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ASEAN is rising to the climate-change challenge facing agriculture and forestry

Mekong Delta

Photo by LisArt via Flickr.

At a meeting in Lombok, Indonesia, representatives of ASEAN working groups agreed to strengthen their collaboration to reduce risks and maximize security in the food, agriculture and forestry sectors.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is made up of 10 member states with a total population of around 650 million people. In most of the states, agriculture and forestry are major sources of livelihoods, food and material production for large percentages of their populations yet measures to address climate change in the land-based sectors have been slow to achieve regional coherence.

This is being changed through the ASEAN Multi-Sectoral Framework on Climate Change: Agriculture and Forestry towards Food Security, the ad hoc steering of which held its sixth meeting on 18–19 January 2018 in Lombok, Indonesia. Bodies represented were the ASEAN Sectoral Working Group on Crops, ASEAN Technical Working Group on Agricultural Research and Development, ASEAN Climate Resilience Network, ASEAN Working Group on Forest and Climate Change, ASEAN Senior Officials of Forestry, ASEAN Sectoral Working Group on Fisheries, ASEAN Senior Officials on Environment and the ASEAN Working Group on Social Forestry. The meeting was chaired by the Senior Officials Meeting of the ASEAN Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry.

‘Climate change is extremely important for social forestry, food security, agriculture and other sectors’, said Pham Quang Minh, assistant director of the food, agriculture and forestry division at the ASEAN Secretariat, in his opening remarks. ‘And the role of this group is also increasingly important’.

While efforts to coordinate climate-change responses across the region began as early as 2009 with initial development of a multi-sectoral framework on climate change, food, agriculture and forestry towards food security, that framework has yet to be made fully operational. Nevertheless, authority has now been added to the urgency of addressing climate change in the land-based sector through the inclusion of agriculture into global climate-change planning at the Twenty-third Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held November–December 2017 in Bonn, Germany. Concomitantly, ASEAN’s response has also been taking on a greater urgency, as can be seen in representatives of the bloc in strong support at the Conference for the inclusion of agriculture.

Indonesia, the meeting’s host country, is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change owing to its long coastline, large population and heavy reliance on agriculture, noted Nur Masripatin, director-general climate change at Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry, during her opening remarks.

‘The Paris Agreement, through nationally determined contributions in ASEAN member states, includes forestry as well as the agriculture and energy sectors’, she informed the meeting. ‘There is now a new climate-change regime and each party must be responsible for contributing to a reduction in global emissions and building climate resilience nationally. To reach these goals for developing countries is difficult. ASEAN can help each member state and collectively contribute to the global goal while building the region’s resilience. At the Twenty-third Conference, we took the important step of launching the ASEAN Nationally Determined Contributions Partnership. This can be a key to implementation in member states, helping us to strengthen our existing initiatives, including in sharing knowledge and experience. After the ratification of the Paris Agreement, the world is yet to finalize the guidelines for implementation. At the recent conference, the parties agreed on three elements: completion of the work program; annual dialogues; and pre-2020 preparation. They also agreed to collaborate on agriculture.

‘ASEAN has put climate change as a priority and alignment of forestry, agriculture and climate change is critical to fight negative impacts. We will have a new structure within which to discuss agriculture. How will the ASEAN voice be shared?’

Doris Capistrano, senior advisor to the ASEAN-Swiss Partnership on Climate Change and Social Forestry program, which provides technical support to both the ASEAN Working Group on Social Forestry and the ad hoc steering committee of the Multi-sectoral Framework, stressed the importance of the forum for dialogue across sectors: ‘In the course of a series of steering committee meetings, we have been slowly, quietly and deliberately working towards a wider dialogue with other sectors to create a common framework for future collaborative action. This sixth meeting is key to driving that progress forward. This is the one forum in ASEAN for such discussions. Whatsmore, it is timely too, because the Vision and Strategic Plan for ASEAN Cooperation on Food, Agriculture and Forestry 2016–2025 and  the recently adopted sectoral plans of action provide strong guidance and specific pointers for collaboration and action.

‘ASEAN is a unique model of regional cooperation, strategically positioned at this time when globally there is a retreat from collaboration. ASEAN now speaks increasingly with one voice on issues of major global importance. This is why this forum is even more important as a platform to discuss cross-sectoral issues of common interest to ASEAN Member States and to agree on joint positions to take in international forums and negotiating platforms related to climate change and food security’.

The regional coordinator of the World Agroforestry Centre Southeast Asia, Ingrid Öborn, outlined the role that agroforestry can play in facing the challenge of climate change both in adaptation and mitigation. Using the forest-transition curve as an illustration, she noted the two main areas where agroforestry could be deployed—in degraded forest and in restoration and re-agroforestation of degraded agricultural land—to increase carbon stocks and increase farmers’ resilience. The Vision and Strategic Plan for ASEAN Cooperation in Food, Agriculture and Forestry states under Strategic Thrust 4: Increase resilience to climate change, natural disasters and other shocks: 4.5 Expand resilient agroforestry systems where ecologically and economically appropriate.

What was needed to maximize agroforestry’s economic and environmental benefits was a coordinated approach to reducing barriers in policy and implementation.

‘Our role is to help translate science into policy and practice,’ said Öborn. ‘As well as various demonstration trials in the field, we have been producing for ASEAN a series of policy briefs on agroforestry under different conditions; a discussion paper called Agroforestry: contribution to food security and climate-change adaptation and mitigation in Southeast Asia; and are developing—with support from the Mekong Expert Group on Agroforestry for Food and Nutrition Security, Sustainable Agriculture and Land Restoration, which is funded by the Swedish International Agriculture Network Initiative—a set of principles and guidelines for agroforestry development in ASEAN member states that will be accompanied by a manual on training of trainers in agroforestry and a practical field guide. The draft guidelines will be circulated to relevant bodies of ASEAN and member states for review before endorsement is sought at ministerial levels.

Öborn also noted that a new German-funded project, Harnessing the Potential of Trees-on-farms for Meeting National and Global Biodiversity Targets, had sites in ASEAN and would provide useful data for application by member states.

The meeting concluded with delegates committed to strengthening the mandate of the Committee to effectively deliver recommendations to the highest levels and seek support from international partners who were likewise committed to ensuring that ASEAN would be able to support the mitigation of climate change by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions while also developing measures for adaptation.

This article was originally published on the ICRAF website.