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Hevea plantation in Cambodia
On 11 June, Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and the Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement (CIRAD) signed an agreement to promote the sustainable management of agricultural and forest plantations in four member countries of the Association of the South-East Asia Nations (ASEAN). This project is receiving 1.2 million euros in funding from the Fund for Expertise and Exchanges of Experience (FEXTE).

Located in the intertropical zone, the ASEAN zone is home to the world's third largest tropical forest, after the Amazon and the Congo Basin. However, the development of large agricultural or forestry plantations (for rubber, palm oil, cellulose or wood) has led to significant deforestation and sudden losses of biodiversity for decades. Technical and social control through management training for those involved in the development of these sectors is therefore an urgent priority.

In response to this situation, CIRAD seeks to provide 5 years' support for capacity building in four ASEAN countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam). The aim is to consolidate existing training systems in order to train new generations of actors, by offering them new solutions that promote the productivity and sustainability of plantations. 

After a first phase consisting in a 9-months feasibility study, the project will strengthen existing mechanisms for the initial training of Master's students and the continuing education of managers already in business (in large plantations, cooperatives of small farmers and in banks financing agriculture). The training content will focus on agro-ecology, environmental and social management, and the consideration of climate change and biodiversity. In addition to actions aimed at students, the project will organise regional workshops to raise awareness and share experiences and good practices. 

"The sustainable management of agricultural and forest plantations is not only an issue of biodiversity conservation, but also a social and economic issue in Southeast Asia. These are concrete topics that CIRAD and its partners in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand are very familiar with," explains Yazid Bensaïd, AFD Regional Director for Southeast Asia. "We trust them to work together to define and implement training actions for the new generation of plantation managers, farmers and even agricultural bankers!  This project is fully in line with France's National Strategy to Combat Imported Deforestation (SNDI) to which AFD contributes".

For Michel Eddi, CIRAD's CEO: "The aim is to prepare the agro-ecological transition needed by the major tropical plantation chains, given their impact on biodiversity: the resilience of these cropping systems to climate change and their adaptation to the new social and economic contexts in developing countries is at stake, as is their ability to intervene on developed country markets with a guarantee of the sustainability of their production that consumers in northern countries are demanding. The young professionals in charge of these sectors must receive the training that will enable them to install and qualify good practices, to improve certification systems, and to manage innovatively the cohabitation between natural and cultivated areas. It will also be up to them to set up independent observatories to qualify and evaluate the progress made by all the players in the service of this collective ambition. No sustainable development is possible without massive investment in human capital to prepare for the future".

 "This regional project, which should contribute to the preservation of biodiversity through the fight against deforestation and the dissemination of agro-ecological practices, is a very concrete example of the areas in which France wishes to work with ASEAN!", says Olivier Chambard, French Ambassador for Indonesia, Timor Leste and ASEAN.