Community forests boosted pandemic resilience across Asia

Millions of people across Asia have been better able to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions because they are members of community forests, with rights to manage, use and benefit from local forest resources. 

This is among the findings of new research by RECOFTC that showed that community forests boosted incomes, livelihoods and food security while helping people to understand and protect themselves from the risk of contracting COVID-19. 

The study recommends ways that community forestry can feature in pandemic recovery plans and contribute towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

RECOFTC undertook the study in seven Asian countries in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) under the FAO–EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Programme, and has summarized the findings in a special report published online today. 

“Our research highlights the importance of expanding community forests and improving land tenure systems to ensure that local people have clear and strong rights over forest resources,” says David Ganz, Executive Director of RECOFTC. “Boosting support for community forestry should not only help countries as they emerge from the pandemic but also strengthen resilience to future shocks, whether in the form of future pandemics or the continuing impacts of climate change.

“Science tells us that both kinds of shocks will become more frequent unless urgent action is taken to address forest loss,” says Ganz. “Community forestry offers a route to addressing the causes and limiting the consequences of these global challenges at the same time.” 

RECOFTC conducted surveys in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand and Viet Nam, speaking to hundreds of people in total. 

Most said they had experienced negative impacts on livelihoods and food security following pandemic-related lockdowns. Travel restrictions, export bans and market closures reduced incomes, while the cost of imported food increased, putting pressure on household budgets. 

But by providing such products as wild food plants, medicines, agroforestry crops, firewood and, in some cases, timber, community forests reduced household expenses and generated income and savings. RECOFTC estimates that personal savings generated by selling timber and non-timber forest products from community forests helped about three million people in the lower Mekong region to cope during the first months of the lockdowns.

Many community forests also manage collective funds and revolving credit schemes that provide low interest loans to their members. Community forests with good external relations generated financial and material support from NGOs and government agencies, and distributed this aid to those in need.

Community forest committees applied their communication, coordination and leadership skills to access and distribute information and supplies of masks and hand sanitizer. These committees also continued regulating access to forest resources, resolving conflicts, managing funds and organizing patrols to protect forests from illegal harvesting, poaching or encroachment.

The study identified success factors including tenure arrangements and rights over resources, the size and quality of forests that governments allocate to communities, and the capacity of community forest committees to manage credit schemes and access external support. It recommends ways of reinforcing and replicating these conditions elsewhere.

“We recommend increasing the area of forests in the control of local communities and ramping up capacity-development programs for community forest members,” says Ganz. “They need stronger skills to raise and manage funds and to restore and improve the quality of the forest resources they manage. 

“Providing equipment and training in product development, marketing, and enterprise development and management would help forest communities add value to their forest resources and increase their financial security,” says Ganz.

“At the same time, increased donor support and technical assistance for forestry training and jobs in forest land restoration and management can improve forest carbon storage and productivity. This would also help mitigate climate change impacts and increase the benefits that forest communities receive from their land.”

Media enquiries

Sandra McGuire, Director of Knowledge Management and Strategic Communication, RECOFTC,

Detty Saluling, Communication Coordinator, RECOFTC, 


RECOFTC strives for a future where people live equitably and sustainably in and beside healthy, resilient forests. It takes a long-term, landscape-based and inclusive approach to supporting local communities to secure their land and resource rights, stop deforestation, find alternative livelihoods and foster gender equity. It is the only non-profit organization of its kind in Asia and the Pacific. With more than 30 years of experience working with people and forests, RECOFTC has built trusting relationships with partners at all levels. Its influence and partnerships extend from multilateral institutions to governments, private sector and local communities. RECOFTC’s innovations, knowledge and initiatives enable countries to foster good forest governance, mitigate and adapt to climate change, and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change. For more information, visit

About the Special Report

How community forests boosted pandemic resilience across Asia-Pacific is based on the results of surveys RECOFTC conducted in 2020 and 2021 to determine the contributions of community forestry to the COVID-19 response and recovery in seven Asian countries. The surveys were funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), under the FAO–EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Programme. Additional funding was provided by the European Union through RECOFTC’s Voices for Mekong Forests (V4MF) project, Germany’s International Climate Initiative (IKI) through RECOFTC’s FLOURISH project, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).