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2.1 The Forest Resource - Status and Trends

2.1.1 Natural forests

The dense natural forest cover represents around 23.9% of the land area of the country, but the total forest cover including sparse forests is around 30.9%. Most remaining forest is the dry monsoon type. Only fragments of tropical rain forest are available and few are larger than 10,000 ha. Over the last century much of the forest resources in Sri Lanka have been converted to other types of land use such as plantation crops and other forms of agriculture, human settlements and shifting cultivation. The remaining natural forests are under increasing pressure, as a result of increasing population and the consequent demand for forest land for other uses.(F.D. - Administration Report 1995). The extent of remaining natural forest in 1992 is given in Table 2.

Table 2 - Extent of Natural Forest Areas in 1992

Type of natural forest

Total forest area (ha)

% total land area

Closed canopy




Moist monsoon

Dry monsoon




Open canopy:























2.1.2 Forest Plantations

The total forest plantation area was about 131,000 ha in 1995, of which about 84,000 ha belong to the Forest Department; 4,000 ha of forest Department plantations are protective plantations. Although Forest plantations were established for the first time in the 1870s, large scale planting has taken place since 1950s only. About 131,000 ha of forest plantations have been established within ninety years. This area comprises some 5,000 ha of mainly fuelwood plantations. The most common species planted are Teak followed by Eucalypts (mainly Eucalyptus grandis), Pine (Pinus caribaea) and Mahogany. Most of the fuel wood plantations (mainly Eucalyptus camaldulensis, but also Acacias and E. tereticornis), miscellaneous hardwood and teak plantations are situated in the dry zone. While most of the eucalypts (mainly E. grandis, but also E. microcorys, E. globulus and E. robusta) and Pines (P. caribaea and P. patula) are in the up country, and in the Galle and R'pura forest Divisions. The Mahogany plantations are mostly in Kurunegala and Kegalle districts.

Plantation establishment aimed to replace forest loss through uncontrolled chena cultivation. Taungya system was adopted to establish Teak in the dry zone jak, under-planted with mahogany in the intermediate zone. Hardwoods were established in the dry zone, with an increasing proportion of teak, but planting of teak stopped after 1926 due to unfavourable silvicultural reports. It had been resumed again by 1939. In 1938 the policy of tree planting in patana (natural grassland) was introduced. Planting of exotic species, such as pines and eucalypts in the up-country was initiated under this scheme.

As the forest policy emphasis was given to timber and fuel wood production, the expansion of forest plantations was used as the main strategy to meet the new demand and reduce the pressure on the natural forests. Most of existing Pinus caribaea stands were planted between 1965 and 1984. P. patula was planted mainly from 1966 to 1976 especially at higher altitudes. In the dry zone, large scale planting of teak continued until the mid 1980s. During the 1970s and 1980s Eucalyptus camaldulensis and E. tereticornis were established extensively in the dry zone, together with an increasing proportion of Acacia auriculiformis and Margosa (Neem). Eucalyptus and Acacia were planted as a response to concern of a potential deficit in the fuel wood supply. One of the main forestry projects in the 1980s was the Asian Development Bank (ADB) funded Community Forestry Project (CFP) which concentrated on the development of fuelwood plantations and agroforestry in 5 of the 25 districts of Sri Lanka. Other major forest plantation projects in the 1980s were the forest resources development project funded by IDA/World Bank, the USAID project and various integrated rural development projects in more than 10 districts.

The annual planting rates by Forest Department have been declining compared to the 1960s and 1970s, and the forest plantation sub sector has become increasingly dependent on foreign funding. Other recent trends are the almost complete cessation of planting of Pines and limiting the planting of Eucalypts mainly to replacement after felling of the up country stands, and emphasis being given to the planting of indigenous hardwood, teak and margosa.

2.2 Environmental Initiatives, Protected Areas and Wildlife Resource - Status and Trends

Sri Lanka has a strong tradition in conservation where around 14% of the total land area is conserved at present. However it does not include a representative sample of areas concerned, with bio diversity particularly in the wet zone. Therefore, a survey of all the remaining natural forests to get information required on the current status and distribution of biodiversity was conducted through funding from UNDP and technical support from IUCN.

Management of conservation areas is largely ineffective and suffers from inadequate scientific direction and weak enforcement. Potential economic benefits of protected areas had being lost in the past to unsustainable land use practices. Encroachments and lack of financial incentives to use biological resources wisely could be considered as the major factors which contributed to the above.

The government recognized that the provisions for the conservation were totally inadequate in the wet zone in the Forestry Master Plan formulation in 1986. It was decided to take following steps :

1) stop logging in the natural forest areas until the conservation value of remaining natural forests was assessed.

2) Incorporate an environmental management component in the Forestry Sector Development Project which was being implemented.

Several policies and legal provisions were formulated to protect natural forests and biodiversity and these have been periodcially reformed and amended in order to accommodate new dimensions in conservation; table 3 lists of some these. Clearing of natural forests for plantations was stopped, after reviewing serious impacts on climate and other environmental factors. The complete protection of all natural forests above 5,000 feet as climate reserves was advocated through various amendments and this was included in the Forest Policy in 1938. Preservation of indigenous flora and fauna was initiated in 1929 and this was continued as a comprehensive statement of natural forest policy objectives in 1953. These policy objectives were reformulated in 1972 and 1980 giving more emphasis to preservation of environment. The Forest Ordinance has become greener through various amendments during this period and some activities such as bark stripping, tapping, quarrying, burning lime or charcoal, collecting forest products and pasturing cattle are prohibited in reserve forest under the Amendment Act No. 13 of 1966. Act No. 84 of 1988 incorporated further revisions in order to strengthen the provisions for conservation as well as to improve enforcement measures, together with increased penalties for forest offences.

The National Heritage Wilderness Areas Act was passed in 1988 to preserve unique or outstanding natural areas in their natural state. Entry to these areas was restricted by the introduction of a permit system. Activities are restricted to scientific research and observation of flora and fauna. The act was introduced to safeguard biodiversity in Sinharaja natural forest area which was declared a national heritage wilderness area in 1988 and also designated as a World Heritage site subsequently. Various laws were introduced since 1890 integrated under Act No 1 of 1908 to control the unrestricted killing of wildlife. Several uninhabited forest areas were declared as sanctuaries for protection of wildlife under the Forest Ordinance No 10 of 1885.

Administration of the forests was placed under the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands in 1930. Its first initiatives was to set up a Fauna and Flora protection committee to advise on the reservation of additional areas for the protection of flora and fauna. The most recent amendment (Act No 49 of 1993) of the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance provides for the establishment of several new categories of reserve and raises the penalties for the infringement of the ordinance. A national policy for wildlife conservation areas was recently adopted by the government and the policy was formulated in response to the Sri Lanka National Conservation Strategy of 1988. (CEA,1988)

Table 3 - Key policies and laws concerning conservation of biodiversity in forest


Policy/law (competent authority)

provision for biodiversity conservation


Timber Ordinance No.24

Reservation of forests, largely for timber production



Hooker advocates protection of natural forests above 5000 feet as climatic reserves


Forest Ordinance No. 10 [Conservation of forests]

Protection of forests and their products in reserved forest (including stream reservations) and village forests, primarily for sustained production; also, protection of wildlife in sanctuaries


Forest Ordinance No 16 [Conservator of forests]

Protection of forests and their products in reserved forests and village forests, primarily to provide for controlled exploitation of timber


First authoritative forest policy statement

Preservation of indigenous flora and fauna



Clearing of forests prohibited above 5000 feet Plantations to be gradually converted to indigenous species


Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance N0.2 [Director of Wildlife]

Protection of wildlife in national reserves (i.e. strict natural reserves, national parks, and intermediate zone comprising only crown land] and sanctuaries (comprising both crown and private land). Outside such protected areas total protection afforded to wildlife in national reserves and sanctuaries. In sanctuaries, habitats protected only on state land while traditional human activities may continue on privately-owned land.


Amendment Act No.44 in 1964

Nature reserve and jungle corridor incorporated as categories of national reserve


Amendment Act No.1 in 1970

Intermediate zone to provide for controlled hunting, was removed from ordinance.


Amendment Act No. 49 in 1993

Refuge, marine reserve and buffer zone as additional categories of national reserve


1953 National Forest Policy

Emphasis on conserving forests to preserve and ameliorate the environment, and to protect flora and


Re-stated in 1972 and 1980

fauna for aesthetic, scientific, historical and socio-economic reasons


1969 UNESCO Biological Programme and 1975 UNESCO Man and Biosphere Programme

Arboreta representative of the main bio-climatic zones established and demarcated in forest and proposed reserved


Mahaweli Environmental Project

Network of protected areas established to mitigate impact of Mahaweli Development Project on wildlife and to protect catchments in the upper reaches of Mahaweli Ganga


National Heritage Wilderness Area Act No.3 [Conservator of Forests]

Protection of state land having unique ecosystem, genetic resources, or outstanding natural features, in national heritage wilderness area


National Policy for Wildlife Conservation (approved by Cabinet)

Objectives include the maintenance of ecological processes and preservation of genetic diversity; ex-situ conservation recognized as important for threaten species


Forestry Sector Development Programme:

Logging of natural forests banned in wet zone, pending review of their values for conservation of Biodiversity, soil and water resources.

Protected areas

Most of the forest reserves were established in the 1920s. Establishment of "Man and Biosphere" reserves by the FD, where extraction of timber was not permitted, was done in 1975. In last few years, the network of forest conservation areas has expanded considerably with the addition of 13 conservation forests in the wet zone and the Knuckles conservation forest in the wet and intermediate zone. The network of wildlife sector expanded considerably during the 1980s, mostly in the basin of the Mahaweli Ganga and adjacent areas to protect the water catchment and to provide refuge for animals displaced by the Accelerated Mahaweli Development Programme.

More than 28% of the total forest area is reserved and administrated by either by the Forestry Department (FD) or Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWLC) 16.1% and 12.4% respectively - see Table 4.

Table 4 - Extent of designated areas administrated by the FD and the DWLC


Area, ha/proportion of total land area, %

National designation



in 1994

Forestry Department

Forest reserve

Proposed reserve

National Heritage

Wilderness area



Jungle Corridor

National Park

Nature Reserve


Strict Natural















11,187(0. 2%)


10,360( 0.2%)

462,448( 7.0%)

33,372( 0.5%)

284,117( 4.3%)

31,574( 0.5%)


466,335( 7.1%)

589,388( 8.9%)

11,187( 0.2%)


10,360( 0.2%)

(not in existence since in 1995)

462,448( 7.0%)

33,372( 0.5%)

284,117( 4.3%)

31,574( 0.5%)


At present, the FD manages 111,099 ha or 1.7% of the total land area for conservation. Many of the protected areas are small and isolated: 30% of protected areas are less than 1,000 ha and 54% are less than 10,000 ha. Most protected areas of the FD are smaller than 1,000 ha. while most of those of DWLC are larger than 1000 ha. FDs small protected areas are biosphere reserves which are core areas of much larger forest or proposed reserves.

Sri Lanka participates in all three international initiatives concerned with protected areas. The most important site for biodiversity conservation is Sinharaja which has been declared a biosphere reserve under the UNESCO MAB programme and inscribed on the World Heritage List of Natural Sites (table 5).

Table 5 - Natural sites designated for conservation under international initiatives

International initiative Protected area Year Area (ha)

Ramsar Wetland Conservation Bundala S 1990 6,216

UNESCO MAB Programme Hurulu FR 1977 524

Sinharaja FR/PR 1978 8,864

World Heritage Convention Sinharaja NHWA 1988 11,187

Table 6 - Numbers of species of vascular plants, vertebrates and selected invertebrate groups and levels of endemism and threat.




Endemic species
















90( 29%)








0( 0%)

0( 0%)

0( 0%)

0( 0%)



487( 14%)







81( 33%)

3( 1%)

14( 6%)





14( 4%)

0( 0%)

0( 0%)

0( 0%)

0( 0%)

Land molluscs


152( 57%)

0( 0%)



0( 0%)

Freshwater fishes


30( 46%)







29( 60%)

0( 0%)



0( 0%)



113( 70%)

9( 6%)



1( 1%)



56( 13%)

8( 2%)

24( 6%)





39( 44%)




0( 0%)

As becomes evident in Table 6, many species found in Sri Lanka are endemic: for example 26% of flowering plants, 76% of land snails, 60% of amphibians and 49% of reptiles. About 40% of woody plants are endemic, a large number of them are rare, having extremely localized distributions in remnant forest fragments (Table 8). For example, 119 plant species are restricted to single forest; 49 of these are rare and endemic. Environmental Management Division of FD has recorded rare species in new localities, rarities not collected or seen since last century due to inadequate knowledge. Existing information revealed that numerous species are threatened with extinction according to either national or international criteria.

Some of these species facing extinction due to further loss of forests (table 7). One Dipterocarp species which is endemic and has become extinct. Data for reptiles indicates that at least 11% of the endemic snake fauna has not been recorded since 1950 or earlier.

Table 7 - Possible species extinction in selected plant and animal groups

Group species endemic Extinct species Extinct species

Dipterocarps 58 58 1(1.7%) 1( 1.7%)

Snakes 162 79 14(8.6%) 13(16.5%)

There are some species which become rare very often due to over-exploitation. For example; Satin wood (Chloroxylon swietenia), Ebony (Diospyros ebenum), Calamander (Diospyros quaesita) and Nedun (Pericopsis mooniana) are now rare. Madara (Cleistanthus collinus) seems to have been exploited to extinct. Medicinal and ornamental species such as orchids are also at risk from exploitation. Of the 170 species of orchids found mostly in forest, 13 species are likely to become extinct including Dendrobium maccarthiae, D. heterocarpum, Ipsea speciosa and Rhynchostylis retusa. Among forest vertebrates, the elephants have declined from more than 10,000 to about 2,500 - 3,000 in 1993. This decline is due to hunting and destruction of habitat, particularly in the wet montane forest areas.

Today a large number of wild fruits are consumed mostly by villagers, but their genetic diversity has not been studied and preserved. The gene pool of many medicinal plants and wild relatives of cultivated plants is still found only in the wild where it is threatened by continuing deforestation and unsustainable exploitation. Few studies were carried out on large vertebrates notably elephants and leopard which indicate a decrease in diversity as a consequence of geographic isolation from the Indian subcontinent. Preliminary results from the National Conservation Review show that from 20% to >50% of the species in plant and animal groups were found in the lowland rain forests and moist monsoon forest of four districts in the wet zone.

