 participants from the Planning and Statistics Department, Forest Department, Dry Zone Greening Department, University of Forestry and representatives from NGOs gathered together in the Nyaung Oo Township Dry Zone Greening Office, Mandalay Division. Participants had an opportunity to use basic tools to formulate the research framework and try it out in real community forestry settings. At the end of the meeting, participants identified key research topics and developed analytical frameworks within which they will need to conduct participatory action research in the next 12 months.

This action research will be conducted by the Forest Research Institute with partners such as they University of Forestry under funding through the ASEAN-Swiss Partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change. The research topics included:

  1. How existing land tenure and rights affect the development of CF in Myanmar.
  2. Socio-economic potential of community forestry (including non-certified community forests) in Myanmar.
  3. Review of the processes for community forestry establishment (i.e. communities getting certificates for their forests).
People in Nyaung Gyi Village use palm leaves as a fuel source.

People in Nyaung Gyi Village use palm leaves as a fuel source.

At the meeting, participants agreed that there is a big need to improve the research capacity for community forestry development. Most are familiar with Scientific Forestry Technical research, but less so with social and participatory action research. RECOFTC will provide more technical and coaching support to the research team as they conduct their PAR for CF in the next 12 months.

For more information on our capacity building program in Myanmar please contact

Exploring Successful Co-Management of Protected Areas and Wetland Conservation

Kanchana Wiset captures the experiences of Bangladeshi delegates during a study tour on  successful co-management and wetland conservation practices in Thailand. 

For more information about our training courses, please click here

The delegates keep an eye out for wildlife.

Co-management and participatory approaches in natural resource management are frequently successful in finding solutions for all stakeholders, and examples from Thailand are an interesting case in point. Some of these experiences were shared with Bangladeshi delegates during a RECOFTC study tour held on 1 – 9 July 2012.

The tour on “Protected Area Co-management and Wetland Conservation Strategy in Thailand” was for 11 Bangladeshi delegates from the Integrated Protected Area Co-Management (IPAC), a project funded by USAID. The delegates were nominated by the four ministries of Environment and Forests, Fisheries and Livestock, Planning, and Finance.

The learning objectives of the program included:

  • Gaining knowledge of forest co-management and wetland conservation strategies in Thailand,
  • Understanding how multiple stakeholders manage protected areas and wetland sites through participatory processes,
  • And exploring how community based natural resource management works in Thailand in order to support sustainable livelihoods.

Walking through the forest of Kui Buri National Park.

The nine-day program covered four case studies and provided an opportunity to learn both through discussions and site visits by exploring. Delegates discussed their findings in groups, concluding with a discussion of lessons learned that can be applied and promoted in their home country.

“It was a very effective study tour. We learned many new things that we can use in our country.” – Mr. Md. Riaz Uddin (Assistant Chief, Agriculture, Water Resource and Rural Institution Division)

Day One introduced the delegates to two experts from the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning, of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, who discussed Thailand’s policies on climate change and wetland management. They learned concepts of co-management from a RECOFTC trainer and identified 13 basic principles for successful co-forest management.

The first site visited was Kui Buri National Park in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province, where the co-management process has successfully mitigated conflict over resources – in this case between humans and wild elephants. The national park built awareness by engaging local people in principles of natural resource management, and by setting up a local eco-tourism group. Local people now make efforts to save wild elephants and like them to stay in the area.

Next, heading to the south, the delegates visited the first wetlands Ramsar Convention[1] site of Thale Noi Lake. Traveling by boat to get a close-up view of the wetland ecosystem, the delegates visited  several distinctive topological areas: swamp forest, Melaleuca forest, water bodies, moist evergreen forest and agricultural lands. The area is important for bird nesting and feeding. Local people depend on the lake’s resources for their livelihoods, with many engaged in fishing and tourism. Here the delegates also investigated examples of alternative livelihoods promotion. One example, organic farming, was introduced in order to reduce pressure on wetland resources.


The group took a boat to explore nature and biodiversity around Thale Noi Lake. They stopped at nesting places for domestic and migratory birds, as Thale Noi Lake has several Important Bird Areas (IBAs).

Moving to Trang Province, known for its strong participatory natural resources management, the delegates observed co-management at work in conserving the marine and coastal resources in Libong Sub district. Ta Libong Island is an important habitat for dugongs, a rare marine mammal, and many sea grass beds. The delegates learned of the success that the Traditional Fishermen Club of Trang Province has had in local management. Thanks to their efforts, local opinions and initiatives were considered in policy reform at both the provincial and sub-district levels, for instance the Tambol Administrative Organization of Libong – TAO Libong agreed to local requests by announcing the “the Regulation of TAO Libong on Conserving Dugongs in 2012.”

