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5.1 Area and types of forest

In ecological terms, Kyrgyzstan is a very rich country. It is estimated that the current forest cover is somewhere in the order of four percent of the total territory of the country or between 700,000 and 800,000 ha in absolute terms. Kyrgyz forests, which are all state owned, are very limited in area, but highly diverse. They can be grouped in four main types (Müller and Venglovsky 1998; Venglovsky 1998; Cornet and Rajapbaev 2004):

Apart from natural forests of the above types, there are also plantations, chiefly of two kinds. Firstly, plantations of naturally occurring as well as introduced tree species within the area of natural distribution of the described forest types, and secondly, plantations of poplar near or within settled areas for the purpose of timber production for construction and as windbreaks.

Map: Forests in Kyrgyzstan. Source: taken from a draft of: Scheuber, M., Müller, U. and Köhl, M. (2000): Wald und Forstwirtshaft Kirgistans. Schweiz. Zeitschrift für Forstwesen. 151(3): 69-74. (Swiss Forestry Journal). The authors give the GIS Laboratory of KIRFOR as source.

Over the centuries the area of today’s Kyrgyzstan has lost much of its original forest cover, in particular during the twentieth century. It is estimated that in the 1930s the Republic’s forest cover was still around 7 percent (Gan 1982), but subsequent massive overexploitations during the Second World War and unsustainable land use caused a rapid decline in forest cover. In an attempt to alter course, a new forest policy was developed in the late 1940s, which aimed primarily at the conservation of the remaining forests and an increase in forest cover, and the forest sector was reorganized (Müller and Venglovsky 1998). An ambitious reforestation programme was launched, albeit with limited success in terms of increased forest cover.

Currently, the state of the country’s forests is again deteriorating. This is mainly due to increased pressure on forests on the one hand and the breakdown of an effective forest management system after independence, on the other. The state is unable to assure effective forest management on its own as a result of a lack of funding for protective and maintenance activities (Blaser et al. 1998). At the same time, pressure on easily accessible forests by a variety of stakeholders has increased, since the economic changes have resulted both in difficulties in obtaining energy supplies other than fuelwood and in reduced opportunities for salaried employment and therefore in a relapse into subsistence agriculture in all parts of the country.

5.2 Forest sector institutional arrangements

The State Forest Service (SFS) is the responsible state body for the implementation of the national forest policy, for forest management, hunting, management of national parks and other protected areas and for biodiversity conservation. It is part of the presidential administration and has its headquarters in the capital Bishkek. Provincial forest administration units are in charge for forest management at the level of each province (oblast). Locally, more than forty State Forest Farms (leshoz) are responsible for the protection and management of the forests and of state owned non-forested land located on leshoz territory, mainly pastures but sometimes also arable land. The entirety of the forested and non-forested land on leshozes forms the state forest estate (Goslesfund) all of which is destined for forestry use in the long run.

The leshozes report to the Oblast forest administration. A leshoz is typically made up of a central office with technical and administrative staff and several forest ranges. During the Soviet period the leshozes were organized as cooperatives covering all basic needs of the resident leshoz "community" (products for everyday life, primary health care, nursery care, schooling, and social amenities) and served in this way as a complete unit of social organization (Carter et al. 2003). Indeed, to a considerable extent some leshozes continue to approximate such a residential community.

The organization and functioning of the forest sector during the Soviet period had important implications for the building-up of a national forest sector in Kyrgyzstan after its independence, such as:

These features still influence Kyrgyz forest policy and organization to a great extent, but are gradually changing with the development of a new forest policy and ongoing institutional reforms.

In 2003, a very thorough review of the current "Forest Concept" and the five year forestry programme was undertaken, with participation of foresters in workshops held throughout the country, in every oblast. A new draft "Forest Concept" has been prepared and is due to be approved in early 2004. This will be followed by the preparation of a National Forestry Programme, which will more concretely describe the steps for a period of ten years, which will be further specified in five year operational plans. The point of departure for the "Forest Concept" is the identification of forest, people and the state as three "corner stones". The principle is worked out in ten strategic lines which indicate ways to address existing bottlenecks in order to make forestry a healthy and sustainable sector. These are in technical, financial, organizational, educational and promotional spheres. The role of the population in the management of forests will be strongly promoted, both through privatization of productive functions and through leasing of forest lands to individuals or groups. The role of the state will change into a facilitating one, as coordinator of the various activities towards development of multifunctional forest management.

The development of the Forest Concept has been a promising exercise, with participation of staff members from all levels of the SFS, as well as representatives of local administration and forest users. For the latter however it was not always easy to express their opinion amongst many professional foresters as they were not very prepared for the topic nor had they mandates as elected representatives of larger groups. As a first initiative towards a real bottom-up planning it was, however, a commendable move.

The SFS recognises that forestry activities cannot be conducted without consideration of the needs expressed by the stakeholders. It recognises that the conservation of forest resources and development of the forestry sector should be based on a complete building of responsibility of the general public and that it will be necessary to promote active participation of individual persons or their groups from the private sector in order to ensure economic and social benefits. All productive functions in forest management should be given into private hands - but the ownership shall remain in state hands as forests are a common good providing services to the whole population.

A major element of proposed institutional reform is decentralization and simplification of the current administrative structure. At the First National Foresters Conference (held in September 2002), the Chairman of the SFS officially declared that forest rangers[4] would be the key figures "in the forestry sector". This would mean that the rangers would be at the centre of both decision making and implementation of forest management. The heavy bureaucratic system involving leshozes and oblast forest administration would be reorganized into a more advice and support oriented service rather than the current double administrative and control system. The intention of these reforms is clear and concrete steps are to start in the near future.

