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Impacts of key changes in forests and forestry in the region

The Asia Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study (APFSOS) completed in 1998 revealed a number of interesting trends in the development of forestry. With some of the fastest growing economies in the world, fundamental shifts in the economic, social and institutional environments in the region have had striking impacts on forests and forestry. Some important changes with a bearing on forestry statistics are indicated below.

Institutional changes

An important institutional change in most countries is the diminishing role of the public sector in forest resource management and a corresponding increase in private sector efforts, especially as regards production of wood and non-wood forest products. This has important implications for the production of forestry statistics. Since government revenues and budget allocations for forestry departments were largely dependent on the quantity of wood produced, forestry departments collected and analysed production-related data. This also ensured that removals remained within the stipulated annual allowable cut. As wood production, processing and trade shift to the private sector – including farmers, community groups and industries – governmental systems of data collection and reporting are becoming less effective.

As a result of decentralisation, sub-national entities, such as provincial and district governments, are increasingly assuming responsibility for forest management in several countries. These decentralised agencies are expected to manage forest resources with full recognition of local needs and priorities. While the approach has a number of advantages, especially through increasing management responsiveness to local aims and needs and enhancing community involvement, there are a number of transitional problems. Often there is little capacity to efficiently manage forests and, more importantly, monitoring of forest management sustainability is often largely prevented by the absence of effective information systems. Information flow from sub-national units to national organisations is therefore weakened along with the ability to monitor change.

"Break down" of information flows caused by decentralization in Indonesia

Before the decentralisation policies were implemented, institutions involved in forestry, such as logging companies, wood industries and local forestry offices, would send activity reports to Jakarta. Since decentralisation, however, the flow of the data has been hindered, as new technical guidelines on forest products information systems have not been issued. This has led to a paucity of data and information at the national level.

Source: Indonesia country report

Another important development in the region is the growing role of civil society in the management of forest resources. As activities become fragmented and the role of the public sector diminishes, it is important that civil society organisations steer the forestry sector in the right direction. In the Asia-Pacific region, there are several instances where civil society has played a lead role both as a corrective force and as a leader of change. The effectiveness of such involvement largely depends on access to relevant, accurate and up-to-date information. In the context of increasing privatisation of data and information, it becomes all the more important that capacity is built to enhance access to information, especially for civil society.

Shifts in priorities and objectives

Historically forest management has concentrated on forest harvesting and wood production and with low demand these activities do not conflict with provision of other goods and services. However, provision of environmental services has gained importance whilst wood production has increased substantially. The Asia Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study indicated some critical forest services in the region. These include conservation of biological diversity, watershed protection and ecotourism. The role of forests in carbon sequestration and combating climate change are other environmental services receiving increased attention. The multi-functionality of forests has necessitated closer scrutiny of conventional, often destructive and exploitative, management practices. The ongoing efforts to apply sustainable forest management through defining criteria and indicators (C&I) has enhanced the need for better information on technical, economic, socio-cultural and environmental aspects.

Shifts in sources of wood supply

Only a fraction of the natural forests and woodlands are subject to active annual management. Increasingly wood production is shifting to plantations and trees outside forests. Imports of wood and other forest products are also rising. The shifts have been driven by several factors, including moves to set aside natural forests for provision of environmental services and the realisation that growing demands for wood and wood products cannot be met by natural forests. Many countries have imposed timber-harvesting restrictions or logging bans, although this has frequently shifted the problem from one geographical area to another.

An important shift evident as regards wood supply is the growing role of forest plantations in meeting industrial wood demand. In 2000, the Asia-Pacific region had about 119 million ha of forest plantation, accounting for some 64 percent of the total global area. As these plantations mature, they will form an important source of wood and some are even foretelling a wood supply "big bang", altering the contours of forests and forest industry regionally as well as globally.

While plantation wood supply is likely to increase over the next decade and beyond, the information base for drawing more meaningful conclusions remains disturbingly weak. Major gaps include (a) area under plantations; (b) annual planting and harvesting rates; (c) age class distribution; (d) species composition; and (e) the variation in productivity. With the increasing involvement of the private sector in establishing and managing plantations, traditional data collection systems (which largely focused on government-managed plantations) have not been able to keep track of developments. Furthermore, current systems of collection of wood production data do not distinguish between wood supply sources such as natural forests, plantations and trees outside forests, making long-term assessment of supply shifts difficult.

The increasing role of trees outside forests in augmenting supplies of wood and non-wood forest products is another important aspect of forestry in the region. For example, in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka a substantial proportion of woodfuel and other roundwood are obtained from home gardens. In Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, rubberwood is an important raw material for wood industries (e.g. furniture and medium-density fibreboards). Coconut wood is an important construction material in several Pacific Island countries and other coconut-growing countries. Tree plantings on private land supplying wood to the pulp and paper industry (e.g. India, Indonesia, and Thailand) have also substantially expanded. While the importance of such efforts has been recognised, information on the contribution from such sources is at best patchy. What is known is far from adequate to draw meaningful conclusions and to formulate supportive policies. In particular wood supply from home gardens is highly variable and is subject to land-use changes in response to a variety of factors, particularly prices of alternative agricultural crops.

Processing and trade of forest products

An important aspect of forestry in the region is the rapid growth of trade in forest products. Both imports and exports have increased dramatically in volume and value. Between 1980 and 2000 imports of forest products to the Asia-Pacific region increased from US$17.3 billion to US$45.2 billion, increasing the region’s share of world forest products imports from 27.3 percent to 29.5 percent. Most notable is the increase in developing country imports, which grew at an average annual rate of about 7.6 percent, largely as a consequence of increased imports from China and India. Some countries such as the Philippines and Thailand who were major timber exporters became net log importers during the 1970s and 1980s. Exports are also increasing and the region is emerging as an important producer and exporter of secondary products, especially furniture.

National policy on log import in Philippines

From being a net log and lumber exporter prior to the 1980’s, the Philippines underwent a complete turn-around and became a net importer in the 1990’s. The reversal was the result of government policy aimed at sustaining the country’s forest resource base. The policies included not only banning log exports but also liberalising the log import market to satisfy demand. At the same time, however, the secondary and tertiary wood processing industries experienced an upswing in exports due to government policy encouraging export of value added products.

Source: Philippines country report


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