HDR Final Thesis Seminar: Kanchana Wiset - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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HDR Final Thesis Seminar: Kanchana Wiset

​We would like to invite you to attend the HDR Final Thesis Seminar of Kanchana Wiset, a Doctor of Philosophy candidate in the School of Law and Society. If you are external to USC and wish to participate via Zoom, please contact ASURE@usc.edu.au.

Thesis Title:

Engaging local people in forest landscape restoration: Case Studies in the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.


Forest landscape restoration (FLR) is recognized widely as an approach to addressing deforestation and forest degradation concerns. The approach aims to meet dual objectives for ecological and livelihoods outcomes. The engagement of local people is essential for the FLR process because they are key stakeholders who rely on forests and resources within a landscape and may be affected by FLR implementation. However, most FLR projects are driven by national targets and a top-down approach, ignoring the needs and decisions of local people. Lack of understanding and recognition of context are a major problem recognised in the FLR literature, but in-depth analysis is not common. This research aims to build a better understanding of context, which can affect decisions of people to become engaged or not become engaged in FLR. The research was based on case studies in Leyte and Biliran provinces in the Philippines, and in the Ramu-Markham Valley (RMV) in Papua New Guinea (PNG). The investigations aimed to discover the factors influencing the engagement of local people in FLR. The key focus was on: (1) the interests of local people on whether to engage or not engage in FLR; (2) the influence of tenure and governance on decision making by local people about land use; and (3) strategies enabling the engagement of local people in FLR.

The qualitative methodology involved individual and group interviews, landscape visualization exercises, and participant observation to obtain an overview of land use activities.

 The research explored the different contexts influencing local engagement in each country. In the Philippines, reforestation projects have been imposed in the state-owned forestlands which communities occupy. The continuation of the participation of communities in reforestation projects is highly influenced by direct payment for project services, rather than benefits from reforestation, because the communities do not decide what and where to plant, and do not have an assurance in accessing planted products for consumptions or sale. Communities prefer small-scale activities rather than the national target for large-scale reforestation without site-specific land use design. There is a challenge for local people to negotiate for their desired land use within the state-owned forestlands because the government retains power and authority in decision-making. In PNG, almost all land is held under customary tenure by clans. In the RMV, customary land tenure and social institutions govern land use decision-making. While clans own the land, their main function is to allocate land to male clan members, not to undertake joint activities. Traditional land use focuses on daily living, not commercial purposes or large-scale action. The patrilineal system in the RMV influences the different involvement of men and women in land use decisions at various levels. Small scale action and site-level activity at the family level are preferred. Gender roles influence preferred species and land use practices.

The overall findings reveal specific factors influencing the level of engagement in each case. In the Philippines case study, communities implemented reforestation activities based on contract agreements in which national interests do not closely align with local interests. Limited devolution of decision-making power favours national objectives over local interests. In the RMV, while local people hold strong rights to make decisions over land use, their interests and decisions are focused on family-level livelihoods related to their gardens, not landscape scale activities. As clan lands are dispersed and overlapping across the landscape, clans do not have the mandate or role of managing land use at a landscape level. There is no government agency which currently takes that role. Neither a negotiated nor centrally planned approach at landscape level is practical in the RMV.

The thesis clearly demonstrates the way even subtle differences in context can affect the viability of FLR interventions. The implication of this is that detailed preliminary work is required before FLR programs are implemented. The thesis does not aim to recommend guidelines on what could be done for FLR to engage local people. Analysis of the case studies is intended to provide insights that may be useful for interventions in FLR in other contexts, not guidelines.