Policy dialogue on social forestry in Southeast Asia: investing in a sustainable future for people and forests
‘Forestry is not about trees, it is about people. And it is about trees only insofar as trees can serve the needs of people.’
Key messages from the policy dialogue
- In order to ensure that local communities benefit from the integration of Southeast Asian nations into a single market, innovative financing schemes and instruments are needed. These could include use of trees as collateral to access credit, mechanisms to aggregate small-to-medium enterprises into economically viable sizes, and support for market development.
- Enterprises in non-timber forest products need support to develop into creative and cultural industries within ASEAN, particularly in sectors where they already have an edge.
- Institutionalisation of enterprise development and value-chain programs within social forestry, with accompanying capacity building, need to be prioritised.
- There is a need to accelerate and simplify the process in awarding forest tenure instruments.
Mr Wiratno, moderator of the Policy Dialogue on Social Forestry in Southeast Asia: Investing in a Sustainable Future for People and Forests in ASEAN, referred to Westoby’s quote at the beginning of the dialogue at the World Forestry Congress in Durban, South Africa, on 10 September 2015.
‘This is the start of the spirit of social forestry, since then until now’, he explained. ‘In Southeast Asia, Africa, South America… everywhere: the idea that development has to be people centred; and so it is with forestry and landscapes in ASEAN’.
Mr Wiratno is the chairperson of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Social Forestry Network Secretariat and director of Social Forestry Land Preparation at the Directorate General of Social Forestry and Environment Partnerships with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry of Indonesia.
Dr Thaung Naing Oo, director of the Forest Research Institute, Forest Department, Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry, Myanmar stressed that in order to realise this spirit there was an urgent need for a well-developed policy and legal framework by the region’s governments, through consultation with the many stakeholders, to create improved governance of forests for the sustainable benefit of the people. Cooperation needed to be expanded not only within and between countries in the region but also internationally with development partners through innovative approaches.
‘ASEAN’s land area is 440 million hectares, of which forest covers 200 million hectares or 46%’, he emphasised. ‘Our indigenous forests are contributors to climate-change mitigation globally, providing environmental services to all human beings as well as the forest communities themselves. Adaptation to, and mitigation of, climate change are critical to be carried out and can only be achieved through working together among the countries in the region at every step of forest management. It is important to avoid the mistakes of other countries where we have seen that environmental damage has to be paid for at a huge cost. We are the cause of the problem and also the solution’.
Ms Eufemia Felisa Pinto, the executive director of the Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Programme, pointed out that the end of ‘2015 marks the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community, a regional initiative that envisions liberalizing trade through the elimination of intra-regional tariffs and non-tariff barriers’.
Increased trade liberalization can increase economic activity, however, this alone might not contribute to sustainable growth, improved livelihoods or equity, especially for rural and forest-dependent people.
‘Without effective regulatory systems’, she warned, ‘increased economic activity may actually exacerbate economic inequality and existing forestry challenges, such as economic displacement of forest-dependent communities’.
ASEAN is home to an estimated 300 million people who depend, directly or indirectly, on the various benefits derived from forests.
‘These people can contribute to sustainable growth in the region if empowered through supportive policies and programs’, she said. ‘Integration should not result in additional pressure on forest communities. Rather, supportive policies and programs that respect the rights, cultural heritage and sustainable livelihoods of forest communities and also protect the environment and enhance forest-based livelihoods will actually contribute to the goal of equitable economic development’.
Dr Chandra Shekkar Silori, country program coordinator of RECOFTC: The Center for People and Forests, delivered four key messages in his presentation, obtained from consultations with grassroots communities carried out prior to the World Forestry Congress. First, echoing Dr Taung Naing Oo, he confirmed that there was a lack of participatory processes for involvement of local communities in development of policies and regulatory frameworks.
‘Governments must encourage, and invest in, participatory processes’, he urged, ‘and take into account the concerns of communities’.
Second, there was also a lack of legally-recognised tenure and resource-use rights. To rectify this, governments need to invest significantly in human, material and financial resources to establish clear processes for formalising the rights of communities. Third, communities often have limited, or no, access to quality forests but only degraded ones, and limited access to markets, information and capital. To address this, more investment is needed in enterprise development. Fourth, poor capacity of communities and local government staff is hampering development. There needs to be more effective capacity-building programs for forest managers, especially for the younger generation, and new technologies more effectively disseminated.
Dr Michael Allen Brady, who is a senior operations officer with the International Finance Corporation’s Manufacturing Agribusiness and Services Advisory Team, said that part of his work involves seeing how big activities, such as international finance, can link to small community activities. He noted that forestry is a priority sector for the ASEAN Economic Community and it has many needs.
‘The IFC can’t engage directly at small scales,’ he said. ‘What we do is provide supply-chain finance involving lead firms’. The firms are able to support smallholders along the supply chain. ‘We also provide direct financing through intermediaries, such as banks, who then lend to small-to-medium enterprises’.
The IFC also supports the development of other farm and off-farm revenues, such as payments-for-environmental services and carbon-credit schemes.
‘We want to promote multiple revenue sources from forests’, he explained.
The IFC also provides concessional loans, such as in Lao PDR and Indonesia, and public grants for forestry-related activities; strengthen public financial infrastructure and local banks, such as registries and moveable assets and widening the definition of collateral to include land title, trees or offtake agreements from buyers. Dr Brady also confirmed that, for the IFC, the recommendations of the ASEAN Social Forestry Network that were adopted this year at a meeting at Inle Lake, Myanmar—recognition of agroforestry, clear land tenure, procedural equity, grievance mechanisms, support to social forestry and enterprises and private-sector engagement—were all critical areas.
In her synthesis, the co-moderator Dr Moira Moeliono, senior associate with the Center for International Forestry Research, highlighted that the process of integration driven by the ASEAN Economic Community, which has forestry as a priority, holds opportunities as well as risks. At the same time, social forestry has moved from subsistence efforts to more economic enterprises.
‘What is needed is to convince all stakeholders that small-to-medium enterprises in social forestry are worth promoting’, she noted. ‘Highlighting the revenues obtained from non-timber forest products by the enterprises, as well as the services, promoting private-sector engagement and creating innovative partnerships, and learning from others, will all need to continue if more investments are to be made in further developing social-forestry enterprises for the benefit of the forests and people’.
ASFN will continue to promote learning and knowledge sharing to this end.
This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry