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Southeast Asia

Local Economic Resilience in ASEAN Social Forestry



vietnam forest

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.

I'm a knowledge management specialist and researcher in Indonesian Community of Conservation (KKI) Warsi. My research and writing focus on Social Forestry, Sustainable Natural Resources Development, Green Economic, and Community Empowerment.

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Southeast Asia

Transforming Social Protection Delivery in the Philippines through PhilSys



Social protection helps the poor and vulnerable in a country, especially in times of crises and shocks that may threaten the well-being of families. When COVID-19 hit and quarantines began, the Philippines needed a massive expansion of social protection coverage to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. Countries that already had good and inclusive digital infrastructure (including internet connectivity, digital identification, digital payments and integrated data ecosystems) were better equipped to quickly adapt their social protection programs to meet urgent needs. They also fared better in maintaining continuity of services when in-person interactions could be moved online.

For the Philippines, it presented a challenge, and strain was felt in the delivery of social assistance under the Bayanihan acts.

Fortunately, the country is moving to address digital infrastructure gaps, including through the development of the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys). PhilSys is one of the most complex – but also game-changing – projects undertaken in the country.

The Philippines is one of only 23 countries without a national ID system. As a result, Filipinos need to present multiple IDs (and often specific IDs that many do not have) when transacting, including with government, creating barriers to services for the most vulnerable among the population. Information across government databases is often inconsistent. These undermine the Philippines’ transition to a digital economy, society and government. The PhilSys will help address this by providing all Filipinos with a unique and verifiable digital ID (and not just a card), while also adopting innovative and practical data protection and privacy-by-design measures.

The new partnership agreement between the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for DSWD’s adoption of the PhilSys is a milestone for the Philippines’ social protection and digital transformation journeys. DSWD will be the first agency to utilize the secure biometric and SMS-based identity authentication offered by the PhilSys to uniquely identify and verify its beneficiaries. Pilots with the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (AICS) program will begin within the next few months, before PhilSys is used by all DSWD programs.

Adopting PhilSys will enable DSWD to further accelerate its digital transformation. By automating verification and business processes for its programs and services, DSWD will be able to improve the impact while reducing the costs of social protection programs. PhilSys will assist with identifying and removing ghost, duplicate and deceased beneficiaries to address leakages, fraud and corruption, and thus boost transparency and public trust. The unified beneficiary database that DSWD is developing with the help of PhilSys will contain up-to-date and consistent beneficiary information across all programs.

The World Bank is supporting these DSWD initiatives through the Beneficiary FIRST (standing for Fast, Innovative and Responsive Service Transformation) social protection project.

Importantly, these changes will translate to benefits for Filipinos.

Those who interact with the DSWD will face less paperwork, queues, hassle, costs and time. With their PhilSys ID, they will also have better access to a bank or e-money account where they can potentially receive payments directly in the future, promoting financial inclusion. Indeed, more than 5 million low-income Filipinos have already opened bank accounts during PhilSys registration. And the resources that DSWD saves can be redirected to addressing the needs of beneficiaries who live in remote areas without easy access to internet and social protection programs.

Beyond the advantages for social protection, the digital transformation PhilSys will catalyze in the public and private sectors can be fundamental to the Philippines’ pivot to reviving the economy and getting poverty eradication back on track. Success in utilizing PhilSys for social protection will have a significant demonstration effect in accelerating digital transformation by other government agencies as well as the private sector.

But digital transformation is not easy. It is not about simply digitizing things. It is about re-imagining how things can be done for the better, with technology as an enabler. Digitizing bad systems or processes just leads to bad systems or processes digitalized. Digital transformation therefore depends on and can only be as fast as process re-engineering and institutional and bureaucratic changes to overcome inertia.

Digital transformation must also be inclusive to avoid exacerbating digital divides or creating new ones.

The effort will be worth it. And the World Bank is firmly committed to scale up our support to the Philippines’ digital transformation agenda. A digital Philippines will not only be more resilient to future shocks – whether they are natural disasters or pandemics – but also be poised to take advantage of the opportunities brought by COVID-19 (shift of activities online) and those that lie ahead in the post COVID-19 world.
 first published in The Philippine Star, via World Bank

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Southeast Asia

Bringing “the people” back in: Forest Resources Conservation with Dr. Apichart Pattaratuma



With a lifetime dedicated to forest conservation, Dr. Apichart Pattaratuma reflected back on his career and what forest management means to Thailand. In the year 1978, he received the prestigious United Nations and Ananda Mahidol Foundation Scholarship to attain higher education at the College of Forest Resources, University of Washington, Seattle, USA. After graduating in the year 1985, he returned to Thailand with a commitment to teach and research at the Department of Forest Management, Faculty of Forestry, Kasetsart University until his retirement with full professor position. The excerpts below encapsulated a conversation between Dr. Pattaratuma and Dr. Rattana Lao on forest conservation.

