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Dr. Thomas R. Waggener

Dr. Thomas R. Waggener is the owner/consultant, International Forestry
Sector Analysis (IFSA), International Consulting, Mill Creek, Washington,
USA. Major professional consulting assignments have been in international
program development and formulation, implementation and project management,
policy and economic analysis, international forestry development and
international trade in forest products with a focus on Russia, China, Japan,
and Southeast Asia. Major consultancies have been on behalf of the United
Nations Development Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO) of the United Nations. He has extensive consultancies in strategic
planning, economic and policy analysis and program implementation in China,
Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and India in support of the UNDP/FAO forestry
sector planning and development activities. Dr. Waggener has extensive
international experience, having visited 45 countries in connection with
forestry development and international trade issues.

Dr Waggener is also Professor Emeritus of Forest Economics, Policy and
International Trade, College of Forest Resources, University of Washington.
He previously served as a member of the faculty from 1966-1999, retiring
January 1, 2000. He served as the Director, Center for International Trade in
Forest Products (CINTRAFOR) from 1985-1989, and as Associate Dean,
Academic Affairs (1978-1985).

Dr. Waggener received his Ph.D. in Forest Economics from the University of
Washington in 1996. He holds the MA in Economics and MF in Forest
Economics from the University of Washington and the BSF (wood utilization)
from Purdue University. He has over 90 published papers and articles on forest
economics, forest policy, and international trade plus numerous professional
papers and presentation.


Over the past decade there has been a growing and serious concern regarding the status and use of global natural forests. In spite of long-term forest management schemes and extensive protected area reserves, deforestation continues at alarming rates in much of the developing world. This paper examines the use of natural forests and timber harvesting bans in the Asia-Pacific Region as a policy instrument to achieve forest conservation and environmental protection of natural forests outside traditional protected areas. The A-P Region includes over 552 million hectares of forests, including 478 million hectares of natural forests. However only about 249 million hectares are presently considered as available for harvesting. Further restrictions or permanent removal of these forests from contributing to wood supplies in the future will place increasing pressures on plantations to provide alternative sources of industrial and fuelwood resources.

The review of the availability and productivity of existing plantations suggests that plantations may be capable of providing only a small proportion of substitute timber supplies in the near term. The A-P region has about 57 million hectares of industrial plantations, with an adjusted net area of about 47 million hectares. However, only about 3.5 million hectares are considered as presently available and capable of contributing to near-term timber supply.

A review of the case studies of six countries of the Asia-Pacific Region provide a perspective regarding the impacts of harvesting bans and the capacity of plantations. Further, the case studies give significant insight into the difficulties of developing plantations in the region. Issues include access to forest land, technical and economic feasibility, political acceptability of plantations and genetically-altered resources, forest tenures and use rights, and institutional arrangements for incentives and rewards from planting of trees. Problems of market development and access as well as limited investment capital (and risk) also impact realization of plantation schemes. Finally, the impacts of changing comparative advantage with the growing reliance on plantations suggest that international trade in industrial timber may become increasingly important to both national timber supplies and for regional development.


Over the last decade there has been a serious and growing concern regarding the status and use of the global natural forests. In spite of long term forest management schemes, together with extensive reservations of natural forests for conservation purposes, deforestation and degradation have continued at often-alarming rates. When successful, such reservations which create a variety of protected areas, most commonly prohibit commercial timber harvesting, and often place strict limits or prohibitions on other non-commercial forest uses for both timber and non-timber purposes. Creation of protected forest area reservations is normally the result of deliberate and (usually) considered policy processes where non-timber priorities are deemed to outweigh timber values. Such reservations for national parks, wildlife habitat reserves, biodiversity, critical watersheds, and other special purposes nevertheless remove such forests from potential production forest status and thus impact sustainable timber supply.

Logging Bans to Conserve Natural Forests

In spite of such conservation efforts and the creation of protected areas, there are deeply-rooted misgivings about the status of natural forests and the consequences of past-recent conventional forest management and policies guiding utilization. The misgivings rest on numerous and diverse beliefs about the actual consequences of past use of natural forests and equally diverse assumptions about the desirability of shifts in policy in order to give greater priority to `forest conservation' goals. Such new priorities may be permanent or long-term, where a change in forest land use is implied. It is the belief of many that even more of the natural forest should be allocated to primary uses incompatible with timber harvesting, resulting in the prohibition of harvesting (logging bans), as with existing protected areas, for such uses as biodiversity, habitat protection, environmental protection, or total watershed and soil and water conservation.

Alternatively, the misgivings about the present situation with natural forests may be based on judgements that forest management practices and harvesting controls have failed to provide either sustainable timber management or environmental protection. As a consequence, continued deforestation and forest degradation are taken as evidence of management and policy failures, requiring the banning of harvests as the expedient mechanism to prevent further damages and to allow for forest restoration. Fewer hectares of natural forest are maintained and adequately regenerated and remaining natural forests are logged for premium species, degrading the residual stands and future productivity. Excessive harvesting beyond biologically sustainable levels will lead to future reductions in harvest as mature timber volumes decline and younger, immature stands cannot support the higher harvests.

Further, there are frequent questions as to whether sustainable timber production is in fact compatible with sustainable forests in the broader economic and environmental context. Sustaining timber production may occur at the expense of generating negative consequences or reductions in other multiple forest values. Thus even if management is `sustainable', an emphasis on timber in preference to the tradeoff with joint resource values would imply a less efficient `mix' of overall values that could be obtained from the same natural forest base. Poor management and harvesting practices may also generate negative impacts for other resource uses such as stream siltation impacting water quality, inducing flooding, or reduction of hydroelectric capacity of reservoirs.

Given the widespread concerns about the consequences of past natural forest use, the declining area and degraded condition of much of the remaining forests, should more forests be set aside under logging bans in favor of natural forest conservation? If so, where will future timber supply derive? Is the present level of harvesting sustainable and consistent with environmental priorities? Will new sources of supply be required? Can man-made forest plantations provide a meaningful alternative to continued deforestation and degradation of natural forests?

The Asia-Pacific Region - Natural Forest Summary

The Asia-Pacific Region includes over 552 million hectares of forests, including 477.7 million hectares of natural forests. Of this total, however, only about 249 million hectares are presently considered as available for harvest. The distribution by geographic sub-region is shown in Figure 1.1 Insular SE Asia and East Asia dominate in terms of both total natural forests and the area available for harvesting. A total of about 236 million ha. are considered unavailable for harvest at present, including about 89.5 million ha. in legally protected status and 146.5 million ha. that is unavailable due to physical and economic constraints.

The Asia-Pacific sub-region has experienced continuing deforestation and degradation. For 1990-95, the sub-region experienced a decline of almost 16.3 million ha of natural forests or approximately 3.25 million ha. annually. The largest losses were for Indonesia (5.4 million ha.), Myanmar (1.9 million ha.), Malaysia (2.0 million ha.) and Thailand (1.6 million ha.). However, the Philippines had the largest rate of deforestation at 3.5 percent annually, followed by Pakistan (2.9%), Thailand (2.6%), and Malaysia (2.4%). In addition, continued heavy cutting and lack of reforestation and afforestation have led to further forest degradation.

The Asia-Pacific sub-region produces a substantial amount of roundwood, both for firewood and as industrial roundwood. In 1996, the estimated production for the sub-region was approximately 1,199 million cubic meters, including 895 million cubic meters of fuelwood and 304 million cubic meters of industrial timber (Fig. 2).

Figure 1. Asia-Pacific Natural Forests - Total and Available for Harvesting

Figure 2. Asia-Pacific Production of Roundwood by Type and Sub-region 1996

Fuelwood was a significant proportion of removals in all of the Asian sub-regions, in particular for India, which accounted for some 297 million cubic meters of fuelwood and charcoal. Indonesia (153.5 million cubic meters) and China (204 million cubic meters) accounted for the majority of the remaining firewood output.

