The theme of this year’s conference, held at Chiang Mai University in Thailand, was “Towards an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC): Prospects, Challenges and Paradoxes in Development, Governance and Human Security”.
The AEC is one of three pillars of the ASEAN Roadmap to 2015, the enactment of which will bring sweeping changes for Southeast Asia, with free movement of labour and capital across borders, and greater alignment of countries’ social, economic and defense policy.
SEI Asia Centre director Annette Huber-Lee hosted two panels, one of which drew on recent work by the Sustainable Mekong Research Network (SUMERNET): “Rice and fish in the Fast Lane: will Smallholders, their livelihoods and culture be left behind?”
Speakers including Dr. Louis Lebel, of the Unit for Social and Environmental Research at Chiang Mai University; Hap Navy, deputy director of IFReDI, Phnom Penh; and Win Htut Aung, of Myanmar’s Asia Development Research Institute.
A preview of SUMERNET findings
Aung presented a paper with preliminary findings from the SUMERNET project Making economic integration work for the rural poor through contract farming practices, which covers Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Myanmar and aims to evaluate the state of contract farming, positive and negative impacts on rural households, and opportunities for increasing benefits to livelihoods.
Although contract farming is well established and has been studied in other ASEAN countries, the research presented by Aung is the first to look at the practice in Myanmar in particular, where it is relatively new.
Navy, meanwhile, spoke about the SUMERNET project Transboundary fish trade in the Lower Mekong Basin: Impacts on fisheries and rural employment in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Thailand, focusing on Cambodia in particular. She presented preliminary findings on the impacts of environmental and climate change as well as a recent fisheries reform.
The panel was well received by a large audience of undergraduate and graduate students as well as working academics. Over 70% of those who responded to the panel questionnaire reported leaving the panel with a greater understanding of the issue(s), and in particular contract farming. The preliminary findings from Myanmar on contract farming even informed, and were integrated into, one of the panel presentations from researchers on the following day of the conference.
A broad range of questions
SEI’s second panel was a policy roundtable, jointly organised with Chulongkorn University, on “Sharing Regional Terrestrial, Water, and Marine Natural Resources – Beyond Territorial Sovereignty”, and also moderated by Dr. Huber-Lee.
The discussion covered a wide range of topics, from theoretical issues such as the most useful units of analysis in transboundary common pool resources, to very tangible questions, such as “Who owns the Mekong giant catfish?” Participants included Dr. Yos Santasombat of Chiang Mai University, Dr. Philip Hirsch of the Australia Mekong Research Centre, Dr. Carl Middleton of Chulalongkorn University, Thailand, and Dr. Albert Salamanca, of SEI Asia.
“This conference provided SEI and its partners an opportunity to express concerns about the rapid profit-driven transformations currently taking place in Southeast Asia, and find avenues and partners that could help the region plan for development that is pro-poor and sustainable,” said Dr. Huber-Lee.
The SUMERNET research teams are now working to complete their research projects, which will be published as a book next year.