Tag Archives: Thailand

Restoring degraded tropical landscapes with trees

By: Aida Bargues Tobella, Postdoctor at the Department of Forest Ecology and Management; Tropical Forestry and Land Use Management Unit 

Land degradation is a major problem in the tropics. Such degradation entails a decline in the capacity of the land to produce and provide ecosystem goods and services, with negative impacts for human livelihoods, food security and the environment at large. 

Land degradation is a widespread phenomenon across the tropics. The Nyando River Basin (Western Kenya) is a regional erosion hotspot and one of the main sources of sediment and phosphorous into Lake Victoria. Photo: Aida Bargues Tobella

The establishment of trees on degraded lands is considered a fundamental tool in landscape restoration. Establishing trees is about more than just planting trees, and can include assisted natural regeneration (ANR) of forests, farmer-managed natural regeneration or direct seeding among other techniques. Similarly, the concept of landscape restoration is not limited to re-establishing lost forests and should be seen on a broader perspective, taking into consideration, for instance, the incorporation of trees into farming systems (agroforestry).

Faidherbia albida is a popular agroforestry tree which generates numerous provisioning and regulating ecosystem services. Photo: Aida Bargues Tobella

The potential benefits from tree-based restoration include enhanced water quality, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, soil fertility, and food and nutrition security. But, how much do we know about tree-based restoration? What are the trade-offs and synergies among ecosystem services from trees? What management practices and tree traits contribute most to promote specific ecosystem services? As we enter the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, answering such questions is pressing. 

Sesbania sesban improved fallows have a great potential to restore soil fertility and increase crop yields. Photo: Aida Bargues Tobella

In the research group on Tropical Forestry and Land Use Management at the Department of Forest Ecology and Management in SLU, we work towards advancing our understanding of tree-based restoration of degraded landscapes in the tropics. Currently, we have projects in six countries across the global tropics: Malaysia, Thailand, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Tanzania and Mozambique.

We currently have on-going research projects in six different countries across the global tropics

Rainforest degradation and restoration

The group has been doing research on rainforest degradation and restoration in Borneo for over 35 years. The INIKEA Sow-a-Seed rainforest restoration project in the Malaysian state of Sabah is a collaboration between the Sabah Foundation, SLU and the Swedish furniture company IKEA andit is unique in that it is one of the largest and most successful tropical rainforest restoration projects in the world. Since the startof the project in 1998, we have planted more than three millionseedlings, consisting of ca. 80 different indigenous tree species, and roughly14,000 ha of forest have been restored with assisted natural regeneration and enrichment plantings. 

In connection with the project, we have established a number of scientific experiments: 

  • In the SUAS experiment, established already in 1992, we aim to develop silvicultural methods that make management of natural forests environmentally and economically sustainable.
  •  In our three different species/genetic common gardens we seek to advance the present lack of knowledge on the economic and environmental values of indigenous species. Here we also study the importance of genetic variation in traits within and among species.
  •  In the Rainforest Restoration Experiment,we have established 84 plots in various forest types to evaluate where each of our four different approaches of restoration is most appropriate; 1) Passive protection; 2) ANR; 3) ANR with line planting and 4) ANR with gap-cluster planting.
  • In our permanent sampling plots inside the restoration area and surrounding landscape of large-scale oil palm and industrial tree plantations as well as undisturbed protected forests, we are evaluating ecosystem values, such as economic value, carbon sequestration, water quality and biodiversity among these land-use systems. 

These long-term forest management experiments in northern Borneo provide many opportunities for research. In the project Balancing production and ecosystem services from degraded tropical rainforests to aid the transition to a more sustainable bio-based economy, we are using data from these experiments to quantifybiomass production and a range of ecosystem services across multiple spatial and temporal scales. Using a multi-disciplinary approach, including aspects of economics, social science, silviculture, plant ecophysiology, ecology, human health,and biogeochemistry, we aim to identify sustainable management practices that can maximize the production of raw materials while at the same time minimizing adverseenvironmental impacts. Using this holistic approach, the overall objective is to obtain and communicate novel information to scientists, private, and government stakeholders about trade-offs between biomass production and ecosystem services to aid the transition to a sustainable bio-based economy.

