Câu chuyện

Revisiting exemplary forests two decades on

21 March 2024
More than 20 years after identifying exemplary cases of sustainable forest management, RECOFTC returned to see what has changed. In Pesisir Barat, Indonesia; Kavrepalanchok, Nepal and Kampong Phluk, Cambodia, the communities managing forests have experienced legal, socioeconomic and environmental changes, challenges and successes.
Talk of the Forest

Dammar trees (Shorea javanica) produce a valuable resin that is in high demand as a component of paints, perfumes and cosmetics. For generations, the Krui people living in Pesisir Barat Regency of Sumatra, Indonesia have managed planted forests of these trees, selling the resin they harvest into supply chains for national and international markets. 

Along with planted fruit and timber trees, the resin trees provide sustainable incomes and livelihoods. The dammar forests are also a habitat for wildlife, forming a biodiverse buffer zone to the adjacent Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park. Recognizing this, in 1997, the Indonesian government presented the Krui community with a Kalpataru award for their contributions to conservation and sustainable development.

The Krui people’s approach was among several regional examples of sustainable forest in the Asia and Pacific region that RECOFTC and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) identified in a 2001 initiative called ‘In Search of Excellence’. More than two decades later, RECOFTC, FAO and the Wyss Academy for Nature returned to these sites. 

We wanted to see what has changed, in terms of forest management objectives and the enabling conditions for sustainable forest management, in response to environmental and economic changes and evolving societal expectations about forests. In each case, the communities managing forests have experienced legal, socioeconomic and environmental changes. They have adapted to challenges with varying degrees of success.

Indonesian resin forests under pressure  

“Around 80 per cent of the population in Pesisir Barat relies on dammar forests for their livelihoods,” says Gamma Galudra, Director of RECOFTC Indonesia. “Whether they own dammar tree plots or not, nearly every household can benefit from dammar production. Unfortunately, inconsistent regulations, limited external support, economic pressures and encroachment from oil palm plantations have diminished the community’s customary practices.”

Local farmers from Malaya village collect sap from dammar forests for their family's livelihood.
Local farmers from Malaya village collect sap from dammar trees. Photo by Lasmita Nurana/RECOFTC.

A key challenge has been the change in the status of a large portion of land. In 1998, the Minister of Environment and Forestry of Indonesia designated the dammar forests as state-owned special purpose zones (KDTI), granting Krui communities some management rights. But in 2008, the government changed the legal status of 8,000 hectares of dammar forests to ‘community timber plantation’ (Hutan Tanaman Rakyat; HTR), which is intended to support commercial tree plantations. 

This change meant that Krui communities could no longer practice their traditional approaches on that land. Instead, they had to register as members of a cooperative and follow new rules. The government provided financial, technical and material support on land management and entrepreneurship, but the change in land status has created confusion.

“Community members got angry,” one local person told RECOFTC. “Some registered for the cooperative, but more persisted in customary land-use. This continues until now.”

Around 30 per cent of the reclassified land has been replanted with commercial trees. The arrival of sawmill companies in the area has encouraged community members to fell mature dammar trees to earn quick money. Some community members have cleared their dammar plots to grow oil palm. Meanwhile, the government has given palm oil companies permits to expand their plantations into parts of the Krui community’s ancestral land. 

There has been a rapid decline in the area of dammar forest, from 29,000 hectares in 1998 to around 6,500 hectares in 2022. “Replacing dammar forests with oil palm and other commercial tree plantations disrupts the community’s traditional agroforestry system, harms wildlife and diminishes the ecological benefits associated with dammar trees, such as their role in preventing soil erosion,” says Reny Juita, Community Forestry Partnership Coordinator at RECOFTC Indonesia.

Despite facing challenges, the Krui community’s traditional management of dammar trees provides livelihoods, sustains culture and supports biodiversity. To secure its future, the government should avoid changing the status of any more KDTI land to a different regime such as HTR that diminishes the community's efforts. If the government instead recognized the Krui lands as customary forests (hutan adat), this would provide a more stable and supportive regulatory framework.

“The community also needs external support to enhance its ability to manage and profit from its forests sustainably,” says Galudra. “This includes support for sustainable land management, crop diversification, entrepreneurship, value-addition and community governance structures. The government should also intervene to ensure that dammar producers get a fair price for their resin.” 

