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. For centuries, local people have used and managed forests in various ways: enhancing natural forest ecosystems for food, timber and other non-timber products, as agro-forest systems planted with mixed food and commodity crops, and as forest fallows in swidden systems for maintaining environmental services. These systems have long been adaptive to changing market and socio-demographic demands, and more recently subjected to intensive policy and economic drivers. Against this setting, the formalization of social forestry or community-based forestry has become an increasing feature of forest management in the region. As efforts to combat climate change get underway, social forestry is an important component in the portfolio of forest management practices for channeling incentive mechanisms such as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plus enhancing forest carbon stocks).
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 as a social forestry practice 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 swidden communities can participate meaningfully in and benefit from REDD+.
Social forestry as a form of small-scale forestry has been promoted in South East Asia for decades and could be considered as a new mode of forest management. The areas allocated for or identified as relevant to social (or community) forestry are often in remote areas, in frontier areas near national borders.