Case study: Overcoming the implementation gap of tenure rights to commons through a multi-tiered and holistic capacity development approach for community-based forest management

February 2017

This case study by RECOFTC appears in a new FAO publication 'Governing Tenure Rights to Commons: A guide to support the implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security', p 51.

In the Asia-Pacific region, communities hold statutory tenure rights to one third (34 percent) of the region’s forests (RECOFTC, 2013). This 182 million hectare land area is officially managed under locally-based community forestry agreements. The state owns and manages 57 percent of the forests – an area that is potentially available for allocation to community forestry (CF), given suitable changes in law and policy support. The trend of distributing forest land rights to local communities continues in favour of more than 450 million people who are living in proximity to these forest lands and whose lives are deeply integrated with the forests. 

In the wake of degrading natural resources and increasing pressures with regard to local benefit-sharing from natural resources, ASEAN governments have set a collective target of 15.9 million hectares (6 percent) of the region’s forest lands to be transferred to local communities by 2030 (RECOFTC, 2014). While this joint commitment is only a start, pioneers already exist: the governments of Vietnam and the Philippines have recognized the positive effects of local schemes to govern natural resources. They have created legal frameworks in support of community-based forest management and have addressed the complex and time-consuming nature of land allocation processes through active policy support and supportive means for implementation.

In this process of change, the capacity development of stakeholders in government, communities and civil society organizations is essential to make the establishment, implementation and enforcement of new tenure arrangements work at the national and subnational level.

A Capacity Development Needs Assessment (CDNA), conducted in the region by RECOFTC from 2009 to 2013, revealed widespread institutional, organizational and individual capacity gaps for community forestry development in several areas: the assessment of biophysical and socioeconomic situations; planning for sustainable forest management; research into participatory action; conflict resolution and mediation; policy advocacy and reform; forestry extension services.

In the promotion and implementation of community forestry arrangements in Asia and the Pacific, the capacity development centre RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests has been a crucial actor throughout the last decades. The organization was formed in 1987 under the auspices of Thailand’s Kasetsart University as a research and training hub for community forestry. Its recognition as an autonomous international non-governmental organization followed in 2009. Today, RECOFTC works with states and civil society in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, Viet Nam and beyond.

The main strategy of RECOFTC is to build formal partnerships with governments and engage them and their partners – including CSOs and local communities – in a participatory, multitiered and holistic capacity development approach. A popular programme is the Community Forestry Champions Network, whereby government officials from the forest sector in Asia come together to engage in field-based learning, so that they can experience and identify the best and replicable strategies and interventions around the region to support community forestry. This allows them to champion innovative changes in CF policy and practice in their respective countries.

Grassroots-based capacity development initiatives aim to strengthen the capacity of community forestry networks in securing stronger rights for local people, providing support and services to rights holders, and deliberating their community forestry issues and aspirations with duty bearers. For example, local and national community forest user group networks in the region benefit from their affiliation with the international network Global Alliance on Community Forestry (GACF), as well as through joint workshops and study tours on CF run by RECOFTC. Through these activities, they exchange lessons and strategies on the implementation of community forestry, rights-based approaches and the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (the Guidelines), among others. In northern Thailand, for example, a regional platform for networking among communities engaged in community-based fish sanctuary management and community forestry has been created. This platform, the Watershed People Assembly, serves as a forum to voice local concerns so that local people can secure their rights over the watershed. The collective voice of the assembly also helps to shield the watershed from external investments and policy decisions that favour conversion of their wetland community forests to a special economic zone for industrial development purposes.

In addition, through the introduction of multi-stakeholder policy platforms at subnational and national levels in Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Myanmar, rights holders and duty bearers converge and deliberate about CF policies and practices on an equal footing. Such multi-stakeholder platforms, in combination with other capacity development initiatives, have created a cadre of change agents who have been influential in the development of CF policy and institutions in the region.

The popularity of such a participatory, multi-tiered and holistic capacity development approach conducted by a regional organization in close cooperation with governments and communities, exemplifies the increasing interest of states in building up national RECOFTC centres in the Asia Pacific region and beyond.

Case study by: By Reymondo Caraan, Ronnakorn Triraganon, Chheng Channy, MaungMuang Than, Sokchea Tol, Bounyadeth Phoungmala, Warangkana Rattanarat and Kuntum Melati RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests

Further reading

RECOFTC. 2013. Capacity Needs for Community Forestry. Findings from assessments in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. Bangkok.

RECOFTC. 2014. Current Status of Social Forestry in Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation in the ASEAN region. Bangkok.

For the full publication from FAO, 'Governing Tenure Rights to Commons: A guide to support the implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security', see:

Publication tags: