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Forestry research in Asia and the Pacific: focus on FORSPA

Y.S. Rao

Y.S. Rao was Senior Programme Adviser, Forestry Research Support Programme for Asia and the Pacific (FORSPA) in Bangkok, Thailand, until his untimely death in March 1993 (in a bomb explosion in Bombay, Indict). A distinguished forester and conservationist who had worked for the Indian Forest Department prior to joining FAO, Dr Rao was particularly well known for his support of wildlife and parks as integral components of forestry planning as well as for his concern for the welfare of indigenous forest-dwelling communities. His many personal and professional qualities will he sorely missed. This article is an updated version of a paper prepared for the FAO Meeting of Experts on Forestry Research, held in Rome in October 1992.

In order to promote understanding of shared problems in forestry and to explore common solutions, the Asian Development Bank, the UNDP and FAO have joined forces to establish and fund the Forestry Research Support Programme for Asia and the Pacific (FORSPA). The objectives of the programme include identifying the major forestry research problems of common concern to the developing countries of the region; funding research projects to tackle those problems; promoting sustained interaction among researchers through networking forestry research institutes and task forces; preparing and disseminating research information; and promoting investment in forestry research.

FORSPA has helped channel funding to research projects a/mea at comparative studies of watersheds in dry temperate zones of Pakistan

Forestry research needs

As the twentieth century draws to a close, the developing countries of the Asia and the Pacific region face an unprecedented environmental crisis in the shape of forest destruction. Over the past decade, the rate of deforestation more than doubled. About 4 million ha of forest are stripped of vegetation every year to make way for human settlements and marginal agriculture.

In several countries of the region, eroded water catchments are causing widespread adverse downstream effects, damaging arable lands and infrastructures. Fuelwood shortages are causing untold hardship to the rural poor, while the rapid decline in industrial wood supplies is crippling wood-based industries. To meet these challenges, forestry research, technological support and extension at the grassroots level are of pivotal importance.

Current situation in Asia and the Pacific

A significant amount of forestry research is being undertaken in the region. At least 120 research establishments in 14 countries of the Asia and the Pacific region are engaged in research on various aspects of forestry. Of these, 19 institutions are full-fledged research institutes, departments or specialized research bodies. The range of activities carried out by these institutions is extremely wide. Most deal with applied research in the fields of silviculture, mensuration, forest utilization, forest botany, forest entomology, forest pathology, plantation forestry, agroforestry and tree improvement. Assessment of the properties and uses of timber and research into seasoning, treatment, wood working and basic processing is also carried out by several of these institutions. Some are also involved in research on pulp and paper. Some institutions house important herbaria and natural history museums.

One way of gauging the achievements of national forestry research institutes (FRIs) is by the amount of published research produced. In 1990, a Forestry/Fuelwood Research and Development (F/FRED) Project survey of research carried out and published in five countries Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand - found that, between 1976 and 1990, a total of 704 articles had been published that incorporated research findings on one or more of 17 species.

A search of CAB International Forestry Abstracts for the period 1976 to 1990 revealed some 2 600 publications on watershed management, shifting cultivation, soils, biodiversity, protected areas, community forestry, non-wood forest products, policy and economics.

Hundreds of universities, located in Asia and abroad, award M.Sc, and Ph.D. degrees to students who carry out forestry research. Even in the fledgling forestry faculty of Sri Jayawardanapura in Sri Lanka, opened in 1983, as many as 30 dissertations on forestry-related subjects found academic acceptance during the period 1983 to 1990.

Selected externally funded forestry research initiatives in Asia and the Pacific in the 1980s

· The AsDB supported research components in several of its community forestry programmes.

· The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research assisted in the use of Australian tree species in developing countries.

· The Canadian International Development Agency supported research at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Institute of Forestry Management in Malaysia and the ASEAN/Canada Tree Seed Centre in Thailand.

· The Centre Technique Forestier Tropical funded research on timber technology, seed collection, harvesting, etc.

· DANIDA funded projects on forest genetics research.

· The European Economic Community supported research in the utilization of rubberwood.

· FAO executed such regional projects as Regional Wood Energy Development, Support to Watershed Management, Agroforestry Research Systems and Tree Improvement and Propagation.

· The Ford Foundation funded many small projects locally.

· The F/FRED Project was developed and supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

· The German Agency for Technical

Cooperation (GTZ) assisted Fiji with extension forestry research.

· The IDRC established bamboo, rattan and palm networks.

· IUFRO/SPDC promoted forest science in developing countries.

· The International Council [now Center] for Research in Agroforestry promoted agroforestry research.

· The International Centre for Integrated Moumtain Development (ICIMOD) started playing an active role in watershed research in the Himalayas.

