RECOFTC's response to COVID-19

Building the planet's and humanity's resilience to crisis with community forestry

As the world marshals to fight the new coronavirus we must also continue to fight climate change and a third crisis emerging stronger than ever—injustice. Our response is community forestry.


At RECOFTC, we believe in a future where people live equitably and sustainably in and beside healthy, resilient forests. We serve the poorest and most marginalized rural communities in the Asia Pacific, where more than 450 million people depend on forests to survive. We support Indigenous Peoples, ethnic groups and other marginalized and vulnerable people, particularly women and youth. We help them build their capacity to secure their rights to land and resources, stop deforestation, restore degraded landscapes, overcome poverty and hunger and foster gender equity and social inclusion. Our work lays the foundation for achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement.

During the pandemic, we remain fully operational with staff working remotely. We are adapting and expanding our work with governments, donors, civil society and the private sector to ensure responses to the pandemic and other threats respect the rights, views, wellbeing and aspirations of forest communities.

Paying a higher price

The novel coronavirus does not differentiate between peoples. It attacks both the rich and the poor. But the communities we serve are far less able to protect themselves from COVID-19 than others and they have the least access to provisions and healthcare. 

Some local communities may not even know about the pandemic. And if they do, they have limited options to self-isolate within their living conditions and everyday practices. These communities are poised to pay a higher price for the pandemic than the rest of humanity in terms of death, disability and loss of livelihoods and income. This is also true for the other human-made emergency, climate change.

Connecting twin crises: health and environment

The world is facing two crises: COVID-19 and climate change. We must fight both, at the same time and with the same solution: community forestry. To reduce the risk of pandemics like COVID-19, SARS, MERS, Ebola and other zoonotic diseases—and to stop climate change—we must protect our forests and the people who live in them and near them (link).

In the Asia-Pacific, deforestation and forest degradation are major problems. Over the past 40 years, the region lost more than 30 percent of its forests to agribusiness and infrastructure. By converting and fragmenting forest landscapes, we destroyed habitats, driving some species into closer contact with people and domestic animals. Research in Asia (link) and in other parts of the world (link) shows that deforestation can escalate disease transmission. And that deforestation feeds climate change. In these ways the health of forests, humans, the planet and all life are interdependent.

Collecting wood

Asia's rapid urbanization, deforestation linked to deadly viruses

Strengthening the land rights of local people through people-centred forestry can reduce deforestation and the risks of viral epidemics driven by deforestation.

Today, the largest remaining tracts of healthy forest in the world are home to and managed by local people: in the Amazon, the Congo, Indonesia, the Mekong and the Asia-Pacific. Forest communities are indeed the best stewards of our global forest estate. Unfortunately, they are also the most vulnerable to climate change and the least able to adapt.

Mekong river and forests
The forests of the Mekong, pictured above, are some of the largest remaining tracts of healthy forests in the world.

A third crisis emerges

As the world marshals to fight the pandemic and climate change, we see a third crisis emerging─injustice. Natural resource conflicts are increasing, putting forest communities at risk of economic and social hardship, infringement of civil and human rights, and even violence. Some governments, private sector companies and military groups are taking advantage of COVID-19 to ignore or even trample the rights of poor and indigenous communities around the world. While our eyes are turned to COVID-19, illegal logging is ignored (link) and military groups are evicting people from their lands (link). Domestic violence and gender inequality are rising (link). Women are often the first to lose their jobs, while carrying the greatest burdens for care of the elderly and children in lockdown. In many places, the voices of youth are further marginalized despite their legitimate interests in the future of their environment, equality and social progress.


Video: Help forest communities advance their rights and aspirations

RECOFTC’s executive director DAVID Ganz appeals to United Nations Global Compact members before the online Leaders Summit that took place from 15 to 16 June: “I call on the UN Global Compact to contribute by ensuring responsible investment and helping forest communities to advance their rights and their aspirations”.

Before the pandemic, more than 820 million people went to bed hungry, including 110 million living in acute food insecurity (link). They face a crisis within a crisis as seasonal jobs and food supply chains are disrupted by isolation, blockades and port closures. Weakened by hunger, malnourished people are more vulnerable to diseases and less able to fend for themselves. Moreover, their traditional practices are threatened by ill-advised government responses to COVID-19. If, for example, wildlife hunting is banned worldwide, the millions who depend on wild meat could face malnutrition. For subsistence hunters there are no supermarkets.

Building resilience against disasters

We know that when the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities are clear and strong, they are the best stewards of our forests and other precious ecosystems. Research proves this (link). Indigenous and local communities are also better able to take care of themselves during times of crisis, less vulnerable to disasters and less reliant on others for food, medicines and other essentials.

But the benefits of secure tenure and use rights go far beyond their communities. Indigenous Peoples and local communities can also take care of others. When they have secure rights, they are more able to make long-term investments in their lands and to produce products that feed and support urban populations. In this way, forest communities reduce the dependence of regions and countries on imported products, not only in good times but when borders are closed. Forest communities build social safety nets for us all, while mitigating climate change and other disasters.

A proven solution

In this time of crisis, governments must protect all poor and vulnerable rural people. And recognize how forest communities and community forestry build resilience to disasters for us all.

In the post-COVID-19 world, we must support meaningful engagement among forest communities, government and private sector so that they can find and build on shared interests in order to design sustainable and fair solutions to pandemics, climate change and other disasters. 

To achieve this, we must build and strengthen the capacities of forest communities, civil society and government at the local level so that communities can negotiate and secure an equitable share of benefits. Otherwise, we will return to rampant deforestation and further perpetuate inequalities.

Video: Nine steps to an equitable and sustainable recovery after COVID-19

RECOFTC’s executive director David Ganz presents nine steps to recovering from COVID-19 in a way that respects the rights, aspirations and knowledge of local communities living in and beside forests. Watch Ganz’s keynote speech at the Forestry Webinar Week organized by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations from 22 to 25 June 2020.

This is where RECOFTC can apply its strengths. And this is how RECOFTC is responding to the challenge of COVID-19 and climate change. As a neutral convener and capacity builder of all, we are intensifying and expanding our efforts to build strong, legitimate partnerships among forest communities, governments and the private sector based on trust, accountability, transparency and mutual respect.  

We invite you to visit this page in the coming period to find out what is coming next as part of our response to the COVID-19 emergency. 

On behalf of RECOFTC, we wish everyone’s families and friends good health, safety and stability in the time of COVID-19.


RECOFTC's work is made possible with the continuous support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).