IUFRO Regional Congress for Asia and Oceania 2016

Forests for Sustainable Development: The Role of Research
24-27 October, Beijing, China

CIFOR-ASFCC was organizing a panel discussion session at 2016 IUFRO Regional Congress for Asia and Oceania on Policies, governance and economics at the intersection between REDD+ and swidden systems in Southeast Asia. The session discusses the policies (and politics), governance, socio-economics and land use practices in swidden landscapes of Southeast Asia, and assess if, and how, REDD+ can have a role to incentivize forest management and equitable development in these landscapes.

Organizers : Grace Wong & Maria Brockhaus (Center for International Forestry Research)
Moderator : Moira Moeliono

Presentations :

  • The politics of swidden: A case study from Nghe An and Son La in Vietnam by Maria Brockhaus (CIFOR)

    Shifting cultivation, or swidden has long been seen as a major driver of deforestation and degradation. Using two case studies from Vietnam, this paper examines discourses on swidden at multiple levels. Our findings show a disparity between what is perceived as a driver of deforestation in a particular locality, and the proposed measures to reduce deforestation, often focusses only on swidden. Swidden is treated as a political issue, interpreted differently according to different policy preferences and policy translations at different government levels. As a result, swidden is has become ‘invisible’ as government authorities do not collect and report data on the issue. Since swidden is not recognized ‘politically’, swiddeners are often ‘forgotten’ in REDD+ and PES design and implementation. Omission of these actors from forest conservation and management programs could lead to further social marginalization and potentially spillover into deforestation and forest degradation. Our findings suggest that REDD + policies should take into account potentially diverging political interests on controversial land uses such as swidden and consider scientific evidence of ecosystem service provision, such as (but not limited to) carbon sequestration and storage, when assessing the eligible land uses for REDD+.

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  • Mapping a full cycle of swidden cultivation in a Khmu village and its implications for land use stabilization in Laos by Shinya Takeda (Kyoto University)

    In this study, we monitored swidden cultivation and forest fallow management in a Khmu village in Laos. Monitoring was conducted between 2005 and 2015 and covered a full swidden cycle. Through GPS mapping, interviews with swidden farmers, and on-site observation, we examined the present state of swidden cultivation in the village. Swidden farming is found throughout the mountains of Laos; however, there is a current preference for the use of other land-use systems. The recent trends toward a market economy have forced the people and forests in the mountains of Laos to undergo various changes as they integrate into the world market. They have been impacted by the enclosure movement called the Land and Forest Allocation Program, the expansion of the cultivation of cash crops such as maize and Para rubber trees, and re-afforestation aimed at industrial wood resources. Here, we discuss the changes taking place in the relationship between the local people and their swidden cultivation system. We also examine the possibility of stabilizing swidden cultivation in the study areas to ensure a future in which the swidden farmers are able to live with a sense of security.

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  • Risk coping strategies of swidden livelihoods in Laos and the potential role of PES or REDD+ incentives by Grace Wong (CIFOR)

    This paper examines the risk coping strategies of swidden farmers in Phonxai district of northern Laos, where management of forest and agriculture mosaics is a traditional land use strategy that is well attuned to managing risks. The remaining forests in Lao PDR are largely found in these swidden landscapes where swidden farmers are frequently disadvantaged minority peoples with limited land rights. Misconceptions about swidden are common in Laos – swidden is considered as the major driver of deforestation and forest degradation, and its potential for delivery of ecosystem services over the longer term is largely ignored. As such, policies are in place to restrict swidden, affecting livelihood and landscape sustainability.
    We used mixed methods to understand local livelihoods and risk coping strategies. The farmers rely heavily on kinship support and frequently adapt their swidden fields and fallows in response to market signals. We also used field-based games to assess how swidden farmers will respond to forest incentives such as PES or REDD+. The games structure delivery of incentives in the form of individual actions, communal performance and as a form of insurance – mimicking livelihood and coping strategies. The group-oriented incentives provide highest impact in reducing forest use. Results suggest that well-designed incentives can complement forest management within swidden landscapes.

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  • A preliminary assessment of the effect of out-migration on the swidden landscape: A case study in Southern Chin State, Myanmar by Nyein Chan (University of Forestry, Yezin, Myanmar)

    Swidden agriculture, especially in the Southeast Asian region, is rapidly being transformed and is undergoing a transition into other types of land use. One of the significant factors involved in the demise of swidden agriculture is out-migration. This study was conducted in Southern Chin State, Myanmar, to assess the effects of out-migration on the swidden landscape in terms of household income of swiddeners and the biomass of swidden fallow forests. Within the past decade (2003-2013), the number of swidden-cultivating households has decreased by 50% in the studied village, because 20% of the total population has out-migrated for employment opportunities. Consequently, the area of swidden agriculture has decreased. Biomass accumulation in the fallow forests increased from 4.24 Mgha-1 in 1-year-old fallows to 38.65 Mgha-1 in 9-year-old fallows. As the area of fallow forests got increased, total biomass accumulation increased accordingly. Also, despite there being various income-generating sources in the village, remittances from out-migrated family members contribute large amounts to total household incomes. As a preliminary assessment, the out-migration of swiddeners has resulted in the transformation of the swidden landscape from large contributions of remittances to total household incomes and increases in the biomass of swidden fallow forests. This study will contribute to the formulation of a REDD+ program in swidden areas at the local level.

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  • Prospects for REDD+ in swidden landscapes by Ole Mertz (University of Copenhagen)

    The mosaic swidden landscapes with forests, fallows, and fields of northern Laos are undergoing rapid land use change as intensified agriculture and plantations are expanding. This may occur at the expense of older forests, but it is mostly secondary regrowth that is removed and not allowed to grow back to forest. This happens as a response to: 1) land allocation policies that restrict swidden systems to very short fallow cycles; 2) economic policies promoting investment in cash crops and land development; and 3) the uneven enforcement of land policies. We show how contradicting land and economic policies in Laos cause deforestation and forest degradation, with local people as both potential winners and losers. Based on interviews with villages and district, provincial and national level government staff, we argue that successful REDD+ will be difficult to achieve in the current policy environment. Moreover, as local people seize every opportunity to increase their well-being, REDD+ without substantial local payments will not be competitive with other land use activities. A strong focus on the multiple benefits of non-carbon ecosystem services will have to be developed in conjunction with REDD+ to spare the mosaic swidden landscapes that provide these services.

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