Table 8 - Diversity and status of selected plants and animal groups recorded in lowland rain forest and moist monsoon forests in Galle, Matara, Kalutara, and Rathnapura Districts

Selected group

No. of species recorded in rain/moist monsoon forest


No. of species in group




Rare endemic

Woody plants



119( 8%)






14( 6%)

2( 1%)




>27 (10%)

9( 3%)

22( 8%)


Freshwater fishes















13( 8%)






22( 5%)

19( 5%)








2.3 Wood Based Industries (including Pulp and Paper) - Status, Trends, Transition

The main problem of wood based industries is the shortage of wood, which limits the production possibilities of the domestic saw milling and plywood industries. People will have to pay increasingly high prices for wood based forest products. The widening gap between the demand and supply of forest products is likely to be met by increasing imports, which will place a heavy burden on the balance of payments. Due to the above facts it is not possible to control illegal logging and sawmills will continue to get their wood supplies from unsustainable sources. The wood based industry is facing critical problems today, due to:

· Scarcity of wood resulting in high raw material costs, low utilization capacity rates, and consequently reduced labour productivity;

· Old inefficient machinery that has not been designed for utilizing small logs causing high wastage;

· Inadequate management and labour skills, resulting in low recovery rates, quality and overall productivity;

· Unreliable and costly power supply;

· Lack of stable policy directions for wood based industry development;

· Excessive regulation of transport of wood and finished products and slow and unreliable movement of wood;

· Inadequate financial arrangement for modernizing the industry;

· Lack of market and industry information systems;

· Bad image of the industry;

· Lack of research support and inefficient utilization and dissemination of existing information.

The total sawn wood consumption in 1993 was about 0.544 million m3, of which 29,000 m3 were imported (about 5%). The main panel product is plywood. Consumption of plywood was about 28,000 m3 of which 5,000m3 were produced domestically and the other 23,000 m3 was imported. Fibreboard consumption in 1993 was about 2,500 m3 and that of particle board was about 1,500 m3. All of particle board and fibreboard were imported. Table 9 reports production of selected wood products and its roundwood equivalent.

The sawmilling sector consists of more than 4000 sawmills with capacity ranging from a few cubic metres to 7,000 m3/year. The total output of sawn wood in 1993 was estimated to be about 514,000 m3. Sawmills are labour intensive. About 10,000-12,000 people are involved in saw milling sector. Residues of sawmills have not been utilized industrially with few exception.

In 1993 the wood based panel industries included 12 small plywood mills producing plywood from rubberwood for tea chests, doors and construction purposes. . The output range of these plywood mills is 120-1,300 m3/year. A relatively large plywood mill in Gintota was established in 1941 was reopened under private management in 1994. It aims to process 2,000 m3 of imported logs per month.

The total output of the plywood mills was 4,900 m3. It accounted for 36% of the total consumption. The domestic supply of plywood logs will decline by the end of the century. At the same time, rising log prices will reduce the competitiveness of the sector. Sri Lanka has no competitiveness for plywood production today, because of poor availability of wood. Industry is not prepared to make large investment in modern plywood mills.

There is small particle board mill using straw as raw material which has a capacity around 8,000 m3/year but facing technical problems. The demand for particle boards and fibreboard will still be so low in 2020 that it does not justify the establishment of a plant of an economic size. Export is not realistic because, Sri Lanka has no competitive advantage in any kind of panel production.

There were two pulp and paper mills with combined maximum capacity of 37,500 t/year. In 1993, the combined production of the two mills was about 28,500 t/year. Both of the pulp mills were designed to use non wood fibre as their main raw material, with the rest being waste paper and imported wood pulp. The Valaichchenai pulp production was phased out in 1993 because of environmental problems, the high cost of production and the poor quality of the rice straw pulp. No major investments were made since the mills were started in 1975 and 1978, and as a result the machinery and equipment is worn out, and productivity is poor. In early 1994 the mills employed about 2,700 people. The demand for paper and paperboard in 2020 is projected to reach about 407,000 t compared with 130,000 t in 1993.

Other wood products industries include furniture, impregnation and the manufacture of various wooden items. More than 9,000 units manufacturing furniture which employ about 28,000 people were in production in 1993.

Table 9 - Industrial forest products and pole production and wood consumption in 1993 (million m3)

Product Production Roundwood consumption

Sawn wood 0.507 1.280

Plywood and veneer 0.005 0.020

Wooden poles 0.341 0.341

Total 0.853 1.650

2.4 Wood Energy/Fuel Wood Status Trends and Transition

During the last two decades the consumption of energy has grown annually by about 1.7%. The energy sector is dominated by bio energy and the share of biomass in 1994 was about 67%. Biomass fuels are of crucial importance especially to rural people who do not have access to other energy sources. Fuel wood is also the main thermal energy source for many industries.

After the liberalization of the economy in 1977 the demand for energy increased substantially. In addition, the sharp increase in the price of petroleum products in 1970s resulted in the industrial sector switching from petroleum to fuel wood wherever possible.

The real price of fuel wood has increased very slowly during the last 10 years which suggests that fuel wood scarcity is not a serious problem at national level. However, fuel wood deficits and high prices have been reported in certain locations due to increased transportation costs and inadequate availability of marketed fuel wood. Despite the recent price increases fuelwood is still the relatively chief energy from which explain why the changes in the household energy consumption pattern have been very slow.

According to a study done during the forestry master plan preparation the average per capita consumption of bio energy was estimated at 1.35 kg/day. This finding was compatible with the estimates obtained in 3 earlier studies and are summarized in Table 10.

Table 10 - Summary of fuel wood consumption studies


Year of Data collection

Daily Consumption/


Natural Resources, Energy and Science Authority (NARESA)

1981 - 1983


Forestry Master Plan



Consumer finance and socio economic survey



Forestry Sector Master Plan



Most of the fuel wood energy is consumed by the household sector. The share of the household sector has declined from about 85% in 1992 to around 80% in 1995. The share of industry in 1995 was estimated be 16%. The total consumption of fuelwood by households in 1993 was estimated to be about 8.15 million tons. The supply of fuel wood by various sources are given in Table 11.

Table 11 - Supply of fuelwood by various sources


Rubber wood

Crop Residues

Other Fuel Wood


Consumption survey








1993 FSMP




In the industrial sector fuel wood accounts for 49% of the energy consumed in 1992 and Table 12 shows the estimated consumption of fuelwood by various subsectors.

Table 12 - Estimated consumption of fuelwood by the industrial commercial sub sector (1992)

2.5 Non Wood Forest Products: Status and Trends

Non Wood Forest Products (NWFP's) have an important role in the rural economy and about 14 million rural people depend on the natural forests for the supply of a wide range of them. The knowledge, skills, social customs and traditions related to these products are passed on from one generation to another and form a part of the traditional culture.

A majority of the Sri Lankan people in rural areas use forest plants in one form or another. A survey in just one area showed that 200 tree species were used by the adjacent communities. However, the depletion of natural forest cover, coupled with degradation of the same, have had two major impacts on non wood forest products. Firstly, the resource base has dwindled and adversely affected the welfare of rural people. Secondly, exploitation of the remaining resources has been intensified. In some areas NWFP resources have been over-exploited and biodiversity has been lost. For some communities traditionally depending on non wood forest products, this amounts to the disruption of the traditional way of life.

Due to the fact that these include large number of heterogeneous products, the lack of data on extraction rates, market prices and time used for collection and the subsistence nature of much of the consumption, it is very difficult to assess the economic contribution of these products. However, the few case studies undertaken provide a good indication of their importance in the rural economy. In the Knuckles region on an average about 16% of the total family income and 5% of the money income come from non wood forest products. In addition, in some specific places cultivation of Cardamom in the forests provides about 26% of the total family income. The per hectare value of non wood forest products in the Knuckles study was found to be about Rs. 3,700/= (IUCN 1991.) From the survey of 135 households living close to Sinharaja Rain Forest the average annual income from non wood forest products was estimated to be about Rs. 600/= per ha. The nationwide survey on traditional uses of forests (IUCN 1995) has revealed that the income obtained by families who are engaged in collection and utilization of NWFP in lowland rain forest amounts to Rs. 28,000 per family per year, in tropical montane rain forests, Rs. 21,000/=, in Savanna land Rs. 7,500/= and dry zone forests ranging from Rs. 5,000/= to Rs. 15,000/=.

The development programmes in the non wood forestry sector include conservation of the resource base through establishment of a protected area network; undertaking a comprehensive research and development programme which includes resource inventories, ethono botanical studies, growth yield studies and studies on natural regeneration, and on propagation techniques and genetic improvement; identification of constituents of traditional remedies and pharmacological value of medicinal plants; pharmaceutical development; improved processing, transport and storage techniques. The Ministry of Indigenous Medicine of Sri Lanka has already started a research programme to identify constituents of traditional remedies and pharmacological evaluation of medicinal plants. In addition it is also envisaged that domestication and cultivation of some identified non wood forest product species will be done, coupled with a comprehensive network for extension and other support services. It is also important that market and feasibility studies be done and the development of a database on resource and markets be carried out. Dissemination of market information and promotion of small scale industries also are to be undertaken. The importance of policy and legal reforms and the establishment of a inter-sectoral mechanism in order to achieve better coordination is also envisaged.

2.5.1 Medicinal Plants

It is estimated that more than 50% of the population use Ayurvedic medicine, often together with modern medicine, and about 30% use only Ayurvedic medicine. Medicinal Plants have been used to treat or cure 300 ailments in Sri Lanka. It is also recorded that well over 1,000 of the 3,500 plant species available in Sri Lanka are used in traditional medicine. The values of medicinal plants collected from some specific forest areas are given in table 13. (Socio-economic survey IUCN 1995).

Table 13 - Value of Medicinal Herbs collected

Name of the Forests

Value in Rs. per family per year

1. Delwala


2. Dellawa


3. Kekunadura


4. Kalugala


5. Kottawa Kohomba


6. Welihena


7. Wiharakele


8. Oliagankele


9. Kandewattegoda


10.Nahitiya Madampe




Medicinal plants are found in natural forests and non forest lands and to a lesser extent from herbal gardens. The proportion that comes from the natural forest is unknown. However, more than 50% of the plants identified as used in Ayurveda are found in the natural forests. In one study area in the Adam's peak range, it was found that the villagers collect around 200 medicinal plant species. There is no scientific information on the sustainable yields of the main medicinal plants or their annual extraction rates. However, it is known that many important plants such as Bim Kohomba (Monrovia pumila), Asoca (Saraka asoca), Rathadun (Pterocarpus spps) have become rare due to over exploitation.

The level of employment in the medicinal plants sector is not known as extraction is not recorded and it is not done on a full time basis. Most families living close to the natural forests collect medicinal plants mainly for their own consumption and very few families are traditionally involved in the collection of medicinal plants for the market. The collectors often belong to the poorest income groups in the villages.

There are no estimates on the total quantity of medicinal plants used in the country or of their contribution to economy. The only available statistics are on international trade for which the figures from 1992-1993 are given in table 14. It is clear that imports have increased by about 54 times in nominal value while the exports have increased only by about 12 times. This trend also reflects the fact that Sri Lanka imports high value added products and exports low value added ones.

Table 14 - Imports and Exports and Medicinal Plants (in Rs. million): 1990-1993

2.5.2 Rattan

All the rattans found in the country belong to the genus Calamus and eight of the ten indigenous species are endemic. Three species are of large diameter while the rest are of small diameter. Most of the rattans are extracted from natural forests and cultivation is done only on a small scale. Except for two species, one in the dry zone and the other found in the wet lowland and the selected areas in the dry lowlands, the rest of the species are depleted and confined almost exclusively to protected areas in the lowland rain forests. However, the two species mentioned above are of inferior quality and suitable only for low quality furniture. Although the exact extent of the rattan resources is not known, unplanned collection continues.

Despite the decline in the resource base the rattan industry continue to play an important role for the rural communities living close to the rattan resources. According to the master plan for handicraft development (1987), there are about 2,200 rattan craftsmen and 700 families involved in the industry. About half of them are employed full time while the others on part time. The rattan industry is spread over 13 of the 25 districts in Sri Lanka.

Due to the non availability of high quality rattan and the dwindling resource base, producers of high quality rattan furniture have started importing high quality rattan from Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia and 80% of the rattans consumed by these industries are imported. Import and export values of rattan furniture and rattan from 1991-1994 are shown in table 15.

Table 15 - Value of Import and export of Rattan and rattan furniture (in Rs. million)

2.5.3 Bamboo

According to a resource survey there are about 30 species of Bamboo available in Sri Lanka. Out of these, one genus and eight species are endemic. Out of the 20 species which are introduced, seven are cultivated extensively. Many of the endemic bamboos are of shrubby types. Out of the five species commonly used, three are native and two are introduced.

Bamboos are used in cottage handicraft industry and also in construction industry. The manufacture of bamboo handicraft is almost entirely based on the small diameter batta (Ochlandra stridula) and Una Bamboo, (Bambusa Vulgaris). They are used for the manufacture of utensils, and decorative handicrafts too. Bambusa Vulgaris is the most important bamboo species used in the construction industry. According to estimates done during Forestry Sector Master Plan preparation, (1994) the total annual consumption is around 80,000 M3.

Although there are no detailed data available on the existing stocks and annual extraction rates, it appears that there is continuing over exploitation of the indigenous bamboo's in the natural forests and on river banks. According to the 1987 Master Plan for Handicraft Development there are about 250 families and 700 workers involved in bamboo industry. Most people who are involved in the industry use Batta to produce various items such as flower pots, cooking utensils and handicrafts They obtain a net income of approximately Rs. 16,000/= per year. (IDRC 1991).

2.5.4 Edible Plants

According to the traditional use of forests survey (1991 IUCN), there is a distinct relation among major vegetation types (forests types) and food collection habits. High collection rates had been recorded in the intermediate and the dry zone forests where this amounts to around 65% to 70% of the households. Whereas the relation is low in the montane zone forests where it is only around 20% of the households.

Value of edible plants collected from some specific natural wet zone forests are given in the table 16 (IUCN 1991).

Table 16 - Value of Edible Plants: Collectable

However, the collection of edible plants is mainly for consumption purposes and values given above indicate only the income generated by rural communities adjacent to these forests areas by selling the collected edible plants.

One of the commercialized industries in the category of edible plants is Kitul (Caryta Urens) products. Although this tree provides a variety of products the most popular one is the sap. Kitul sap is the base for widely popular local beer (toddy), treacle and jaggery. Kitul tapping has a long history in Sri Lanka and is noted to be one of the important traditional trades in the past. There is even a special group or caste of people who are involved in kitul tapping and jaggery making. There are two marked clusters of kitul tapping areas in the state natural forests. The largest is in the southern and south western part of the country (Ratnapura, Galle and Matara districts)

According to a recent survey, the contribution of kitul products to the total income is quite significant. The income from kitul products is around 70% of the total non wood forests product income. The average value of kitul products from low land rain forests is around Rs. 10,000 per hectare, per year. Table 17 indicates the income from kitul products in some selected forests in the wet zone.

Table 17 - Value of Kitul Products from wet zone Forest Areas:

Name of the Forests

Average Income from Forests (Rs. per hc. per year)

Income from Kitul Rs. hc. per year


























Though the production is localized there is high demand for kitul products all over the country both in rural and urban markets. However the marketing structure of kitul products has not been studied well. One of the basic problems in kitul products marketing is the non availability of quality control measures. Marketing of kitul toddy has been seriously affected, due to existing legal measures.

2.5.5 Resin Tapping

Pinus caribaea plantations are being tapped commercially for oleo resin at present. Only around 2,500 ha. are being tapped commercially by the private sector under a long term lease agreement at present. It is estimated that around 8,000 ha. of the 11,000 ha. available could be tapped commercially and annual resin production from 8,000 ha. will be around 4,500 to 6,000 metric tons, which is enough for a small scale resin processing industry. If tapping is carried out efficiently around 3,200 people could be employed in tapping and another 200-300 people could be employed in resin transport, processing and trade. The Forest Department has initiated action to lease these plantations to prospective tapping companies.

In 1993 the derivatives of oleo-resin such as rosin and turpentine worth about Rs. 40 million were imported to Sri Lanka. If an efficient resin industry is established the major part of the above amount could be produced in Sri Lanka. In addition there is very good demand for turpentine and rosin in the world market at present.

2.6 Services of the Forest, Status and Trends

Forests provides numerous services in addition to the goods which are normally attributed to them. Some of the services provided by the forests are:

a) Provide good micro-climate for a comfortable living;

b) They help to conserve top soil and prevent erosion, earth slips and landslides;

c) Serve as barriers to strong desiccating winds, storms and cyclones;

d) Ensure dry weather flow of water in streams;

e) Stabilize the oxygen and Carbon-dioxide ratio in the atmosphere;

f) Help in reducing ultraviolet radiation that reaches the earth through the thinning of ozone layer of the upper atmosphere.

Sri Lanka's mid mountains which form the main watershed area were covered with forests at the turn of the century, but were cleared to plant Coffee initially and then Tea by the British during early parts of the century. This major deforestation together with clearing for vegetable cultivation has created enormous environment problems such as soil erosion, siltation of reservoirs and rivers, flash floods and landslides. Table 18 shows the effect of conversion of forest areas to other land uses on soil erosion in the upper Mahaweli watershed.

Table 18 - Annual soil losses from major land use in Upper Mahaweli Watershed

Land Uses

Soil Losses (t/ha.)

Dense forest

Degraded forest and scrub

      Degraded grass land

      Seedling tea under poor management

Chena and tobacco

Vegetable gardens







A study done recently in the Mahaweli area has shown that the lifespan of the major reservoirs built under this project has been reduced almost by half due to siltation. In addition flash floods and earth slips during the rainy season have become a common occurrence. Therefore, the importance of forest cover is the middle watershed areas are vital for the downstream agriculture, hydro electric power generation and maintenance of agricultural productivity.

Ecotourism and recreation have become one of the other important services of the forest areas. Especially the national parks under the Department of Wild Life Conservation attract many visitors both local as well as foreign. The table 19 below gives the number of visitors to some of the National Parks in Sri Lanka and the income earned through admission fees.

Table 19 - No. visitors and income earned from National Parks

Name of the National Park




No. of Visitors

Income Earned (Rs. Million)

No. of Visitors

Income Earned (Rs. Million)
















Apart from these areas some forests under the Forest Department also attract visitors. The two main forests areas are Sinharaja which is a world heritage area and Udawattekele (an urban forest developed during ancient kingdom) in the central part of Sri Lanka. The numbers of visitors to these areas are given in table 20.

Table 20 - No. of visitors: to Forest Department areas

Name of the Forests









In addition Forest Department issues permits at a very nominal fee for small blocks of natural forests which are termed "hermitage" for the use of Buddhist monks as a residential place for meditation. This is one of the traditional practices that has come down from the days when Sinhalese Kings ruled the country. It is also a good method of forest protection and no illegal cutting normally takes place in these forest blocks. In most instances the resident monks have helped the Forest Department to rehabilitate degraded forest areas with local species. This practice should be encouraged even though the areas involved are small.

There are probably no more than a thousand tribal people now living in the forests in Sri Lanka. Those that remain constitute the Vedda people found in the eastern part of the country. They have been given a block of forests to enable them to pursue some of their forest based activities; whether they really do pursue them is debatable.

Students and academic staff of various Universities and environment groups use the forest areas for study purposes. One of the most popular places for research is the Sinharaja Forest Reserve in the South West of Sri Lanka which is listed as a natural world heritage site. In addition Horton Plains National Park, Knuckles Forest Reserve and Hakgala strict Nature Reserve also attract lot of personnel for research purposes.

2.7 Institutions and Policies

2.7.1 Policies and legislation

A national forest policy was developed in 1995 and accepted by the government. The scope of the policy is forestry in a broad sense including its biophysical, environmental, socio- political and economic components. The policy acknowledges concern for safeguarding the remaining natural forests for prosperity so as to conserve biodiversity, soil and water resources. It emphazises the importance of retaining the present natural forest cover and increasing the overall tree cover. A large part of the forests are to be completely protected through the establishment of a protected area system for the conservation of biodiversity, soil and water. Multiple use forestry is to be promoted. The remaining natural forests are to be used sustainably to provide for the growing demand for bio-energy, wood and non wood forest products and various services especially for the benefit of the rural population without ignoring environmental objectives.

The policy also recognizes the crucial role to be played by home gardens, other agro forestry systems and trees on non forest land, in supplying timber, bio-energy and non wood forest products. The importance of development of partnerships with local people communities, NGOs and the local private sector are also emphasized in the policy. The people who co-existed with the forests for centuries have close cultural and even spiritual linkages with them and the policy emphazises that these values must be recognized and respected.

The policy aims therefore, at broadening the institutional frame work for forest management with clearly defined roles and responsibilities for the forest partners. Farmers, State sector, community organization, NGOs and small and medium scale commercial entrepreneurs will all have a role in activities such as protecting the forests, growing trees to meet the wood and the bio-energy requirements, supplying raw material for wood based industries and the harvesting, transporting, processing and distribution of various forest products. Action has been initiated to make legal reforms to reflect the above mentioned national forest policy. In this context it is emphazised that the following aspects were considered in the formulation of new legislation:

a) The legislation to be drafted should reflect the new policy as a whole and ad-hoc drafting of legislation to meet particular but limited problems should be avoided.

b) Special attention must be paid to providing a supporting framework for the involvement of the various development partners in forestry development including in policy formulation.

c) The forest and protected area classification has to be rationalized and in each type of area the roles and responsibilities of the various development partners, the management objectives and the allowable activities, must be clearly specified.

d) It should have the necessary provisions for promoting the participation of the people and non-state sector in tree growing, management, and protection. Laws have to be introduced specifically enabling leasehold forestry, formation of user groups and private tree growing and clarification of the land and tree tenure arrangements.

e) The necessary legal framework must be provided for implementing forest development activities through incentives, sanctions and other regulatory measures.

f) It should define a mechanism for the regular revision and updating of sectoral plans.

g) A balance must be achieved between sanction-based and market-based regulations.

h) Sanctions must be reviewed and updated to reflect current trends and social realities.

i) Easy legal mechanisms such as mediation and special "Forestry Courts" must be considered for the resolution of forest disputes.

j) Mechanisms for the public involvement in enforcement and implementation must be developed and defined in legislation.

2.7.2 Institutions

There are three main institutions of government which are involved in forestry activities. They are the Forest Department (FD), the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DPWC) and the State Timber Corporation. There seems to be a considerable overlapping between the functions of Department of Wildlife Conservation and Forest Department specially in conservation aspects. At present both the Timber Corporation and the Forest Department are under the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands & Forestry and the Wildlife Department (which was also under the same Ministry till recently) was handed over to the Ministry of Public Administration, Local Government, Plantation Industries and Parliamentary Affairs. The Forestry Department is responsible for the management of forest areas under its jurisdiction which includes production as well as protection forests. The Forest Department is headed by the Conservator of Forests assisted by three Additional Conservators responsible for operations, research and administration. The operational divisions in the Head Office are silviculture, forestry inventory and management, environmental conservation, extension and education, planning and monitoring and protection and law enforcement and all of these sections are headed by a Deputy Conservator of Forests. In addition personnel administration and finance divisions are responsible for administration (personnel) finance matters respectively. The field activities are implemented through 18 Forestry divisions, 68 forest ranges and 34 forest beats.

The Department of Wildlife Conservation has main responsibility for conservation of wildlife in the areas under its jurisdiction. The department is headed by the Director with the assistance of an Additional Director. In addition there are five Deputy Directors responsible in management, field operations, research, and training veterinary science and administration.

The State Timber Corporation is the government corporation responsible for harvesting, processing and the sale of wood material from the state forests. At present the State Timber Corporation has monopoly access to state produced woods, which has resulted in a somewhat inefficient operation. It is intended to do away with this monopoly access in the future which will pressurise the State Timber Corporation to improve its operations.

In addition, the Ministry of Transport, Highways, Environmental and Women Affairs and the central environmental authority (which is an institution under this Ministry) are responsible for the development of Environmental Policy and development and enforcement of the legislation including monitoring of environmental regulations and coordinating environmental impact assessments.

Private companies in the plantation sector play an important role in forestry, and rubber estates are a major source of timber and fuel wood whereas tea estates also have fuel wood plantations. The tea industry is the main industrial consumer of fuel wood. At present most of the timber is processed by small and middle scale private entrepreneurs. Farmers and other small tree growers play a key role in the forestry sector. They are the most important producers of the timber and bioenergy as well as consumer of various forest products and services. Farmers together with rural people are in key positions in managing protecting and natural forest resources.

There are 1,000 NGOs at present in Sri Lanka and more than 200 of them deal with forestry either directly or indirectly. These NGOs represent a valuable resource that should be tapped to develop forestry and conserve the environment.

The University of Sri Jayewardanepura offers a two-year M.Sc. degree in environmental and forestry and also offers a forestry as a special subject in the undergraduate B.Sc. programme. The postgraduate institute of agriculture under the University of Peradeniya offers courses in agro forestry and hydrology under its M.Phil and Ph.D. courses. The Forest Department conducts two-year in-service diploma courses and one year certificate courses at the Sri Lanka Forestry Institute.

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