A Generational View of Community Forestry: Villagers Learn to Measure Carbon Stocks

A Generational View of Community Forestry: Villagers Learn to Measure Carbon Stocks

Young forestry enthusiasts, predominantly women, learn to assess potential sources of carbon wealth

Reporting by Xiang Ding

Sam Phak Nam, Thailand, August 2011


Like many community forests in Thailand, Sam Phak Nam village in Northeastern Khon Kaen province has struggled to secure legal tenure over its forestland. Having finally succeeded in gaining formal recognition from the Thai government, the community is now looking towards emerging opportunities to expand its livelihood options. Where traditional local knowledge has focused on the value of gathering and sustaining forest products, the next generation of forest leaders will increasingly look to forest services—like carbon sequestration—as integral features of forest-based livelihoods.


Acknowledging the need to adapt to shifting realities, RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests led a three-day workshop in July, 2011, for youth forest leaders and community members as part of the Young Seedlings Network. The Network, funded by the Siam Commercial Foundation, supports 20 youth groups in Thailand to learn about community forestry and climate change. The first day of the workshop focused on monitoring and assessing carbon levels in forests. I was invited to tag along to learn about the training program and to meet the people of Sam Phak Nam.


A RECOFTC trainer briefs a group of youths on the carbon measuring exercise

A RECOFTC trainer briefs a group of youths on the carbon measuring exercise

Measuring the trees for carbon stocks

Training to measure carbon levels is critical for emerging forest leaders, as global agreements have already been made on REDD+ (Reducing Emissions through reduced Deforestation and forest Degradation) at UNFCCC COP meetings in Copenhagen and Cancun. These agreements recognize the critical role forests play in tackling climate change, as they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as well as performing other important climate functions such as regulating atmospheric moisture and rainfall. Should REDD+ be implemented in Thailand, future foresters will need to understand the theory and practice of carbon measurement to capitalize on potential benefits.


Mr. Rawee Thaworn from RECOFTC’s Thailand country program leads the demonstrations, painstakingly marking sample plots to explain the carbon measurement process. Carefully designed to include a cross-section of different types of plants and trees, some plots were larger than others and some were constructed over sloping ground to accurately capture the complexity of the landscape.


The demonstration plots are carefully marked with copious
amounts of string, measuring tape, and rope


Participants in the training measure tree trunk diameter to help determine
the tree’s mass, an important component in evaluating its stored carbon.

Once the sample plots were laid out, teams of workshop participants set to work measuring their forest resources. Por Gaw Wong Krai, the chair of the village’s Community Forestry Committee, appeared happy with the training: “The village already surveys the community forestlands regularly, but specialized community carbon accounting techniques are very welcome.”


Interestingly, in the traditionally male-dominated village environment, a majority of the workshop participants were girls. When I pointed this out to Sam Phak Nam’s foremost female forester, Mae Khum, she seemed unsurprised. But gender composition within training workshops is a big issue; involving more girls indicates increasing gender parity in a sector usually controlled by men. Developing the skills of young women forest managers is a key step towards improving inclusive forest management in Thailand.


Living off the Forest

Mae Khum is youthful and energetic despite her age, collecting raw, organic food and resources in her beloved forest every day. Over the years, she has become one of the most scrupulous and experienced forest users in the community, gathering nearly everything she needs from the utilized community forest region.


Mae Khum, a village elder, is in great demand for trainings 

Eyes sparkling with pride, she points to her house. A tight weave of palm tree leaves forms her roof, which rests just above a wall of hardened bamboo stalks. Beside her, something cooks in a giant stone pot, heated by burning logs and charcoal collected from the utilized forest area. “Most of the food I eat is from the forest,” she says; the forest produces more than three kinds of herbs, two types of ginger, Thai white mushrooms, mangos, pomelos, and jackfruits. She even makes her own tea leaves by drying herbs on a bamboo mat in the sun.


Mae Khum’s wooden house and nearly all her needs
are provided by her beloved forest 

Before the village had electricity, Mae Khum unearthed and purified oils to make kerosene lamps in re-used tin cans. “Everything was natural and organic, and life was pure happiness,” she recalled. They collected their water from underground reservoirs—some no bigger than a wet marsh—up in the foothills. The most ‘unnatural’ thing the village owned was a single battery-operated television, which they took to town frequently to recharge in order to watch Thai soap operas late into the night.

As an elder with 30 years experience managing and using forests, Mae Khum is frequently sought out to deliver training. She chuckled when I asked if it was she who proposed preventing forest fires by manually and selectively cutting trees—an idea that seemed radical at the time. “Why, we all had a part to play in the communal planning process,” she assured me.

As the value of community forestry gains prominence in global forest management schemes, future generations of community forest managers in villages like Sam Phak Nam will face shifting challenges and new opportunities. Integrating traditional sustainable management practices with new techniques to take advantage of emerging livelihood opportunities, such as REDD+, will be a key feature of community forest management in the future.


“Take only what is enough”

Sam Phak Nam’s old guard isn’t shy of new ideas and innovative solutions, but is careful to emphasize the importance of simple, time-tested practices. As Por Gaw says, “The most important thing we can teach children is the importance of a sustainable lifestyle—the single concept of taking only what is enough. Our youth will come to realize what an incredible system we have in place: sustainable agriculture keeps you from being hungry, whereas being in debt can destroy you.”

Back in his office at RECOFTC, Rawee is as engaged as he was in the field: “Community forestry allows people to secure ownership and rights to their land and resources. This creates opportunities for utilization, so villagers will be able to use forest products and supplies for their livelihoods.” However, Rawee wishes the youth were more active: “It is a big challenge to make them understand the importance of community forestry, and the role it plays in their lives and that of everyone else.” The Young Seedling Network is helping make this goal a reality.

Por Gaw seemed confident when asked what could be done to help further community forestry efforts: he wants more training programs like the one RECOFTC organized. Equipped with a network of like-minded, well-educated forestry users and experts around the area to share experiences, Sam Phak Nam would be able to continue to reap the rewards that its forest has to offer. Transferring local knowledge to the youth will help ensure that community forestry capitalizes on breakthroughs in technology and governance in a sustainable way in years to come.


Tree in Sam Phak Nam

Sam Phak Nam village traces its birth in 1950 to this old tree outside the community temple,
nestled between mountains Phu Sam Bon and Phu Sam Phao.