The objectives of the Interlaken conference this year are critical in identifying concrete steps for all the stakeholders vying for community land and resources. These steps forward should be based in strong and secure rights, good governance, and fair benefits for the local people.
Land governance regimes all over the world are being defined, negotiated or contested due to the conflicting priorities of three generic interest groups: the local people who live on the land, including Indigenous Peoples, private and corporate land investors, and the government. Although there are various policies, legislation and institutions to manage land resources nationally, these tools have yet to collectively address the fundamental causes of land conflict and resource mismanagement. A major reason for this failure is because these models ignored the needs, aspirations, skills, and knowledge of local people.
Global trends show that in land grabs, the current primary decision makers often disregard the rights of local communities and ignore environmental repercussions that affect us all. Yet there are beacons of hope, which we need to share and foster.
It is essential to develop and maintain the mechanisms and strategies that specifically address tenure, and which enable local people’s meaningful participation in land and resource management decisions. It will result in tangible poverty reduction and sustainable resource management, both of which are linked to the goals governments have committed to, through various international agreements.
Community land, which frequently includes forests, is an integral part of the lives of more than 450 million people in the Asia-Pacific region alone. These are people who depend on the forests for part of their livelihoods, as well as for environmental services such as water, micro-climate regulation, biodiversity, and cultural conservation.
After decades of deforestation and entrenched rural poverty, countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region are increasingly embracing community forestry as a means to maintain healthy forests and strengthen local livelihoods. Local people are the most important among key stakeholders in forest management, because of their sheer numbers and proximity to the forests. As the demand for land and land use change intensifies, local people and governments are facing increasing pressures of land acquisition, even as they try to invest in community forestry practices.
Research at RECOFTC-The Center for People and Forests, demonstrates that local people have the greatest capacity as well as the highest incentives to manage their land and resources sustainably. Our experiences in community forestry in the region have shown us that local people will conserve bio-diversity, reduce deforestation, and manage the forest sustainably when they derive regular benefits from them. Frameworks such as Free, Prior, and Informed Consent, in combination with policies that include the needs and aspirations of the heterogeneous local communities, are essential if we are to eradicate poverty over the long term and practice sustainable resource management.
Our message to the stakeholders at the Conference on Scaling-Up Strategies to Secure Community Land and Resource Rights—and beyond, to the international community–is that the best way forward is to promote and enable participatory policy development, and participatory land and resource management. Local people can be the principal contributors to sustainable development when they are informed and empowered to participate in the decision making processes. In fact it makes good business sense to do so.
At Interlaken, we have a precious opportunity to learn from each other to increase our effectiveness and enhance our impacts globally. We know that all of us have important roles to play to ensure local communities actively manage and control, their land, their resources, their forests.
Let us ask and seek the answer to the question: How can we work together to ensure local people participate fully in the decision-making processes that impact their way of life and livelihoods systems, and our environment?
Dr. Tint Lwin Thaung is the Executive Director of RECOFTC, an international organization with a vision of local communities actively managing forests in Asia and the Pacific to ensure optimal social, economic, and environmental benefits. A Myanmar-born Australian national, Dr. Thaung has more than 26 years of professional experience in forest management, forest research, and community forestry. Prior to joining RECOFTC, Dr. Thaung worked as a Training and Institutional Development Advisor with The Nature Conservancy, led the Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade (RAFT) Program and headquartered at the IUCN Regional Office for Asia in Bangkok. He has worked extensively in the region with particular focus on Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Australia, and Myanmar, where he began his career as a national park warden, moving up to become Country Program Coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society and Deputy Country Coordinator for SWISSAID-Myanmar. He also served as an Asia-Pacific regional forest conservation coordinator of The Nature Conservancy’s Indo-Pacific resource centre in Brisbane, Australia.