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Sumernet: Looking back, looking forward

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Friday, 28 August 2009 16:22

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The Sustainable Mekong Research Network (Sumernet) reached in 2009 a milestone with the delivery of 14 new research reports from the Mekong region. Activities for a new phase of operation are now being developed.

Sumernet began in 2004, with the idea of bringing together researchers from Mekong countries to work on a common, self-created research agenda. The budget proposed by SEI at the time was 20 million kronor; Sweden eventually gave half this amount for a ‘first phase’ of Sumernet operation, which has lasted 4 years.

With SEI’s Asia Centre as its secretariat, Sumernet established working partnerships between research institutes and NGOs in the Mekong region to pursue research with regional policy implications.

A harvest of research
In 2009, the Sumernet partnership yielded a harvest of research reports on topics as diverse as fisheries, land-use planning, migration and flood preparedness. The research has produced a range of findings with important policy implications, for example:

Small freshwater fish, once ‘food for the poor’, are now used primarily as feed for export varieties of aquaculture species. Public policy on aquaculture must balance food security with the export value of aquaculture, in order to protect this source of household nutrition.

Growth in GDP is linked to policies in favour of plantations and mono-cropping. However, Sumernet research shows that Integrated Farming Systems – patterns of mixed cultivation and animal husbandry – provide greater benefits to farming households.

Food production is a priority in all Mekong countries, yet valuable land is lying fallow after being sold for industrial estates, due to shortcomings in the support and enforcement of land-use planning.

Policy impacts
In the four years of its existence, Sumernet has raised awareness of issues through creating space for policy debate as well as research, for example through its series of studies on rubber plantations and a film aired on Thai television about Burmese labour migration. In one example of policy impacts, the Lao government ceased giving out rubber plantation concessions, pending a new policy that is currently being developed.

Sumernet has worked closely with state agencies through the research process, thus creating a strong likelihood that research findings will be integrated into new policies as they are made. For example, a study of local institutions’ involvement in flood preparedness in the Mekong Delta worked closely with local Committees for Flood and Storm Control in Vietnam, and local Committees for Disaster Management in Cambodia.

Sumernet in the future
In May this year, Sumernet partners met in Bangkok for a Learning Forum comprising two days of intense discussions and celebrations of the work that has already been done. Partners agreed that Sumernet continues to be relevant because not many networks in the Mekong region are focusing on long term issues such as climate change and land degradation, both of which are areas of interest and expertise for Sumernet.

A new phase of Sumernet will make greater use of information and communications technology to disseminate research findings to NGOs, academic institutions and other networks. A broader range of potential partners would be involved in order to get the best value out of the research that has been undertaken.

In his closing remarks to the Learning Forum, retiring director of the Swedish Environment Secretariat in Asia (Sensa), Mr Christer Holtsberg, commented that the network has grown and matured in its four years of life. “From the beginning, there was ownership from its members,” he said, adding that Sumernet still carries great potential to generate regionally owned research that is trusted and well known.

Read recent Sumernet research reports here

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