The ups and downs of a community sawmill in Nepal

Twenty years ago, RECOFTC and FAO highlighted a pioneering case of sustainable forest management in Kavrepalanchok District the Bagmati Province of Nepal, where the groups managing four community forests had teamed up to operate a sawmill to process wood from forests planted in the 1980s. 

Current state of the Chaubas Sawmill and its infrastructure, once managed by the community for processing wood from planted forests. Photo by Pawan Karki/RECOFTC
Current state of the Chaubas Sawmill and its infrastructure, once managed by the community for processing wood from planted forests. Photo by Pawan Karki/RECOFTC 

The Chaubas-Bhumlu community sawmill was established through an Australia-funded project in 1996 to create jobs and boost local incomes and livelihoods. It was run by a committee made up of members of the Chapanigadidanda, Rachhma, Dharapani and Fagar Khola community forest user groups, which protected and managed around 230 hectares of forest.

The communities were required to sell all their logs to the sawmill. In return, the sawmill agreed to distribute 80 per cent of its profits to the community forest user groups. 

“For the first few years of operation, the sawmill was a success, generating substantial profits and employment,” says Shambhu Dangal, Senior Advisor to RECOFTC Nepal. “But it has since been beset by internal and external challenges.” 

The sawmill’s first ten years of operation coincided with a decade of civil war. Other challenges included a gradual withdrawal of donor support, forest management issues, communities selling logs elsewhere in breach of their agreement and regulatory changes. In 2003, for example, the government introduced new rules that required communities to follow a lengthy auction process to sell excess timber. Unable to outbid other buyers, the sawmill lost its main source of timber. The sawmill began incurring losses and, in 2007, it ceased operations.

The Australia-funded EnLiFT project upgraded and re-opened the sawmill in 2013 under lease to a private company, with the community forest user groups remaining in overall control. The devastating earthquake that struck Nepal in 2015 created a huge demand for sawn timber to rebuild damaged buildings. But by 2020, demand for timber for post-earthquake reconstruction had subsided, and the COVID-19 pandemic forced the sawmill to close entirely. Early in 2021, the sawmill was again leased to a private firm, which operated it for just one year.

Damage caused by a windstorm in Rachama Community Forest, Nepal
Damage caused by a windstorm in Rachama Community Forest, Nepal. Photo by Niraj Babu Bhatta/RECOFTC

Local dynamics have also shaped the sawmill’s story. Nearly a quarter of the families in the four communities now divide their time between urban and rural residences. Many young people have also migrated away to study or work. These trends have reduced local people’s dependence on forests, reducing incentives for sustainable forest management. 

A bigger challenge has been elite capture. Most of the leadership positions in the sawmill management committee and the four community forests have been held by wealthy individuals who usually stay in urban areas and come to their villages only during meetings, silviculture operations and timber sales. 

When the sawmill was set up, its committee members lacked the financial skills needed to manage the large sums of money that soon began to flow. This has led to mismanagement and misuse of funds. Two of the four community forest user groups did not receive their share of the sawmill profits. Meanwhile, three of the four user groups are themselves under investigation for misuse of community funds for personal use. 

There has been a breakdown of trust between the Divisional Forest Officer and community forest user groups and between the user groups’ executive committees and members. Seeing few benefits, community members — especially the poorer ones — are disinclined to implement proper tree-thinning practices, harvest timber or protect the forests from fires. Grazing by cattle is unrestricted and delayed timber harvests have led to over-mature trees being uprooted in strong winds, causing significant damage.

“If the trend of fire, grazing and uprooting continues without any proper silviculture intervention, the forest may be converted to an unproductive jungle in the next 10-15 years,” says Khadga Kharel, a local resident, who has been engaged in community forest management for decades.

Despite the considerable challenges facing the community sawmill and its source forests, there are hopes that recent legal reforms can help to address the situation. 

“The amended Forest Act (2019) and Forest Regulation (2022) have provisions to promote sustainable forest management and entrepreneurship,” says Dangal. “This has the potential to address elite capture and reduce outmigration by creating new job opportunities.”