5.3 Forest tenure and access

All forests and pastures in Kyrgyzstan are state-owned. In the case of pastures outside of leshozes, use rights are granted in the form of leases, for which fees are collected by the Ail Okmot and shared with the Rayon or Oblast authorities (Bylski et al. 2001). The leases for pastures are typically annual, but can also be longer term (ibid).

In the case of forests and pastures within leshozes, the leshoz is responsible for management and can allow access through leases. Leases within leshozes are also provided for farming plots. Again, the lease period is variable, and there are now a number of different types of leases and a variety of arrangements apply. For example, in the leshozes with walnut-fruit forests, leases allow people to collect a certain amount of fuelwood, to obtain agricultural plots, to collect hay or to harvest walnuts or fruit for sale. In exchange for access to forest resources they are usually expected to pay a share of the walnut harvest (40-70 percent), a set amount of walnuts depending on the size of the family (100-400 kg), payment in cash, or carry out certain task for the leshoz, such as collecting seeds or preparing and planting of seedlings. In some cases, in exchange for labour implemented for the leshoz, a person can use forest resources free of charge.

There are several different types of lease arrangements. Prior to the introduction of Collaborative Forest Management, seasonal (i.e. annual) leases were common. In addition to leases which allow collection of forest products, lease arrangements are also made which allow use of leshoz land for haymaking or tilling.

5.4 Collaborative Forest Management

The approach to forest management in Kyrgyzstan known as Collaborative Forest Management (CFM) has its origins in an international seminar on the walnut-fruit forests held in Arslanbop amidst the walnut-fruit forest in September 1995 (Blaser et al. 1998) and a subsequently elaborated action plan for these forests (Goslesagentsvo 1996). Based on discussion of international examples of collaborative or participatory approaches to forest management discussed at that seminar, a project was proposed to explore collaborative management of NTFPs in these forests. The project commenced in two leshozes in 1998[5].

The original expectation would be that CFM in Kyrgyzstan would have some of the key characteristics of collaborative forest management projects elsewhere. The main assumptions were that the people resident in the area were to some extent dependent on forest products and would therefore have a strong interest in protecting and managing them if they were to obtain benefits from harvesting the products of the forests, especially walnuts, which can be a major source of income in good seasons. It was assumed that guaranteed long-term access to a forest plot would be a strong incentive for people to protect and manage the forest as secure income is an important aspect of livelihood strategies. It was also assumed that a community role in management would involve participation in planning and decision-making, not just provision of labour.

It is important to stress here that poverty was not an explicit concern at the beginning of the Kyrgyz-Swiss CFM Project. The emphasis of the project was "more on sustainable forest management than local livelihoods" (Carter et al, 2003). However equity in the distribution of leases and, thus, benefits, emerged as a concern (Fisher, 1999) and the value of forests for livelihoods was always recognised.

The approach that emerged was rather different from the "community-based" approach that had been envisaged. The leshozes quickly developed a lease model for CFM, based on the sort of individual contracts described above. In some ways this is not surprising, as leases providing access rights in exchange for services or payment were already in existence. However, the new approach flourished in the first two leshozes (Ortok and Usgen) and CFM was rapidly expanded into a national programme, ultimately supported by National CFM Regulations, signed on 7 July 2001 (Decree Number 377).

One of the main features of the new regulations was that CFM leases were to be issued for five years in the first instance and then would extended for an additional 49 years. The tenant receives 100 percent of all income and products harvested under the lease. This contrasts with regular leases held for a number of years and seasonal leases, in which the leaseholder receives a specified share of the income and the leshoz receives the rest. The actual percentages vary. Another form of lease (issued under Decree No 226) is a long term lease in which people pay a percentage of the value of the harvest in cash. These long term leases sometimes cover very big areas and are not limited to forest plots.

Another key aspect of CFM is the foreseen role of local people as partners in the decision making process around the implementation of CFM. It was designed to be a transparent and democratic process, where the vision, needs and expectations of the local population are incorporated at all stages of forest management.

The rapid spread of CFM leases within and beyond the walnut-fruit forests may have been premature. Implementation was still somewhat experimental, even in the two leshozes, where the CFM approach was pioneered. The spread of CFM, or at least of the application of the term CFM, to areas with different types of forests and quite different linkages between settlements and forests became problematic. It now appears that the Regulations leave a lot of room for interpretation. They were developed based on very limited field experience and assumptions have been incorporated that now prove to be incorrect and unanticipated effects have occurred.

Some of the key issues are:

It should be pointed out that the current CFM Regulations will not last forever. They will be subject to changes, based (hopefully) on careful analysis of experience and will probably incorporate (or be followed by) stricter instructions about the necessary steps to follow during implementation, stricter instructions for commissions in terms of equity and poverty and a strategy for training staff before sending them to the field.

There is already a lot of pressure to change the regulations quickly, but there is a danger that, as with the first version, the job will be done hastily and the result is likely to remain somewhat flawed.

[4] A Forest Ranger operates as part of the leshoz staff. Each leshoz has a number of ranges. Thus, a ranger has direct contact with the rural population living in and around a leshoz.
[5] The progress of the Swiss-supported policy experiment with CFM has been documented in a series of CFM Reports by Carter (from 1998 to 2002) and Fisher (1999, 2003), and an analytic overview (Carter et al 2003).
[6] It may be a mistake to overstate the reluctance to work cooperatively. The real issue may be a distrust of formal groups imposed or encouraged by government. Informal arrangements may have much greater potential and may well be much more common than officially acknowledged. It may also be a mistake to assume that individual use rights preclude cooperative activity through informal exchange arrangements, voluntary associations etc.

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