“This program is very useful to learn about 
co-management in marine and coastal resource management and wetlands & biodiversity conservation,” – Mr. Muhammad Muzahidul Islam (Senior Chemist, Department of Environment)

The group took a boat to explore nature and biodiversity around Thale Noi Lake. They stopped at nesting places for domestic and migratory birds, as Thale Noi Lake has several  Important Bird Areas (IBAs).The delegates met with relevant organizations working on coastal resources conservation and management with the local communities in the province to exchange experiences. These agencies provide support in a variety of ways, such as setting up volunteer groups; organizing awareness-building activities; defining community and sanctuary forest boundaries; arranging youth camps; organizing exhibitions; and promoting alternative livelihoods.


A local initiative called the “Crab Bank” helps to first conserve and then grow the crab population.

The last site visit was to the Ban Nam Rap community, where conservation and sustainable livelihoods are reflected in the community’s replacement of destructive fishing practices with more sustainable ones.  The delegation was shown many different schemes and systems for the co-management of resources: local regulations on coastal resource use; defining prohibited and banned fishing activities; setting up a mangrove community forest committee; establishing a volunteer patrolling group; promoting a crab bank; and providing marketing support and boat maintenance for fishermen.

At the end of program, the delegates reflected on the lessons learned from each site visit. Many found the program had clear objectives, appropriate content, and good case studies, all of which promoted their learning.

“It was a nice program, well organized and knowledgeable. I think now I can do better for management and conservation of our natural resources as well as for livelihoods developments.” – Mr. Mohammed Jahangir Alam (Upazila Fisheries Officer, Department of Fisheries)


 RECOFTC study tours are learning events that provide practical experiences and knowledge for participants, to enhance the concept of people and forests working together. The aims of RECOFTC’s study tours are to exchange different experiences, open wider views on community forestry to audiences, and to allow participants to attain the necessary capacity to apply lessons learned in their work. Learn more about our capacity building programs on our training website

[1] The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, called the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. For more information, please visit

How Adaptive and Cooperative are the Stakeholders in Natural Resource Management?

Hemant Ojha reflects on his new book Adaptive Collaborative Approaches in Natural Resource Governance: Rethinking Participation, Learning and Innovation, Edited by Hemant R Ojha, Andy Hall, and Rasheed Sulaiman V.

Why this book?

ImageAre stakeholders in natural resource management sufficiently adaptive and collaborative in addressing the issues of equity, sustainability and productivity? This book attempts to document on-the-ground struggles of those promoting  and facilitating adaptive collaboration, their strategies, tactics, tools and techniques to address various issues impeding learning and innovation. It also discusses the different types of constraints and challenges affecting this process. Such a reflective and empirically rich account of the actors, we thought, would provide concrete lessons and ideas for how we can do better in the future.

So what exactly is the issue?

Despite three decades of participatory reforms in policies and practices in the developing world, the achievement is limited. More than 1.3 billion people who base their livelihoods on fisheries, forest, and agriculture (FAO 2004) are deprived of basic necessities and ‘freedoms’, in Amartya Sen’s terms. Moreover, the socio-ecological systems that generate these natural capitals are still fragile and are, in many cases, in the process of degradation (as is evident in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Report, 2005). The global climate change phenomenon is further adding stress and vulnerabilities to these socio-ecological systems and resource-poor residents, who face added challenges in achieving livelihoods security.

Undoubtedly, Natural Resource Management (NRM) policy reforms, with their participatory turn, have  revealed a nuanced understanding of the problems and the vision for change. Numerous attempts have been made worldwide, and as a result quite a few innovations and transformations have taken place, empowering local communities, and facilitating fairer distribution of benefits from agriculture and NRM.

However, in the book, we argue that innovations and working examples are too small on a global scale to counteract the negative effects of human beings on ecosystems (as revealed by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment), and untenable strategies for inclusive resource management and fair distribution of benefits in different contexts. In the worst cases, these innovations are likely to revert back once active support systems are withdrawn (as the experiences of contributors in this volume show).

It is therefore clear that the current way of doing participatory natural resource management is not the ‘end of history’[i] of NRM – such that a final policy approach has already been discovered and all that we need to do is to ‘implement’ it in practice.

The continuing challenges

There are at least three problems with the current approach. First, the actors who drive these approaches (be they policy makers, donors or conservation agencies) blame the local actors and institutions for the complex problems of resource degradation, as if the larger policy and institutional regimes are working just fine. This shifts the onus onto communities while absolving the underlying governing structure.

Second, the current approach to change is still guided by a technocratic worldview – which privileges experts and policy makers to make decisions for others, disregarding the agency and capability of the poor and affected local communities. Even the well-accepted participatory approach has legitimized expert-led, Euro-centric, modernist visions and strategies of change, forcing everyone to think through Western lenses (Shiva 1988; Scott 1998) – in effect creating ‘participatory exclusions’ (Agarwal 2001).

Third, most reforms occur only on paper, not in practice.

In this book, we studied existing practices to understand the possibilities of such change.  We did not want to advocate participatory, collaborative and community based approaches. Instead, we wanted to explore how stakeholders can foster, at all levels of governance, more effective learning and cooperative actions – two important elements of Adaptive Collaborative Approach (ACA).

