The East and Central Asian region has considerable global importance. Often dubbed the Water Towers of Asia, they are the source of ten major rivers, sustaining approximately 200 million people and impacting the lives of 1.5 billion downstream dwellers. They host parts of the four Global Biodiversity Hotspots (Himalayas, Indo-Burma, the mountains of south-west China, and the mountains of central Asia). Further complicating the matter is the great topographical and cultural diversity, which expresses itself in multiple languages, land-uses and livelihoods, in turn leading to profound social conflicts.
Rapid population growth, migration, urbanization, ecosystem degradation and water-food-energy insecurities challenge local livelihoods and landscapes. Water resources shrink, extreme events such as floods and droughts occur with increasing frequency, and degraded forests, wetlands, rangelands and agricultural fields threaten biodiversity and livelihoods. Future climate change is projected to ramp up all of these pressures, with some groups – women and the rural poor – bearing a disproportionate share of this burden as they are often excluded from knowledge-sharing and decision making.
In the past decades, the region has increasingly recognised the importance of sustainable development. Many states have launched large-scale programmes for ecological restoration and poverty alleviation. There is a pressing need for agroforestry science to define its research objectives, explore modern methodology, establish the science-policy interface, and develop interdisciplinary education programmes to train students and practitioners of agroforestry. Robust partnerships are emerging between the ever increasing number of agroforestry stakeholders, to support knowledge production, innovation and practices in agroforestry systems.
Some of our research has focused on the conflict between rural livelihoods and forest conservation. For example, in two government programmes: the Sloping Land Conversion Programme or ‘Grain for Green Programme’, and the Natural Forest Protection Programme. For the latter, we participated in a series of field studies on China’s timber trade with the Asia-Pacific region, focusing on the environmental and livelihood aspects of Yunnan’s trade with Myanmar.
Since 2008, we have also conducted a number of bioenergy studies, considering, for example, the opportunities and challenges related to Jatropha curcas as a biodiesel feedstock in southwest China.
Policy research alone is, in most cases, not an effective means of promoting policy change in China. In a country where the opportunity costs of waiting, good planning, and evaluation are high, often the most persuasive argument for a change in policy is to offer practical alternatives. A significant portion of the China team’s work has therefore consisted of action-oriented, field-based, technical support to build the capacity of communities and government agencies in Yunnan. Our work on edible wild mushroom management exemplifies this commitment.
The Making the Mekong Connected project, supported by BMZ and GIZ, has promoted ‘green rubber’ as an alternative to monoculture not only in China but also in other riparian countries. More recently, the Building Effective Water Governance project, supported by the International Development Research Centre, is creating a regional platform for highland-lowland links for good environmental governance in the Himalayan region.
Additional projects can be found on our projects page.