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The Thailand Community Forest Bill
This commentary on the Thailand Community Forest Bill passed on November 21, 2007 was authored by Matthew Weatherby and Somying Soonthornwong of the THailand Collaborative Country Support Program at RECOFTC.
The Community Forest Bill Process
On 21 November 2007, a Community Forest Bill (CF Bill) was passed by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) in Thailand and initially saw widespread optimism for the future of forest-dependent communities in Thailand. It had taken almost 18 years for the CF Bill to be passed by the NLA due to ongoing concerns by opponents to the CF Bill about the ability of forest-dependent communities to manage forests sustainably and reside within those protected areas.
In its current format, the CF Bill provides a number of challenges to community forestry (CF) within protected areas in Thailand. In particular, the current CF Bill is likely to negatively impact more than 20,000 communities by preventing them from accessing and/or managing their current community forests, which are located in previously designated protected areas. This has led to considerable debate between forest-dependent communities and government officials in the short time since the inception of the CF Bill. Despite this, the CF Bill has not yet been entirely finalized, as a new government will be appointed in Thailand; and following any alterations to the CF Bill, it will then be proposed to His Majesty the King for royal assent.
Objectives of the CF Bill, CF Organizations, and Committees
A major objective of the CF Bill is to promote community participation in natural resource conservation and rehabilitation by creating collective action for sustainable management and utilization of natural resources in Thailand. The CF Bill makes clear that a legal community forest is one that is located outside of a protected area and that any CF organizations must be properly registered with the Royal Forest Department (the oversight government body). Accepted CF organizations must have a CF management plan in place and must have demarcated forest land, and the community forest members and committee members must be easily identifiable and have positions of significance.
All community forestland must be zoned for conservation or, in the case of timber and non-timber forest products (NTFP), classified as a utilization zone located outside of a conservation zone. Any timber that is planted by the community must be used by the community and its households only. Use of such resources must follow the CF rules and regulations of the community, and nowhere is it to be sold or traded. The provincial level CF committees will undertake the role of CF management auditing and controlling to ensure that there are no violations of timber harvesting regulations.
The role of the Provincial level CF committee is also to report to the National CF policy committee. Together they will continue to work on a national CF management policy.
Items of Interest Within the CF Bill
The CF Bill as it stands at present consists of two items that provide a challenge for CF to take place within protected areas. Protected areas are those where conservation values are high and tend to include sensitive areas, watersheds, bio-spheres, animal sanctuaries, national parks, and research sites. The items of interest are Item 25 and Item 34.
Item 25 distinguishes three types of communities that live within or near to protected areas in Thailand and utilize forest areas for resources within those protected areas. These communities are classified into three groups:
· A-type communities: these communities have lived within a protected area and managed resources within it for more than ten continuous years to the present day.
· B-type communities: these communities live within the protected area but have withdrawn from managing resources within the protected area at the present day.
· C-type communities: these communities live outside the protected area but manage resources within a protected area.
At present, it is the C-type communities that are unrecognized within the CF Bill as having access to the resources that they manage within a protected area in Thailand. This means that a significant number of forest-dependent communities that reside outside of protected areas in Thailand are facing a severe dilemma of no longer being able to access resources on which their livelihoods have depended for a number of years. Current estimates place this figure at roughly 5,000 communities that fit this situation.
Given that Item 25 distinguishes which communities can access the protected areas for their forest resources and which cannot, Item 34 distinguishes the resources that can be utilized for those with legitimate management access.
Item 34 points out that CF can only take place within a protected area if the community collects NTFP. Therefore, despite a community having access to the resources within a protected area, this access still does not allow them to cut down trees within the protected area, given apparent political concern about the ability of those communities to conserve their resources for the future.
There is, however, a remark within the CF Bill that provides an interim three-year opportunity for C-type communities to prove to the government that they should have access to CF within the protected area and that they can manage sustainability.
For the Thailand Collaborative Country Support Program (ThCCSP) within RECOFTC, the CF Bill as it stands at present places a huge question mark over the future of several of its project sites. For example, the Huay Hin Dam community where ThCCSP work with them has existed in its present location well before the declaration of the nearby protected area occurred nine years ago. This community undertook sustainable management prior to the inception of the protected area and continues to do so today. The current CF Bill considers Huay Hin Dam to be a C-type community meaning they will no longer have access to the resources within the protected area that they currently manage. It is possible that this outcome may be the same for other ThCCSP communities that actually reside within the protected areas but are still awaiting responses from the government as to their classification status.
Posted By Megan Liddle at 2:10pm on January 03, 2008
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