ASEAN / Southeast Asia is a region where most of the population depends on forest areas. There are 300 million people living in rural areas, with nearly 140 million people depending on forests, as a source of income, a source of nutrition and food security. The total forest area of Southeast Asia is more than 245 million ha, or 56 percent of the total area, with 204 million ha constituting forest cover, or about 47 percent of the total area. The topography and geographical conditions of the region make Southeast Asia rich in natural resources, forest areas, mangroves, rivers and wetlands / swamps, and high levels of biodiversity (FAO, 2011).
ASEAN forests are home to the largest potential economic products of non-timber forest products in Asia, including rattan and bamboo, medicinal plants, essential oils, resins, pine nuts, mushrooms, spices and plants (especially cardamom and cinnamon), animal feed, animal products, and honey.
The large dependence of forest areas in Southeast Asia places forests as a vital part of the economic, social and cultural development of the community. Dependence on forest areas, can be a pendulum that continues to clash, for the sustainability of the environment and forest areas or vice versa. The fact is that ASEAN is going in the opposite direction, ASEAN is faced with the problem of rapidly increasing economic growth, high agricultural land clearing and exploitation of natural resources, increasing population, which contributes to deforestation and forest degradation throughout the ASEAN region (FAO, 2011).
Populist policies that have developed in ASEAN countries to support forest management and improve the economy of the community are through social forestry or community forest schemes. The Social Forestry Scheme in ASEAN dates back to the 1970s although with different forms and regulations and has continued to progress from time to time. At present, all ASEAN countries have adopted social forestry schemes in their respective national policies, such as Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines and Vietnam. Meanwhile, Laos, Malaysia and Thailand have not accommodated regulations in national policies. Malaysia applies a model of community participation in the company’s concession areas, while Laos and Thailand mandate their respective ministries to include forest management programs in the work plan. The difference in implementation in the national context is a form of adaptation to the social and cultural conditions of each country, but in substance the objectives to be achieved are still the same.
In recent developments, the growth in the area of the ASEAN social forestry area until 2017 has reached 10,078,435 ha (RECOFTC and AWG-SF 2017). In addition to policy support from the state, NGOs-INGOs and donor agencies play an important role in spurring the widespread growth of social forestry in ASEAN. Even institutionally, ASEAN countries have formed the ASEAN Social Forestry Working Group (AWG-SF) which focuses on sustainable management and utilization of forest areas, capacity building and community participation in development policies, enhancing community economies based on the potential of forest areas, and strengthening joint commitment. ASEAN in influencing regional and international policies in relation to the forestry sector. Strong solidity and joint action plans tied into policy components in ASEAN countries in forest management should be able to become social capital in improving the community’s economy in line with efforts to protect forest areas, the environment and minimize the impact of climate change.
Surviving the Pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a devastating blow to the global community, economic problems have greatly affected local communities, including those managing social forestry. Large-scale restrictions and lockdown policies hamper the flow and inflow of forest resource products. The community’s business and economic activities cannot be carried out massively, there are restrictions and regulations. In fact, almost all countries in the world experience economic growth recession.
In the release of the results of research conducted by RECOFTC (The Regional Community Forestry Training Center for Asia and the Pacific_ and FAO in the period June to July 2020, in 6 ASEAN countries, including Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, and Nepal, to measure the initial effect of Covid-19 to the lockdown policy on social / community forest management (forest community). This study shows that pandemic conditions are a difficult condition for the development of forest product-based commodity potential and business. 3 million people in the downstream area of the Mekong River can survive during the spring phaseof all, lockdown, by relying on savings from sales of timber and non-timber forest products. However, most experienced difficulties, due to a decline in livelihoods and food security, as a result of massive restrictions during the lockdown period. Financial support is considered as a solution to cope and build a better life after a pandemic.
ASEAN is not without a vision in determining forest area management goals. The vision of the food, agriculture and forestry sector for 2015 concretely describes efforts to build these three sectors to be competitive, inclusive, resilient and sustainable, based on a single production and market that is integrated with the global economy and contributes to food security, security and needs for better nutrition, and increased resilience to climate change (RECOFTC and AWG-SF. 2017). However, this vision is not friendly to local communities. Regional economic integration through the AEC / ASEAN Economic Community (ASEAN Economic Community) has not answered the ease of market access for local communities. The AEC single market is not translated by providing protection and regulations that accommodate the economic interests of small-scale communities. Therefore, the implications of the AEC in the forestry, fisheries and agricultural sectors are very complex. The free opening of the ASEAN market opens up opportunities for increased imports of cheap products, and will have an impact on small-scale farmers and communities managing social forestry who must fight against the invasion of cheaper imported products. The AEC should be accompanied by new incentives for communities to strengthen the production of agricultural commodities, such as coffee, cocoa, vegetables and fruits, as well as timber forest products and non-timber forest products.
The strategic plans for the agriculture, forestry and food sectors should be the basis for implementing policies in each ASEAN country to build cooperation and institutional groups of farmers, provide budget support and services, and the capacity and participation of local communities to compete in the market.
In conditions of limited trade flows due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a financial stimulus focused on developing programs is one of the rational choices for ASEAN countries to support strategic plans for the agriculture, forestry and food sectors. In Indonesia, for example, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry has budgeted 1.01 trillion which is intended to assist the management of Social Forestry areas at the community level. Hopefully this step will also be followed by other ASEAN countries!
- RECOFTC and AWG-SF. 2017. Social forestry and climate change in the ASEAN region: Situational analysis 2016. Bangkok, RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests.
- FAO. 2011. Southeast Asian forests and forestry to 2020. Subregional report of the Second Asia-Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study. Rome.