Forest rehabilitation is a common strategy for ameliorating the impacts of deforestation worldwide, despite the fact that its impacts on communities are poorly understood. Both successful and failed forest rehabilitation efforts have been documented to cause negative socio-economic impacts including land-use conflicts, forced evictions, and exacerbation of poverty. In Southeast Asia, communities have destroyed newly reforested areas that impinged upon local property regimes, or have been unable to maintain seedlings due to lack of appropriate incentives.
My research examined the nuances of the role forest rehabilitation has played in community livelihood strategies in Thailand and the Philippines, which were selected based on their historical forest cover loss, similar approaches to conservation, and mutually unsuccessful experiences with forest rehabilitation. Field research was conducted over a four month period during 2011, in communities that had direct experience with forest rehabilitation projects in areas where they had management or ownership rights. In both cases, a restoration method suited to the local context was used. In Thailand, this was a local variant of Assisted Natural Regeneration (ANR) which community members referred to as “natural wisdom.” In the Philippines, a method known as ‘Rainforestation’ was used, which uses native tree species while intercropping with fruit trees and root crops to provide an interim food source for community members. I found that forest rehabilitation has the ability to dramatically affect livelihoods both positively and negatively depending on the context. In Thailand, it effectively helped many community members transition out of an agrarian lifestyle, while in the Philippines it helped maintain an agrarian lifestyle. I hypothesize that it may have even perpetuated the cycle of poverty. In sum, forest rehabilitation can be conceived of as a ‘game changer’ where the change in land-use brings other societal forces into play that can greatly affect local socio-economic conditions.