While parts of Southeast Asia have experienced rapid economic growth, millions of people have been left behind. Often, these are the rural poor, particularly women and ethnic minorities. So it happen that these are the people who produce much of the region’s food in remote and marginally productive landscapes. They have become part of a vicious circle of environmental degradation that reduces land productivity, so farmers have to betake expensive inputs that are often harm their land even more.
The situation is worsened by conflict over access to land fuelled by low government capacity. Driven by demand for monoculture agricultural and economic infrastructural development as well as by international trade, the situation is likely to get even worse. All of this is happening with the climate change on the background, the effects of which are already noticeable.
Evidence indicates that agroforestry can play an important role in resolving many of these challenges while benefiting the rural poor, especially women. Agroforestry implies planting trees on farms, mixing them with crops. Trees enhance soil productivity, facilitate water cycles and reinforce biodiversity. Agroforestry has proven to enhance resilience of farmers, providing additional income, fuel and nutrition.
In most of Southeast Asia agriculture and forestry are managed separately which has been proven to exacerbate poverty, food insecurity and marginalization, hitting highlands communities the hardest. Agroforestry is increasingly seen as the bridge between the two domains. Agroforestry was included in the Vision and strategic plan of action of the ASEAN cooperation in food, agriculture and forestry (2016–2025). What is more, with the facilitation from ICRAF and FAO, Viet Nam’s established a national working group on agroforestry, also Cambodia and Myanmar requested ICRAF for more assistance in development of agroforestry.
Against this backdrop, the formation of the Mekong Agroforestry Expert Group is timely. The group will establish a network of experts and organizations that informs Swedish and Southeast Asian governments bout the development of agroforestry for food and nutritional security, sustainable agriculture, smallholders’ livelihoods, climate-change adaptation and mitigation, and landscape restoration, aligning with the SDG 2 “End Hunger”.
The group will also develop a platform for sharing knowledge about best practices in agroforestry, tailoring it to the needs of the region. Finally, the group will also bolster existing initiatives and networks, such as the ASEAN Working Group on Social Forestry (includes agroforestry) and its recently mandated development of agroforestry guidelines.