Over the past 150 years, industrialization has taken its toll. All too often, forests have been sacrificed in the face of expanding business and national interests. In the future, forests could act as a backbone of sustainable economies by providing a multitude of renewable goods and services.

Climate change, population growth, and increasing demand for food, energy, water and other resources are changing the ways in which the world sees and values forests. A vision is emerging of a new kind of company – the forest services company. New markets are emerging for forest services such as carbon storage, wildlife preservation, recreational facilities and watershed protection. This trend is creating new business opportunities for forest companies with the foresight to reinvent themselves and look beyond the traditional equation of forests equal timber. Timber revenue will still be important, but successful companies will have supplemented their income from the fast-growing new markets that emerge from the increasing scarcity of ecosystem services.

Forests companies must be able to shift from a narrow commodity focus (trees for timber and paper) to a multiple ecosystem service strategy.

According to the World Bank, approximately 90 percent of the poorest people in the world rely on forests for subsistence and income. “Community Forest Startups” represent an opportunity for strengthening people’s livelihoods and conserving their natural resources through sustainable forest management and processing of timber and non-timber forest products.

Local benefits from Community Forest Startup development may include wages and employment, profit sharing, capital accumulation, cultural and political empowerment, investment in public goods, and increased conservation of forest ecosystems through long-term sustainable management.

Experience in developing Community Forest Startups in the Asia-Pacific region is limited and there is little understanding of an entrepreneurial mindset among government officials, development workers or community organizations.

Through the capacity development activities of the Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade partnership (RAFT) and others, stakeholders around the region are beginning to recognize local communities as capable business partners. As Tet Nay Tun, a range officer at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation in Myanmar and a participant in RECOFTC’s Market Analysis & Development (MA&D) training, described, he always encouraged local communities to conserve and protect forest resources, but that he had never really considered their livelihoods or their potential to be entrepreneurs. 

RAFT partners have been invested in developing and assisting income-generating tree and forest product startups in Indonesia, and more broadly in the Asia Pacific region, working with communities to achieve the necessary social and economic outcomes from sustainable management of their forests.

Not only can Community Forest Startups be significant drivers of economic growth and poverty reduction in Asia Pacific (by strengthening local people’s abilities to earn an income from the forest); they can also offer “local” solutions to some of the problems affecting the forestry sector (conflict management and mitigation).

The Institute for International Development (IIED) has identified 5 key areas, in which RAFT partners have been strengthening the skills and capacities in support of successful Community Forest Startups:

o Natural capital in the form of secure forest rights;
o Human capital in the form of business skills;
o Physical capital in terms of technology and support to use it;
o Social capital in terms of organization to provide scale and bargaining power in the market;
o Financial capital to put it all in place.

The ability of communities to access and develop this capital varies greatly from one village to another, however, most Community Forestry Startups share one thing in common – the need to work collaboratively both among community members themselves and with external stakeholders, including government and private sector actors.

This session has:
• Considered the changing nature of “forestry business” regionally, the returns community entrepreneurship in the forestry sectors can offer and the context for “Community Forestry Startups” in Indonesia;
• Shared and discussed experiences from three examples in Indonesia that illustrate approaches to governance, business development and social cohesion that are supporting successful Community Forestry Startups today;
• Engaged participants in a real-world conflict management and partnership brokering exercise to advance our understanding of how to address this longstanding but surmountable challenge to widespread adoption of recognising communities as forestry entrepreneurs.