More important than ever to work together to influence agricultural and forestry policies to feed and protect the planet
With the world already feeling the impact of climate change, feeding a future population of 9 billion while also keeping trees in landscapes to soak up carbon and provide many other benefits is a huge challenge best met by coalitions of partners. One such partnership in Southeast Asia, a hotspot for population and deforestation, has been successfully supporting planning by the regions’ ten states.
Written by over 800 scientists from 80 countries, and assessing over 30,000 scientific papers, the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells government policy makers what the scientists know about the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation. The key findings of a Synthesis Report released in 2014 are that ‘human influence on the climate system is clear; the more we disrupt our climate, the more we risk severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts; and we have the means to limit climate change and build a more prosperous, sustainable future’.
Based on this, the World Bank points out that we need to ‘produce at least 50% more food to feed 9 billion people by 2050. But climate change could cut crop yields by more than 25%. The land, biodiversity, oceans, forests, and other forms of natural capital are being depleted at unprecedented rates. Unless we change how we grow our food and manage our natural capital, food security—especially for the world’s poorest—will be at risk.
‘Already, volatile food prices—and the price spikes that can result—are the new normal. When faced with high food prices, many poor families cope by pulling their children out of school and eating cheaper, less nutritious food. This can have severe life-long effects on the social, physical, and mental well-being of millions of young people. Malnutrition contributes to infant, child, and maternal illness; decreased learning capacity; lower productivity, and higher mortality. One-third of all child deaths globally are attributed to under-nutrition’.
In this critical context, many of the richer nations that fund much of the world’s agricultural and forestry research are reducing their support. Some, however, have understood the necessity to invest long-term and strategically to secure food supply and reduce the impact of climate change. One such is the Government of Switzerland, which, through the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, has been supporting the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-Swiss Partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change since 2011 and looks set to do so for years to come.
The Partnership is strategic, providing scientific and technical support to the ASEAN Social Forestry Network, a group initiated by the governments of the region that strengthens social or community forestry in Southeast Asia through sharing information. Forests are not only important stores of carbon, they also provide livelihoods, food supply and environmental benefits, such as clean water and biodiverse sources of medicines, for hundreds of millions of people. The Network is also increasingly understanding the important role that trees play in agricultural landscapes, thanks to the work of ICRAF and other partners. The Network was established by ASEAN senior officials in forestry in 2005, linking policy makers directly with civil society and research organizations, academe and the private sector.
At the Network’s tenth annual meeting, held 14–16 June 2016 in the Philippines, the organisations that make up the Partnership showcased their achievements. Perhaps most important was that nearly all of the recommendations from the Partnership have made their way into the Vision and Strategic Plan for ASEAN Cooperation in Food, Agriculture and Forestry (2016–2025), which is designed to guide ASEAN towards the completion of the Millennium Development Goals, the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals and to achieve the United Nations’ aim of Zero Hunger.
The Partnership is made up of ICRAF The World Agroforestry Centre, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Programme Asia, RECOFTC The Center for People and Forests and the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture.
The Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Programme Asia or NTFP EP is itself a collaborative network of over 60 non-governmental and community-based organizations working with forest-based communities to strengthen their capacity in the sustainable management of natural resources in Asian countries. It also convenes the Civil Society Forum on Social Forestry in ASEAN, which has seen most of its proposals accepted as recommendations, including formal recognition of the importance of rotational agricultural systems (aka ‘swiddening’), the diversity of tenure systems, the promotion of small-to-medium community forestry enterprises, alternative certification and the protection of intellectual property rights of community producers. All of these recommendations are critically important for the many millions of forest-dependent people in the region. NTFP EP itself has held a number of training and promotional events that have helped build many small businesses based on community forestry, including a fashion show that highlighted local designers and fabrics at the World Forestry Congress in Durban, South Africa in 2015 and at Asia-Pacific Forestry Week in February 2016.
RECOFTC enhances capacities for stronger rights, improved governance and fairer benefits for local people in sustainable forest landscapes in the Asia-Pacific region. In the Partnership, a major part of its work has been on training government staff, civil societies, researchers and communities in various topics related to community forestry, food security and climate change. This includes training in participatory action research by involving community members in collecting data and information on the ground so that they have evidence of what is actually happening to forests, agroforests and agricultural practices in their countries, including, for example, examining the impact of agroforestry best practice on local livelihoods in the Ayeyarwady Delta in Myanmar, one of the region’s poorest nations. The findings are useful not only for the communities themselves as they learn of different ways of managing forests and land use but also to the governments, which use the evidence to improve their policies.
The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture is a non-profit organization established by the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization in 1966. It is a centre of excellence in agriculture. The Center’s role in the Partnership is also strategic: providing funding to respond to immediate needs or catalyse strategic action to address emerging issues that may not have been anticipated but to which the ASEAN member states and the Network’s response is critical; and promoting the integration of social forestry in addressing food insecurity, poverty, and climate change. It has given out 16 grants that include examining how to improve agroforestry implementation, the role of land rights, understanding what makes for successful community forestry management, how to improve watershed management, how to link forests, water and energy and ways to sustainably harvest and market non-timber forest products.
The other two partners, ICRAF and CIFOR, have contributed important scientific evidence (see One landscape, one people: meeting national and international goals in ASEAN, Agroforestry is vital to the ASEAN economic community, Key lessons for REDD+ schemes in swidden landscapes and Seeing swidden) to support ASEAN member states’ devise policies that benefit their people and environments and help ASEAN, at least, secure their people’s food supply and reduce the impact of climate change. Without the enlightened support of the Swiss people over many years, this would have been less likely to have occurred at all.
The work of ICRAF and CIFOR is supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.