The Mekong leads, learns and teaches good forest governance

Partners in the Voices for Mekong Forests project produce a handbook on EU FLEGT to stop illegal logging and improve forest governance

Civil society representatives from the Greater Mekong met in Bangkok, Thailand to share information and lessons learned on forest governance at a workshop. The Voices for Mekong Forests project, funded by the European Union, sponsored the workshop. Participants included representatives of the World Wildlife Fund, East West Management Institute, Lao Biodiversity Association, NGO Forum in Cambodia, PanNature, Raks Thai and the Myanmar Environment Restoration-conservation Network.

They shared strategies for engaging in the European Union’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Action Plan (FLEGT). The Action Plan is the European Union’s response to the problem of illegal logging and associated trade in timber and timber products. Agreed by EU member states in 2003, the EU FLEGT Action plan recognizes the role of the EU as export market for countries where levels of illegality and poor governance in the forest sector are most serious. The Plan includes actions to engage the EU in joint work with timber exporting countries with the view to improve forest governance and reduce the trade in illegal timber and timber products.

At the meeting, civil society representatives involved in FLEGT discussed how organizations are using innovative technology and other means to improve forest governance. Many participants found that they faced similar challenges in combating illegal logging in the Mekong.

Illegal logging affects countries in the Greater Mekong by driving deforestation and undermining local livelihoods. FLEGT recognizes that trade policy, forest governance and illegal logging are interlinked. One important component of the Action Plan is a Voluntary Partnership Agreement. These agreements between the EU and a timber-exporting country use market mechanisms to reduce the trade in illegal timber. Viet Nam has signed a Voluntary Partnership Agreement, Thailand and Lao PDR are negotiating agreements and Myanmar is in the pre-negotiation phase.

The negotiation, ratification and implementation of Voluntary Partnership Agreements require strong civil society involvement.

“The civil society organizations know the communities well,” said Manilay Thiphalansy, a Project Officer for Voices for Mekong Forests in Lao PDR. “The civil society organizations can help advise them on the FLEGT VPA process.”

However, there are barriers to engagement. Civil society organizations need opportunities to participate in the policy processes and to build their capacity to engage effectively.

RECOFTC’s Voices for Mekong Forests project, funded by the European Union, is designed to increase the capacity of civil society organizations to evaluate and engage in forest governance initiatives, such as FLEGT. The same capacities are important to the success of the UN-REDD+ Programme. REDD+ is a mechanism created by the United Nations with the view of making forests more valuable standing than felled. Under the REDD+ mechanism, the carbon storage services of forests are quantified and assessed, and funds are given to provide incentives to conserve or enhance forest stocks.

The Voices for Mekong Forests workshop took place 26 to 28 November 2018 in Bangkok, Thailand. Click on the link below to access the handbook, “FLEGT and the Mekong: A handbook for civil society.”