· JICA assisted some countries with research projects in forestry.

· The Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund of Japan funded research projects on afforestation in India.

· The Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme of Unesco supported research on lowland dipterocarp forests.

· The Nitrogen Fixing Trees Association (NFTA) established demonstration plots and promoted information exchange on nitrogen-fixing trees.

· The New Zealand ODA assisted the Pacific countries with research into reforestation etc.

· The Overseas Development Administration (United Kingdom) established an international network of practitioners and researchers in social forestry.

· The UNDP supported field projects on selected research issues.

· USAID, in addition to funding F/FRED, supported research in community forestry and environmental issues.

· The World Bank funded several projects with research components.

Limitations and constraints

However, in the Asia and the Pacific region, as in other parts of the developing world, forestry research needs are often not fulfilled because of the many constraints faced by national forest research organizations, including:

· little or no political support for forestry research within the country;
· a lack of funding stability from year to year;
· negligible interaction among researchers, users and potential users of research results;
· a lack of "research extension" or transfer of research results to the field;
· low levels of researcher training;
· inadequate library and information services;
· little interaction with other related research organizations within the country;
· poor coordination of research efforts among countries.

In 1981, the World Bank and FAO prepared the paper, Forestry research needs in developing countries - time for a reappraisal? (World Bank/FAO, 1981), which was presented at the 17th Congress of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), held in Kyoto, Japan. This document, endorsed by IUFRO, argued for a reorientation of research priorities in favour of forestry for rural development. It stimulated new interest among the international community in funding forestry research proposals and heightened national awareness on the need for strengthening their FRIs (see selected initiatives in the Box, p. 28).

However, although development assistance in the forestry sector has expanded rapidly in the past few years, the total percentage of total external funding earmarked for forestry research in developing countries is only 5 percent. By comparison, the percentage of total agricultural assistance allocated for agricultural research rose from about 4 percent during the 1970s to about 10 percent in the 1980s.

The FORSPA initiative

At the regional level, notwithstanding the fact that the priority of national FRIs is primarily to address national problems, there are issues and problems common to several member countries and which could therefore be addressed more effectively through intercountry collaborative action and cooperation. In order to promote understanding of shared problems and to explore common solutions the Asian Development Bank (AsDB), the United Nations Development Programme and FAO have established the Forestry Research Support

Programme for Asia and the Pacific (FORSPA) for the three-year period 1992 to 1994. FORSPA has been funded with US$2.05 million.

Following are the main objectives of FORSPA:

· identify major research problems of common concern;

· formulate collaborative projects and support their implementation through cost-effective financing;

· enhance self-reliance of Asian FRIs while promoting cooperation by networking among themselves as well as by forging links with global forestry research institutions;

· increase the access of FRIs to updated and comprehensive information services;

· promote technology transfer and effective dissemination of research results to users.

FORSPA offers grants to stimulate and complement national research. These grants are primarily meant to fund research in five priority themes considered to be of common interest to member countries: upland watershed management; reforestation of degraded lands and problem soils; ecosystem conservation and maintenance of biodiversity; improving sustainability of plantation forestry; and promoting community participation in forestry development.

Research on upland watershed management is aimed at increasing understanding of the interdependence of forestry, agriculture and energy-related interventions in upland watersheds and at demonstrating land-use options which should enable upland dwellers to practice sustainable land use while maintaining productivity and reducing erosion and downstream damage.

The aim of the research on reforestation of degraded lands and problem soils is to design more effective strategies and action to increase the productivity of such lands and soils (e.g. saline/alkaline and acid sulphate content of soils, laterite, sandy soils, waterlogged areas) and to prevent the potential hazard of desertification or waterlogging.

Research on ecosystem conservation and maintenance of biodiversity will help to improve understanding of the structure and function of tropical forestry ecosystems as well as their management and the value and role of their wood and non-wood forest products in local and national economies.

The goal of research on improving the sustainability of plantation forestry is to produce conclusive evidence of the impact of intensive plantation forestry and to enhance its sustainability.

Research on promoting community participation in forestry development is designed to determine the effectiveness and efficiency of alternative incentive mechanisms and other measures to stimulate local participation in tree-growing and conservation activities.

Progress achieved

Direct funding of research

A call for research proposals resulted in 227 proposals from 12 countries of the region, covering all the five FORSPA themes of research. From the proposals, 27 projects were selected for funding in consultation with special task forces (see Box, p. 30).

Seminars and consultations

In October 1992, a regional expert consultation on forestry policy developments and research implications of Asia and the Pacific was jointly sponsored by FORSPA, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and FAO in the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok. The meeting identified and prioritized the key issues for policy research in Asia.