Rainforest vulnerability to climatic water stress

The frequency and intensity of drought events are predicted to increase in tropical monsoon forests of Southeast Asia, ecosystems that are known to be biodiversity hotspots and a persistent carbon sink in the global carbon cycle. Such increases could drive rapid and large-scale shifts in forest structure and species composition as well as cause dramatic decreases in the amount of carbon stored by these tropical forests. We have recently started a research project thatbrings together scientists from Thailand, France,and Sweden, to assess the vulnerability of mature and secondary forests to climatic water stress. Such information is crucial to more accurately predicted how future climate change wouldaffect the cycling of carbon and water in tropical forested ecosystems. 

Trees and water in African tropical drylands

Another leading research topic of the group is how we can use trees to improve soil and water resources in African tropical drylands. Our previous research in the seasonally dry tropics indicates that an intermediate tree cover can maximize groundwater recharge, which is contrary to the predominant scientific view that more trees always lead to less water. But, under what specific conditions can more trees improve groundwater recharge? Together with scientists from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and Wageningen University, we are evaluating the extent of the optimum tree cover theoryacross African tropical drylands. To do this, we are primarily using data from the network of Land Degradation Surveillance Framework (LDSF) sites, which is hosted at ICRAF. To date, the LDSF has been employed in over 200 sites across the global tropics and therefore constitutes a unique dataset to test this theory. The overall aim of the project is to provide evidence to inform better land-use policies in African tropical drylands and identify management options that can increase groundwater resources. 

LDSF field campaing in Embu county, Kenya. Photo: Aida Bargues Tobella
LDSF field campaing in Makueni county, Kenya. Photo: Aida Bargues Tobella

Courses

Are you interested in these questios and want to learn more about tropical forestry and land-use management? At the moment we offer two courses within this field:

This year’s MSc course on Sustainable Forestry and Land-se Management in the tropics included a one- week field trip to Mozambique. Photo: Rosa Goodman
Participants of the course “Forest Management Forest Management, Land Use Change and Ecosystem Services in Degraded Tropical Landscapes” had the opportunity to visit the INIKEA Sow-a-Seed restoration project in northern Borneo. Photo: Niles Hasselquist

Who we are

Ulrik Ilstedt, associate professor; ulrik.ilstedt@slu.se
Gert Nyberg, associate professor; gert.nyberg@slu.se
Niles Hasselquist, associate professor; niles.hasselquist@slu.se
Rosa Goodman,associate senior lecturer; rosa.goodman@slu.se
Aida Bargues Tobella, postdoc;  aida.bargues.tobella@slu.se
Daniel Lussetti, postdoc; daniel.lusetti@slu.se

Who pays the price for cheap seafood?

By: Dr. Alin Kadfak, Gothenburg University

Thanks to globalisation we can enjoy a great variety of seafood from all over the world at a fairly affordable price. But with less fish in the sea to catch, someone has to pay for the misdeeds of unsustainable fishing.

As much as one fifth of fish caught worldwide is Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated. IUU fishing is a great threat to the already exploited marine ecosystem and vulnerable people who depend on fishing for their livelihoods and food security. Furthermore, illegal or pirate fishing is not just about the fish, these practices also often involve changing the vessels’ name or identity to avoid fees, using the flag from states that have less monitoring, bribing authorities to fish in a “no-take” zone and stealing fish from small-scale fishers in the near-shore zone.

The European Union is becoming a major actor in the fight against IUU by using its economic power to pressure other countries to improve the fishing standards, traceability and transparency. However, the fact that many fishing boats with illegal status often recruit unregistered or illegal workers has appeared on the sustainable fish agenda only recently.

Modern slavery exists!

Thailand moved from self-sufficient food production via small-scale fishing in the 1960s, and became the world’s third largest seafood exporter by value. The swiftly growing fishing industry has been constantly in need of labour, and with high physical demand, low pay and long periods out at sea, these jobs are less attractive to Thai. So, migrant fish workers have become a solution for the industry.

The 6.5 billion USD Thai fishing industry came under the spotlight in 2014 when a series of stories by the Guardian exposed how fish workers on Thai fishing boats have been trafficked, abused and had to work in bad working conditions with irregular or no pay at all.

Why are migrant fishworkers being exploited?

In the last few decades the spread of effective fishing technologies and demand for fish has led to an overexploitation of fish stocks globally. So much that there isn’t enough fish near shores and we have to build ever bigger boats to fish out further in the ocean and for longer periods of time. These conditions combined with the race to optimize the costs and benefits combined with creates a possibility of exploiting the fishworkers on board.