Industrial roundwood production was primarily from East Asia (China) and Insular SE Asia (Indonesia and Malaysia). Oceania production was almost entirely from New Zealand and Australia, with a moderate volume (3.2 million cubic meters) from Papua New Guinea.2

Figure 3. Asia-Pacific Net Growth of Commercial Species on Available Natural Forests vs. Industrial Roundwood Production

The comparison of industrial roundwood production and the estimated growth of commercial species on available natural forests is summarized in Figure 3 below. Total growth is estimated at about 328 million cubic meters, while industrial roundwood production is an estimated 304 million cubic meters. While East Asia (China) shows an apparent volume of growth over harvest, South Asia and Insular SE Asia both have large deficits in estimated growth against harvests. These sub-regions with the Continental SE Asia sub-region demonstrated high rates of deforestation, and also face significant challenges in production of fuelwood and charcoal. Temperate Oceania shows a slight imbalance, but reflects the proportionately high share of present industrial timber in New Zealand derived from plantations rather than from natural forests.

Plantations in the Asia Pacific Region - Overview

As previously noted, the Asia-Pacific region has a reported 57.4 million hectares of industrial plantations, with a net area of approximately 46.8 million ha. However, only 3.5 million hectares of industrial plantations are considered presently available for harvest.

Large areas of industrial plantations in India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China are young and immature, not yet capable of significant contributions to timber harvests.3

The estimated annual growth of the Asia-Pacific industrial plantations available for harvest is 36.1 million cubic meters. By sub-region, the highest share is in Temperate Oceania with growth of 19.5 million cubic meters (Australia and New Zealand), followed by East Asia with growth of 10.5 million cubic meters (primarily China).

Figure 4. Asia-Pacific Industrial Plantations Total (net) and Available for Harvesting by Sub-Region

Figure 5. Estimated Annual Growth on Available Industrial Plantations, Asia-Pacific Region by Sub-Region

Asia has been a leader in the designation of legally protected areas, having so classified a total of some 89.5 million hectares, effectively removing these natural forests from harvesting. The largest aggregate protected natural forest is for the Insular SE Asia region, with some 43.3 million hectares, including almost 40 million hectares in Indonesia and 2.8 million hectares in Malaysia. East Asia accounts for 15.4 million hectares of protected area, with over 13 million hectares in China. Temperate Oceania (12 million ha.) and South Asia (India) each have over 10 million ha. in protected areas. Continental SE Asia accounts for about 6.8 million ha (Cambodia and Thailand). These areas include, of course, natural forests that would otherwise be available for harvest, as well as areas that would be unavailable due to physical and economic reasons.

In spite of the legal designation of protected natural forests, there is substantial concern about the adequacy of the on-the-ground protection of these areas in practice. As well, controversy continues as to the need to set aside additional areas to provide for adequate protection of representative biodiversity, critical watersheds and habitat for other rare and endangered wildlife and flora.

Figure 6. Natural Forests Unavailable for Harvesting in Asia-Pacific Region by Sub-Region

As in the case elsewhere, much of the natural forests of Asia-Pacific are unavailable for harvesting due to physical and economic reasons. As shown in Figure 6, over 146.5 million hectares in the Asia-Pacific region are currently unavailable for harvesting led by Continental SE Asia (31.8 million ha.), East Asia (30.3 million ha.), Tropical Oceania (29.0 million ha.) and South Asia (24.9 million ha.).

The causes of natural forests being unavailable for harvesting varies considerably, within the Asia-Pacific Region (Figure 7).

Physical conditions and terrain (Category I) presently restrict harvesting on some 58 million hectares in the Asia-Pacific region, primarily in the Tropical Oceania sub-region (Papua New Guinea, 17.6 million ha.), and Continental SE Asia (Laos, 4.5 million ha. Myanmar, 5.7 million ha.; Thailand , 2 million ha.) Other countries with substantial physical constraints on natural forests include India (4.8 million ha.), China 5.0 million ha.) and Australia (9.7 million ha.).

Remoteness and lack of access is less of a constraint in Asia-Pacific due to generally heavy population pressures in the rural areas. This constraint (Category II) accounts for 9.5 million hectares of natural forest being considered unavailable for harvesting at present, with Indonesia (3.4 million ha.), Papua New Guinea (4 million ha.) and Laos (1 million ha.) and Nepal (0.9 million ha.) accounting for almost all of this area.

