RECOFTC
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Legal assessment of Thailand Community Forest Act shows ways to strengthen regulations

19, July 2021
Nathalie Faure
Thailand’s Community Forest Act in 2019 enshrines the rights of local people for the first time, but more needs to be done to implement the Act effectively.
Practitioner's Insights

Local people living in and beside forests in Thailand have practiced community forestry for decades. However, it was the passage in 2019 of the Community Forest Act B.E. 2562 that legally protected that right. 

RECOFTC and ClientEarth have produced the first ever legal assessment of the Community Forest Act—Thailand’s Community Forest Act: Analysis of the legal framework and recommendations. The assessment will help inform and assist governments, civil society organizations and legal experts in their efforts to develop subordinate regulations to implement the Act. The lessons provided in the assessment can also be applied by countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region and around the world.

Using ClientEarth’s 10 building blocks of community forestry methodology to analyze the Act, the authors of the assessment found that the Community Forest Act is a step in the right direction. The Act lays the foundations to strengthen formal recognition of the role of communities in managing forests. According to the Act, communities can now manage forest areas under an approved five-year management plan. A community is defined as more than 50 people, 18 years of age or older, living in the same district. 

Small-scale farmers collect products they grow nearby their community forest.
Small-scale farmers show high-quality products they grow on their land in Thailand's Mae Tha Village in Chiang Mai Province. Their nearby community forest has improved the ecology of the surrounding landscape.  

The assessment also identified gaps in the Act. Overall, the scope of the Act is narrow, as community forests can only be established outside of Thailand’s protected forest areas and only for the purpose of conservation. This means that while community members can collect and use forest products to sustain their livelihoods, they are only allowed to use these products for subsistence. They cannot use them for commercial purposes.

The Act establishes the main principles of community forestry. Policy-makers must now develop supportive regulations on how to implement the principles in practice. In the assessment, RECOFTC and ClientEarth provide recommendations to guide decision-makers and civil society organizations in the development of these regulations. The recommendations focus on 10 building blocks.

10 ways to strengthen Thailand’s Community Forest Act

  1. Land and forest tenure: The regulations should ensure that the existing uses of forests and land, including those made by Indigenous Peoples and local communities, are considered before community forests are allocated.
  2. Process for allocating community forests: The Community Forest Policy Committee should design a simple community forest allocation process with a minimum number of steps and a reasonable amount of documentation. Conditions to become a community forest member or be part of the Community Forest Management Committee should be minimal and allow for inclusive participation of all community members.
  3. Community internal governance: Regulations should detail principles and safeguards to ensure fair representation, accountability and transparency among community members. The rules framing the membership and functioning of a Community Forest Management Committee and the relationship between a Committee and members of the community should be formulated as guidance only and be flexible enough for communities to adapt to their contexts.
  4. Community participation and representation: To ensure meaningful participation of all community members, regulations should include provisions for the participation of women, Indigenous Peoples and poor and marginalized people who are historically under-represented when developing and managing community forests. This can be done by asking communities to identify these groups early in the process for obtaining a community forest and providing a mechanism that explicitly makes space for them in decision-making processes.
  5. Community forest management: The community forest management plan should be simple and clear. It should be adapted to the size of the forest and the type of activities proposed. For example, it should not require a thorough timber inventory if timber is only used for subsistence purposes. Guidance documents, such as templates, should be provided. Communities should be able to ask forest technicians, non-governmental organizations, researchers and others for support.
  6. Access to markets: The regulations should clarify the types of products and services that a community can use and the conditions to use them. This will allow communities to truly benefit from a community forest and provide incentives to manage the forest sustainably while improving their livelihoods.
  7. Benefit sharing: It should be clear how revenue can be generated from the community forest and received in the community fund. A mechanism should also be established to ensure a fair and equitable share of the benefits among all community members, including the poorest and most marginalized groups.
  8. Conflict resolution: There should be clarity on the possible use of traditional mechanisms to resolve conflicts and which mechanism will be used in the case of a dispute over forest use and allocation among communities. The Act gives the right to a Community Forest Management Committee to represent the interests of the community in court.
  9. Enforcement: Regulations should detail the types and numbers of controls and checks that the government will perform. This will ensure visibility to communities and others involved in community forestry such as enforcement officials, and will support implementation of the Act. Regulations should also provide safeguards about the role and mandate of the peer-to-peer monitoring system established to avoid community-level conflicts.
  10. Support: Regulations should detail how external stakeholders, such as non-governmental organizations, experts, the private sector and others can support communities to apply for and manage a community forest, if and when the community wishes to involve them.

RECOFTC shared the assessment with the Citizens’ Forest Network (link in Thai). Using the assessment, the Citizen’s Forest Network has improved its engagement in the development of regulations to implement the Community Forest Act. The Citizens’ Forest Network participates in forest landscape management and decision-making to improve the rights and livelihoods of forest communities. Its members work closely with forest communities and networks in more than 38 provinces in Thailand. Members of the network participate in the national Community Forest Policy Committee, which is in charge of proposing the new regulations. 

The assessment provides guidance to strengthen the Community Forest Act to help Thailand reach its targets of 1.6 million hectares of forests under community forestry by 2025, including 15,000 registered community forests. 

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This story is produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its content is the sole responsibility of RECOFTC and it does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union. To find out more about this and other activities under the EU-funded Voices for Mekong Forests, visit the project page.

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