Effective policy advocacy in the Mekong: Relationships and information flows needed across national boundaries

Agus Nugroho By Agus Nugroho - May 19, 2014

Effective policy advocacy across different levels is crucial in the path to sustainable development, according to researchers and practitioners of the Sustainable Mekong Research Network (SUMERNET). 

Policy makers, practitioners and analysts including local government agencies and SUMERNET researchers shared their perspectives on research and policy on sustainable agriculture and forestry in the Mekong during the “SUMERNET Policy Forum” and Mekong Environmental Symposium (MES) 2013” in Vietnam from 4-7 March 2013.

A key message that came across from the policy forum moderated by Dr. Chayanis Krittasudthacheewa, SEI-Asia Deputy Director and SUMERNET Programme Manager, was that good and effective policy advocacy, especially cutting across local to national levels, requires transboundary relationships and information flows. 

Dr. Yanyong Inmuong, Professor in Environment and Health in Khon Kaen University, Thailand, said that the Chi River Basin Organization (Chi-RBO) in northeastern Thailand initiated activities through pilot sites to support local communities to move towards ‘integrated farming practices’, and promoted knowledge and experience sharing among local farming communities. Recently, Laotian farmers from across the border, along with high-level official groups, also visited these pilot sites for learning and exchanging their farming knowledge.

Dr. Inmuong is involved in the Mekong Contract Farming for the Rural Poor of SUMERNET, and also SEI’s project on Exploring Northeastern Thailand Sustainable Agriculture Development Futures. He said that: “Policy advocacy is not only for the government but also for the private sector”. The Chi-RBO has formulated ‘ecosystems conservation’ issues that included ‘sustainable agriculture and forestry conservation’ as the key pillars of RBO policies.  

Mr. Win Htut Aung, Myanmar, is currently leading Myanmar’s team from Asian Development and Research Institute (ADRI) in the collaborative research on “Making Economic Integration Work for the Rural Poor through Contract Farming Practices”. 

Mr Aung said: The local government in Myanmar wants to promote agriculture and forestry for local livelihoods but the national government wants to promote larger-scale agriculture to achieve food security in the next 10 years. So the local government has its own agenda but national government wants plantations. Myanmar has no land use policy yet and there have been disputes between farmers and fisherfolk, farmers and industrialists.

He suggested that one weakness was that the Myanmar government does not have proper information to set policies, so it’s important for researchers to take a proactive approach to reach both policy makers and rural people.

Dr. Thun Vathana, manager of RADA, an organization focusing on rice seed production through contract farming, says that opportunities to work on sustainable agriculture come from having expertise and working well with farmers. RADA can both sell its products to the government, and raise awareness of farmers about seeds and planting.

There are challenges and problems as well to improve productivity. Dr. Vathana stated, “We produce what the market does not need. We have to produce rice that buyers need, match what the market wants. The policy makers need to understand the market.

Mr. Vo Dinh Tho, Director, Vietnam Fund for Forest Development and Protection, Lam Dong Province, Vietnam, has been instrumental in providing cooperation and collaboration with SUMERNET research partners for the research project on, “Evaluation of Payment for Environmental Services in Lam Dong, Vietnam”.

He describes the working of the fund as being allocated to the people for protection of the forest. The government decides the payment rate based on the measurement of the quality of the forest. But some difficulties arise: the payment calculation is based on quality, with money for protection being higher than for production forest; in practice, however, households who protect forest get the same payment as those who engage in production forest. So policy-makers need to come up with better incentives to households to ensure they increase the quality of the protected forest.

Getting the voices from the grassroots to policymakers

Mr. Vathana said that the voice of the people should be heard. “We produce lots of research but it is hard to convince policy makers. The voice of researchers is not strong enough. The people in the grassroots need to inform national-level policymakers and small-scale and local government organizations closer to the grassroots level need to be involved”.

Further reflections from SUMERNET partners on policy engagement in practice, within the scope of their respective projects can be seen in the following video:

 The SUMERNET Policy Forum and the participation of SUMERNET partners in the Mekong Environmental Symposium (MES) 2013 were made possible with the support of Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and Climate Development and Knowledge Network (CDKN)

SEI welcomes inquiries from the external parties and media on SUMERNET work and topics being discussed and presented in the Policy Forum and MES 2013. For inquiries, please contact Agus Nugroho ( agus.nugroho@sei-international.org) or Rajesh Daniel (email: noelrajesh@gmail.com).

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