Power to the people: community forestry paving the way for sustainable forest management

BANGKOK, Thailand (10 August, 2011)_ Climate change challenges are currently being tackled by community forestry projects around the world, and according to Dr. Yam Malla, outgoing executive director of the Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC), forest-for-people initiatives are fast becoming one of the most effective strategies for sustainable forest management.
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Soetedjo farms honey bees in his 0.5- hectare cacao plantation. He sells honey under the trade name 'Matal Honey' for IDR 100,000 a bottle. Photo by Aulia Erlangga for CIFOR.

BANGKOK, Thailand (10 August, 2011)_ Climate change challenges are currently being tackled by community forestry projects around the world, and according to Dr. Yam Malla, outgoing executive director of the Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC), forest-for-people initiatives are fast becoming one of the most effective strategies for sustainable forest management.

“Over the years, community forestry has proved itself to be one of the most appropriate and effective strategies for achieving sustainable forest management,” he said in his opening address at the two-day Second Regional Forum for People and Forests held in Bangkok this week.

“Forests-for-people initiatives have made forestry a dynamic and more interesting field of study and community forestry is ready to take a second quantum leap.”

Community forestry involves the communal planning, establishment and management of natural resources, enabling communities to receive a major proportion of the socio-economic and ecological benefits from the forest. It has been considered one of the most promising options of combining forest conservation with rural development and poverty reduction objectives.

Forest honey projects in Indonesia, the Chinese government turning over land to community collectives, and poverty alleviation projects targeting women in Nepal are just a few examples of the many positive community forestry projects currently being undertaken in the Asian region.

Malla pointed out that the pro-industrial model has failed to protect and manage forest resources, especially in developing countries. Massive urbanization and population growth will have huge implications for forests and community forestry he said, but a significant achievement of the past 30 years had been the demystifying of basic assumptions about population growth and about local people destroying the forests.

“In the seventies there was an assumption that with a huge rural population growth there would be less forest. What has been proved is that you can still have more people and more forest, more products and more forest, and more road and more forest.”

That challenge is being addressed, he said, by properly managing forests and having the right policy framework. However, a new challenge now involves the adequate management of degraded land; with governments wanting to hand over only degraded forests to local people, rather than engaging them in the management of existing forest.

“Do you want to wait until the good forest is degraded and then hand it over to people, or do you want to act fast and engage people to stop the forest degradation right from the beginning?” he asked.

“If you want to address poverty through forestry, you can’t give degraded forest and expect poverty alleviation because it takes 10 years, 15 years or 20 years to recover. Poor people simply don’t have that amount of time,” he added.

Malla also believes community forest must go beyond subsistence needs and beyond tenure because “if you don’t open up the community forest for market products, then there is the issue of equity”. If local people cannot use the forest to generate market products, then only large landholders can benefit from it. “We need to initiate community-based enterprises,” he said.

Echoing Dr. Malla in his keynote address, Dr. Haryadi Himawan, ASEAN Social Forestry Network Secretariat Chairperson, urged stronger commitment from governments, civil society groups, the private sector, academia, international agencies and local communities to look ahead and consider how to take community forestry to the next level so that it covers significantly more forests and more communities.

With a significant proportion of deforestation said to take place outside community managed forest areas because forestry departments don’t have the capacity to provide the needed attention, it seems that developing a forest-based industry which has widespread community support and involves increasing local responsibility for the management of forest resources, will be crucial for moving forward.

Karen Emmons is a freelance writer based in Thailand. 

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  • Great article and an inspiring story. We would like to invite you to join the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Social Media Channels: http://on.fb.me/undesa

    We are featuring today the International Year of Forests and the work of the UN Forum on Forests. We would be glad to keep you updated on relevant reports, statistics and policy debates.

    Thanks,
    UN DESA