A new era of small-scale forestry in Southeast Asia

Swidden cultivation – a centuries-old practice in which crops are rotated on land that is cleared, planted and then left fallow – has been blamed for destroying forests and releasing greenhouse gases. While research shows it can create ecosystems with high biodiversity, rich carbon stocks and low soil erosion, and adapt to changing market and socio-demographic demands, policies have aimed to restrict swidden, favoring conversion to large-scale plantations. At the same time, there is a growing interest in social forestry in Southeast Asia as countries embark on a more decentralized governance process, promoting forest tenure and local community interests in the region. Swidden can be seen as part of social forestry practice where local people manage diverse forests and fallows to generate multiple benefits, including maintaining a sense of identity and cultural traditions.

As part of the ASEAN-Swiss Partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change (ASFCC), CIFOR conducted demand-driven research and training in Indonesia, Lao PDR, Vietnam, Malaysia (Sabah) and Myanmar to learn how swidden as a social forestry practice can improve livelihoods for forest-dependent communities and Indigenous Peoples, increase their resilience to climate impacts, and help Member States achieve their targets for climate change and development goals.

Through technical support and activities in ASEAN member states, CIFOR and partners helped bring about transformative political and institutional change in the region:

  • Indonesia issued new regulations on social forestry and customary forest tenure.
  • Myanmar and Thailand passed laws that provide more rights to local communities.
  • Vietnam revised its national forestry law to include farming in forests and forest farming (agroforestry).
  • Other countries, including Cambodia, are reviewing their own laws to ensure that communities are more engaged with land-use decisions.
  • Sabah in Malaysia is developing a road map on social forestry.

ASFCC also analyzed opportunities for ASEAN member states to benefit from international programs, such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+), and introduced a ‘forest harvest’ certification that allows communities to engage new markets.

Lao PDR and Myanmar in particular learned from the benefit-sharing analysis of the REDD+ program.

Moira Moeliono

Senior Associate


Project info


ASEAN-Swiss partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change (ASFCC)


Indonesia, Lao PDR, and Vietnam and Sabah (Malaysia)

Funding partners

Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)

Project partners

ASEAN Working Group on Social Forestry, Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), ICRAF RECOFTC, Non-Timber Forests Products Exchange Program

CIFOR focal point

Moira Moeliono, Senior Associate

Forests in a
time of crises


In 2019, the world witnessed some of our greatest challenges shift gears from urgent to emergency – from climate crisis to landscape degradation to the wildfires that devastated ecosystems across several continents. But it also saw momentum build with the announcement of the UN Decade of Ecological Restoration, a focus on nature-based solutions, and the recognition of local forest communities and Indigenous Peoples are the best land managers for forest conservation.

Another exciting development – the merger of CIFOR and World Agroforestry (ICRAF) – set the stage for more evidence and solutions that will improve people’s lives, help to conserve and restore the ecosystems that support people and nature, and respond to the global climate crisis.

Our scientists advanced critical knowledge on forest landscape restoration, wild foods and timber legality in Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and peatland fires, biofuel, oil palm and wetland ‘blue carbon’ in Indonesia – with clear policy impacts in Southeast Asia from 10 years of social forestry research and engagement. Our ongoing Global Comparative Studies – GCS REDD+ and GCS Tenure – continued to bring science to policy makers across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Gender researchers looked deep into a myriad of topics, and we mourned the loss of principal scientist and Nairobi hub leader Esther Mwangi, whose legacy of achievements in gender and land rights won’t be soon forgotten. Finally the Global Landscapes Forum brought even more people together, both at events from Accra to Luxembourg as well as through exciting new digital innovations.