Beyond the classroom: An anthropological perspective

I dedicated my life to study the anthropological aspect of forest management to His Majesty King Bhumibol Aduyadej of Thailand. I studied cultural dimensions of forest management in many areas of Thailand. I began with Huay Hin Dam with Karen hill tribe (Pra-ka-ker -yor) Suphanburi Province. I tried to review the international literature on land use and combine it with in-depth interviews with the hill tribes to understand the cultural dimensions of their livelihoods. I observed how they built their houses and how their managed their forest. There are three characteristics of the Karen tribe. Firstly, they lived on small plots of lands and their houses are very small. Secondly, they conserve their forest land with water resources. Thirdly, they refrain from using pesticides. Culturally, there is a clear division of labor amongst men and women. While men will clear the lands, women will cultivate agricultural goods such as papaya, guava and banana. There is limited drugs use.

It’s liberating to do research beyond the classrooms. To observe real live, real changes. I learnt more than I set out to do and they are all interrelated to a bigger picture.

Intersectionality between culture, migration and forest management

Karen hill tribes migrate in a cluster. There are more than 3 families migrating together to the new fertile forest land. They will migrate together when land is exhausted. This is most evident in the borderland between Thailand and Myanmar. Back then they did not have official documentation but slowly they do. There has been an influx of hill tribes from Myanmar to Thailand due to political conflicts from Myanmar. From my observation, they are very conscious about forest conservation and resources management. They said: “no forest, no water”. They are compelled to protect the forest from pesticides in order to keep the water clean and their health well. They are very logical. Although they grow rice, it’s very subsistent and only for household consumption. They don’t grow rice for commercial purpose. This is the land use for Karen hill tribe.

I also studied in Kampeangpetch, Nan, Chiang Rai, Phrae and Lumphun. Each place is diverse and the situation is really different. Some local tribes are preserving of the forests, others are more detrimental. We need an in-depth study to understand the cultural dimension of land use for each tribe.

The heart of forest management

People. It’s the people. People must particulate in the forest management. Otherwise, it is very difficult. When we go into each location, we must approach people and bring them into the conversation. I have tried to do all my life. Civil servants must approach people, not other way around. People are looking up to our action. They look into our sincerity and commitment. If they see that we are committed to study about their livelihood, they will share the right information and they will help.

Indonesia is a good example of successful forest management. The state get people involved. In every kilometer, there are four actors involved in protecting the forest: soldiers, policemen, villager and forester. They help each other protecting the wildlife and forest resources.

Can legal change help the people?

Legal relaxation can help lessen the pressure between man and forest. Before the legal requirement was very strict. Any kind of forest intrusion would be caught including small hunters gatherers. I think that is too strict. That put people against the law. People should be able to go into the forest and pick up some mushroom and bamboo and some wild products to lessen their poverty and hunger.

As long as people are still hungry, it’s very hard to manage the forest. There must be a way to balance the two: people livelihood and forest management.

Capitalists invasion

Much of the legal attention is paid to small farmers use of the forests. However, the real issue is big corporations invade the forest. This is very significant. Deforestation happens mostly from large scale corporation rather than small scale farmers. There are many loopholes in the system that lead to systemic corruption and mismanagement of land use. Many wealthy houses are built on large scale timber to exemplify wealth and status. It saddens me.

Would the next generation get to see large tree in the forest?

Less likely.

What can we do to protect the forest?

There are many organizations that responsible for the forest protection such as Royal Forest Department, Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation and Department of Marine and Coastal Resources. But the manpower are not sufficient to cover the large area of forest in Thailand. There are not enough permanent manpower to go on the ground and protect forest resources, while the intruders to National Parks are equipped with more advanced weaponry.

To protect the forest, the state must be committed and the people must participate in the process.

