Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Programme

2017 Annual Report

October 22, 2018

The atmosphere of NTFP-EP’s work gives us both a sense of hope and fear. Asia holds five (5) of the world’s top 20 economies: China, Japan, South Korea, India and Indonesia, yet also the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.  Southeast Asia, through ASEAN, boasts of a strong regional economy with the largest cash holdings for the first time in decades, gaining financial strength, bullish in intra-region investments, and also attractive to investors from outside the region, particularly the European Union.  The dominance of China in trade and state governance in and out of Asia also cannot be ignored.  While the regional economy is booming, the state of Asia’s tropical forests and natural resources is dismal.  Indonesia for example, with “its thriving paper and palm oil industries, is losing more forest than any other country”, according to research made public in 2017 by the University of Maryland and the World Resources Institute.  Intra-ASEAN investments are highest in agriculture and mining–yet on the other hand, these sectors are drivers of threats and negative impacts on women and children, and on rural and indigenous communities.  Forest loss due to forest conversion for agriculture and mining, and their related environmental harms, directly affects the subsistence of forest-based and rural communities and diminishes their livelihood options.  Important NTFPs–for food, medicines, cash income and cultural practices rapidly decline; likewise the transfer of know-how on traditional livelihood such as harvesting of forest products and weaving to the youth, compete with other jobs–off farm or outside of villages.

European populism has given rise to migration conflicts and debates around nationalism and human rights.  Likewise in Asia, state leadership moving away from democratic governance are seen in India, the Philippines and Cambodia.  For example, the Philippines recorded the highest number of killed environmental defenders in Asia with 48 deaths in 2017, according to Global Witness. Within less than a year of his presidency, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte’s administration has stamped extrajudicial killings in the name of the war against drugs, and silencing of opposition as the norm.  In Cambodia, the opposition party, media and a number of NGOs have been forced to close down.  In this situation, advocacy for environmental justice and human rights increases in risk and resource requirements.  While so, civil society action and strengthening of movements become even more critical and urgent.

Sources of hope come from grassroots work that continue to persist, and innovations in community-based actions such as: native tree species planting in India and the Philippines, wild foods documentation, culturally based practice in forest protection, and indigenous elder and youth exchanges about traditional ecological knowledge. Young people’s involvement in environmental protection activities in Borneo and Palawan, Philippines are promising.  The youth’s savviness with the use of social media could be harnessed more in public campaigns on forest and environmental protection, and the value of promoting indigenous knowledge.  Organizing of grassroots women is also active, not only in strengthening entrepreneurship, but also advocating for food and environmental justice.

Both conventional and non-conventional forms of media are being used and often misused for political reasons. Even with the regional trend of attacking freedom of expression, social media use is still gaining wider reach. This however does not automatically translate to good journalistic practices, and in fact results in the propagation of “fake news” from politically-charged groups.  With these, NTFP-EP needs to evaluate and assess the best way to make media an ally for its advocacy for people and forests.

There are promising strategic platforms to advocate for women, and local and indigenous community voices on forests, culture and livelihood.  The recent United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP) 23 in Bonn, Germany had two critical outcomes  promoting human rights; 1) The adoption of a two-year gender action plan and 2) the establishment of a Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform.  The CBD COP 13 also advanced the recognition and support for local and indigenous peoples’ community conserved territories and areas (ICCAs), by its Resolution to implement the development and dissemination of “best practice guidance on identification, recognition, and respect for ICCAs in protected area overlap situations”.  CBD COP13 also specifically called on the IUCN, the ICCA Consortium and other interested parties to develop voluntary guidance and best practices on identifying and recognizing territories and areas conserved by indigenous peoples and local communities, including in situations of overlap with protected areas, and their potential contribution to the achievement of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.  NTFP-EP is an active member of the ICCA consortium and coordinates the Southeast Asia ICCA regional learning network.

Finally, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) plan of action on social forestry and micro-small, medium enterprise development are highly complementary and presents openings for capacity development of community forest enterprises and strategic market linkages.