How can FLEGT truly address illegal logging?

David Gritten, RECOFTC Senior Programme Officer, discusses how FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) provides a great opportunity to address illegal logging IF it is based on strengthening the rights of local communities.

My grandparents used to have a stuffed alligator that stood on a teakwood stand beside the gas fire in their living room. As a child I never thought anything of it, never asking where it came from. It is the same about so many of the things in our homes. We never think to ask: where did they come from? who made them? who benefited from their purchase? and who may have suffered in the process? These questions are particularly important for goods coming from tropical countries, including the Asia-Pacific region. This is especially the case for tropical wood products – with many coming from unknown and often from illegal sources.

Knowing the source of the wood products in your home is important because:

DSC_0382Millions of people rely on forests for their livelihoods. According to the World Bank, more than 1.6 billion people around the world depend to varying degrees on forests for their livelihoods. In the Asia-Pacific region this number is estimated to be between 481-579 million. Considering 70 percent of the region’s poor live in rural areas, this is significant.

Illegal logging is a massive problem and destroys the lives of many forest dependent people. In Indonesia it is been estimated that roughly 60 percent of all logging is illegal, in Lao PDR and Papua New Guinea rates are as high as 80 percent and 70 percent respectively.

Thankfully, numerous initiatives are trying to address the blight of illegal logging. One initiative is the European Union’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan. The Action Plan aims to reduce illegal logging by strengthening the sustainability and legality of forest management, improving forest governance and promoting trade in legally produced timber.

The Action Plan has two main pillars:

  1. The FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) which is an agreement between the European Union and a timber exporting country to ensure that an effective system is in place to ensure that only legal timber products are imported into the EU.
  2. The  EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) requires timber importers and traders within the EU to take appropriate steps to ensure legal supply chains.

RECOFTC, along with many of its partners (governmental and non-governmental), recognises that FLEGT-VPA can provide benefits on many levels beyond addressing illegal logging. Positive dimensions are highlighted in a recent review of the effectiveness of the FLEGT Action Plan initiated by the European Commission and coordinated by the FLEGT Facility of the European Forestry Institute. The evaluation finds the Action Plan is a relevant and innovative response to the challenge of illegal logging and has improved forest governance in all target countries.

RECOFTC works on FLEGT-VPA projects in four (Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam) of its target countries. For example, in Cambodia and Thailand RECOFTC, with FAO support, is working to create an environment where those doing the illegal logging, those affected by it and those trying to control it are able to discuss ways to stop it in an effective way that, that does not penalise local communities. One key area is through providing capacity development to civil society organisations to support effective participation in VPA processes. In Myanmar, RECOFTC, also with FAO support, works with International Alert to develop the capacity of key stakeholders, particularly government staff to manage forest conflicts in a sustainable manner. FLEGT provides a window of opportunity for efforts such as these. Governments and companies realise that Europe will no longer be a market for timber products if they cannot prove the legality of these products. They also realise that to do this, they need to strengthen forest governance.

The starting point of RECOFTC’s work in this area, as with all our work, is that any efforts to achieve sustainable forest management in the region must be based on recognising and promoting the rights of forest communities, including smallholders. This comes from the basic understanding that local communities know the forest best, depend on the forest the most, are the most effective forest managers and most importantly, have rights to their forests. The VPA process provides a great opportunity to address illegal logging if it is based on strengthening the rights of local communities. However, if it marginalises these rights, as many initiatives in the past have, then it will be surely doomed to fail, and will result in continued devastation for forests and forest communities throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

For more information on RECOFTC’s FLEGT-VPA projects, visit www.recoftc.org/basic-page/transforming-forest-conflict

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.”

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.

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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: mrbanjade@gmail.com.

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.

Green Business in the Himalayas

This year’s World Environment Day theme is “Green Economy: Does it include you?” The below video, from ANSAB‘s YouTube channel, highlights the community forest enterprises of seven communities in Nepal — all taking part in a green economy.

 

From ANSAB’s YouTube channel:

The video features ANSAB assisted enterprises in seven districts of Nepal involved in production and marketing of several non timber forest products including handmade paper, essential oils, juice and bio-briquettes. The video captures the enterprise initiatives and activities in Darchula, Baglung, Myagdi, Parbat, Dolakha, Sindhupalchok and Kathmandu districts of Nepal, and also includes views from ANSAB supported four entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs took the initiative to establish Community based enterprises, which are currently creating employment opportunities at local level, and also preventing the locals to go to Kathmandu and Khasa (Tibet) in search of work. Along with the views from the government officers, local representatives, local collectors, traders and business persons working closely to the forestry and small community enterprise sectors; the video also captures the principles adopted by ANSAB to support local communities for enterprise development.

