Conservation Agriculture Network in Southeast Asia

Last update: 19 October 2018

This regional network, CANSEA, on conservation agriculture was founded in September 2009 and involves CIRAD and eight institutional partners fom five Southeast Asian countries: Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, plus China (Yunnan province) and Australia. Several regional conservation agriculture projects have been constructed and presented to donors. They promote an agroecological approach combining rural development with environmental preservation.


Even the socio-ecological contexts differ widely from a country to the other one or from province to province, the South-East Asia regions, particularly the forest areas, deal with a general trend of integration in the market economy, inducing complex processes of agricultural expansion and intensification. The diversity of the agricultural trajectories in Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia among others is revealing, on a regional scale, of an agrarian transition the consequences of which are considerable on the environment: drastic changes of the landscapes, forest regression, soil and biodiversity degradation, as well as on the household’s economy and on the evolution of relationships between social groups (rural / urban, different ethnic groups, etc.). Indeed, this region of the world passed in a few years from a " forest - subsistence farming " system to a situation dominated by a more and more intensive agriculture, with a decreasing dependency of the poorest rural populations on agricultural sources of income (development of industries). The increase of commodity prices and the considerable outlets offered by the tremendous economic growth of the Chinese neighbour entail indeed, a fast expansion of the surfaces of plantation and of speculative phenomena, with considerable economic, ecological and social risks.

The general trends towards commercial plantations, associated with the eradication of the slash and burn systems, is justified by the policy makers of the concerned countries as a joint solution to the questions of poverty and environment. On the other side, farmers are generally motivated by immediate returns on investment, despite its consequences on biodiversity which is drastically declining. In some provinces of Laos or Cambodia the movement of commercial plantations is made to the detriment of natural spaces (pioneer front) or of household rural territories, large-scale land being acquired by companies through concessions. In the mountainous area, the agricultural expansion conjugated to the population growth had the effect of increasing the land pressure on slopes. Beyond the numerous local specificities, the evolution of the Asian farming systems revealed clearly dual intensive /extensive systems which become widespread to all the agricultural spaces.

The region is considered as a real laboratory of this transition because of the speed and of the scale of the current changes. However, these economic and environmental changes intervene more rapidly than capacities of the society to adapt. In most of the cases, the agricultural space became limiting; the land tenure is saturated, while the demand in farm products is increasing in a context of population growth and evolution of lifestyles and diets (increasing consumption of animal products, emergence of biofuels). The question of the durability of conventional intensive systems of production as well as the development and dissemination of alternatives became urgent for the researcher and for the policy makers.

It is thus essential to understand better the drivers of the agricultural dynamics in the marginal zones of mountain to suggest new models of agricultural development than those prevailing up to now. The CIRAD is committed on the way of the double green revolution, which is at the same time productive and environment friendly. It is a question of shifting from an agricultural development based on the control of ecosystems to another one, based on the complicity with these ecosystems, taking advantages of their variability. Such approach in a wide range of Agro-ecosystems and economic and social conditions implies very different relationships between farming systems, agricultural production, ecosystemic services, as well as resources and environment protection


The question of the durability of the socio-ecological systems produced by the agrarian transition imposes a break compared with the classic agronomic researches. Indeed, the performances of the studied systems cannot be any more studied at the only level of the agricultural or forest plot, or even the farm level, but have to be done at the scale of territories and of ecosystems, where the agriculture may not occupy any more a dominant position. The resilience of such systems, intimately related to the biological and social diversity, must be managed at village scale. The management of natural resource and the biodiversity are in the core of the scientific questioning having in mind to associate the rural actors with the process of knowledge acquisition and to explore with them the various scenarios of the possibilities.

Objectives of CANSEA partners are therefore to design, promote and disseminate Innovations and Ecologically more Intensive Farming System in South East Asia. 

Regional priority issues :

  • Development of systems of conservation agriculture intensification and diversification of mountainous agriculture in South East Asia including the transfer and adaptation of direct sowing techniques for agricultural development,
  • Improvement or restoration of fertility of degraded soils-Impacts of Conservation Agriculture techniques on improving physical and chemical characteristics of soils (Carbon and organic matter balances-Relationships between direct sowing, plant cover and biological soil quality; 
  • Human Resources Development with the definition and implementation of curriculum of academic and technical training meeting the needs and expectations of regional partners.

The 8 founding members:

  • The Ministry of agriculture, forestry and fisheries (MAFF) - Cambodia.
  • The Yunnan Academy of Agricultural Sciences (YAAS) - China
  • The Indonesian Agency for Agriculture Research and Development (IAARD) - Indonesia
  • The Department of Agricultural Land Managment (DALaM) - Laos
  • The University of Kasetsart (KU) - Thailand
  • The Northern Mountainous Agriculture and Forestry Science Institute  (NOMAFSI) and the Soils and Fertilizers Research Institute (SFRI) - Vietnam
  • The University of Queensland (UQ) - Australia
  • And CIRAD which have researchers in most the partners of South- East Asia.

Last update: 19 October 2018

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