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Sarath Fernando



In 1929, an initial step towards an explicit forestry policy was taken by introducing statements concerning sectoral objectives:

Providing for self-sufficiency in construction timber and firewood, and also for the export of timber and forest produce.

Conservation of water supplies, prevention of soil erosion, and coordination of forestry operations, with a requirement for the preservation of indigenous flora and fauna.

Influenced by FAO’s declaration on the principles of forestry policy in 1951, the Forest Department introduced comprehensive sectoral policy objectives in 1953. The objectives, which for the most part are still valid today, were to:

Maintain, conserve and create forests for the preservation and amelioration of the environment, soil and water resources, and for the protection of the local fauna and flora where required for aesthetic, scientific, historical and socio-economic reasons.

Ensure and increase, as far as possible, the supplies of small wood for agricultural requirements and fuelwood for domestic consumption.

Maintain, as far as possible, a sustained yield of timber and other forest produce for general housing, industrial, communication and defense requirements of the country.

Work the forest to the highest possible economic advantage consistent with the foregoing objectives.

Until the early 1980s, forestry was considered to be the responsibility of the state. In 1980, there was a clear policy change when the importance of involving people in forestry development was recognized by the addition of a new statement to the statements made in 1953. Rural communities were to be involved in the development of private woodlots and forestry farms through a program of social forestry.

A draft National Forest Policy was proposed in 1991. The draft policy was based on the principles of conservation as set out in the World Conservation Strategy of 1980 prepared by IUCN. The draft policy had eight statements in the following categories: role of forests in the environment, forestland tenure, forestry and land use, sustainable development, conservation and forest ecosystems, recognition of research and education as priority needs, inter-institutional links, and people and forests.

The draft policy of the Forest Department was put on hold because of the commencement of the preparation of the Forestry Sector Master Plan. During this process a comprehensive policy review was undertaken.


Findings of the forest policy review (1992 to 1993)

The past and prevailing policy objectives and statements have provided the framework for forestry sector development. Despite some deficiencies in the past statements, it should be recognized that many of the statements were relevant at the time they were made. Also, the policy objectives introduced in 1953 were still valid.

The main questions addressed in the review were: how well has the sector performed in relation to the set objectives? and, if the performance has not been satisfactory, why not? A review of past development trends in relation to policy objectives indicated that the sectoral performance had been unsatisfactory.

The national forest resources have diminished greatly in the last five decades. Deforestation and forest degradation have reduced biological diversity and agricultural productivity, and depleted the sources of wood and other products. The overall contribution of forestry to the national economy was much smaller than it could have been. The involvement of rural people and communities in forestry development activities was limited.

Other trends and realities which were identified:


Why did the past forestry policies not have the desired impacts?

The main reasons for unsatisfactory performance were:

In addition, the past forestry policy statements did not cover all the important issues that were being faced by the sector. The main areas that were not addressed were:


An interpretation of the forestry-related values

Several studies concerning the resource base, demand and supply trends, financial and economic issues, and the development and assessment of various scenarios have contributed to the formulation of a new policy. The studies were important, but what should drive policy is what people want from forestry; it must reflect the desires of the main interested parties. The following is an interpretation of the people’s broad forestry-related values, which have now been taken into account in the policy:

There is a strong emphasis on environmental protection at the national level as indicated in Sections 14 and 28 (Chapter VI) of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, which specifies that "The state shall protect, preserve and improve the environment for the benefit of the community…it is the duty of every person in Sri Lanka to protect nature and conserve its riches".

The environment, and forests in particular, are very much valued by the people. Deforestation is seen as one of the main environmental problems.

Conservation of the remaining natural forests to protect biodiversity is valued, especially by educated people. Rural people value conservation but they also put emphasis on the production and utilization of forest products.

People want to increase their incomes and improve their standard of living.

Many people and communities have close cultural and even spiritual ties with the forests.

Traditionally, Sri Lankan society has put a strong emphasis on the welfare of the rural population.

There is a desire for decentralization and for increased participation in planning and decision making through a democratic process.

There is a major emphasis on nation building, independence and self-reliance, which implies a desire to be self-sufficient with respect to forest products.

There is a strong emphasis on meeting the basic needs of all people, and on increasing equity in the distribution of benefits gained from natural resources.

The most important elements of the economic policy of the government, which affected the formulation of the new forestry policy and also were adhered to in it, were:


Policy formulation process

A review of past and prevailing forest and related policies suggested a need for policy reform. The following is a simple presentation of the main stages in the formulation of the National Forestry Policy. In principle, the stages are in chronological order, but in some cases they overlap with activities as well as feedback loops—the process is interactive:

Assessment of the present forestry situation and past policy performance. The past and prevailing policies, legislation and organizational frameworks were reviewed, and their relationship with the sectoral performance was analysed.

