Across Southeast Asia, 300 million people live in rural areas and up to 70 million people rely on forests for their livelihoods, nutrition and food security (ASFN, 2011). Against this setting, social forestry or community-based forestry has become an important feature of forest management in the region.
Covering 50% of Southeast Asia’s land area, forests are crucial in mitigating climate change and enhancing communities’ resilience to adverse events. As efforts to combat climate change get underway, social forestry practices are seen as one way of channeling incentive mechanisms such as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plus enhancing forest carbon stocks).
Swidden agriculture is a type of social forestry that is often overlooked. In many Southeast Asian countries, it is seen as a driver of deforestation, although some scholars suggest that swidden systems can maintain and enhance biodiversity and environmental services (Rerkasem et al. 2009, Ziegler et al. 2013), particularly belowground carbon stocks (Bruun et al. 2013, Bruun et al. 2009). Various policies are in place throughout the region to convert the practice towards more intensive agricultural systems that are believed to be more productive (Fox et al. 2009, Padoch et al. 2007)
As part of the ASEAN-Swiss Partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change (ASFCC), the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) is undertaking research to better understand swidden systems and their relevance for REDD+ and livelihoods. CIFOR’s research aims to understand how local knowledge, practices and social networks can be incorporated into the design of REDD+ projects to ensure that forest communities can participate meaningfully in and benefit from REDD+.
Social forestry and swidden agriculture
Social forestry broadly refers to the management of forests by local communities to achieve various environmental, social and development goals, including climate change mitigation and adaptation, food security, nutrition and livelihood support.Swidden agriculture is a form of agriculture that involves growing crops on small plots of land on a rotational basis.
Swidden fallows are often woody and like forests, incorporate high levels of biodiversity and carbon, and help restore soils and other ecosystem services. Farmers using swidden techniques often also manage other forest plots of subsistence and commercial value.