21 May 2020

Annual forest governance review goes ahead virtually

In May, members of the Asia-Pacific Forest Governance project met to report on achievements of the past year and discuss the future of forest governance in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea: here are our key takeaways.

Belum-Temengor in Malaysia, one of the project sites © Malaysian Nature Society
Belum-Temengor in Malaysia, one of the project sites © Malaysian Nature Society
By Léa Kaplani & Cressida Stevens

The European Union-funded Asia-Pacific forest governance project began in 2017 and is all about getting non-state actors involved in the monitoring, management and policy process of their local forest. BirdLife International leads the project, in partnership with Burung Indonesia, Haribon Foundation (in the Philippines), Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), Tenkile Conservation Alliance (TCA, Papua New Guinea) the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) and the University of Wolverhampton’s Centre for International Development and Training (CIDT).

With all project Partner countries in lockdown and subject to travel bans due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting, like so many other events during this extraordinary year so far, was taken online. There may have been a twinge of disappointment for some of us who were looking forward to reconnecting in person again, and interruptions from pet dogs and intermittent crowing of roosters provided some unintended amusement, but overall the 35 staff that attended were grateful that the technology allowed us all to come together despite being thousands of miles apart.

We began by comparing the different lockdown situations in each country and catching up with each other before giving updates on our 2019 achievements. This was an encouraging and insightful time, revealing that the project is largely on track with its targets. One objective is to increase local people’s involvement in forest monitoring and management, to which end Partners have been hosting training workshops and conducting many other outreach initiatives.

MNS described how the Honorary Wildlife Ranger Programme which they set up with the Sarawak Forestry Corporation gets local people involved in forest conservation, acting as the eyes and ears of the forest to help manage protected areas and monitor illegal activities.

TCA and UPNG reported that 43 remote villages in Papua New Guinea have contributed to drawing up land use plans for both their own land and that of the surrounding Torricelli Mountain Range. This process is allowing villages to take charge of their environment, clarifying issues of disputed boundaries, access and resource management. Furthermore, the plans send clear messages about the local villagers’ needs and aspirations to local governments and decision-makers.   

As well as this, Partners regularly engage with national policy-makers to inform and strengthen policy using experience gathered on the ground. Indonesia is part of a timber legality verification system with the European Union – formally known as the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Volunteer Partnership Agreement (VPA) – which aims to ensure the EU that all imports of Indonesian wood products are sustainably sourced. To this end, Burung Indonesia has built up a network of FLEGT-VPA stakeholders and is using this to make great progress in fulfilling this commitment.

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Meanwhile, Haribon continues to lobby for a stronger Sustainable Forest Management Bill (SFMB) and Forest Resources Bill (FRB) to better protect forests and stop illegal logging. Competing interests among stakeholders have made this challenging work and resulted in the bills being filed repeatedly in Congress over the past two decades. However, as it stands, Haribon have now succeeded in getting some key provisions included in the current version of the FRB, and their version of the SFMB has progressed through the House Committee on Natural Resources, passing another step on the path to approval.

The online platform allowed Partners to meet together despite the distance

Many opportunities for further collaboration between Partners in terms of knowledge and resource sharing were identified during the course of the meeting, demonstrating powerfully the increased efficiency and impact to be had when conservation groups work together. For example, Haribon will soon begin measuring the carbon sequestration of certain forested areas, but are in need of training to help them do so. Staff at UPNG are now going to share their expertise on this subject, facilitated through BirdLife’s Partnership, Capacity and Communities Development team.

Besides achievements and immediate aims, there was considerable focus on how to ensure forest governance efforts can continue to expand well into the future, as we enter the final years of the project’s five-year timespan. Hum Gurung, Regional Project Manager, stresses this crucial consideration, “The preparation of a Sustainability Plan is a fundamental part of this project, to ensure the critical elements and best practices of forest governance continue beyond the project period.”

We are working on making sure our initiative will endure in the future both in terms of forest monitoring and in terms of forest governance networks by ensuring non-state actors are provided with the appropriate skills and knowledge, user-friendly tools, and links to policy makers. We are also developing new initiatives to build on or scale up specific elements of the project, potentially to new areas and with new partners. 

“It has always been a fruitful undertaking for project partners to come together (even remotely) and share their achievements. It provides an opportunity to learn from each other and explore possible collaborations beyond the project duration”, said Maria Belinda E. de la Paz, Chief Operating Officer of Haribon Foundation.

More about the project

TitleStrengthening non-state actor involvement in forest governance in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea
Lead Partner: BirdLife International
National Partners: Burung Indonesia (BirdLife Indonesia); Malaysian Nature Society (BirdLife Malaysia); Haribon Foundation (BirdLife in the Philippines); Tenkile Conservation Alliance (Papua New Guinea).
Training and Technical Partners: University of Papua New Guinea; Centre for International Development & Training
Funded by: European Union


The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of BirdLife International and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.