Assessment of people’s needs concerning forestry (in relation to the prevailing realities). The forestry policy should reflect what the people want from the forests.

Development and analysis of feasible means to meet people’s needs. Feasible options to fulfil the nation’s forest-related needs were developed and analysed.

Development of a policy statement to express the aspirations of the people and realistic development objectives and options.

Implementation of the policy. The policy and development strategies have to be implemented to reach the desired objectives; otherwise they will be useless.


Summary of the National Forestry Policy

The National Forestry Policy is consistent with the National Economic Policy, National Policy for Wildlife Conservation and National Conservation Strategy. The scope of the policy is forestry in a broad sense, including its biophysical, environmental, social and economic components.

The objectives of the National Forest Policy are:

The policy acknowledges concern for safeguarding the remaining natural forests for posterity so as to conserve biodiversity, soil and water resources (sections 1.1, 2.1, 2.3, 6.5). It emphasizes the importance of retaining the present natural forest cover, and increasing the overall tree cover (sections 1.2, 2.1, 2.6, 2.7). A major part of the forests are to be protected completely for the conservation of biodiversity, soil and water resources. Multiple-use forestry is to be promoted. The remaining natural forests outside the protected area system are to be used sustainably to provide for the growing demand for bio-energy, wood and non-wood forest products (NWFPs), and various services, especially for the benefit of the rural population, without ignoring environmental objectives (sections 2.1, 2.3, 2.6). The policy recognizes that home gardens and other agroforestry systems, and trees on other non-forested land, have a crucial role in supplying timber, bio-energy and NWFPs (section 3.1).

The National Forestry Policy recognizes that the state alone, or its main implementing agencies, cannot protect and manage the forests effectively. People’s participation in forestry development and conservation is to be promoted. The policy emphasizes the need to develop partnerships with local people, communities, NGOs, and the local private sector (sections 2.4, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 4.1, 5.6). The people have co-existed with the forests for centuries, and have close cultural and sometimes even spiritual ties with them. These values must be recognized and respected (section 2.2).

The policy aims, therefore, at broadening the institutional framework for forest management, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities for the various partners. Farmers, the estate sector, community organizations, NGOs, and small- and medium-scale commercial enterprises will all have a role in activities such as protecting the forests and growing trees to meet household needs, supplying raw material for wood-based industries, and the harvesting, transporting, processing and distribution of various forest products (sections 2.4, 4.1, 5.3, 5.6).


Logging ban in natural forests

The Forestry Sector Master Plan of Sri Lanka in 1986 recommended harvesting in 119 000 ha of wetzone natural forests and in 954 000 ha of dryzone natural forests. This evoked considerable criticism from environmentalists, academics, NGOs, the general public and some officials of the Forest Department for not paying adequate attention to environmental and forest conservation considerations.

The government responded by commissioning an environmental study in 1989 to evaluate the proposals, resulting in the following strategies for the conservation of natural forests:

Introduce a moratorium on logging operations in natural forests in the wetzone.

Survey and evaluate the conservation value of natural forests in the wetzone (Accelerated Conservation Review).

Establish a special committee (Conservation Review Committee) appointed by the Minister of Lands, Irrigation and Mahaweli Development to advise the government on the conservation of natural forests.

Prepare management plans for all of Sri Lanka’s natural forests.

Incorporate an environmental management component to the five-year investment program of the Forestry Master Plan to:

establish an Environmental Management Division in the Forest Department (Forest Conservation Unit);

implement a National Conservation Review to evaluate the conservation values (biological diversity and hydrological importance) of all the natural forests; and

identify an optimal protected area network.

In response to the study’s recommendations, the Forest Department designated 13 forests in the wetzone (24 000 ha) as conservation areas. The government also imposed a complete logging ban in all natural forests in 1990. The ban is still in place with strong public support to maintain the ban until the depleted forests have regenerated.

The goals of the logging ban are to:

No formal policy provisions by amendment to the Forest Ordinance regulation or special legal provision were enacted in imposing the logging ban. The ban was imposed without legal provisions in the Forest Ordinance, as the Forest Department is the main institution entrusted with the administration of major parts of the forest areas. On the whole, the logging ban has been implemented effectively except where forests had to be cleared for security reasons or changed to other land uses. However, illegal felling of trees and encroachm ent on state forests take place regularly and the Forest Department and Department of Wildlife Conservation are fully involved in curbing such illegal activities.

