As reported on New Mandala in November last year Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly has passed an amended version of the long-awaited Community Forest Bill. The resulting Act has been criticised by campaigners for community forestry as not adequately recognising local rights in relation to forest management. According to RECOFTC there are two key concerns with the new Act:

Item 25

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┬╖ B-type communities: these communities live within the protected area but have withdrawn from managing resources within the protected area at the present day.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

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.

Long-time academic campaigner for the community forest bill, Anan Kanjanapan, has also expressed concerns in an interview published by Prachatai.

These concerns are reasonable and understandable. But the protests are also somewhat misleading. As I have argued previously the widely supported “people’s version” of the community forest bill placed very significant restrictions on local resource management. In particular, the “people’s version” proposed to make agricultural activity in community forest areas illegal (with a sanction of 5 or 15 years in prison) and also limited community forest management to communities that could demonstrate a “culture of life that is consistent with care of the forest.” I won’t go into these restrictions in detail here as I have summarised them previously on New Mandala (here and here) and they are discussed at length in a published paper.

I have not yet had a chance to look closely at the Community Forest Act passed by the NLA. But from the commentaries I have read I really do wonder if it is much more restrictive than the very restrictive provisions contained in the “people’s version” of the bill.

Community forestry in Thailand has ended up in something of a cul-de-sac. In no small part this is a product of the very restrictive vision of forest management held by those who have campaigned for its legislative recognition.