The Mekong region is home to an estimated 85 million forest-dependent people, of whom more than a third are indigenous peoples. Overall, an estimated 30 percent of the rural population in the Mekong region are living in poverty. The region lost about 5 percent of its forest cover between 1990 and 2015. Forest communities in the Mekong region thus face many challenges in ensuring that they can make a sustainable living from the forest landscapes.
While a great deal of progress is being made to address these issues, forest governance remains a fundamental challenge in the Mekong region. There are many initiatives trying to support the efforts of local forest communities, while at the same time trying to address illegal logging, deforestation and forest degradation, rural poverty, and protecting biodiversity. At the heart of these efforts is governance. Without strong governance, built on foundations that include effective participation, transparency and accountability, these efforts will fail.
Non-state actors (NSAs), particularly civil society, play a fundamental role in strengthening governance. However, they face many challenges including the fact that they are often not effectively engaged in forest governance processes -- due to a lack of participatory processes in policy making; capacity of the NSAs to effectively participate in dialogues and exchanges with state and private actors; and scarcity of appropriate forest data. In recognition of this, the European Union is supporting the project “Voices for Mekong forests.”
The overarching rationale of the project is that for forests to be sustained, forest landscape governance must be based on principles of inclusivity, requiring effective NSA participation. The project recognises that many national, regional and global initiatives offer opportunities for NSAs to become actively involved in government-led forest landscape dialogues and decision-making processes. The project therefore leverages and contributes to these initiatives, particularly the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade - Voluntary Partnership Agreements (FLEGT-VPA) initiative and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+), by helping to ensure they are built on multi-stakeholder processes, and that civil society have the capacity to effectively engage on issues, present their concerns to policy makers, and organise themselves to share information and strengthen negotiating positions.
The project is working on regional, national and landscape levels, recognising that efforts to address the challenges facing forest governance in the region need to take a holistic approach.
The transboundary focus of this project covers three landscapes across five countries. These landscapes are home to many forest dependent communities, and among the most biodiverse in the region, providing a range of ecosystem services:
- Dawna Tenasserim Transboundary Landscape (DTL) - covering Tanintharyi Nature Reserve (Myanmar) and Western Forest Complex (Thailand)
- Northern Thailand - Lao PDR Transboundary Landscape (NTLL) - covering Doi Phu Kha National Park (Thailand) and Nam Pouy National Protected Area (Lao PDR)
- Viet Nam - Lao PDR - Cambodia Transboundary Landscape (VLCL) - covering: a) Eastern Plains Landscape (Cambodia bordering with Viet Nam); b) Quang Nam province, Central Annamites; Kon Tum province, Central Highlands (Viet Nam bordering Cambodia and Lao PDR); and, c) Xe Pian and Dong Amphan National Biodiversity Conservation Areas (Lao PDR)