Figure 7. Asia-Pacific Natural Forests Unavailable for Harvest for Physical-Economic Reasons

Low productivity, degraded forests and other site conditions (Category III) limit harvesting on a total of 79.1 million ha. in the Asia-Pacific region. East Asia, led by China (16.3 million ha.) and Japan (4.5 million ha.) accounts for about 23 million hectares in this category, with South Asia (India, 15 million ha.) accounting for an additional 17.9 million ha. In the Continental SE Asia region, Thailand has an estimated 6.8 million ha. followed by Laos (4.4 million ha.) and Vietnam 3.9 million ha) of such natural forests. In Temperate Oceania, Australia has about 8.5 million ha. in Category III.

Asia-Pacific Regional Experiences with Logging Bans

The 17th Session of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission requested that FAO undertake a study of logging bans in the Asia-Pacific Region in order to better understand the role of such bans and other similar restrictions on harvesting when imposed as a means of achieving natural forest conservation.4 Such actions within the region have been taken by several countries and are under consideration in others in the face of continuing serious issues of deforestation and degradation together with an increased emphasis on forest-related environmental and conservation goals.

In examining the history and experience of timber harvest bans in natural forests as a means of promoting forest conservation, the study sought to understand the impacts on both conservation and production from the natural forests, including the implications and strategies for timber supply. The study was carried out through a series of six commissioned country case studies covering selected countries with a variety of experiences with timber harvesting bans. Countries covered by the case studies include China, New Zealand, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam.

As reported in the Asia-Pacific Forestry Outlook Study, it is estimated that about 100 million ha. of natural forests, or about 20 percent, in the Asia-Pacific region are either legally protected areas or in areas covered by complete logging bans. The reservation of natural forests, or setting aside from harvest areas for a variety of protected areas, has been a common and ongoing feature of forest policy in the Asia-Pacific region. The APFC study sought to understand the efficacy of more sweeping and often precipitous imposition of harvest restrictions, often as a political reaction to a natural disaster or event. Such events have often served as a catalyst to bring to bear policy changes reflective of a broader, long-term perception of ineffective forest management and resource use. Such actions typically apply broadly (national or regional) to natural forests allocated to timber production or multiple use, including timber.

The goals for timber bans in the Asia-Pacific are seldom well articulated, but rather are responsive to symptoms of forest policy "failures". The identification of undesirable outcomes from conventional forest practices and utilization is taken as evidence that swift and decisive actions are required in order to correct past problems and abuses.

Deforestation and forest degradation of natural forests are common and central theme in logging ban decisions. The problems of overcutting beyond sustainable levels, the impact on other joint forest values and the assumed incompatibility of logging with the protection of environmental functions and related uses are typically blended together. Loss of biodiversity, critical habitats and representative ecosystems, the deterioration of watersheds and water quality, soil erosion, sedimentation and flooding are frequently perceived consequences of conventional forest practices and harvesting. Inefficient and poor logging technology and related practices have also been identified with damage to residual forest stands, and together with the lack of effective reforestation is often seen as a fatal consequence of logging. Opening of forests for uncontrolled human migration and inhabitation of rural forested areas as a consequence of access is blamed for a variety of undesirable, but non-forestry based, land use consequences.

Logging bans have the consequence of relatively large, unanticipated impacts on timber supply and indirectly impacts on the sectors and persons dependent upon forest harvesting, transport, processing and consumption of forest products. Forest plantations, actual or potential, are commonly taken as the logical alternative timber supply source. Seldom, however, are such linkages explicit in logging ban policies, legislation or implementation. An assumption of continued national self-sufficiency in timber supply, under growing demand, is implicit in almost all instances reviewed in the country case studies. The growing role of economic reforms towards more market-based production and consumption decisions, together with the implications of open international trade in forest products are only indirectly acknowledged in national-based logging ban policy.

Lessons Learned from Asia-Pacific Experiences Impacts on Timber Production

The natural forests of the Asia-Pacific region that are considered as available for harvesting are experiencing heavy pressures for increased harvests, contributing to continuing deforestation and degradation. These pressures also spill over onto natural forests that are "presently unavailable" for harvesting, both those within protected areas as well as the natural forests that are considered unavailable for physical-economic reasons.

