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Ten aspects of assisted natural regeneration in the Asia-Pacific region - Fr. Peter Walpole, S.J.

Fr. Peter Walpole, S.J.
Director, Institute of Environmental Science for Social Change, Manila, Philippines


The recent report on the State of the World’s Forests (FAO, 2001), highlighted the increasing roles of communities in forest management. However, no emphasis was placed on the significant potential of assisted natural regeneration. This exemplifies the overall lack of attention given to this promising approach. This paper highlights ten aspects of assisted natural regeneration (ANR) that warrant increased attention if ANR is to move forward successfully. These are:

1. Environments or biomes of the region
2. Different forms and understanding of ANR
3. Traditional systems
4. Relation to local communities
5. Constraints and impediments
6. State of the art of ANR
7. Patterns of regeneration
8. Development mechanisms
9. Research needs and topics
10. Building strategies and agendas

Environments of the region

Whitmore (1990) describes 14 tropical forest formations in the Asia-Pacific region. These forest types and their characteristic ecologies require ongoing study for their regeneration to be understood, not to mention the diversity of responses and levels of technical and social consideration that are just as complex. For example:

Today nearly all environments and their distribution are understood to be affected by human activities. All of the ecosystems we are now trying to rehabilitate in different areas, whether forest or not, have been significantly altered by human activities.

People tend to only consider forests in the uplands and, if they exist, in the lowlands. However, mossy forests, swamp forests and coastal mangroves, even though just as important, are often regarded as being marginal rather than critical.

The bio-physical factors of climate, soils, etc., influence natural regeneration through very different time frames; therefore, the effort of assistance requires the knowledge of how to align these factors for more rapid change while reducing the risk.

Different forms and understanding of ANR

There are numerous forms and understanding of what constitutes ANR in different places. These need further consideration and deliberation in order to reach common understanding. Among the relevant questions to be resolved are the following:

If human interaction affects all forests, do the compensatory activities have to be both conscious and area-focused to be considered ANR?

“Natural” or “original” cover usually refers to the ecosystem (or at least the species composition) that occurs in undisturbed areas. Therefore, to assist - where the natural vegetation has largely been lost - is to do so with pioneer species, or those that would play that role in the path of succession. Can this be considered ANR, as long as the effort is focused on attaining the original species, albeit selected with a bias?

When farmers develop whole new plant “cultures” of agroforestry species that mimic the structure or diversity of the original forest, but do not include the species of the original forest, should these areas be considered as ANR?

Traditional systems

It is in traditional systems that people are most convinced of the efficiency of ANR. People are more easily convinced once seeing the how local people apply ANR. However, the challenge is for the “culture” of broader society to translate such integrity of local action into national strategies. The daily operations of a globalizing society must integrate such traditional knowledge in such a way that it becomes indispensable to the daily understanding of sustainability in our society. Attention needs to be given to the following issues:

All countries have traditional systems of various forms. Government institutions, however, often fail to recognize the need to learn from such systems and to give them greater support.

The historical labeling of traditional systems, such as “slash-and-burn,” needs to be revised. It must also be recognized that the pressures are becoming increasingly too great for any single culture to maintain a sustainable forest regeneration system by traditional means alone.

Culturally, traditional systems of ANR are usually managed in conjunction with a whole way of life and broader land-use management approaches. What consideration is given to the total cultural picture and how much attention do we give to the part that is not focused on the “natural” but on the “cultural”?

Relation to communities

The greater recognition of traditional practices is undeniable, and much is being learned from studying and working with these systems. However, the extent of involvement on the ground has to be much broader and has to incorporate social units that are more extensive in area and more connected to the political economy. Communities are restricted in many ways by the limited legal agreements and by the limited and often contradictory support or incentives given:

Area appropriateness and the extent of possible management needs to be understood for the individual, village and broader social grouping.

Costs in terms of time spent and lag times in returns from the new level of protection and limited extraction have to be creatively compensated, without creating dependencies.

Benefit sharing and remuneration for maintaining areas in the long term are few, yet it is often not practical to leave these areas under government management.