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Southeast Asia

Possibilities for a Multilateral Initiative between ASEAN-Bangladesh-India-Japan in the Indo-Pacific



In the Indo-Pacific context, there are multiple partners all aiming for economic fulfillment along with maritime security and safety. Countries ranging from the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea seem to be more worried about the freedom of navigation and overflight as Chinese aggressiveness is rampant and expansionist is a scary idea. The region from India to Bangladesh has a huge potential of interconnectedness and if connected to the Southeast Asian countries, it would also help in India’s Act East Policy and India’s neighbourhood first policy and further help out in strengthening relations to the far East as in Japan. All these countries combined can create an interconnected chain of mutual and common interests with balanced ideas of economic, military, social, political and people to people exchanges which would in turn help develop a multilateral.

Who can lead this Multilateral Initiative and Why?

Japan can be the prime crusader for this multilateral as it has excellent relations with all the parties and is the pioneer of the free and open Indo-Pacific. Japan has excellent diplomatic, economic and infrastructural relations with all the possible partners as it provides ODA loans, aid and assistance. Japan being the pioneer of Free and Open Indo-Pacific can be guiding force for this multilateral in the maritime domain which would help create a new regional grouping consisting of South Asia and Southeast Asia primarily based on maritime. Japan is the only developed country among all the other players and with its expertise, it can surely guide, help, support and take along all the countries. Japan most importantly is a non-aggressive nation and believes in mutual respect unlike China. Japan has no dept trap issue unlike China. Japan is known for quality in infrastructural development and with their expertise in science, technology and innovation can well lead these countries. Japan’s reputation of honesty, no corruption and extreme detailed paper work is commendable.

What are the benefits from this Multilateral Initiative?

This multilateral would help connect the Indian Ocean (India) to Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh) to the South China Sea (ASEAN) and the East China Sea (Japan)- would help in the creation of water interconnected network from South Asia to Southeast Asia. This could be the first regional maritime grouping covering South Asia to Southeast Asia. This maritime grouping can create a network of ports which could also become an economic hub and intersecting points of investment and infrastructural development (already Japan is investing in a big way in all these countries). India’s Northeast would get a greater economic, infrastructural and people-to-people exchange as it would connect India to Bangladesh and Myanmar. Mekong Ganga Economic Corridor already exists and could pave the way for Bangladesh and Kolkata greater port exchange which could be developed as nodal points in Bay of Bengal and would help in easy and cheaper freight. These countries can also aim for the strengthening of defence and security relations in the domain of maritime and can also aim for a logistics support agreement and a network from Indian Ocean to Bay of Bengal to South China Sea to East China Sea and would help tackle Chinese aggressiveness and China has been mapping the waters in all these waters and so, to protect one’s territorial sovereignty and integrity, defence relations must be build.

An ecosystem based on Digitalization, Science, technology and Innovation can be formed which would help create a united cyber security law and all this could ultimately lead to the 4th Industrial Revolution. South Asia and Southeast Asia would be lucrative markets and labour distribution and generation of employment can be done through the ports, logistics network, economic and trade exchanges and interactions. This multilateral would form a resilient supply chain in the region of South Asia and Southeast Asia in the domain of Indo-Pacific. Marine economy can be a major factor of this multilateral initiative as it would be a major success in the maritime domain. This multilateral can also work on vaccine diplomacy and work on future health hazards mechanisms.

Why Bangladesh must think of adopting the Indo-Pacific Strategy?

Bangladesh must adopt the Indo-Pacific strategy and create its own objects and call it the SAMODHRO NITI. Bangladesh has the capability of being an excellent maritime power and it is a major leader in the Bay of Bengal and to be an effective part of this multilateral. The Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (BIG-B) would be a key binder. Bangladesh must realise that China by building dams on the Brahmaputra River would actually create issues for Bangladesh’s fishery catchment areas as it would get inundated with salt water and to stop that Bangladesh must work to strengthen its position to tackle China. Also, China could also create water issues for Bangladesh and Bangladesh must look at ways to safe guard its water resources. Thereby, Bangladesh must work towards countries who face similar issues with China. The Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor is an excellent example of cooperation but this Multilateral if formed can be a stronger initiative and Bangladesh benefits from it as being a hub of textile, leather and pharmaceuticals and this Multilateral has all the efficiency of becoming an economic hub which would benefit Bangladesh too. If Bangladesh adopts an Indo-Pacific Policy, then its market in Japan, the US and Europe would become stronger due to shared interests and can also sign a Free Trade Agreement with EU like Vietnam did.

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