With few exceptions, the expected harvest from the natural forests can be expected to decline in most countries within the Asia-Pacific region. Total gross annual growth of commercial species on presently available natural forests exceeds present harvest of industrial timber by about 24 million cubic meters, compared to the production of 304 million cubic meters. By sub-region, only Continental SE Asia and East Asia have a positive balance. Within Continental SE Asia, only Myanmar presently has growth exceeding harvest, with a balance of about 25.6 million cubic meters, whereas the sub-region has a positive balance of only 22.4 million cubic meters. Similarly, for East Asia only China has a surplus of growth over harvest (54.2 million cubic meters) where the sub-region balance is 45.3 million cubic meters. This is partly offset by a negative balance of almost 16.2 million cubic meters for Japan. Elsewhere in Asia-Pacific, significant negative balances are indicated for India (-16.2 million cubic meters), Malaysia (-24.9 million cubic meters), Thailand (-2.8 million cubic meters), and Papua New Guinea (-2.4 million cubic meters).

Further deforestation and degradation at or near the present rate of about 3.25 million ha. annually will reduce the capacity of Asia-Pacific to produce industrial timber from natural forests. With an average cutting cycle of about 38 years, present harvesting intensity is about 34 cubic meters per ha. for undisturbed natural forests and 17 cubic meters per ha. for disturbed forests. Based on the ratio for available undisturbed and disturbed forests,5 deforestation could reduce regional harvest by about 1.77 million cubic meters per year.

The present ratio of available natural forests can also provide a rough estimate of the impacts of logging bans, assuming that bans impact both undisturbed and disturbed by the same proportion. The banning of harvesting on one million ha. of available natural forest would reduce potential harvesting by approximately 550 thousand cubic meters annually.6 For example, China's logging ban affecting 41.8 million ha. with an estimated reduction in harvest of 19.9 million cubic meters by 2003 implies an average reduction of 476 thousand cubic meters per one million ha.

Alternative Timber Supplies

Role of Plantations in Forest Policy and Sector Strategies

As seen from the Asia-Pacific case studies, the imposition of logging bans in natural forests involve significant assumptions about timber supply from current or future plantations. For example, the shift of China's harvest to "One Timber Base" is founded on the significant expansion and maturing of fast growing, high-yield industrial plantations. Likewise, Vietnam is relying on the successful implementation of the "5 Million Hectare Programme" for the success of its logging ban for natural forest protection. Serious consequences in both the Philippines and Thailand illustrate the problems when assumed commercial plantations do not develop as planned.

The regional relationship between estimated growth of commercial species on available natural forests and industrial roundwood production is shown as the first series ("Nat/Prod") in Figure 8 below. The corresponding comparison of combined natural forest and plantation growth with industrial roundwood production is displayed as the second series ("Total/Prod") in this figure.

If it is assumed that both the growth of commercial species from available natural forests and total estimated growth from industrial plantations are available for harvest, the overall situation for Asia-Pacific would improve by virtue of the estimated 36.14 million cubic meters of growth from the industrial plantations. The overall balance between total growth from both natural forests and plantations and the 1996 level of industrial timber production improves to 60 million cubic meters. However, there are significant differences between individual sub-regions and countries (Series 2, Figure 8).

All sub-regions show an improved balance when plantation growth is included, although the very small growth for Continental SE Asia and Tropical Oceania does not significantly change the situation for these sub-regions. South Asia, Insular SE Asia, and Tropical Oceania continue to show a deficit between estimated total growth and industrial roundwood production. Only Temperate Oceania switches from a deficit to a positive balance by virtue of recognizing New Zealand's harvest as deriving primarily from existing plantations. Malaysia and India continue to show significant deficits even taking into account plantations.