Constraints and impediments

There are widespread constraints and impediments that face most environmental recovery efforts in the rural environment. The following constraints need to be reviewed specifically with respect to ANR:

Poverty, the lack of basic social services and instability, illegal extraction and forest violence amidst the full range of social and economic pressures are prevalent.

Basic policy is lacking for ANR, and there is over regulation of communities, inadequate program implementation and a lack of support for communities in their efforts to stop illegal activities.

The fast returns from plantations, involving more direct and simple economic planning compared to the lack of technical know-how, financial support and tenure and extraction rights for ANR, put ANR at a fundamental disadvantage in many areas.

State of the art of ANR

“State of the art” is one of the few phrases that incorporates the sense of modernity and culture, the technology and the uniqueness of human creativity. The present state runs from the most basic to the most recent discoveries:

Fire management is one of the most basic and traditional crafts in land-use management; controlling fire is essential to assisting natural regeneration.

Existing practices amid the diversity of cultural, ecological and political contexts are being documented and need adequate circulation and incorporation into policy, planning and programming.

Tissue culture is now possible in most countries and allows for a level of reproduction of planting materials and a diversity not previously attainable.

Patterns of regeneration

Along with agricultural intensification, the global pattern of vegetation cover is expected to alter strategically, in terms of area and composition (Wood et al., 2000). The difficulty is to protect critical areas, especially in the uplands.

In many countries of Asia, attempts to increase forest cover have been largely unsuccessful. The pattern of regeneration in different areas is patchy and the density of regeneration is inadequate in many cases. There are, however, an increasing number of substantial reports indicating the success and extent of ANR, including the following:

There is a shift from discarding patches of undetermined cover, peripheral or wasteland that are seen to regenerate, to seeing such lands as directly buffering the forest from further ecological damage. Increasingly, patches of regeneration need to be seen as critical, integral, accumulative, enriching and diversifying in sustainable forest land management.

There is widespread confirmation, by remote sensing data, of area-specific regeneration along old forest margins.

The quality of regeneration in terms of biodiversity and ecological services is increasingly being considered in planning and programming.

Development mechanisms

Translation of existing and emerging knowledge on ANR into effective support mechanisms for forest regeneration is an ongoing challenge. A serious shift in support mechanisms beyond studies and pilot activities needs to enter national and bilateral agendas. Maintaining forest must be seen as an active process, in the light of pressures and competition from other sectors; the approach requires careful identification of stakeholders and development of organizational relations, silvicultural skills, sustainable extraction practices and market linkages. The “quality of life” concept needs to be reintroduced into development paradigms to replace the present overly politicized “terrorism and poverty alleviation” phraseology frenzy.

Research needs and topics

There are both technical and social research considerations that need greater attention and effective development. Complementing studies are needed in the following areas:

Management initiatives and mechanisms (as introduced above).

Bio-physical and physiological aspects of plants, especially as related to conservation of plant genetic resources and the access and utilization of related technologies.

Environmental, social and area impacts of ANR and the breadth of its impact on how society and global systems operate.

Building strategies and agendas

Challenges remain on all fronts while the importance and potential of ANR is known and internalized by only a few at present. Part of trying to make ANR an acceptable and obvious strategy is that it loses its specific and decisive focus and becomes part of a general plan (sometimes in relation to poverty alleviation etc.), in which it is the weaker component and loses out. There is a need for much greater discussion and publicizing of its potential for forest regeneration. A primary agenda has to be developed with local governments to define their role in environmental management and protection of ecological services, while simultaneously instilling a sense of local value. The nature of support needed to enhance ANR is not that of typical development loans; rather, such assistance could focus on changing the political attitude and policy environment.


ANR has the potential to contribute significantly in addressing the region’s forest rehabilitation challenges. Although there are still several needs and requirements to fulfill in order to ensure widespread successful application of ANR, these constraints can be overcome with increased awareness, commitment, research and training.


FAO. 2001. State of the World’s Forests 2001. Rome. FAO.

Whitmore, T. C.1990. An Introduction to Tropical Rainforests. Oxford. Clarendon Press.

Wood, S., Sebastian, K., & Scherr, S.J. 2000. Agricultural Extent and Agricultural Land Use Changes. Pilot Analysis of Global Ecosystems (PAGE). Agroecosystems. pp. 17-30. Source:

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