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The Knuckles Range: protecting livelihoods, protecting forests

H.M. Bandaratillake

Name of forest:

Knuckles (Dumbara)


Kandy/Matale District, Central Province

Area (hectares):

17 835

Managing entity:

Forest Department of Sri Lanka

Mgt. objectives:

Conservation of biodiversity, watershed protection


Sri Lanka

"I never saw before so perfect a specimen of forest scenery. Here lie trees of different kinds, sizes and ages: some saplings, some dead and decaying, and some of very great bulk and height towering above the rest in their prime," wrote British administrator John Davy in his nineteenth century volume, An Account of the Interior of Ceylon in 1821.

Davy was referring to the Knuckles Range forests, some of the most important tropical rain forests in Sri Lanka. But he is not alone in his awe of the Knuckles forests. Former Conservator of Forests, V.R. Nanayakkara, also commented on the range's beauty during his term in 1988: "The Knuckles Range and the entire massif are, without doubt, the most scenic part of the Highlands of Sri Lanka, containing, as they do, some of the most rugged, spectacular and breath-taking mountain scenery on the island."

The Knuckles Range lies in the central part of Sri Lanka and covers an area of 17 830 hectares, most of which is natural forest, although 1 880 hectares of forest plantations have also been established in the Knuckles Range. The Forest Department manages about 70 percent of the forest plantations and the remainder is under private management. The Knuckles Range falls within the administrative districts of Kandy and Matale.

The area was named "Knuckles" by British surveyors, due to a prominent landscape feature - a group of five peaks that resemble the knuckles of a clenched fist - as seen from many observation points in the area. The local name for the Knuckles peaks is Dumbara, which means, "mountains covered with mist."

The unique landscape and spectacular scenic beauty are the main features of the Knuckles Range. The highest peak, Gombariya, reaches 1 906 metres and six of the major peaks are covered with montane and submontane forest types. In the montane forests, stunted trees (about one metre in height) characterize "pygmy forest." The Knuckles Range also has broad climatic diversity, from extreme wet on the southwestern slopes to very dry on the eastern slopes.

Tennent's Horned Lizard (Ceratophora tennentii), found in the Knuckles Range

Blue mormon (Papilio polymnestor) endemic to the Knuckles Range, found nowhere else in the world (courtesy H.M. Bandaratillake).

High level of biodiversity

Distinctive climatic, topographic and edaphic factors combine to create a unique ecosystem, containing exceptionally rich and diverse fauna and flora. Several species of endemic fish, amphibians and reptiles are confined solely to the Knuckles Range, while 14 of the 21 endemic species of birds in Sri Lanka inhabit the area. Many rare and very rare faunal species and some endangered and threatened plant species are also found. Among the fauna, 14 species of birds, 5 species of amphibians, 6 species of mammals and 10 species of reptiles are considered threatened. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) notes that 3 of these species are globally threatened and 32 are nationally threatened. "They should be saved in the Knuckles Range to prevent extinction of the species," a report by the IUCN stated.

Agricultural production

The direct economic contribution of the Knuckles region to the national economy has declined significantly since 1990, when the government imposed a ban on logging in all of the country's natural forests. The Knuckles forests' most significant economic contribution comes from the 1 880 hectares of forest plantations and from non-timber forest products such as fuelwood, honey, medicinal plants, edible plants, roping material and bamboo. Local people also tap the flowers of the kitul palm (Caryota urens), which provide a base for "toddy" (a local alcoholic beverage) and a sugary substance that is used for making local sweets.

The Department of Export Agriculture reports that 2 700 hectares of cardamom (Elettaria repens) are planted within and around the Knuckles forests. This represents approximately 55 percent of Sri Lanka's total area under cardamom cultivation, and accounts for 32 percent of the country's cardamom production. In 2002, the contribution of cardamom cultivation to the national economy was around US$250 000.

A major economic activity in the periphery of the Knuckles Range is tea cultivation. Like cardamom, tea is a major export. Currently, there are about 40 tea plantations in the Kandy-Matale region - a number of which are found in the buffer zone of the Knuckles Range. Most of the tea plantations are owned by the state, but managed by private companies. Only a few are owned by individual farmers.

Most of the communities living near the Knuckles Range are dependent on forest areas for shifting cultivation (chena), cardamom cultivation, timber and fuelwood collection and harvesting of non-timber forest products.

"For the past several decades, most of us have cultivated cardamom in the forest, because it provides good income. In fact, it has become the main source of livelihood in my village," said Tikiribanda, a resident of Narangamuwa. "We do not have permission or authority from the Forest Department to carry out this cultivation. Some villagers own small paddy fields, but many do not. In any case, income from paddy cultivation is not sufficient and consequently most of us also engage in chena cultivation. Paddy and chena cultivation are the core components of our traditional way of living, but cardamom growing has become the most important activity because of the potential to earn cash."

