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

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

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.

Thai Experts Push for Forest and Land Tenure Policy Reforms

Attendees at RECOFTC’s first Policy Dialogue on Forest and Land Tenure Review and Reform agreed on the urgent need for policy reforms to ensure fair and sustainable management of shared natural resources.

Photos and story by Estelle Srivijittakar

Agencies and organizations present social, environmental and economic implications related to current policies

Agencies and organizations present social, environmental and economic implications related to current policies

Thailand is facing pressing challenges related to natural resources and climate change, and balancing national and local benefits of conservation activities along with coordination of local and government efforts are major priorities. These issues, discussed in last year’s National Seminar, were echoed in RECOFTC’s first Policy Dialogue on Forest and Land Tenure Review and Reform held in Bangkok from 20 – 22 March, 2012, which brought together representatives from government agencies, civil society, academia, and forest communities. Coinciding with World Forest Day and RECOFTC’s 25th Anniversary, the platform was an opportunity for a group of specialists in natural resource management and human rights to gather with community forestry networks in a ‘think tank,’ deliberating on cutting-edge issues, projects, and ideas for improved natural resource policies.


Films a Powerful Medium to Protect Forests and Empower Local Communities

How can the media support environmental conservation? One approach is to tell the stories of the importance of these natural resources and the people fighting to protect them.

A packed audience watches Hope in a Changing Climate

A packed audience watches Hope in a Changing Climate

The first Bangkok International Forest Film Festival, held 17-19 February 2012 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests, sought to bring these messages to a wider audience and encourage individuals to act through inspirational tales from around the world. As Prayuth Lorsuwanasiri, Deputy Director General of the Royal Forest Department, Thailand, said in his opening remarks, “Today marks an opportunity, through this partnership, to spread awareness about protecting our natural resources. …I am confident these movies will be useful for our audience, especially for the youth, and bring more accountability to the world at large.”


Proposed Forest Act amendment could derail community forestry in Nepal

Ganga R. Dahal provides a viewpoint on a proposed amendment to Nepal’s Forest Act of 1993 that would threaten the vitality of community forestry in that country. 

A recent proposal to amend the Forest Act of 1993,  put forward by the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation of Nepal, has generated concern among people and organizations involved in the promotion of community forestry and the establishment of forest resources rights for  communities and indigenous peoples over the last 30 years.


Supporting Participatory Forest Management: RECOFTC hosts Regional Model Forest Network-Asia Board Meeting

Lena Buell, RECOFTC Assistant Communications Officer, writes on RECOFTC’s support for the Regional Model Forest Network- Asia board meeting, held in Bangkok October 4-5 2011. Based partly on an interview conducted with IMFN Secretariat Executive Director Peter Besseau.

Managing and maintaining a vibrant forest ecosystem requires the strengths and insights of a diverse group of people. The Regional Model Forests Network-Asia (RMFN-Asia) is a branch of an international network seeking to bring more voices into forest management—and recently collaborated with RECOFTC to sharpen the network’s strategic vision and deepen its ability to support Model Forests around the region.


%d bloggers like this: