FAO-EU FLEGT Programme

Pathway to legal timber harvesting on public land clarified in Thailand


Sustainable timber production and harvesting on public land in Thailand is central to national efforts to promote economic forestry and achieve the 15 percent increase in forest cover to reach the Thai government’s commitment of 40 percent coverage.  However, many operators on public land are de facto operating illegally due to unclear laws and regulations, complex permission processes and the lack of legal clarity on timber harvesting in certain types of tenured public lands. These difficulties disproportionately impact poor farmers who had expected to economically benefit from harvesting their planted trees.  

The FAO-EU FLEGT Programme has been supporting RECOFTC to address these issues since 2016 via a series of projects to foster an enabling environment for small-scale timber operators (SSTOs) to produce legal timber on public land and comply with legality and supply chain control (SCC) requirements. After several years of dedicated work, RECOFTC has equipped farmers operating on agricultural land reform (Sor Por Kor) land[1] with the knowledge and understanding to register their own land under the Forest Plantation Act.

Assisting smallholders to legally harvest their timber

To demonstrate that farmers could legally harvest and implement supply chain control on public land, RECOFTC supported pilot sites in Suntisuk district, Nan Province and Mae Tha sub-district, Chiangmai Province.

The first pilot in Nan Province guided smallholders through registering their plantations and acquiring the relevant permits for harvesting timber, along with establishing proof of legality. As a result, seven smallholders operating in Sor Por Kor land were granted plantation registration while the registration of another 16 smallholders is still in process.

Smallholder plantations were captured in an online web portal developed by RECOFTC and GisNorth as part of the project to provide evidence of the origin of timber from public land and verify supply chain control information. 

The pathway to legal harvesting remains unclear for another tenure instrument in public land, Kor Thor Chor,[2] which allows collective management of forests within national reserved forest. In Sunthisuk, nine smallholders applied under Section 11 of the Forest Act for timber harvesting permits on Kor Tor Chor land but were unsuccessful due to a lack of official guidelines for timber harvesting within these areas.

One possible solution to this impasse was piloted in the second site in Mae Tha, where community members created an internal control mechanism based on tools provided in the Plantation Act to test how to control timber from Kor Thor Chor land. The proposed mechanism is less complex than the controls found under the Forest Act, which currently regulates Kor Thor Chor land. They also complement the government-led process for sensitive areas such as Kor Thor Chor.

Locally developed solutions to create market linkages

During the pilot process, participants learned of the benefits of forming a community-based enterprise (CBE), including official recognition from the government, an avenue to access funding and other support, and the ability to form business relationships with private companies. RECOFTC was able to negotiate one such partnership between Sriboonruang Teak, a CBE based in Santhisuk district with 28 members, and the private company Chale’t to produce and process the timber used in the construction of local wooden playgrounds.

Members of Kor Kan Dee group producing the wooden playground.

During this process, Sriboonruang Teak supported a new group, Kor Kan Dee, which is also considering forming a CBE. The second group would have the opportunity to supply raw materials to Sriboonruang CBE while participating in the piloting process and learning lessons on how to run a CBE.

Wooden playground design 

“The opportunity to link with the private sector, such as the partnership with Chale’t, has brought change to our community and improved our environment and livelihoods”, explained Mrs Naparee Techasena, a teak smallholder and member of Sriboonruang Teak CBE.

Continuing support to public landholders

Outlining the pathway towards legal timber harvesting on public land will be an important milestone for Thailand’s forest sector. RECOFTC and Thailand’s FLEGT CSO network have reiterated the need for a streamlined process to obtain harvesting approvals, as well as for clearer official guidelines to allow smallholders to utilize their resources, and simplified processes for timber process permission for a small timber operation such as CBE. These recommendations have been presented to the Thai government for consideration in their ongoing efforts to promote economic forestry in the country.

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Since 2016 the FAO-EU FLEGT Programme has supported 18 projects in Thailand, amounting to approximately USD 1 380 000, primarily focusing on fostering participatory national decision making, developing the national Timber Legality Assurance System and strengthening VPA monitoring structures and efforts.

The FAO-EU FLEGT Programme is a global demand-driven initiative that provides technical support and resources for activities that further the goals of the EU’s FLEGT Action Plan. The Programme is funded by the European Union, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the United Kingdom.

[1] Sor Por Kor is a program that distributes degraded tracts of forest land to poor and landless farmers, who can use the land for a variety of purposes including establishing tree plantations.

[2] Kor Tor Chor is a program that was designed to settle disputes over occupation of public land, under the authority of the National Land Policy Committee Act. The program benefits people who had been living in areas before they were legally declared as protected areas, allowing them to remain and collectively manage the land in a way that conserves the natural resources.