The Swiss government has put up a "social forestry" quick response fund for eight Asean states to help in the timely delivery of mitigation efforts to combat climate change, hunger and poverty concerns.
In a statement, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) said that in the next three years, it is extending the fund grant through the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) which will serve as project implementor.
The program is the third phase of the ASEAN-Swiss Partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change (ASFCC). Beneficiary states are the Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The budget limit is $15,000 for single country projects and $30,000 for multi-country projects. Each project should be completed in six months.
The grant facility also offers scholarship training of up to $2,000.
In the same statement, SEARCA Director Gil Saguiguit Jr. said the process to avail of the grant will be streamlined to speed up release of the assistance to beneficiaries.
Project proposals that are eligible for the grant include quick turn-around studies to aid decision-making, exploratory review of emerging problems, analytical studies, dialogues and roundtable discussions, as well as study tours.
The ASFCC sees social forestry—afforestation on idle lands and protection of forests aimed at developing rural communities and the environment— as a important means for communities to adapt to climate change. It will extensively tap women, cultural minorities, and other vulnerable groups in all its efforts.
Saguiguit said the SEARCA is conceptualizing a trust fund as a long term program after this grant program is piloted under the ASEAN Social Forestry Network (ASFN) Strategic Response Fund (ASRF).
"This can become the precursor or test-bed for the creation of an ASRF Trust Fund," Saguiguit said.
"ASRF will also support ASEAN regional initiatives in support of the ASEAN Multi-sectoral Framework on Climate Change: Agriculture and Forestry towards Food Security (AFCC) and the ASEAN Vision for Food, Agriculture and Forestry (FAF)."
Partners in the social forestry program are the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the Non-Timber Forest Product-Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP), the Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC), and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).
One objective of the SEARCA-administered program is to find out how social forestry can benefit communities through participation in a United Nations program called REDD Plus (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). It is a financial reward scheme for developing countries that reduce carbon dioxide emissions through forest management systems.
The SEARCA-implemented program also looks into non-timber forest product enterprises as livelihood source for forest-based communities.
SEARCA sees that by selling non-timber forest products, rural people no longer have to destroy forests for their livelihood. Among non-timber products are animals, fish, nuts, oils, herbal medicine, rubber, fruits, flavors and fragrances, fibers, saps, resins, decoratives, floral greens, saps maple syrup, and cones. NTFP also includes raw materials for basketry, woodcarving, and other cottage industries.
Social forestry can also strengthen local institutions to enable them to address forest-related conflicts and promote rural development, according to a McDermott and Schrenkenbergs study.
It is estimated that of around 300 million people living in rural areas in Southeast Asia, 70 million depend on the forest for their food and livelihood. This has caused massive deforestation through the kaingin (slash and burn) system.
However, a global analysis of 40 protected areas and 33 Community Managed Forests (CMF) showed CMFs have significantly lower average rates of deforestation, Dr. Doris Capistrano, ASFCC senior advisor explained.
Thus, it is possible for forest people to contribute to both forest conservation and livelihood generation if they are allowed to "participate in rule-making aspects of forest governance" as shown in data from East Africa and South Asia, Capistrano said.
The project which SEARCA oversees also looks at how ASEAN economic integration can potentially lift many rural, forest-based people out of poverty through better forest management systems. That is aside from reducing risks for forest people in light of calamities due to climate change.
"At the Asean organization itself, inclusion of wood-based products among the 12 priority integration sector and the special focus on food, agriculture and forestry as a sector, indicates appreciation for forestry and agriculture as essential components in the process of economic integration," as shown by a study on The Impact of ASEAN AEC on Social Forestry and Forest Products Trade.