Filling gaps in forest governance
"Even within the wider FLEGT vision, gender does not come out that visibly. The appetite is there, but there is lack of know-how about how to translate gender and social issues into the FLEGT context."
Kalpana Giri, Senior Program Officer, RECOFTC
RECOFTC’s executive director David Ganz says it is essential that governments in the region continue to listen to the voices of communities and civil society, and incorporate their views in policy. That means listening to a diversity of marginalized groups, especially Indigenous Peoples, youth, the elderly and women.
“There is a tendency to focus on the male voice,” he says.
One example of the gender gap is in the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, says Kalpana Giri, who is part of the team implementing RECOFTC’s gender equity and social inclusion strategy.
“Even within the wider FLEGT vision, gender does not come out that visibly,” says Giri. “So it doesn’t come out in discussions so much, for example, when defining legality. FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreements were seen as economic trade deals, so they went in a technical, economic direction rather than social one. The appetite is there, but there is lack of know-how about how to translate gender and social issues into the FLEGT context.”
This matters because, while good forest governance is about moving forward in a positive direction, it is also about trying to ensure that no one is left behind. Experience shows, for example, that as countries root out illegality in their timber supply chains, they risk harming small and informal enterprises that struggle to keep pace with the changing rules and standards.
That’s why it is important to raise awareness among such businesses and build their capacity to participate in legal markets, says Vu Huu Than, RECOFTC’s Vietnam-based training coordinator.
Vu says governments could provide incentives and support them to register their businesses: “Small or informal enterprises should be encouraged to formalize. This will probably improve their performance and sustainability.”
In the balance
In the Mekong region, the fates of people and forests have been entwined for millennia. But as economies grow, pressure is mounting on the remaining forests and on the people who depend on them most. The coming decade will present risks and opportunities.
As the impacts of climate change become ever clearer, the case for protecting forests and managing them sustainably grows ever stronger. We must do this in ways that are fair and beneficial to local people, while also protecting biodiversity. And as the EU and other markets increasingly demand legal timber and commodities whose production has not entailed deforestation, the economic incentives for better forest governance should continue to grow. In 2019, for example, the EU launched an initiative to protect and restore the world’s forests (link), and the European Green Deal, which provides a basis for more action on forests (link).
There are challenges, of course, and some are deeply entrenched. But there are also examples of truly significant progress. By learning from each other, scaling up successful initiatives, continuing to involve all stakeholders in decision-making and building capacity, the Mekong countries can hope to balance economic development with forest protection. If they succeed, the whole world with benefit.