ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) integration may increase pressures on the region’s forests and smallholder farmers as agricultural production becomes more regionalized.
The AEC proposes countering possible negative impacts by focusing on equity and sustainability in the food, agricultural and forestry sectors, while simultaneously encouraging these sectors to intensify and become more competitive – parallel goals that may prove to be contradictory.
In marginal areas such as northern Laos, the growth of regional markets has accelerated the expansion of land-intensive production, providing new economic opportunities for smallholder farmers, altering landscapes and tightening competitive pressures.
Stronger coordination between agricultural, livestock and forestry sectors is needed to address the trade-offs that underlie coexisting objectives, while social forestry initiatives may better respond to local needs and pressures on forests, but remain largely omitted from AEC policy.
Targeted research is needed across diverse ASEAN contexts to support informed policy making for agricultural development, sustainable forestry and smallholder livelihoods.