Inle Lake, Shan State, Myanmar. Land rights and secure tenure top the list of ‘must haves’ if smallholders and local farmers are to successfully integrate to the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) once it is fully implemented this year. Participants and delegates argue that rights and secure tenure will lessen the effects of regional economic integration to small farmers and forest-based enterprises. “Benefit sharing is often tied to tenure arrangements, the different bundles of rights and level of tenure security in any country or site will determine how much benefits the community can get from the forests,” Dr. Grace Wong, Senior Scientist at CIFOR.
Dr. Wong further pointed out the complexities when land rights do not include the rights to trees or other resources, nor the rights to the carbon. However, Ms. Joy Reyes-Eugenio, Project Officer at the Biodiversity Partnerships Project (BPP) - Biodiversity Management Bureau, DENR-Philippines added some caution saying, “Local communities must balance the drive to generate higher forest resource-based income with the actual state of the natural resources to prevent an ecosystem’s collapse.”
After three days of deliberations and discussions, there is a consensus that although land rights and secure tenure are of paramount importance, they have to be supported with material, financial, technical and market assistance in order to fully realize their benefits.
With AEC just around the corner, delegates were also concerned of transboundary issues such as illegal trading of goods and services which can further make business difficult for small farmers and forest-based enterprises.
As of press time, the recommendations from conference delegates which focused on three main themes: clear and flexible land rights and secure tenure including indigenous people's rights, holistic provision of support services, and protection of smallholders and producers through the establishment of a grievance mechanism in the region, are still being finalized by ASFN. The final list of recommendations will be released in a few days and will be formally endorsed to the ASEAN Senior Officials on Forestry (ASOF).
The 6th ASFN conference with the theme ASEAN Economic Community and Its Interrelationships with Community Livelihoods and Environment Conservation was hosted by the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry (MOECAF) of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar together with the ASFN Secretariat and ASEAN Swiss Partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change (ASFCC), supporting partners and civil society organizations (CSOs).