Figure 8. Asia-Pacific Balance between Estimated Growth from Available Natural Forests and Plantations compared to Industrial Roundwood Production

International Trade Implications

With growing open trade in forest products, individual countries are able to offset inadequate natural forest and plantation resources through increasing the import of needed industrial timber. While many countries assert the desire to remain self-sufficient in timber, the Asia-Pacific case studies indicate the difficulty in doing so in the face of deforestation, forest degradation and lack of adequate plantation resources. As noted, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka have all promoted greater production from plantations as a strategic part of imposing logging bans for natural forests, but with minimal success. While Sri Lanka has significant capacity for timber from home gardens and other non-forest resources, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam do not have such a supply source. All four nations have become net importers of industrial wood, with imports expected to continue to increase. China has identified the need for greater imports, at least during the transitional period towards greater capacity from immature plantations and planned new high-yield, fast growing plantations in the future. Only New Zealand has sufficient plantation resources to currently offset domestic production of natural forest timber and to enjoy a surplus for export.

International trade, supported by plantations or natural forests in the exporting country, opens the possibility of shifting of environmental damage and deforestation between countries or regions. One country taking actions to protect and conserve its natural forest resources can `export' the problems to the supplier country. For example, there have been allegations that Thailand's logging ban has resulted in both illegal logging and greater imports along the border areas of Lao, Cambodia and Myanmar. Protection of natural forests in China has led to greater imports from the Russian Federation, potentially contributing to unsustainable harvesting in parts of the Russian Far East and East Siberia. While difficult to document, these effects stimulated through trade raise important issues regarding the environmental and protection policies of exporting countries.

Comparative Advantage

Reduction in output from natural forests either through deforestation, degradation, logging bans, sustainable management, or enlargement of protected areas also leads to price adjustments and responses of both suppliers and consumers to the extent that the market-based prices prevail and influence in large measure output decisions.

A country that has enjoyed a comparative advantage in harvesting of natural forest timber (an extractive activity) may not enjoy such an advantage in alternative supply possibilities such as plantations. As noted below, a large number of obstacles exist in the Asia-Pacific region to creating economically viable commercial plantations, particularly in relatively small-scale operations. The advantage may shift to other areas within a country, or even between countries. For China, the switch to a plantation-based "One Timber Base" will have substantial impacts regionally. Changing timber supply is a serious threat to established forest based enterprises in the traditional State-owned natural forest regions of the Northeast, Inner Mongolia and the Southwest. Plantations will result in new production capacity in the south coastal provinces that are much more favorably located for high yield, fast-growing species and access to markets.

New Zealand, as a prime source of intensively produced plantation timber may well exploit export markets in Asia-Pacific at the expense of potential plantation development within individual developing countries.

Comparative advantage is an elusive concept, largely based on market economics. However, details of species substitution, efficiencies in growing and harvesting, transport, size or scale of operations, and a number of other considerations impact where and how plantations will develop throughout the region. Increasingly, such decisions are influenced (if not determined) by market economic forces. In the past, non-economic factors and political considerations have influenced many decisions regarding plantations.

Conditions for Plantations as Substitute for Natural Forest Timber

The growing influence of economic advantage, as emphasized by international trade, as a basis for plantation development suggests those fundamental conditions must exist in order to provide long term incentives and investments in intensively growing wood commercially.

Access to Forest Lands

With few exceptions, much of the natural forest and significant amounts of land potentially available for plantation development is held by governments. When made available to non-government entities, such use is often with incomplete ownership or tenure, with both direct and indirect governmental regulation of actual plantation decision-making, investment, harvesting and marketing of outputs. The lack of functioning economic systems (credit, finance, transportation, etc) can easily dissipate potential economic returns and impose constraints that reduce or remove incentives for private sector participation.

Land may also not be made available in sufficient scale to make commercial operations feasible. In much of Vietnam, for example, small holdings under the allocation of forest use to individual farmers, effectively limit the practical feasibility of private, non-commercial plantations. In Thailand, the earlier emphasis on large scale, industrial plantations was strongly resisted by local communities and individuals as transferring resource control to `the rich' and often non-local parties at the expense of local welfare. Also, in many cases only the poorest or degraded forest land may be allocated, reserving better forests with healthier forest stands for State administration and control. While perhaps in desperate need of restoration, such lands can create strong disadvantages for establishing viable and economic plantations for either local or commercial uses.

