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

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

A commentary by Regan Suzuki, program officer at RECOFTC

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

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

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

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

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

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

Removing forest people not the solution to Thailand’s flood woes

A recent article in The Nation reports that “activists and experts” have called on the Thai government to “remove” as many as two million people from mountainous parts of the country in an effort to head off future natural disasters. The headline, however, distracts readers from the more nuanced message intended by these activist and expert groups.

“Govt called for moving 2m pp from mountain zones,” the headline reads; but this position was merely the “strongest” proposal put forward among more moderate options at a seminar titled “Headwater Forest Strategy and the Way to Prevent Flood and Drought,” held in Bangkok on 29 March.

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As the Thai government plans reforestation, local voices must be heard

By Lena Buell, RECOFTC Assistant Communications Officer

Waves approach the mangrove coast in Trat, Thailand, forests, climate change, disasters

Mangrove forests, like this one in Trat, Thailand, can help mitigate the impacts of severe weather events (Photo Credit: Estelle Srivijittakar)

In late February, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra announced the government would invest 3 billion baht in reforestation and preservation activities around the country, following an audience with His Royal Highness the King of Thailand in which His Majesty urged the government to focus on reforestation initiatives.

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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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REDD+ developers hesitant to talk carbon to local communities, experts say

This article was originally posted on CIFOR Forests Blog on 2 December, 2011 by Leony Aurora.

DURBAN, South Africa (2 December, 2011)_Many REDD+ developers are hesitant to inform local communities about the global forest carbon scheme to avoid raising expectations that could not be fulfilled if long-term financing fails to materialise, experts said.

The tendency from developers to hold off on carbon information is understandable considering the “stuttering” of a decision on whether there will be REDD+ financing in the future, said Jim Stephenson, Program Officer at the Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC) at an event held as part of the UN climate summit in Durban.

Still, “if you don’t mention REDD+, how can you carry out full FPIC activity?” he said, referring to free, prior and informed consent from local communities.

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Safeguarding Safeguards: How do we ensure REDD+ safeguards work for local people?

As my colleague Jim noted, the REDD+ debate is now in full swing in Durban with a range of side events, a number of presentations, and many engaging discussions outside the side event rooms. One of the much-debated issues has been around REDD+ social and environmental safeguards.

Subsequent to the Cancun Agreement, a number of multilateral and bilateral initiatives have developed various sets of provisions for promoting social and environmental safeguards in REDD+. However, discussions in Durban so far clearly reflect the contentious nature and practical challenges of implementing and monitoring the safeguards on the ground. A sense of complexity has emerged particularly around how social and environmental safeguards can be contextualized at the national level. Of concern is how to respect socio-culture values and ensure the livelihoods of forest dependent communities while harmonizing the many different sets of standards, principles, and criteria for safeguards developed under these various initiatives.

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It’s Official: Local People Hold the key

The growing prominence of REDD in the negotiations has made CIFOR’s annual Forest Day an increasingly important draw for negotiators and assorted dignitaries. On Sunday, Forest Day 3 glorified in the presence of four Nobel prize winners, no less, and a recorded address from Bill Clinton.

The opening plenary addresses were very promising. I was delighted, in particular, with Gro Harlem Brundtland’s analysis. Some of her comments were very familiar:
“Unlocking the potential of forests to climate change mitigation is a major opportunity for leadership at COP15.”
“Involving local people is a moral and formal obligation, and the ONLY WAY TO MAKE REDD+ WORK.”

Perhaps she’s been reading our materials.

Wangari Maathai at Forest Day 3

Or perhaps (and I am seeing encouraging evidence of this at COP15), RECOFTC’s message is becoming mainstream.

Less surprising, but equally satisfying, was Elinor Ostrom’s testimony. I would specifically like to draw attention to her language on the issue of trust. The promise of local peoples’ contribution to monitoring forest resources in the long term, and thus to the generation of information required for REDD to be a credible mitigation strategy, requires trust between them, their representatives, and their governments over a long time horizon. And this trust must work both ways.

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