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At a crucial moment in forest tenure reform, several Asian countries are demonstrating globally significant lessons.
Did You Know?
Only 3% of forest area in Asia is designated for use by communities and indigenous groups.
Nevertheless, control is increasingly devolving to local levels, with 24% of forest area now officially owned by communities and indigenous groups.
Historic tenure reforms in China, Nepal and Vietnam have led to increased forest restoration and rural livelihood benefits.

Asia is at a pivotal moment in forest tenure reform. While forest tenure worldwide is transitioning toward more community ownership, more than two-thirds of the forest estate in Asia remains under government control. However, several governments in the region are making significant progress in sharing decision-making power and responsibility with forest dwellers. They are moving to abolish historically exclusionary forest policies and recognizing the failure of centralized management to control deforestation and increase economic prosperity. These transitioning countries have the potential to influence global best practices for forest management.


Map of Asia China Nepal India Lao Thailand Indonesia India Philippines
Country Summaries

China: Having already carried out substantial forest tenure reforms to devolve control over collective forestlands to village households in China, RRI focuses on how rural communities can, in practice, equitably benefit from their rights. This involves examining the system of compensation for logging bans in ecological protection zones, logging quotas, gender and minority rights, grievance mechanisms and further research on policy options for state forest reform that remains undecided.

Nepal: Nepal has been at the global forefront in terms of creating effective community- forestry user groups at the village level and forming an extensive national community forestry federation. In the context of a new political transition, RRI is working to secure community property rights to forestlands and natural resources in the forthcoming national constitution and extending the reach of community forestry.

Indonesia: Given the new governmental commitment to forest tenure reform, RRI is working with a platform of civil society organizations to solidify a roadmap that secures forestland rights for communities and Indigenous Peoples, develops systems for forest conflict resolution and promotes community-oriented forest management. In addition, we are continuing work to ensure palm oil plantations, agribusinesses and spatial planning processes respect the rights of local and forest-dependent communities.

Lao: (People's Democratic Republic) A significant shift in rethinking forest legislation and forest tenure systems in 2011 is already catalyzing a comprehensive revision of national forest policies and laws. To facilitate regional sharing, RRI supports government officials in learning about tenure reform policies in Brazil, China, Nepal and Vietnam.

India: RRI continues to monitor implementation of the historically important 2006 Forest Rights Act. A comprehensive study of the dynamics of forestland grabs will contribute to both an upcoming legislative debate on the Land Acquisition Bill and new advocacy strategies among tribal and rural activists.

Thailand: RRI works to strengthen the capacity of community forest networks to more effectively influence community-based natural resource management policies, and advocate for the government to enact a Community Forestry Bill.

In the broader development context, Asia now stands at a major crossroads. Emerging economies are enjoying unbridled prosperity in recent years, marked by increasing urbanization and a burgeoning middle-class. However, communities and Indigenous Peoples who manage forest territories remain among the most marginalized and impoverished sectors of society in terms of political security, rights and even citizenship.


Continued expansion of timber, biofuels and agribusiness concessions pose a significant threat to these communities. Too often, the outcome is forced displacement and violent conflict leading to further exclusion and inequality. Where local communities have become involved in concession operations, livelihood gains have been very limited. Moreover, policies favoring industry access to forestland have increased deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions at an alarming rate.


Yet across the continent, select governments have recognized the failure of centralized forest ownership systems (often established by colonial governments) and have devolved authority and management over forest and land resources. The institution of new legal and regulatory frameworks has frequently strengthened community rights.


These changes are often the outcome of strong civil society movements. Some groups have successfully worked to protect forestlands from bureaucratic and industrial encroachment or increased human rights abuses, while others share best practices from neighboring countries that have successfully instituted tenure reforms.