Exchanging local knowledge to encourage smallholder forest and farmer enterprises

5 January 2017 - On the 7-9 December, the Knowledge Exchange Forum on Promoting Rights and Livelihoods through Forest and Farm Producer Organizations was held at RECOFTC in Bangkok, Thailand. The event was co-organized by RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests, the International Family Forestry Alliance, the Asian Farmers Association for Sustainable Rural Development, and the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF) - a global partnership between FAO, IIED, IUCN, and AgriCord. Participants included over 85 forest and farm producers from Viet Nam, Nepal and Myanmar. Following the forum, on 10-12 December, participants went on an exchange visit to learn about smallholder enterprises from a local community in Thailand.

At the Knowledge Exchange Forum, participants from local and global forest and farm-related organizations from across Asia and the Pacific came together to share challenges and opportunities and identify interventions to strengthen the management and governance situation for each farm producer in their own context. Participants shared their knowledge and experiences about the role of forest and farm producer organizations in overcoming common issues - including tenure, climate change, limited market access, poor infrastructure and supporting services and weak democratic decision-making structures.

Forum participants traveled to Suphan Buri Province to learn from a local community about the working process and methodology of a smallholder enterprise, the Thailand-based ‘Tree Bank’. The Tree Bank is a group of farmers who have come together to increase livelihood security through small-scale cooperation. With the goal of keeping track of resources and unifying around a common voice for land and tree management, Tree Bank farmers designed a system to measure forests and take stock of the type, size and value of trees.

Dr. Krirk Meemungkit, a forest farm smallholder and branch manager of Tree Bank in Sa Kaeo Province, explained the origin of the Tree Bank, “Eight years ago I decided to plant trees on my land even though the soil was bad.” By improving the soil and planting a variety of trees he enhanced the natural landscape. This approach has since spread across Thailand and today he invites youth to come and live on his property to learn about establishing and running community-based forest enterprises –from planting trees to cooking, to marketing and resource management. One young man working on Krirk’s property said, “It is great to be allowed to come here. The forest is a way of living. It helps us increase our social and financial stability and capacity. We have no social security here, such as pensions, so planting trees is a way to invest in our future.”

During the field trip, the community showed the participants how the Tree Bank makes life easier for members by giving farmers a platform for communication while simultaneously contributing to sustainable forest management.

Participants then traveled to the Khao Chakan Agroforest Community Enterprise in Sa Kaeo Province where they learned how the community organized themselves to achieve sustainable forest management and improve livelihoods. The participants were shown how the enterprise developed methods to process wood, extract charcoal and wood vinegar, produce organic fertilizers, structure seedling production and improve the forest by mixing tree plantations.

The enterprise demonstrated how a variety of resources could be utilized applying organic and sustainable methods - for example, fertilizers made from fallen leaves and banana sugar. The enterprise also demonstrated how to develop a market to sell products, maintain good relations with local authorities, and use a computer system to track business. Krirk explained that there are currently 3,000 brands under the Tree Bank in Thailand, signifying the success of the enterprise. During the final day of the exchange, the participants discussed what they had experienced and how they viewed the Tree Bank structure. One participant from Myanmar explained, “We are very new to community-based forest management. For us, it is very valuable to experience what others have done so we can avoid reinventing the wheel. In our area, population growth has put pressure on our forests and made it difficult for national authorities to conserve it. Without support from communities, we would not be able to keep our forests safe from illegal logging and degradation. We have to learn how to think about our forested resources in more cooperative ways.”

Pointing to the importance of mainstreaming gender into such enterprises, one participant from Nepal said, “We are happy to be a part of this exchange. There is always something new to learn. One recommendation for the future is to work harder towards gender equality. Everybody will gain from fair markets and participation.”

At the conclusion of the Knowledge Exchange Forum, participants gathered to discuss and reflect on what they learned. Participants concluded that:

1) All represented organizations should encourage tree planting, taking care of forest resources and help communities uphold market connections for a fair share of forest products.

2) Sustainable use of local forests will contribute to the promotion of eco-systems and help both the community and society increase resilience to climate change.

3) Secure tenure, supportive government policies, and access to finance are important pillars for the success of forest and farm producer organizations.

4) Everybody has a responsibility to strengthen local, national, regional and international cooperation regarding tree planting, including smallholders in policy development and improving legislative support to them.

5) The strengthening of women, youth and indigenous groups’ inclusion and participation is crucial for the achievement of an environmental and financially sustainable future at all levels.

View the strategy from the Knowledge Exchange Forum on Promoting Rights and Livelihoods through Forest and Farm producers here

by Jonas Dahlstrom, Program Officer, Securing Community Forestry