With high rates of poverty, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam have faced social conflicts between indigenous local people and conflicts between traditional forest use rights and the desire for commercial development. At the same time, limited incentives were made available to allow even small-scale plantations to become profitable and economically feasible.

New Zealand, with extensive private plantations and the subsequent withdrawal of government from production forestry and the transfer of State plantations to the private sector has demonstrated the feasibility of placing plantations on "a totally independent commercial footing" and encouraging private foreign investment. Sri Lanka also demonstrates the feasibility of creating tenures that permit home gardens (small private tree growing) to become the most significant source of commercial timber. Open markets for land, including forest or potential plantations, are clearly the exception in much of Asia-Pacific, mandating the creation of alternative schemes of use rights and tenure as a substitute for ownership.

Technical and Economic feasibility

A great deal is known about the biological and ecological conditions for various commercial timber species, suitable for plantations in the Asia-Pacific region. Such information may apply to either social-fuelwood plantations for local use, or for commercial plantations for serving industrial timber markets. Theoretical yields, growth rates, technical characteristics of species, and other parameters may be evaluated. Economic models are likewise widely available to estimate returns on investments and capital flows. However, favorable strategies for growing wood (technical forestry parameters) may not assure economic feasibility. Plantations of poplar and some eucalyptus plantings in China, for example, may well be phased out as they mature and are cut due to lack of adequate demand or profitability. The use of improved planting stock, including genetic materials, may well prove to be highly productive in terms of growth rates and even wood properties. However, growing international ecological concerns regarding monoculture and genetic enhancement may possibly lead to restrictions or prohibitions on use of such planting stock. Access to improved materials may be physically limited or unavailable in poorer countries of Asia-Pacific, placing them at a comparative disadvantage to highly productive, intensively managed plantations elsewhere. New Zealand's long experience with improved, high yielding radiata pine plantations offers a challenge to countries such as Vietnam which are seeking to initiate new commercial plantations adapted to local conditions.

Use Conditions and Tenure

Closely tied to the availability of land are the related issues of management and control. Where private ownership is not possible (as in much of Asia-Pacific) various arrangements are required to systematically determine and allocate tenures or use rights where government is not prepared to exercise direct responsibilities. For example, New Zealand needed to develop clear policies for the conditions of sale/transfer of State plantations allowing for recognition of native Muori claims to the land. While the forest resource was sold, the land remained under Crown ownership with provisions for lease of the land to the new `owners' for at least one rotation period or longer.

Market reforms are also leading to new and innovative schemes in China, while short of formal ownership, provide for the long term private or family use of lands technically owned or retained by the State as well as for leasing of lands by business enterprises, including joint venture investors. Conditions of use, decision-making authority, investment, and the ability to capture economic returns need to be clearly identified and guaranteed in the long term if confidence and commitment are to be achieved.

The long term transferability of tenures and use rights is also important as a condition for plantation development. Without such rights, given the long-term nature of plantation investments, the willingness to provide human resources, capital and labor to growing trees is constrained. Legal protection of such rights, and access to courts or other legal instruments to guarantee rights over time need to be considerably strengthened and codified.

Incentives and Rewards

The lack of security of tenure or use, and the related freedom to make critical decisions influencing productivity of plantations and their use can easily stifle local and community-based programs that appear to be technically feasible. In the Philippines, for example, the frequency of policy changes and the corresponding uncertainty have had serious negative impacts on private plantation development.

In Thailand, a bias against commercial large-scale investors for plantation development, and the need to obtain cooperation of numerous small local farmers or communities make viable operations difficult or impossible. Other forms of governmental regulation such as transport permits, harvesting restrictions or licenses, taxes, royalties or fees for privately grown trees, etc all act as deterrents to private participation in plantation development.

Market Access

Producing timber on a commercial basis also implies the need for developed market structures and economic infrastructure capable of assuring greater efficiency in the procurement of inputs and the sale and distribution of outputs. Market information, regarding short and long term assessments and forecasts, together with technical product knowledge is required to guide independent managers and producers of plantation timber. Freedom to sell and distribute output without transportation or pricing restrictions is also basic to functioning markets. To the extent that licenses, export controls, or other restraints are placed on markets, including international trade, the efficiency of commercial plantations will be impacted.