The logging ban has created an imbalance in the demand and supply situation of wood products and imports have increased to a certain extent. The total value of logs imported to Sri Lanka in 1993 is about Sri Lankan Rs. 73.8 million and has increased only slightly since then.

In addition, the increasing scarcity of logs has resulted in substantial price increases in some luxury timbers such as teak (Tectona grandis), ebony (Diospyros ebenum), nadun (Pericopsis mooniana), and calamander (Diospyros quaesita). All species in this class, except teak, originate from the natural forests. The average price increase of luxury class logs from 1985 to 1997 was about 35 percent annually and 50 percent just before and after the imposition of the logging ban. The average annual price increase of other logs (special class, classes 1, 2 and 3) from 1985 to 1999 was about 20 percent with no significant increase being attributed to the logging ban.

According to Forest Department records, incidences of illegal cuttings increased after the logging ban and illegal harvesting was more prominent in forest plantations than in natural forests. However some analysts believe that this could be attributed to socio-economic issues such as poverty, unemployment and changes in the political environment, which are not related to the logging ban.


Assessment of follow-up activities and impacts of the most recent policy studies

As a follow-up activity, action was taken to amend the existing Forest Ordinance in order to incorporate new policy directives. In addition, a Five-Year Investment Programme was prepared to implement some activities identified under forest policy strategies. The new ADB-funded Forest Resources Management project is based on the above Five-Year Investment Programme.

One of the main policy recommendations was to involve the non-governmental sector (private sector, NGO/CBO and village communities) in forestry development activities including reforestation/tree planting and forest management, and a pilot program was initiated in this context. Additional measures were undertaken to involve the private sector in reforestation, especially in the establishment of commercial plantations.

Although there were recommendations to abolish the monopoly enjoyed by the State Timber Corporation (STC) in the harvesting and marketing of forest products from state forest areas, and to involve the private sector in the harvesting and marketing of forest products from state forest areas, the actual implementation of this recommendation has been undertaken rather slowly.

Objectives, constraints and opportunities for policy review

Several constraints were encountered during the implementation of the policy recommendations:

Cumbersome procedures and procedural delays in getting the necessary amendments to the Forest Ordinance.

Lack of incentives such as soft loans, tax conversions etc. to the private sector, which is to be involved in reforestation activities.

Difficulty in changing the attitudes of various people including government officials and politicians to accommodate some policy recommendations.

The objectives of the policy should be conducive to forestry development and to increase the contribution of the forestry sector to the national economy and poverty alleviation. The lack of proper strategies and the commitment to implement the policy are the main constraints.


Experience from the logging ban

A recent study on the impacts of the effectiveness of logging bans in the natural forests of Sri Lanka (Durst et al. 2001) has indicated clearly the main reasons for the success of the logging ban and constraints to its effectiveness. The main reasons for the success of the logging ban are:

Based on experience, the following aspects have been identified as necessary conditions for the successful implementation of the logging ban:

The main information sources are the databases of the Forest Department, Ministry of Forestry and Environment, Department of Statistics and Central Bank of Sri Lanka. However, there may be several information gaps, and a strategy should be adopted to collect data to fill these identified gaps.

As a comprehensive policy study was undertaken from 1992 to 1993 before the formulation of national forestry policy of 1995, the procedures, the techniques established and the major part of the information gathered could be used for any future policy study. This could be considered as a great opportunity for conducting future policy reviews.


Most important issues, constraints, challenges opportunities for SFM

One of the main issues is the deforestation and degradation of forest areas, which has resulted in the erosion of biodiversity, increased occurrence of flashfloods, landslides and drying up of perennial waterways. The lack of an accepted land-use policy is another major constraint, which has resulted in indiscriminate conversion of forest areas to other land uses, mainly due to population pressure.

However, under the Forest Resources Management project, action has been initiated to survey and demarcate all the forest areas in the country with the main purpose of establishing a national forestry estate. This will help to prevent the destruction of forests, at least to a certain extent.

In addition, the natural forest areas and forest plantations will be brought under scientific management through the implementation of management plans that are being formulated at present. In this context, the recently conducted National Conservation Review has provided necessary information on biodiversity and water conservation. Data collected on these aspects was used to establish a database. Also, this study has identified the most important forest areas that should be conserved for biodiversity and water conservation purposes. These measures can be considered a way forward in achieving SFM.

Key areas/topics that could benefit from policy studies

The following are topics of interest to Sri Lanka:



Durst, P., T.R. Waggener, T. Enters and L.C. Tan (eds.), 2001. Forest out of bounds: impacts and effectiveness of logging bans in natural forests in Asia-Pacific. RAP Publication: 2001/08. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Bangkok.



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