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The Great Green Land Grab: Forest Rights in Thailand
In this recent article, RECOFTC Program Officer Ben Vickers reflects on the importance of recognizing rights for local communities in Thailand who are facing increasing pressure on their lands and forests. In short, he writes:
Secure ownership and use rights are vital to ensure that forests are better managed, better protected, and have a positive role in addressing climate change. In Thailand, three areas in which attention to forest rights will be particularly critical are community forest policy, protected area management and the national climate change strategy. The passing of the Community Forestry Bill (CFB) in Thailand in November 2007, a full 17 years after it was first presented to the legislature, should have been a milestone in the country’s formal recognition of local people’s rights. Instead, the Bill has become mired in controversy, with critics claiming that it violates the constitutional rights of ethnic minority groups.
The Bill severely limits what activities communities may undertake in their forests, particularly regarding the harvesting and sale of forest products. The Bill does, however, expect these same communities to commit to forest management duties. Delegating responsibilities without providing fair benefits in return is a common feature of community forestry legislation throughout the region. This does not constitute meaningful acknowledgement of rights, and therefore provides little motivation for local people to invest in the long-term management of forests.
The CFB’s second limitation is that much of the forest area designated for community management falls within Thailand’s existing national network of protected areas. Communities that live outside these areas, but have customary tenure and use of forest resources within them, do not have these rights recognized under the CFB. Rather than strengthening local rights, the Bill thus risks disenfranchising up to 5,000 rural communities across the country.
This brings us to the fundamental problem that concern for forest conservation usually trumps the movement for recognition of local rights. Although protected area management strategies in Asia now generally reflect the value of local people’s involvement, there is still a widely-held belief that a public good such as biodiversity conservation is best guaranteed by public ownership and management. In fact, when local communities have secure tenure over resources, they invest heavily in their protection.
The policy trends in Thailand are certainly favorable. Although significant disputes must still be resolved, the passage of the CFB shows recognition of the importance of forest rights. If governments fail to seize the opportunities now open, there may be nothing to stop the Great Green Land Grab – and neither people nor the forests will benefit.
Read the full article>>
Read more on the Community Forestry Bill here and here
Posted By Megan Liddle at 10:56am on August 07, 2008
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