Investment Capital

As the case of Vietnam's "5-Million Hectare Programme" clearly illustrates, the development of significant commercial plantations is an expensive undertaking, whereas a large number of the national Governments (and local people) have scarce access to capital and savings. Massive investments will frequently require joint participation by local and commercial interests, governments, and potentially international foreign direct investment or aid assistance in the form of grants or loans. China's progress in plantations in the past decade has been made feasible in large part by assistance from the World Bank through a series of afforestation projects assisting in over 2.5 million ha. of plantations. Providing evidence of the technical and biological feasibility, or even superiority, for fast growing, high yield plantations does not in itself assure availability of capital investments. The economic viability of the plantations, given meaningful cost and return expectations, and assurances of stable policies, is critical to risk-adverse investors and lenders.

The growing of plantation timber also does not automatically translate into an advantage in domestically processing of that material for either domestic or international markets. Much of the forest industry infrastructure and technology is old or obsolete in the Asia-Pacific region, requiring significant capital investment for modernization. Integrated utilization for more complete recovery of useable products, including wood-based panels, from waste or residues can extend the resource as well as enhance economic returns. With notable exceptions, however, the capital investment required for such complete utilization with efficient technology is often lacking.


The authors of the Vietnam country case study for the APFC review of logging bans posed the following questions in the introduction to their report:

"Where will material for forest industries come from to replace the wood volume previously exploited from natural forest? How much can the potential wood supply from planted forest be in the following years? Does the planted forest wood meet the need for wood of forest industries?"7

While it is clear that plantations will play an increasingly significant role, the answers to these and related questions will only be answered on a case by case basis as governments and investors determine where and how plantations can be technically, economically and socially feasible - as well as environmentally friendly. In the near term, plantations in Asia-Pacific can contribute, but not replace, reductions in harvests from natural forests due to both greater conservation efforts which restrict harvest or the consequences of continued deforestation. Importing of timber will increase, placing new demands on suppliers within Asia-Pacific as well as globally for sustainably produced plantation timber.

Primary References

APFC/FAO, 2000. State of Forestry in the Region, Secretariat Paper FO: APFC/2000/2, Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission, Noosaville, Queensland, Australia, May 15-19, 2000.

APFC/FAO, 2000. Working Drafts of Country Case Studies (China, New Zealand, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam), Log Ban Study

FAO, 1998. Asia-Pacific Forestry Towards 2010, Report of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study, FAO, Rome. 242 pp.

FAO, 1999. State of the World's Forests 1999, FAO Rome. 154 pp.

FAO, 1998 Global Fibre Supply Model, FAO, Rome 72 pp. + annex


1 As used here, the Asia-Pacific Region conforms to the general region of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission. The Western & Central Asia sub-region as used in FAO statistical sources has been excluded for this analysis.

2 This data reflects officially recorded and acknowledged harvests. An unknown, but significant, illegal harvest is widely assumed within the region.

3 Data for plantations are derived from FAO, Global Fibre Supply Model (1998) and were estimated in 1997. National data would indicate both additions to industrial plantations and a higher proportion at or near maturity for industrial harvesting.

4 Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission, "Study of Efficacy of Removing Natural Forests from Timber Production as a Strategy for Conserving Forests", FAO, Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. Study reports forthcoming.

5 Undisturbed forest is 22.2% of available natural forest; while disturbed forest accounts for 77.8%.

6 The assumed ratios used here are averages for the Asia-Pacific Region as estimated in the Global Fiber Supply Model (FAO, 1998) and are used for illustration only. Actual impacts would vary by individual country, the ratio of disturbed to undisturbed available natural forests, and the details of any specific logging ban policy.

7 Efficacy of Removing Natural Forests from Timber Production as a Strategy for Conserving Forests - Vietnam", draft country study report, Vu Huu Tuynh and Pham Xuan Phuong, Hanoi, Vietnam, May, 2000, p. 1. FAO/Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission.

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