Switzerland, ASEAN and social forestry: a labour of love

At a farewell event for the outgoing Swiss ambassador to ASEAN, it became clear that his involvement with social forestry was personal as well as effective


His Excellency Heinz Walker-Nederkoorn, ambassador of Switzerland to Indonesia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, revealed at a farewell dinner held in his honour in Jakarta that as a child he spent many long days playing in the forests near his home, instilling in him a love of them that he has carried throughout his life and into his work supporting the ASEAN Social Forestry Network.

His Excellency Lim Hong Hin, deputy secretary-general of ASEAN for the ASEAN Economic Community, attended the farewell along with the ASEAN Secretariat Representative of the Agricultural Industries and Natural Resources Division. Representatives of the partners of the ASEAN Social Forestry Network, the Swiss Embassy Jakarta, and invitees from other partner organizations were also present to wish the ambassador a warm and heartfelt farewell.

Ambassador Heinz Walker-Nederkoorn, Doris Capistrano, Ujjwal Pradhan

L-R: Ambassador Heinz Walker-Nederkoorn with Doris Capistrano and Ujjwal Pradhan presenting the gift of a caricature of the ambassador in his role as ambassador for social forestry in Southeast Asia. Photo: ASEAN Social Forestry Network

‘Forests, for me, are precious and vulnerable’, said Ambassador Walker-Nederkoorn. ‘The care of forests has been part of Swiss culture for a very long time. But during the nineteenth century, many forests were removed for industrial and building material and as fuel for the growing population’s domestic needs. This led to denuded slopes, landslides and pollution of water sources so, in 1872, the first laws were passed that controlled the cutting of trees, including the rule that if one was cut, another must be planted. Since then, the Swiss people have taken great care of their forests and we carry that concern through the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s work throughout the world’.

This type of awareness is the key to bolstering the crucial role that ‘social’ forestry—participatory management of forests by local communities—plays in addressing the negative effects of climate change and the challenging food security agenda in the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

‘The ambassador has been a huge supporter of sustainable forest management in ASEAN’, said Dr Doris Capistrano, senior advisor, ASEAN-Swiss Partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change. ‘He has brought not only his childhood love but his many years of professional experience and enthusiasm to us and we have benefited enormously. We remember fondly his exemplary, practical support, such as his active participation in all of the sessions of the ASEAN Social Forestry Network Conference, including his summarizing the highlights to participants at the closing. Even though he is taking up a new post in South Asia, his legacy will continue here and we will be certain to keep him updated of developments in the field into which he has put so much care, Swiss precision and love’.

Ms Sagita Arhidani, head of the secretariat of the Network, added that, ‘With the creation of the ASEAN Social Forestry Network in 2005, ASEAN acknowledged that actively engaging local people in forest management is a vital ingredient for increasing resilience and achieving sustainable landscape management with forests and agroforests’.

Today, nearly 10 million hectares of forest land are actively managed by 70 million people throughout Southeast Asia, a result that has had a lot to do with the concerted efforts of the ASEAN member states,the ASEAN Social Forestry Network and the partnership on social forestry and climate change that was actively fostered by Ambassador Walker-Nederkoorn through the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

‘The Agency has been an active player in the field of social forestry in East and Southeast Asia for more than 30 years, supporting capacity building and research’, said Dr Ujjwal Pradhan, regional coordinator of the World Agroforestry Centre Southeast Asia. ‘It founded RECOFTC in 1985, today known as The Centre for People and Forests, with its headquarters in Thailand and a mandate for the entire sub-region. I am proud to be a board member of the Centre since its work is critical to ensuring the rights of indigenous people, local communities, women and marginalized groups who care for forests are acknowledged by governments and others involved in management of forest lands’.

The Agency was also instrumental, 21 years ago, in the founding of the Center for International Forestry Research, which has its global headquarters in Indonesia and has been a key player in understanding the role of forests in Southeast Asia.

As well, since 1988, Switzerland has financially and technically supported more than 30 projects through the international tropical timber organizations in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand; and bilaterally supported the development of social forestry education in Viet Nam, forest landscape mosaics in Lao PDR and a process of reflection on forest governance and decentralization in Indonesia.

‘A very important collaboration between ASEAN member states and the Swiss Government began in 2009 through the ASEAN-Swiss Partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change’, said Ms Arhidani. ‘The project has the overall aim of supporting the implementation of the ASEAN Multisectoral Framework on Climate Change in the field of forestry and food security. Part of this has involved promoting engagement by civil society through the Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Programme in South and Southeast Asia; and education through the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture, which was the firstborn among the 21 regional centres of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization’.

The World Agroforestry Centre is playing a key role in the Agroforestry and Food Security Research and Policy Dialogues as part of the ASEAN-Swiss Partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change, which have been closely watched by Ambassador Walker-Nederkoorn.

‘We hope that the ambassador will continue to keep in touch; we will certainly keep in touch with him’ said Dr Pradhan. ‘He has been a great ambassador for Switzerland, for forests and for local people. We will work hard to ensure that his work here continues to benefit the many millions of people who rely on forests’.




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This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry



Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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