Man tractor
Photo: IUCN

When farmers and small land holders organise into producer groups to support both livelihoods and forests, remarkable things can happen to a landscape – including a system to sustainably harness energy from forests. That is exactly what happened in a small agroforestry venture in Thailand – and now others are learning from them. Celebrate this year's International Day of Forests (21 March) by learning about these forest champions.

Small producers organised into forest and farm producer organisations (FFPOs), cooperatives or associations can aggregate production and raise their profile among buyers while reaching economies of scale. Strong FFPOs can also train members on business development and production techniques, and help their constituency understand the markets tied to planting specific trees for timber or non-timber forest products.

IUCN has been working to support FFPOs since 2012 as part of the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF) in partnership with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and AgriCord.

Learn more in: Deriving landscape benefits through forest and farm producer organisations

One of FFF’s most significant contributions to supporting producers is through identifying and sharing best practices among FFPOs around the world. Forest farmer exchange visits play a significant role in propagating new ideas and techniques to encourage the sustainable incorporation of trees into farm landscapes.

On behalf of the Forest and Farm Facility, IUCN organised an exchange visit of farmers, government officials and FFPO leaders from Nepal, Viet Nam and Myanmar to learn from a flourishing venture called Khao Chakhan Community Agroforestry Enterprise (KCAE) in the Sa Khaeo Province of Thailand.

The KCAE is a model of FFPO success. Two years after they originally organised, KCAE began to see results through communal work, the sharing of local expertise and the pooling of resources. Returns on their investment came in the forms of charcoal production from thinned branches, wood vinegar (organic pest control) rendered as a charcoal by-product – and organic compost processed into fertiliser from fallen leaves and other biological material.

The participants in the exchange visit to the KCAE witnessed and learned from a functioning and profitable FFPO model. The visit proved invaluable for spreading successful community forestry enterprise techniques, including sustainable energy conversion, from Thailand to the participating country groups through peer-to-peer learning.

After the visit, many of the farmers from Viet Nam, Nepal and Myanmar plan to bring techniques such as charcoal production from farmed tree branches and organic fertiliser production from the forests of KCAE back to their home countries.

For more on this successful model of community forestry enterprise and the exchange visit, watch this video.