"We are hopeful that the Knuckles conservation programme will help us to develop alternative sources of income and livelihoods from new agricultural crops or other sources. That way, we will be able to give up cardamom cultivation in the forest," added Tikiribanda. "We realize the need to protect the forests that we have inherited from our grandfathers and great-grandfathers. But we need to make a living as well."

Deforestation and logging

As in many other Asian countries, deforestation is a major concern in Sri Lanka. In 1990, in response to the heavy depletion of natural forests, the government imposed a complete ban on logging in the natural forests in the country. The logging ban was implemented as a strategy to conserve the country's natural forests, safeguard biodiversity and protect soil and water resources. At the time it was imposed, the majority of the population, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), environmentalists and forestry professionals supported the logging ban and the conservation lobby strongly influenced the government in making the decision. The logging ban has continued to the present time and, as a consequence, natural forests throughout the country are no longer harvested for timber.

Consistent with national policy, the logging ban also applies in the Knuckles region. This is especially relevant given that the Knuckles region is one of the most critical watersheds in the country. It forms an important part of the catchment of the Mahaweli River, which provides water to irrigate large areas of agricultural land and for generating hydroelectricity.

New management regimes

The biological and hydrological values of the Knuckles Range have been recognized since as long ago as 1873, when the colonial government of Ceylon (under British rule), declared a section of the Knuckles region above 1 500 metres as "a climatic reserve." However, problems have persisted. Until recently, there was no appropriate legal framework under which the Knuckles Range could be protected. Furthermore, the area had no formal management plan and was susceptible to continuous shifting cultivation and the occasional illegal felling of trees. Forest boundaries were inadequately surveyed and demarcated in many areas - making it possible for people to encroach on the forest for unauthorized cultivation and settlement.

Faced with these varied and intricate problems, Ranasinghe Premadasa, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, commissioned a special cabinet paper in September 1985. The paper concluded, "The Knuckles Range is one of the few large natural areas with a unique ecosystem left in the country and, therefore, it is essential that the Knuckles Range be conserved."

The paper recommended improved conservation of the Knuckles Range for hydrological stability, soil erosion control, preservation of rare and endemic fauna and flora, and management as an outdoor laboratory for educational purposes and for research. An action plan for the conservation of Knuckles was developed and a special committee was appointed to oversee its implementation.

In 1994, as a follow-up to these initial activities, the government developed a more comprehensive management plan for the Knuckles Range in consultation with various stakeholders including state agencies, local communities, NGOs and community-based organizations.

The special features of this management plan were:

The Forest Department, with the participation of local people living in peripheral villages, currently implements these programmes in the Knuckles forests and buffer zone areas. In the past, the IUCN has supported some of the programmes with supplementary funding and technical support.

Cardamom cultivation within the forested area remains a serious management challenge. It prevents the natural regeneration of forest tree species in the understorey. About 60 percent of the cardamom cultivation in the Knuckles Range is located in potentially sensitive areas - above 1 200 metres in elevation. These disturbed sites - without adequate natural vegetation - are highly susceptible to soil erosion. The eroded soil (as much as 10 tonnes/hectare/year) enters rivers, causing siltation problems in hydropower reservoirs.

The costs of banning cardamom cultivation in the Knuckles Range are estimated to be around US$104 000 per year. In spite of this, the Forest Department - in consultation with the scientific community, local government administrations and other stakeholders - has taken a firm decision to stop all cardamom cultivation in the Knuckles forests as one of the main strategies of forest conservation. The economic losses have been weighed against ecological losses incurred through biodiversity depletion and watershed degradation, caused by increased soil erosion.

The government has stopped issuing new permits for cardamom cultivation and has restricted farmers from maintaining existing cardamom plants. It is envisaged that these measures will enable the forest to revert back to its natural state. Obviously, they will have a major impact on local villagers, however, especially those who have been cultivating cardamom over the year s. Consequently, the ban on maintenance is being phased in at a pace that will enable local people to adjust to other livelihoods. A number of activities aimed at improving the socio-economic conditions of peripheral area inhabitants have been introduced in the buffer zone, to help offset the losses due to the cessation of cardamom cultivation.

In 2002, as envisaged in the management plan, the Knuckles Range was surveyed, demarcated and declared as a "Conservation Forest" under the Forest Ordinance. Other significant activities prescribed in the management plan focus on providing alternative income-generating activities to the communities and restoring degraded forests. Key pillars in the development strategy focus on strengthening community groups. Activities include training and support in procuring materials for new livelihoods. The management plan outlines a programme for assisting local people in obtaining credit, training in micro-credit management, and establishing mechanisms to coordinate production and marketing.

A programme designed to promote rapid restoration of degraded forests is also being implemented. