One landscape, one people: meeting national and international goals in ASEAN

The Association of Southeast Asian Nation’s integrated plan for food, agriculture and forestry sets the groundwork for sustainable landscapes that meet many goals both national and global. Agroforestry is playing an increasingly important role


Trees in their various locations—whether in natural or planted forests or agroforests on farms—are being recognised by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as critically important in meeting national goals, such as food security and adaptation to climate change. Trees’ contribution to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change were highlighted at the tenth annual meeting of the ASEAN Social Forestry Network in the Philippines, 14–16 June 2016.

‘The actions that ASEAN member states are carrying out to address food, agriculture and forestry issues also contribute to their Nationally Determined Contributions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and to the Paris Agreement,’ said Mr Dian Sukmajaya, senior officer for Food, Agriculture and Food Security at the ASEAN Secretariat, at a policy dialogue held during the tenth annual meeting of the Network.

The benefits provided by trees are manifold, he explained. Not only do trees sequester carbon and help mitigate climate change but also social forestry and agroforestry offer the opportunity to improve economic benefits for citizens under the newly-formed ASEAN Economic Community.

A community forest in Jambi Province, Indonesia. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson

A community forest in Jambi Province, Indonesia. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson

‘A priority of the ASEAN member states is to alleviate poverty’, he said. ‘Economic integration and market access offer huge opportunities for non-timber forest products, for example. Social forestry and agroforestry offer the chance to address several issues at the same time. When member states report to UNFCCC or others, one activity can report to all international agreements’.

Ingrid Öborn, regional coordinator Southeast Asia for the World Agroforestry Centre, added that it was a great achievement of ASEAN to integrate these typically segregated sectors into one regional plan.

‘It is a very good base for reaching the Sustainable Development Goals’, she said. ‘Agroforestry features in the plan and is the bridge between agriculture and forestry. This is the start of creating sustainable landscapes. Food security, economic growth and environmental health can be achieved by the same people in the one landscape and meet national goals as well.

‘If we look at ASEAN with a bird’s-eye view, we see that 77% of agricultural land is covered by at least 10% with trees. But there is also “forest land” that has no trees. We need to keep this in mind when planning because these areas have great potential for intensifying agroforestry. Aggregating the trees in and outside of forests under one concept can bring great benefits for the people of our countries’.

Agroforestry and social forestry play an important role not only in increasing economic benefits but also in acting as buffers against the effects of extreme weather, such as droughts and floods. In Viet Nam, for example, a recent study by the World Agroforestry Centre showed that farms with trees have shorter recovery times after such natural disasters than those without.

‘However, one solution does not fit all problems’, Öborn cautioned. ‘We need to find the right solution—and the right mix of trees, crops and livestock—for the right place’.

L to R: Isabelita Austria, Ohn Lwin, Orlando Ravanera, Doris Capistrano, Ingrid Öborn and Dian Sukmajaya. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson

L to R: Isabelita Austria, Ohn Lwin, Orlando Ravanera, Doris Capistrano, Ingrid Öborn and Dian Sukmajaya. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson

Her comments were echoed by Ohn Lwin, director of the Forest Department, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation in Myanmar who is also the Network focal point for Myanmar.

‘Extreme weather is forcing people to see the important role played by forests’, he said. ‘The complexity of the issues can’t be managed by the government alone. The new democratic government in Myanmar has acknowledged this and much work is underway to share responsibility and benefits. The government realises that their role is in policies and planning, which is a very important development for our country’.

Under-secretary Orlando Ravanera, vice-chair of the ASEAN Sectoral Working Group on Agricultural Cooperatives, called for a paradigm shift or ‘mental revolution’ away from sectoral interests and monocultural farming to farmers’ cooperatives that embraced entire landscapes and produced a multitude of products sustainably.

‘There are 300,000 agricultural cooperatives in ASEAN’, he said. ‘They are now looking at how to improve value chains to spread risk by diversifying portfolios so they can sell all the time. The 14 million members of cooperatives are also taking care of their environments. After widespread logging we were haemorrhaging. Now we’re changing to sustainable practices’.

Isabelita V. Austria, chief of the Community Forestry Section at the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources who is also the Network focal point for the Philippines, drew together the contribution that social forestry and agroforestry, hand in hand with a change of agricultural mindset, can make to the Sustainable Development Goals. She underscored that nearly all of the Goals could be met through activities that also realised ASEAN and members states’ goals for food security, agriculture and forestry.

All of these factors are converging to create opportunities for the 600 million citizens of ASEAN to not only improve their economic wellbeing but also protect their unique landscapes from further degradation and help meet international agreements. Policy makers are very positive towards social forestry and agroforestry, with movement underway across the region to create sustainable landscapes.

‘The challenge is not so much about borrowing institutional models but changing the way we think and act on injustice and marginalisation’, added Doris Capistrano, regional advisor to the ASEAN-Swiss Partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change, ‘which are the underlying causes of the degradation of our natural resources and the greatest risk to not achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The ASEAN plan really is a great vehicle for addressing these issues holistically in a way that not only achieves our own goals but also acts as inspiration for the rest of the world’.


The ASEAN Social Forestry Network is a government-initiated network that aims to strengthen social forestry in Southeast Asia through the sharing of information and knowledge. 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 and all others who share a vision of promoting social forestry policy and practices in ASEAN.





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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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