Community-based solutions to fires protect public health, livelihoods and mitigate climate change

16 August 2023
RECOFTC and partners are advancing community-based solutions to prevent life-threatening smoke and haze, ecological destruction, and economic losses from destructive forest fires.
Talk of the Forest
โครงการการจัดการไฟโดยชุมชนเป็นฐาน กําลังขับเคลื่อนการเปลี่ยนแปลงจากการมุ่งดับไฟป่าไปสู่แนวทางเชิงรุกโดยการป้องกันไฟป่า และมุ่งเน้นที่การใช้มุมมองของวนศาสตร์ชุมชนแก้ปัญหา (ภาพจาก RECOFTC Cambodia)
The CBFiM project is driving a transition from fighting wildfires to a proactive approach of wildfire prevention, with a focus on community forestry. (Photo by RECOFTC Cambodia)

The Community-based Fire Management (CBFiM) project, launched in October 2022, could not be more timely and important to the lower Mekong countries. Wildfires raged across the region in early 2023, harming health, economies, and the natural environment — and releasing greenhouse gases that are fueling the escalating incidence and intensity of wildfires. The devastated communities and landscapes, and the transboundary smoke and haze, paint a clear picture of the region’s catastrophic future unless wildfire is prevented and controlled.

In the lower Mekong, most of the wildfires are inadvertently caused by people. Therefore, the solution to destructive wildfires must be community-based.

"In the Asia-Pacific region, forest fires are endangering health, livelihoods and biodiversity while exacerbating climate change. Considering that the majority of these fires are caused by humans, technology-focused solutions alone are insufficient," says David Ganz, RECOFTC’s Executive Director.

"Effective and sustainable fire management requires a shift to community-based strategies that align with local conditions and involve government collaboration. This is what we are hoping to achieve with our partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service," he added.

The project is accelerating a shift from fighting wildfires to preventing wildfires through the window of community forestry. The push to increase technical and financial support on preparation, prevention, readiness, and post-fire recovery for communities stems from emergency and disaster preparedness strategies. The systems-level approach is known as integrative fire management. It reinforces the need for community-based fire management.

RECOFTC has been working with thousands of rural communities, Asia-Pacific governments, and the ASEAN to support the growth of community forestry. This project is building the capacity of RECOFTC-supported communities and their governments to manage forest fires and adapt to climate change in landscapes in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

The project has three major goals. The first is to strengthen community-based fire management policy, planning, and practice. The second is to promote community-responsive development and use of technologies. The third is to share knowledge to improve forest fire management policy and practice.

The project is moving fast, building on previous investments by RECOFTC, the Forest Service, and others. Already, it has assessed the social, economic and cultural conditions in the four countries, setting the stage for developing and implementing community-based fire management plans. The multi-stakeholder assessments also help build partnerships among the stakeholders essential to success.

“Our work is building on decades of Forest Service investment in the region to support sustainable forest management and address climate change issues,” said Marija Kono, Asia Pacific Program Manager of USDA Forest Service International Programs.

  • In Cambodia, two fisher communities in the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve have already developed community-based fire management (CBFiM) plans. Here, fire management teams have learned the skills they need to manage forest fires and adapt to the stresses of climate change. This project aims to build upon the accomplishments of these communities by concentrating on enhancing their technological capabilities. Furthermore, the project will extend its efforts to include an additional community that is currently without a CBFiM plan.
  • In Lao PDR, the project assessed the situation and capacity-building needs in February 2023. RECOFTC is now supporting stakeholders as they establish forest fire management committees and forest fire management plans.
  • In Thailand’s Nan Province, RECOFTC is currently conducting assessments and consultations in fire hotspots and will begin developing community-based fire management plans by October 2023.
  • In Viet Nam, the project completed a comprehensive assessment of fire management and is currently working with the government to select fire-threatened locations for initiating community-based fire management.

The countries know that the United Nations predicts a global increase of extreme fires of up to 14 per cent by 2030, 30 per cent by the end of 2050, and 50 per cent by the end of the century. And they understand the urgency of their efforts to both manage fire and build their resilience to climate change. The two-year CBFiM project aims to support them through a five-year regional cooperative agreement between the Forest Service and RECOFTC.


This story/publication was produced through the Community-based Fire Management (CBFiM) in Asia project, made possible through a five-year cooperative agreement between the USDA Forest Service International Programs and RECOFTC. The project receives financial support from the United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) of the Department of Defense, along with funding from USAID and the USDA Forest Service International Programs.

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