Who are the drivers of change in sustainable forest management?

26, August 2015
Tint Lwin Thaung, Executive Director of RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests, explains the importance of including local people in forest decision-making in order for sustainable forest management to be successful. He argues that investing in local people will sustain our forests, and thus, our future.
Stories of Change
The Center for People and Forests

In several weeks, on September 7-11, the world’s forestry stakeholders will gather in Durban, South Africa for the XIV World Forestry Congress (WFC). This year, the Congress will focus on how to invest in a sustainable future through forests and people. The event, held only once every six years, will be a vital opportunity to promote the fact that local people must be included in forest decision-making in order for sustainable forest management to move forward.

Sustainable forest management has been a key concept in forestry circles for decades and continues to become more accepted, especially in the advent of climate change: if we sustain our forests, we both retain a key tool for adapting to and mitigating climate change and ensure that the vast quantities of carbon stored in forests are not released into the atmosphere. Moreover, with an increasing societal demand for timber and non-timber forest products, expected to triple by 2050, there is an equally increasing urgency to manage forests sustainably.

But even though forestry stakeholders agree on the need for sustainable forest management, the answer to the question of how to achieve it continues to be debated.

In thinking about how to go about managing forests sustainably, it is important to keep in mind how many people live near or in forests and depend on them for their food and livelihoods. Globally, 350 million of the world’s poorest people depend almost entirely on forests for their subsistence and survival, and 1.6 billion people depend on them to some extent.

These are staggering numbers, and they should not be ignored for two reasons. The first is that the rural people who live in forests are actually the ones who know the forests best and have been effectively managing their forests for decades. To put this point another way, there are already 1.6 billion potential effective sustainable forest managers in place around the world.

The second reason is that these people are the essential drivers of change in sustainable forest management, capable of either making sustainable forest management effective or derailing it entirely.

Natural capital is high in rural areas, and rural people are the world’s poorest group of people. They are thus greatly in need of accessing the natural capital. But whether they value the natural capital they access – attempting to manage it properly and sustain it – depends on four key pillars being in place: clear and strong tenure, strong governance facilitating effective participation, rights to use the forests for benefiting livelihoods and key stakeholders having appropriate capacities.

If rural people have clear and strong tenure rights, are enabled to participate in forest decision-making, are allowed to benefit their livelihoods by accessing forest resources, and they and other key stakeholders have appropriate capacities, they will value and sustainably manage the forests in which they live.

We at RECOFTC thus believe that community forestry – a framework which enables rural people to manage their forests – is not only the best framework to achieve sustainable forest management – and is already in place and successful in many parts of the world – but is also the only framework that is viable. And for us, investing in a sustainable future can only mean investing in local people.

Our side event at the WFC, “I am the forest,” will illustrate just this, and it will do so through presentations by local people themselves. Their presentations will highlight how local people are delivering on sustainable forest management in the region, and specific actions and investments needed to scale up community forestry in Asia.

This year’s WFC prompts the world’s foresters to determine how to invest in a sustainable future by focusing on forests and people. It is by investing in people that we sustain our forests, and thus, our future.

How are local communities in Asia delivering on sustainable forest management? Find out at the World Forestry Congress side event I am the Forest, where smallholders, community forest members and indigenous peoples in Asia will present how they are delivering on sustainable forest management in the region, and actions and investments needed to scale up community forestry in Asia, in an innovative multimedia presentation developed with the internationally recognized creative director Rojana Chuasakul. The event will take place on Tuesday, 8 September in Room 11CDE, in Durban, South Africa. For more information, please visit