Migrant fishworkers come to Thailand from the neighbouring countries, like Myanmar and Cambodia. First, they illegally get into Thailand with the help of informal brokers who provide loans as a means for travelling to Thai ports. Then migrants have to work on fishing boats to pay-off their loan with high interest. Once they are on board, they have little protection from abusive or unjust practices of boat owners due to their illegal status, for the same reasons many of the migrant workers can’t leave the boats, falling into poverty traps.

Those who come to Thailand legally only have two years working permit per entry. Even though, there are more than 300,000 registered migrant workers working in seafood industry, Thai law does not allow migrant workers to form union. Hence, they have less negotiating power with their employers. In many cases, boat owners keep their documents, like passports and work permit books to eliminate the possibility for workers to change jobs.

It gets worse before it gets better

Thailand’s fishing industry has been infamous for its poor treatment of migrant workers. But numerous reports of human rights abuse didn’t go unheard and a new approach initiated by the EU in collaboration with the Government of Thailand is an attempt to curb this behaviour. In 2015 the EU issued a yellow card warning indicating possible economic sanctions unless IUU fishing practices are eliminated. This led to several responses by Thai government including radical amendment of fisheries law in 2015.

Currently, the Government of Thailand is closely working with the EU delegation team to improve the situation through regular meetings and joint fieldwork in various ports. And for the first time, Thai government has not only involved the Fisheries Department, but also Ministry of labour, Navy and Ministry of Foreign Affair to look into the issue.

The yellow card warning with economic implications from the EU was a powerful incentive to change. This warning is part of a mechanism to fight against IUU fishing practices developed by the EU over the past decade. Apart from the traceability of where fish is caught, the European Union has included labour rights to bilateral discussions with the Thai government.

Along with the government reforms, a wide range of activities, initiatives and partnerships among environmental organisations and human rights actors was initiated. For instance, the Thai Civil Society’s Coalition for Sustainable and Ethical Seafood (the Thai CSO Coalition) combines the interests of the Association of Thai Fisherfolk Federations with local migrant rights NGOs.

Local and international NGOs started to demand transparency and monitoring of labour rights from Thai seafood companies as well as promote migrant labour welfare. Apart from this initiative, a group of seafood processors, feed producers, buyers, retailers joined hands and formed ‘Seafood Task Force’ to focus on labour and illegal fishing in seafood supply in Thailand.

On 8 January 2019, EU has lifted the yellow card for Thailand. With less international pressure, local and international NGOs continue to ask Thai government to carry on strict implementations to eradicate trafficking practices on Thai fishing boats.

With Thailand being a test case, it remains to be seen whether labour rights will become a formal part of EU’s global approach to sustainable fishing in the future.

What can consumers do?

Not all migrant fish workers are trafficked in Thailand but the framing of the industry as ‘modern slavery’ operation has clearly gained significant attention from governments and consumers alike.

About 70% of fish consumed within EU are fish outside European waters. Sustainable labels tool exists to help consumers know whether the fish they are about to buy comes from a sustainable source. However, a good ethical practice certificate for seafood is yet to be developed.

Consumers’ voices against malpractices in the international seafood industry may at the very least continue to put pressure on governments, NGOs, and inter-governmental forums to carry on with a long-term engagement to cooperate and monitor IUU fishing in seafood exporting countries. One successful example is the “Skippa scampi” campaign by the Swedish NGO Naturskyddsföreningen.

What’s next?

The Thai case provides a blueprint to rethink the way our globalising seafood supply chain operate. Fish and seafood is maybe an international commodity, labour of people is not, as expressed in the preamble of the International Labour Organisation’s founding documents. According to this principle people should not be treated as means of production and, therefore, fish workers, migrant or not deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Therefore, there is an urgent need to explore further how all the actors involved in the fish industry can cooperate to ensure safe and fair working conditions for the people brining the fish to our tables.

Dr. Alin Kadfak (Gothenburg University), Assoc. Prof. Sebastian Link, (Gothenburg University) and Prof. Than Pale (University of Yangon) will start a new project titled ‘Sustaining fish and fishworkers? Human rights for migrant Burmese fishworkers in the EU-initiated sustainable fisheries reform in Thailand’ in March 2019. This project is funded by Vetenskapsrådet. The team will do fieldwork in Thailand and Myanmar, and conduct interviews in Brussel to try to understand how EU’s fishing policy, as a global governance mechanism, addresses both sustainable fisheries and human rights issues in the case of Thailand.

This blog post was originally published at SIANI.