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

Dr. Tint Lwin Thaung: The Way Forward: Walking the Talk, With the Local People


Dr. Tint Lwin Thuang

The Executive Director of RECOFTC, Dr. Tint Lwin Thuang, was invited to blog in anticipation of the “Scaling-Up Strategies to Secure Community Land and Resource Rights” conference in Interlaken, Switzerland. The conference aims to “take stock of current efforts, identify promising strategies, and catalyze new alliances and action” related to land and resource rights. Dr. Tint Lwin Thuang’s blog points to strong and secure rightsgood governance, and fair benefits as the steps forward to secure land and resource rights for the local people. His post also discusses findings from a new research report on the state of community forestry in Asia, which will be launched during the Third Regional Forum on Community Forestry in November, 2013.

Stay tuned for more information.

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.

The struggle over Asia’s forests: an overview of forest conflict and potential implications for REDD+

The struggle over Asia’s forests: an overview of forest conflict and potential implications for REDD+Asia is a forest conflict hotspot. As natural forests are declining rapidly, their ability to provide economic, ecological, and social benefits is also declining – leading to heightened competition among forest user groups and increased conflict in many parts of the region. A new paper in the International Forestry Review, co-authored by RECOFTC and CIFOR staff, indicates there are three fundamental and interrelated causes underlying most forest conflict in Asia.

This study focuses on conflicts between local communities and outsiders: the underlying causes, conflict management approaches, and eventual outcomes. Field data was collected through interviews and focus group discussions in seven community-outsider conflict cases across five countries.


Mangrove devastation, the importance of tenure, and victories for indigenous communities in the news this week

Alarm Over Mangrove Devastation in Pakistan
, 9 March 2012
Speakers at a conference in Pakistan on mangrove ecosystems said that an acute lack of awareness among people and policy makers about the critical importance of mangroves was a major hurdle in conservation efforts along the coast.

Indigenous Groups Launch Ground-Breaking Environmental Regime in Brazil
Carbon Portal, 9 March 2012
The Brazilian state of Acre has implemented a comprehensive legal framework to support compensation and payments for ecosystem services, and indigenous groups are among the first to begin implementing it.

Land Ownership Boosts Climate Resilience in India
Reuters AlertNet
, 11 March 2012
Efforts to secure land ownership for tribal people in one of India’s poorest states are bolstering their economic security in the face of climate-induced hardships, and helping conserve farmland and forest.
Related article:
The next crop of landowners (March 8, Landesa)


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:


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+?


Realizing forest rights in Vietnam

Vietnam’s forest tenure reform will lead to desirable outcomes only if local communities can realize the rights given to them, say Thomas Sikor and Nguyen Quang Tan

One can easily get the impression that forest policy is predominantly made at global summits and in transnational initiatives these days. Consider, for example, the attention given to the recent Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC in Durban.

Yet in practice, national governments remain the primary actors in forest policy-making in most countries. National law defines the statutory tenure rights granted to local communities. National regulatory frameworks condition local communities’ ability to utilize forest tenure rights in practice.

For this reason, national policy analysis and national-level engagement with stakeholders remain of critical importance for community forestry and sustainable forest management. Thus, a new publication edited by Thomas Sikor from the University of East Anglia and Nguyen Quang Tan from RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests entitled Realizing Forest Rights in Vietnam: Addressing Issues in Community Forest Management provides valuable insights into forest policy in Vietnam.


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.


Book Review: Forests and People: Property, Governance, and Human Rights

Well-known community forest researcher Don Gilmour reviews a new book edited by Thomas Sikor and Johannes Stahl, Forests and People: Property, Governance, and Human Rights on the rights-based approach in forestry.

Forests and People book cover
Available from: Earthscan, London and New York

Rights-based approaches have become an important aspect of the general development debate during the past decade and are increasingly emphasized at international and national conferences and workshops. Rights are frequently cited as a rationale for demanding action to change national regulatory frameworks as well as for more fundamental societal changes. This book, edited by Thomas Sikor and Johannes Stahl, aims at advancing the rights agenda as it applies to forests, with an underlying premise that such scholarship is critical to the pursuit of socially just forestry. The book consists of a series of chapters written by participants at a workshop on forest rights held at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2009. (more…)

Guest post: Indigenous rights in Vietnam

People and Forests E-News reader Anura Widana wrote us in response to our recent publications on policy reform in Vietnam. Here are his thoughts on ethnic minority rights in Vietnam. Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments! 

Dear People and Forests E-News Editor,

I’ve read the most recent e-newsletter with interest, and wanted to express my deep concern about the erosion of rights of ethnic minority people to control their own traditional land in Vietnam.

I’m aware about the manner by which their traditional lands are taken over by so-called development projects, which is a matter for huge concern. In the long run, these minority people not only will lose their land—which as you rightly pointed out has been used for generations—but their very survival is at a crossroads. Governments must recognise that one of the main characteristics of ethnic minority people is their communal attachment to land base which is sine qua non for their very survival.

I have a couple of questions and concerns about the story of ethnic minority people and about their eroding rights on land and resource management in Vietnam.

Benefits and drawbacks to protected areas in Thailand

Ms. Somying Soontornwong of RECOFTC’s Thailand Country Program

Ms. Somying Soontornwong

A series of recent studies led by Amherst College (USA) Professor Katherine Sims indicates that protected areas in rural Thailand have contributed to local economic development and lessened rates of poverty in surrounding areas. The studies indicate protected areas can contribute to local livelihoods through eco-tourism and infrastructure development as well as protection for environmental services that contribute to agricultural and forest crop productivity.

These findings strike a contrast with the popular conception that restrictions on land use and access in protected areas limit the economic potential and livelihoods options of local people. While warning against equating environmental protection as a tool for poverty alleviation, Professor Sims suggests that these findings indicate the resiliency and adaptability of local economies under the right conditions.

In a brief interview, Ms. Somying Soontornwong of RECOFTC’s Thailand Country Program shares her experience with protected areas and community livelihoods in Thailand, noting that while in some cases protected areas can improve community livelihoods, they can also place harsh restrictions on resource use and access to the detriment of local people. Clearly, the question of protected areas versus community land does not come with an easy answer.

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