ASEAN Working Group on Social Forestry Calls for Strengthening Livelihoods and Commercial Rights for Forest Communities for Successful Forest Landscape Restoration

Chiang Mai, Thailand - Over 200 representatives from ASEAN governments, civil society, local communities, UN, donors, private sector and other forest stakeholders took part in the 7th ASEAN Working Group on Social Forestry (AWG-SF) conference on 12-14 June 2017 in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The conference explored the theme 'Social forestry in forest landscape restoration: Enabling partnerships and investments for Sustainable Development Goals.'

H.E. Dr. Wijarn Simachaya, the Permanent Secretary of Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE); AWG-SF Chair Mr. Orlando Panganiban; and H.E. Ivo Sieber, Swiss Ambassador to Thailand opened the conference.

“Forests are both precious and vulnerable. The sustainable use and management of the world’s forests and the critical role of local people in protecting forests and other natural resources are increasingly recognized as a key to sustainable development,” emphasized H.E. Ivo Sieber, Swiss Ambassador to Thailand, at the opening of the conference, “Social forestry has potential to contribute not only to sustainable forest management, poverty reduction and food security, but also to climate change mitigation and adaptation.”

At the conference, RECOFTC facilitated a session on 'Safeguarding local communities through forest landscape restoration.' The session emphasized the need for active participation of local communities in forest decision-making, noting that while there are challenges to this, there are clear benefits. The need for strong and clear tenure was highlighted, as it provides security for local communities and encourages investment in forest restoration. The session participants also highlighted that in addition to clear rights, there must be clear roles and responsibilities – only then can participation be truly effective.

Christian Castellanet, MRLG, pointed out that “To plant trees, communities need to be sure they/their children will be able to harvest the trees in 30-50 yrs.”

RECOFTC also facilitated a session on 'Enabling successful FLR program design through capacity development'. Participants voiced the need to develop capacities to restore degraded lands – in particular capacities to develop better processes and skills to conduct participatory FLR work at regional, national, subnational, and landscape/community levels. Recommendations from the session included ensuring forest restoration targets reflect needs at the community and landscape level as well as national needs, which are developed in a participatory way. 

“Consideration must be given on what motivates government staff to work with communities in a participatory way to conduct FLR,” advised David Gritten, RECOFTC.

Participants in the sessionstated that there must be a focus on livelihoods and commercial opportunities for local communities. It was noted that SDG 15.3 is about forest restoration, and that indicators must be developed in a participatory way to understand what works and doesn’t work, from the views of local communities.

The third RECOFTC-led session was ‘Partnership models with private sector’. The session highlighted examples of private sector models that can be explored as avenues for FLR. Mr Pairuch Toewiwat, Chiangmai Social Enterprise company, stated that “In Mae Chaem district, our social enterprise model increased farmers' income five-fold; instead of farming corn, which was no longer sustainable, farmers engaged in  planting multiple crops in an agroforestry fashion."

Participants in the session highlighted that private sector actors must promote tenure issues when partnering with local communities. Participants also discussed the need for the private sector to strengthen opportunities for development of community enterprises.

RECOFTC led a field visit to the Mae Tha Community Forest for participants to learn first-hand from local community members about their forest landscape restoration work, the benefits they gained and the challenges they faced.

“Like other people, our dream is schooling for our children, having a stable livelihood, and being able to buy a things like a car,” said Mr Narongdeth, a Mae Tha community leader, “We need to ensure that we get the highest return on growing trees, so it needs to be more clear whether we can use the trees we grow for future generations.” Currently trees that are grown by local communities may be harvested for personal use only (such as building their own homes), while all commercial use is prohibited by law, thus limiting benefits for local communities. The Mae Tha community is renowned for their ground-breaking work to manage and restore degraded forest land resulting in benefits for the environment and local people.

RECOFTC also launched the new regional report 'Social forestry and climate change in the ASEAN region', which offers an analysis of the most up-to-date government data available on social forestry and climate change at national and regional levels. The report offers recommendations to increase the rate of meeting national social forestry targets by ASEAN member states, and calls for strengthening economic and social benefits for local forest communities.

"I saw the value of bringing together so many committed individuals who are mandated to support social forestry - this is reflected in the clear and actionable recommendations to ASEAN member states that would put local people at the heart of any forest restoration initiatives," said David Gritten, RECOFTC. 

The conference recommendations were endorsed by conference participants at the end of the conference. The recommendations now go to ASEAN Senior Officials on Forestry (ASOF) for formal adoption.