Forests for community-based adaptation: Roadmaps to 2020

Kyle Lemle, Former Research Associate at RECOFTC, discusses how community forestry can support climate change adaptation in communities across the Asia-Pacific region. Kyle is a co-author of the community forestry adaptation roadmaps to 2020 produced for Cambodia, Lao PDR, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam.

Climate change has become a reality for Asia-Pacific’s forest-dependent communities. Adaptation is no longer an idea of the future, but a current project for some forest-based communities who are innovating ways of responding to the negative impacts of climate change:


• In the village of Pred Nai, Trat Province on the shores of Eastern Thailand, members of the community mangrove user group have erected bamboo poles on mudflats to reduce the power of storm surges, all while creating habitat for marine life.

• In the hills of Bokeo Province, Lao PDR, RECOFTC’s ForInfo project has implemented technologies for the efficient removal and sale of highly flammable bamboo from increasingly fire-ravaged, degraded smallholder forestlands.

• In Cambodia’s Boeung Per Wildlife Sanctuary, communities are testing resilient agroforestry techniques based on vulnerability assessments conducted across 19 Community Protected Areas. 

There are five key reasons why community forestry is able to help local communities adapt to the negative impacts of climate change:

1. Enhancing livelihoods and markets: Climate change poses a threat to communities that rely solely on agriculture to sustain their livelihoods. Community forestry helps diversify the ways in which communities support themselves, making them more resilient, from the collection, processing and trade of timber and non-timber forest products, to the provision of services such as eco-tourism.

2. Increasing food security: In addition to the provision of products for sale, forests provide an important food ‘safety net’ for direct consumption by Asia’s rural communities in times of agricultural crop failure. The Lao population uses over 700 species of forest plants, insects and fungi for food and other uses, each species responding differently to climatic change.

3. Leveraging social capital and knowledge: Community forestry often requires local management institutions to be strengthened or established, such as community forestry user groups. These groups may be used to coordinate community responses to climate change and facilitate participatory decision-making processes.

4. Reducing disaster risks: In Vietnam, 70% of the population lives in lowland or delta areas along the 3,200 kilometer coastline where community-based mangrove restoration is proving to be a powerful tool in reducing vulnerability to typhoons, storm surges, sea water incursion and erosion. In addition, community monitoring helps to prevent forest fires and disease outbreaks, while sustainable management of local vegetation cover helps to prevent landslides in mountainous areas.

5. Regulating microclimates: Forest cover has a direct influence on local microclimates by providing shade, increasing atmospheric humidity, cooling the air, and dispersing localized wind patterns.

RECOFTC’s new analysis suggests that despite the proven benefits of community forestry for adaptation, strategic cross-sector cooperation is necessary in order to remove the barriers facing millions of forest-dwelling communities; from knowledge and financial gaps to legal recognition. In countries like Lao PDR and Cambodia, for instance, economic land concessions are moving forward despite logging bans, marginalizing local communities. With mounting pressures on the natural world, from anthropogenic and atmospheric sources alike, national governments will be unable to meet the needs of local people if they take a reactive stance to disaster. By incorporating adaptation into community forestry development strategies and projects over the next two decades, countries can empower local people to capitalize on the local resources and social structures necessary to face a rapidly changing world. Our country-specific roadmaps analyze the current status of community forestry-based adaptation in each of these countries and outline specific steps that governments and civil society organizations must take to realize community forestry’s full potential.


All images by the author