RECOFTC
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Urban Communities can -- and must -- do more to support our forests

The sprawling metropolis of Bangkok has positioned itself as one of the major urban centers that populate the Asia - Pacific Region. A region of ever increasing economic, political, and environmental change, the streets of these urban jungles host an important populace for sustainable development and forest management: the urban public.

It is no surprise that many people in the city do not notice such a connection.

“Everything is so dynamic in the hustle and bustle of city life that people sometimes fail to deeply appreciate the dynamic role of trees and what they actually do for us,” commented Jan Joseph Dida, a charismatic youth participant from the Philippines.

This weekend, however, The Center for People and Forests - RECOFTC (re)connected the dots by hosting Forests Are Us: Why Forests Matter, a regional forum that brought together various parties from both urban and forested areas.

“When the environmental community is dealing with such complex, interrelated, and challenging issues, it is important to open up a dialogue between many voices. At the forum, multiple perspectives were expressed, which allowed us to have a more informed and realistic discussion as to why forests matter,” reflected Dr. David Ganz, RECOFTC’s Executive Director.

The forum was held over the course of two days in Bangkok, Thailand, utilizing three thematic streams as guiding reasons as to why forests are intricately connected to our everyday lives. These guiding streams, which included “Forest Governance,” “Women Entrepreneurship,” and “You and Me,” laid the foundation for a series of “Forest Talks” and panel discussions with over 25 international experts.

But overall the three streams acted as a representative of the forum’s overall message: the important connection that sustainable forestry has to our everyday life.

“It is important to connect everyday actions to far reaching realities,” commented Detty Saluling, Acting Communications Manager for RECOFTC, when asked about the forum’s message. “Without a personalized message, we cannot offer a space for citizens, practitioners, and others to network and explore alternative ways to conserve our forests, and thus our lives.”

In one Forest Talk, Abigail Smith of Scholars of Sustenance Foundation told a startling truth about food waste: “The amount of food just one hotel throws away per day would be able to feed this entire room’s lunch and give you leftovers to take home.” And where does this food come from? Farmed and forested land throughout Thailand, the region, and the world.

People in the city are only sporadically exposed to the inner workings of how forested products are moved from their source to the city. Stream Two, “Women Entrepreneurship,” played an instrumental role in filling in the gaps. The process involves complex supply chains that oftentimes can leave marginalized communities exposed to human rights abuses, as noted by exclusion in decision making over land tenure and access to finance. Not only do these practices violate a basic sense of political and human normalcy, they also do a disservice to the product themselves.

Women and other marginalized voices are vital to create successful supply chains. The unique set of skills they bring to the table only serves to strengthen the value of the product. It was evident following the Forest Talks and panel discussions that women entrepreneurs have been engaging in successful, locally owned, business practices for generations, protecting their livelihoods in innovative and sustainable ways.

To secure these opportunities, however, it is important that forest laws are implemented and followed in a just and equitable fashion. “Good forest governance is a prerequisite for gaining social, environmental and economic benefits from forests, securing the livelihoods of forest dependent communities, and conserving natural resources for future generations,” Nguyen Thuy Hang commented, a participant in Stream One, “Forest Governance.”

And even more important, that there is ample local participation in the implementation and enforcement of such laws.

“Forest governance is key to collecting reliable, on-the-ground data,” says Dr. Ganz, noting that “such data is the base that must be established before any effective change can be sought by politicians, practitioners, and citizens.”

By connecting these three streams into an integrated message, Forests Are Us: Why Forests Matter placed the onus back on the participants of the forum, encouraging responsible consumer behavior by raising awareness of the fundamental problems that afflict forest governance, supply chains, and our own existence.

Knowledge, however, is not enough. As Dr. Ganz stated, “The numbers can be there. The data can tell a story. But it is on us to put words into action.”