Meeting ASEAN’s social forestry targets: How far have we come on meeting the ‘social’ dimensions of social forestry?

by Binod Chapagain and Tian Lin

Since 2012, RECOFTC and the ASEAN Working Group on Social Forestry conducted three studies that analyzed government data on the status of social forestry in Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam. This blog explores the findings of the three studies to understand the social achievements of national social forestry targets.

Overall, the good news is that governments in the region have made much progress in increasing the number of hectares under social forestry. This means that now, more than ever, more forest area in Asia is managed by local people who possess official community forestry agreements. While this is good news, it’s important to understand what this means in terms of enhancing the well-being and livelihoods of local people.

Upon examining the data, we found a lack of information on the ‘social’ dimensions of social forestry on the national level. Social forestry, also known as community forestry (CF) or community-based forest (CBF) management, is defined in various ways. Principally, definitions of social forestry revolve around the bundle of rights (tenure) of local and indigenous people over forest resources [1]. RECOFTC, as the pioneer social forestry organization in the Asia and the Pacific region, defines it in a broad sense as “…all aspects, initiatives, sciences, policies, institutions and processes that are intended to increase the role of local people in governing and managing forest resources.” Community forestry includes but is not limited to the informal, customary managed land as well as formal, legally-recognized land in a forest landscape. This type of management is intended to provide social, economic and environmental benefits to primary rights holders.

While customary social forestry practices in the ASEAN region have roots in ancient times, formal social forestry has been practiced for the past 30 years. Overall, in terms of meeting national social forestry targets, most countries in the region have progressed at a slow pace. This pace must be accelerated in order to meet the targets countries have set for themselves [2]. The total target for the region is slightly over 20 million hectares [3]. Except for Viet Nam, none of the ASEAN countries have reached 50% of their target. Cambodia and Myanmar are still below 15% of their targets, whereas Thailand and the Philippines are close to reaching 50%. The goal for the Philippines was set for 2008, however, the government of the Philippines has yet to set a new end date. In the ASEAN region, only 10 million hectares (about 4%) of forests are under social forestry out of the total officially designated forest land of 245 million hectares [4]. The status of social forestry by country against the national targets is presented in Figure 1.

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Figure 1: The status of social forestry by country against the national targets

Figure 2 shows the pace of change in the number of community forests over the last six years. Social forestry area in the region has grown by 3.4 million hectares in six years, between 2010 and 2016 [5]. On average, the growth of social forestry is slightly more than half a million hectares per year in the region.

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Figure 2: The pace of change in the number of community forests over the last six years

Social forestry, by name, links people to the management of forest land. However, collection of data on land under community management is not systematic. Some countries, including Cambodia and Myanmar, keep records of the number of households involved in social forestry processes, but many other ASEAN countries do not have a system to record this information. RECOFTC has tracked families who are living in rural areas of ASEAN countries and found that about 312 million people, or about 54% of the total population, have close associations with forest resources for their livelihoods. However, the irony is that they have legitimate access to only 4% of the forest resources.

Furthermore, RECOFTC has projected the number of local families who are involved in CF through the use of indirect indicators [6]. Based on estimated figures, RECOFTC finds that that the total number of forest user group members have increased while per capita CF area has decreased. In RECOFTC focal countries, the area of CF has increased by 5.3%, whereas the number of families involved in CF has increased by 17% between 2013 and 2016 [7].

Although social forestry potentially can contribute multiple benefits to society, the pace for bringing these benefits about is slow. Moreover, existing data on social forestry only records forest cover in terms of hectares. The role of social forestry in terms of providing social and economic benefits to people — such as enhancing livelihoods and wellbeing of local communities – needs to be more systematically collected in all ASEAN countries.

RECOFTC studies have found that social forestry has been instrumental to empowering women and marginalized people to develop their leadership capacity. It has also provided employment to local people through the development of enterprises and contributed to their income through supply of timber and non-timber forest products and agro-forestry activities. Anecdotal evidence suggests that these all have the ability to contribute to gender equity and reduce hunger and poverty. Furthermore, community-based forest management has helped increase forest areas in some countries, contributing to carbon sinks as well as climate change adaptation. These are also key areas of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Social forestry can demonstrate their contribution to SDG targets if ASEAN governments improve their record keeping and reporting on socio-economic aspects of forests. However, some preliminary analysis suggests that the social forest per capita has decreased over the period, and this may also reduce the possibilities of nurturing people and environment by the nature.

This blog is developed based on the findings presented in Social Forestry and Climate Change in the ASEAN region: Situational Analysis 2016. The report will be launched at the upcoming 7th ASEAN Working Group on Social Forestry conference, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 12-14 June 2017.

For more information on the ASEAN-Swiss Partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change project, see: https://www.recoftc.org/project/asfcc

Endnotes:

[1] Greijmans et al. (2015). Building blocks for viable community forestry enterprises: Community Forestry Principles. RECOFTC, Bangkok, Thailand.

[2] RECOFTC (2017). Social forestry and climate change in the ASEAN region: Situational analysis 2016. RECOFTC, Bangkok, Thailand.

[3] The target year for Cambodia is 2029; Indonesia 2014; Myanmar 2030; The Philippines 2008; Thailand 2025; and Viet Nam 2020.

[4] This blog does not include the figures from Brunei Darussalam and Singapore as they do not have official social forestry program.

[5] RECOFTC (2017). Social forestry and climate change in the ASEAN region: Situational analysis 2016. RECOFTC, Bangkok, Thailand.

[6] The projection is made for Thailand, Indonesia and Viet Nam

[7] Data from internal RECOFTC records for Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Viet Nam, and Thailand.

What should Community Forests mean to Obama?

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

President Barack Obama walks with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

President of the United States Barack Obama walks with Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Image taken from The Nation, http://www.nationmultimedia.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regional Approaches to Human Rights: Towards Standards Setting

RECOFTC’s Executive Director, Tint L. Thaung, writes from a workshop “Human Rights and Business: Plural Legal Approaches to Conflict Resolution, Institutional Strengthening and Legal Reform”  held Nov 28 – Dec 1 in Bali, Indonesia, and organized by SawitWatch and Forest Peoples Programme, with Rights and Resources Initiative and partners Samdhana Institute and RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests.

Bali, 28 November, 2011: It is now six decades after the Universal Declaration, and the world still faces major gaps in understanding, promoting and defending human rights. Calls, such as the Bali Declaration on Human Rights and Agribusiness which emerges from this meeting, need to be followed by actions, monitoring and revision.
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