Experts Meeting: Unlocking the Wealth of Forests for Community Development

Rome, 28 March, 2012: Community forestry has the potential to deliver significant economic benefits for local communities. However, this requires that it moves beyond providing mainly subsistence goods to becoming a vehicle for the development of forest enterprises that can contribute to a genuine new forest economy. There is urgent need to remove regulatory bottlenecks and strengthen community institutions to negotiate and tap into profitable markets.

FAO and its partners, ITTO and RECOFTC, organized an Experts Meeting to develop a course of action toward an international initiative to promote the potential of community forests in contributing to sustainable development of community forestry. The meeting was attended by 26 Experts from a range of institutions and organizations from Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, and USA. Participants hailed from international agencies, government forestry agencies, NGOs, academia, research institutions, private sector, Indigenous groups, and community forestry alliances.

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Money Can Grow on Trees: Teak assets in Northern Laos

Claire Fram, ForInfo Project Associate, writes on teak trees as piggy-banks or insurance policies in Bokeo, Lao PDR, where the ForInfo project is helping increase the monetary value of these assets.

Teak trees in Bokeo, Laos

Villagers use teak trees, like these in Bokeo, Laos, as fungible assets in times of financial stress. (Photo credit: Claire Fram)

Huaythongtai village,  Paktha district, Bokeo Province, Lao PDR: A villager in Huaythongtai can sell one teak tree of a 50+ cm DBH (diameter at breast height, a standard method of expressing the diameter of a standing tree), to a trader in the provincial capital, Huay Xai, for about US $150.  When villagers are in need of quick cash, their teak trees are their most reliable liquid assets.

We visited Mr. Bounton, the village chief, to learn how teak is used by the community. We heard story after story of villagers who needed emergency medical treatment and sold a teak tree to cover the cost.

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“The Devil is in the details”: An innovative twist makes bamboo harvesting more profitable

By Claire Fram, ForInfo Project Associate

ForInfo’s team is back in the field in Bokeo Province, Lao PDR. During our first day in Huay Xai, we were reminded of how important it is to use sustainable and appropriate technology at a project site: we went searching for basic items like light bulbs and screws, but came up empty handed.

In Laos, where many of the goods traded in local markets are imported from China or Thailand, you cannot take anything for granted. Standard equipment for harvesting timber is tightly regulated, and the rare chainsaw that you can find is typically poorly made. After a rare chainsaw sighting, ForInfo’s technical adviser Fabian Noeske explained that our work to support three villages in improving land usage may depend on the equipment available to them and, as our senior expert Bernhard Mohns remarked, “The devil is in the details.”

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Closer to Nature: women, livelihoods and community forestry

RECOFTC’s Program Officer for Gender and Rights, Bhawana Upadhyay, writes on the importance of including women in natural resource management decision-making, using a case study from Nepal.

I had a great belly laugh last week while I was reading through case studies of Nepali rural women and their roles in natural resource management for my presentation at an upcoming conference. One case study explaining what happened when women were excluded from the decision making process in a Community Forestry User Group (CFUG) was a particularly entertaining read.

Here’s the story:

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Mainstreaming Gender in REDD: Beyond Livelihoods to Identity

By Regan Suzuki, REDD-Net Asia Pacific Coordinator

Experience from Nepal shows women value forest resources, but taking part in public meetings on REDD provides a democratic space for engagement that enhances their sense of identity

Haven’t we been talking about gender and the need to mainstream it for decades?  Why then does it seem to re-emerge every time a new ‘development’ or international issue (such as climate change) makes it into the spotlight? More to the point, what about gender in the context of climate change could possibly be new?

While climate change negotiations have breathed new life into efforts to improve women’s conditions around the world, the reality remains: if the push to mainstream gender over the last decade had succeeded, we wouldn’t need to be having these discussions now. If mainstreaming efforts thus far have fallen short of ambitions, what makes us think we will be any more successful under the rubric of climate change and REDD+?

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An innovative livelihood project uses teak as collateral in Laos

By Claire Fram, Research Fellow, Livelihoods and Markets

November, Bokeo, Laos: Last month, members of RECOFTC’s team and representatives from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland traveled to Bokeo, Lao PDR to follow up on site development for the ForInfo project. The three-year project, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, aims to empower forest-dependent communities and small holders in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Vietnam through holistic development of information networks at the community level.

The project takes the well-known premise that knowledge is power and turns it into a tool for poverty reduction. Helping local people learn how to generate quality information about their forest resources makes them better equipped to access markets for their products and services. Ultimately, improving rural people’s ability to generate and use information about forest resources can contribute not just to poverty reduction but also to the sustainability of forests, and global efforts to mitigate climate change by helping communities adapt.

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