Contributors of the book asked the same question in different contexts of environmental management covering Asia, Africa and South America: what prevents adaptive and collaborative approaches from taking root in the practice of natural resource management? This book is a compilation of stories told by practitioners and action researchers, rather than fresh research done solely by us, the editors.


Although stories captured in the book are complex, the core message is simple: challenges to adaptive learning and collaborative governance are numerous and fundamental, and have roots outside the ‘local’ domain. There is hardly an alternative route to effective natural resource governance other than to explore ways through which actors can engage better with one another, harness cooperation and pool knowledge for more adaptive approaches in the face of increasing uncertainty. But we need radically different ways to apply this principle, for which we need to nurture and support new types of researchers who bridge, broker and facilitate change across diverse institutions, scales, and knowledge communities. The business-as-usual method of developing technical solutions and then using extension systems to put the research into use does not work.

It is also time to reflect upon the limits of our own learning about learning and innovation in natural resource systems – why can’t we first change our own institutions and practices when we ask others to do the same? Spending too much on developing too specific solutions is wastage; it is always better to engage in co-creating knowledge and fostering cooperative actions. More actions are needed to explore how ACA can be better grounded as modus operandi of policy and institutional development as well as management practices.

[i]We draw a metaphor from Francis Fukuyama’s (1992) view that the world has finally discovered a system of governance based on market and liberal political system. We do not see such end of history at least in the context of natural resource governance.

Climate change adaptation and mitigation in community managed forests: two sides of the same coin

Regan Suzuki highlights key points from a new RECOFTC publication that explores the potential links between climate change adaptation and mitigation.  


The women proudly show off the now verdant forest surrounding the Chapini River. As one of the few female-led community forestry user groups (CFUGs) in this conservative area of Nepal close to the Indian border, they represent a success story. They also offer valuable insights into the poorly explored intersection between climate change adaptation and mitigation. The Bishnupur community began planting trees and supporting natural reforestation alongside the river in response to flooding, a phenomenon that Nepal can expect more of as climate induced glacial outbursts increase.  Not only were their property and homes buffered from flooding, they began to observe a range of other benefits: improved water retention in areas adjacent to the forests; the community, and specifically the women, had their rights to the forest formally recognized; and finally, even district forest officials acknowledged the significant increases in carbon sequestration.

Until recently, climate change adaptation and mitigation have often been treated as two separate and independent approaches. The study of, funding pots and international discussions on each have taken place largely in isolation. Not only is this ineffective, it is potentially counterproductive. In a just-released publication, “Linking Adaptation and Mitigation through Community Forestry: Case Studies from Asia,” by RECOFTC and its partners (CDKN, REDD-net, Raks Thai and the Adaptation Knowledge Platform), authors argue that it is imperative for the two actions to be integrated.  The case studies, covering five countries: Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam), illustrate that there is significant potential for synergies between mitigation activities such as reducing rates of deforestation and supporting adaptive capacities of rural communities (i.e. forest-based sources of livelihoods, strengthening food security and investing in agriculture-supporting ecosystems). But the links are not automatically mutually enhancing. Trade-offs exist and must be incorporated and addressed in project design.

The case studies, while still an early step in teasing out the inter-relationships between adaptation and mitigation, point to concrete examples of where real-life synergies and trade-offs are appearing.  In Ban Huay Win, Thailand, for a community located within a national park, conservation-oriented restrictions on land-use prevent community members from adopting potentially more sustainable long-term land management strategies. At the same time, however, the innovative introduction of improved agricultural practices, such as terracing, by NGOs has reduced some of the pressure on forestland, allowing, in some cases, for fallow land to be returned to natural forest regeneration. In the initial example of the Bishnupur community forest, as forest management plans develop, efforts to conserve forest are sometimes at the expense of vulnerable groups. Restrictions on the free grazing of cattle in the forest means that the burden of collecting fodder for stall-raised cattle and the loss of income from dairy as livestock numbers decline fall squarely on women.

Unlike at international levels, the cases underscore that at community levels the distinction between adaptation and mitigation actions is often blurred.  The main argument for community forestry, in the context of climate change, is that it responds to multiple interests.  Forests, and in particular community forestry, represent a bundle of assets and benefits. They serve as a safety net in times of hardship and support critical ecosystems required for well-being.  The cases point out that while the contributions of community forestry to mitigation are well-recognized, in the case of adaptation, community forestry is equally well placed to support adaptive capacity, but this is not automatic. A people-centered approach is required in order to ensure that mitigation or conservation goals are not pursued at the expense of local livelihoods. While community forestry does not inherently ensure improved resilience to climate change, if strategically mainstreamed within community forestry frameworks, it could be a highly effective approach for doing so.

Regan Suzuki is a Project Officer at RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests and Coordinator for REDD-Net Asia-Pacific.


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