“There are also hopes that the sawmill can be revitalized through a public-private partnership model with a clear business plan,” he adds. “This would entail providing shares to individual households and outsiders and diversifying its products beyond sawn timber. To succeed, it will need both a sustainable supply of raw materials and stronger links to markets.”

Developing sustainable livelihoods from flooded forests in Cambodia

In Cambodia, villagers in Kampong Phluk commune in Siem Reap Province have been managing and protecting the seasonally flooded forests on the edge of the Tonle Sap Lake since the 1940s. The forest floods each year as the lake expands, and it is among the semi-submerged trees that the fish on which these people depend for their livelihoods lay their eggs. The villagers spend part of the year in floating houses on the lake, returning to permanent stilt houses when the water rises. 

The yearly floods in the forest near Kampong Phluk sustain local livelihoods by creating a spawning ground for fish.
The yearly floods in the forest near Kampong Phluk sustain local livelihoods by creating a spawning ground for fish. Photo by Thuy Dang/RECOFTC 

In 2001, the villagers gained formal rights over the flooded forest and part of the lake in the form of a community fishery, one of three models of community forestry in Cambodia. An elected management committee oversees the implementation of community fishery management plans, which are updated every three years. Two decades ago, RECOFTC highlighted this example of sustainable forest management in recognition of the community’s approach to conserving biodiversity and using natural resources to improve livelihoods.

Since then, legal reforms have clarified the roles and responsibilities of the community and government agencies in managing these resources. These include the Fisheries Law (2003), the Subdecree on Community Fisheries Management (2005), and Prakas on the Community Fisheries Guidelines (2007). 

The rights that the community members have secured over their local resources have enabled them to secure external financial and technical support to manage the area effectively according to their management plan. This includes dividing the area into specific areas for fishing and for fish conservation. 

Over time, the community has faced new and evolving challenges. Illegal tree cutting and fires have reduced the extent of the flooded forest and its number of big trees. The villagers say that fish catches have declined dramatically because of this and because of increased fishing pressure from outsiders, some of whom use illegal fishing gear. There has also been an increase in pollution caused by upstream disposal of household waste.

The villagers have adapted by increasing their patrolling of the forest and fishing area and reporting illegal activities and forest fires to the fisheries administration and local authorities. Around ten years ago, the community also began restoring the flooded forest by planting trees from stem cuttings and seeds. To address pollution, the community has launched campaigns to improve waste management and recycling. It has inspired other communities to visit and learn about its efforts. 

Another significant change is the community’s development of eco-tourism, attracting both local and international visitors who come to see the flooded forest, lake and the villagers’ cultural activities. Since 2010, the number of households engaged in eco-tourism has increased from 50 to all 998 in the community. Women in particular benefit by providing boat tours of the flooded forest, cooking and making products to sell to tourists. A portion of the fees that tourists pay helps to fund patrols to protect the forest and deter illegalities. In 2017, the community won the first Best Tourism Resort award from the Ministry of Tourism. 

Boat dock by Kampong Phluk village
Boat dock by Kampong Phluk village. Photo by Thuy Dang/RECOFTC

“Despite facing challenges, Kampong Phluk community fishery remains a successful case of sustainable forest management,” says Tol Sokchea, Deputy Director of RECOFTC Cambodia. “It has clear governance, committed members and good working relations with the district fisheries administration. It has also aligned its management plan with the commune’s five-year development plan.”

“The community has managed to adapt to many changes over the past two decades while staying committed to its original management mandates,” he says. “The community fishery management committee now includes new, younger members to ensure that the knowledge and philosophy of community fisheries are passed down for generations to come.”

Recipes for success

The case studies show how sustainable forest management is always a work in progress. It is always exposed to internal and external dynamics that are often unpredictable. At the same time, there is no single approach to achieving sustainable forest management — it can only be done according to the capacities and constraints in individual local contexts.

The changes that RECOFTC has observed highlight the challenge that communities face in balancing social, economic and environmental goals in forest management. They underline the importance of external support, continuous capacity-building, enabling laws and policies, and strong linkages with other stakeholders including government agencies and the private sector. 


This story is part of the global initiative, Revisiting Exemplary Forest Management. In the Asia-Pacific region, the initiative is financially supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Wyss Academy for Nature.

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