Projects funded to date through FORSPA


· Upland watershed management through community forestry in Ziaojai county, Yunnan Province, China

· Systematic design for China's watershed management policy

· Impact of upland management on downstream ecosystems (India)

· Comparative watershed study in dry temperate zones and economic analysis of watershed treatments (Pakistan)

· Grazing management studies for subalpine and alpine rangeland watersheds (Pakistan)

· Sustainable upland production systems in Chena lands (Sri Lanka)

· Vetiver grass as hedges against soil erosion in the shifting cultivation areas of northern Thailand


· Improving productivity of saline-sodic sites (India)

· Use of mycorrhizal and nitrogen-fixing symbionts in reforestation of degraded acid soils in Kerala (India)

· Effect of organic matter, rock phosphate and mycorrhiza inoculation on the growth of Gnetum gnemon in clay medium (Indonesia)

· Identification of nitrogen-fixing tree species and management (the Philippines)

· Symbiont screening for nitrogen-fixing trees on strongly acid and acid sulphate soils in Viet Nam

· Improving sustainability of teak plantation forestry (China)


· Studies on improvement and management of mangroves (China)

· Preparation of printed and computer versions of Chinese forestry abstracts in English

· Forest environmental resource accounting and economic compensation policy (China)

· Assessment of biodiversity of different land-use systems and development of management guidelines for the conservation and optimal use of the biological resources of these systems (Malaysia)

· Determining the effectiveness and efficiency of the role of local organizations and the private sector in conservation of the forests (Myanmar)

· Photo documentation of selected rattan-dependent tribal communities in the Philippines

· The role of Kandelia cancel and other Rhizophora species in the ecological repair and reforestation of waterlogged former mangrove environments (India)

· Trial of some models of non-wood product forest in home gardens or forests of mountainous areas (Viet Nam)

· Conserving saline mangrove ecosystems in the Mekong delta (Viet Nam)


· Upland watershed management through community forestry in Qiaojia county, Yunnan Province, China

· Establishing models of rotating shifting

cultivation and its use in watersheds (Viet Nam)

· Promoting community participation in forestry development (India)

· Rehabilitation of degraded forest lands in the Terai (Nepal)

· A critical assessment of the effect of financial incentives on participants' behaviour and performance in selected contract reforestation projects in the Philippines

In Myanmar, a project funded through FORSPA is investigating the role of local organizations in the conservation and wise use of forest resources. Pictured is a demonstration of improved cooking stoves

AFORSPA-sponsored regional seminar on research priorities and proposals for forestry in the South Pacific was hosted by the Forest Research Institute in Lae, Papua New Guinea, in November 1992. The meeting reviewed the status of current forestry research in the Pacific subregion. It identified the areas and means of collaboration among countries of the subregion and identified training needs as well as priority proposals for funding under FORSPA.

A seminar on forestry research management was jointly sponsored by FORSPA, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and CIFOR and co-organized with the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education in March 1993. The seminar discussed important issues related to research management and identified ways to improve the situation.

Technology transfer

FORSPA has facilitated intercountry transfers of plant material and technology on a modest scale, for instance:

· vetiver grass slips from India to Thailand;

· tissue culture and cuttings of edible bamboo (Dendrocalamus asper) and bamboo propagation techniques from Thailand to India;

· mangrove reforestation and management techniques from Bangladesh to Thailand;

· agroforestry techniques from China to India;

· dipterocarp forest management techniques from Indonesia to a selected number of countries in the region.

Information access and dissemination

Twenty FRIs were provided with CAB International Forestry Abstracts for the year 1991. Updates will be sent for the period 1992 to 1994. FRIs were provided with the computerized Forestry Abstracts in CD ROM "TREE CD" as well as with the necessary hardware, software and training, under contractual arrangements between CAB International and the AsDB. INFOFORSPA, a quarterly project newsletter, has been published regularly publications are an important means of information dissemination and FORSPA has been particularly active in this area, publishing approximately 25 works to date.

FORSPA: the future

The first years of experience of all Asian and Pacific countries working together in FORSPA has been stimulating and beneficial but the project has been able to meet only a fraction of the region's needs. The project has just started to achieve the goal of moving the results of research from the laboratory to the users and has begun engaging in dialogue with policy-makers, the private sector, the newly established CIFOR and non governmental organizations with a view to collaborating with them in forest research.

Nevertheless, FORSPA has generated momentum and it is essential that this be maintained, allowing FORSPA to evolve into a self-sustaining entity that is financed by member organizations. This will, however, take time and in the meantime external support is still likely to be needed.


World Bank/FAO. 1981. Forestry research needs in developing countries - time for a reappraisal? Paper prepared for the 17th Congress of IUFRO, Kyoto, Japan, 6-17 September ]981. Washington, DC. World Bank-Rome, FAO.

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