A “Social Forestry” quick response grant fund was put up by a Swiss agency for eight ASEAN states to help these immediately address needs arising from climate change, hunger, and poverty concerns.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is extending in the next three years the 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 US$ 15,000 for single country projects and US$ 30,000 for multi-country projects. Each project should be completed in six months.

The grant facility also offers scholarship training up to US$ 2,000.

SEARCA Director Gil C. Saguiguit Jr. said a streamlined process will be implemented to speed up the release of grant assistance to beneficiaries.

Eligible types of project proposals include quick turnaround studies to aid decision-making; exploratory reviews of emerging problems; analytical studies; dialogues and roundtable discussions; and study tours.

Social forestry—afforestation on idle lands and protection of forests aimed at developing rural communities and the environment—is seen by the ASFCC as a means for communities to adapt to climate change. It will tap women, cultural minorities, and other vulnerable groups for this development.

Saguiguit said a trust fund is being conceptualized by SEARCA 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 testbed for the creation of an ASRF Trust Fund.”

“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),” he added.

Partners to the social forestry program are the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Non-Timber Forest Product-Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP), Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC), and 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. 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 strengthen local institutions 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 forest for their food and livelihood. This has caused massive deforestation through kaingin (slash and burn). However, a global analysis of 40 protected areas and 33 community managed forests (CMF) showed CMFs have significantly lower average rates of deforestation, according to Dr. Doris Capistrano, ASFCC senior advisor.

It is possible for forest people to contribute to both forest conservation and livelihood generation when they are allowed to “participate in rule-making aspects of forest governance,” as shown in data from East Africa and South Asia, said Capistrano.

The SEARCA-overseen project also looks at how the ASEAN economic integration can potentially lift many rural, forest-based people out of poverty through better forest management systems which can reduce risks for forest people in light of calamities due to climate change.

“At the ASEAN organization itself, the inclusion of wood-based products among the 12 priority integration sector and the special focus on food, agriculture and forestry as a sector indicate appreciation for forestry and agriculture as essential components in the process of economic integration,” according to the “Impact of ASEAN AEC on Social Forestry and Forest Products Trade.” (Growth Publishing for SEARCA)

This story appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s February 2017 issue.