Across Southeast Asia, farmers and farming communities have for generations practised diverse forms of agroforestry to support livelihoods and essential ecosystem services.
Agroforestry entails the complementary integration of agricultural and forestry components on a range of scales: in fields, on farms and across landscapes.
Recognising the importance of agroforestry to environmental and human well-being, the 40th Meeting of ASEAN Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry endorsed the ASEAN Guidelines for Agroforestry Development in October 2018. Since then, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) entered into a technical cooperation programme with ASEAN to increase the scale of adoption of agroforestry for climate, food security and environmental benefits.
However, despite this high-level endorsement, the guidelines have yet to be fully integrated into ASEAN member states’ decision-making.
While we have seen a decline of the ASEAN forest cover in the past decades, the good news is that the overall rate of forestry loss in ASEAN slowed from 1.2 per cent per year from 2000 to 2010, to 0.26 per cent per year from 2011 to 2015, according to 2020 ASEAN-European Union (EU) report Investing in Sustainable Capital in ASEAN.
The first webinar on mainstreaming the guidelines was held on October 14 to help ensure their major contribution to accelerating achievement of the aims of the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and related strategies on climate-smart land use.
The Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) co-organised the webinar in cooperation with the GIZ Climate Smart Land Use (CSLU) in ASEAN project, the ASEAN Working Group on Social Forestry, and the ASEAN Secretariat.
The webinar, ‘Mainstreaming Agroforestry in ASEAN through the ASEAN Guidelines for Agroforestry Development’, attracted over 200 participants, indicating the high level of public interest in agroforestry development in the region.
Hanna Reuter of the GIZ CSLU in ASEAN project introduced the links between the ASEAN Guidelines for Agroforestry Development and the project, while also presenting the objectives of the webinar: increasing awareness and understanding of the guidelines among ASEAN member states and non-state actors, promoting knowledge transfer and enhancing networking between different sectors, and identifying best agroforestry practices to inform climate-smart policies, training, projects and partnerships.
It is anticipated that the webinar will encourage further policy action as member states explore avenues to create an institutional home for agroforestry.
Delia Catacutan of CIFOR-ICRAF provided an overview of the Guidelines in the context of the broader Vision and Strategic Plan for ASEAN Cooperation on Food, Agriculture and Forestry 2016-2025. She highlighted the role of the Guidelines in supporting formulation of agroforestry policies and strengthening regional partnerships.
The guidelines feature six main principles, sub-divided into 14 sub-principles and 75 individual guidelines. To promote their adoption, Catacutan emphasised the need for clear direction from governments to land users, national agroforestry programmes, and development of monitoring and reporting systems, all through participatory approaches.
Simone Vongkhamho of the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute in the Lao PDR showcased progress towards institutionalising agroforestry, describing the land-use context of the Lao PDR, which is a predominantly mountainous landscape with significant forest cover.
Vongkhamho noted various national agroforestry development strategies, including the Agriculture Development Strategy 2025, the Forest Strategy 2035, and the National Green Growth Strategy 2030. Referring to his involvement in drafting an agroforestry roadmap and coordinating a technical working group on agroforestry, he emphasised the importance of ensuring effective organisational capacity and participatory decision-making as preconditions for positive land use outcomes.
The Lao PDR is one of three countries developing agroforestry roadmaps under the FAO and ASEAN’s Technical Cooperation Programme on Scaling up Agroforestry for Food Security and Environmental Benefits. Cambodia and Myanmar are also engaged in this process.
Ronnakorn Triraganon of the Regional Community Forestry Training Centre (RECOFTC) discussed factors in successful agroforestry design, including secure land tenure, knowledgeable and accessible extension staff, and multi-sectoral coordination. He presented two case studies to emphasise the importance of sociocultural factors in agroforestry design.
Despite their different contexts, they acknowledge the need to secure land tenure, respect cultures, build upon local knowledge and deploy participatory processes.
Jose Romeo Ebron of the Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development noted the constraints experienced by farmers and cooperatives in developing agroforestry value chains. These include high input costs, a lack of transparency between members, and poor physical infrastructure.
Surveying cooperatives, Ebron found that low levels of farmer participation, poor governance and lack of marketing skills were among the key challenges to building agroforestry enterprises.
Accordingly, he emphasised on the capacity of farmers’ groups to be strengthened so that all members have greater market power in negotiation processes. He concluded by sharing case studies of successful enterprises across the region.
Dian Sukmajaya of the Food, Agriculture and Forestry Division of the ASEAN Secretariat highlighted recent advances in the region under the FAO and ASEAN Technical Cooperation Programme. In addition to the guidelines, a regional study of the status of and trends in agroforestry and national roadmaps in the pilot countries were critical outputs that had received technical support from ICRAF and the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA).
As a way forward, the ASEAN Secretariat is seeking to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of different agroforestry practices and follow up with the member states to align national policies within the regional framework. Importantly, Sukmajaya noted that ‘agroforestry is an art’ and that ‘stakeholders cannot work in silos’ if they are to realise the full potential of agroforestry.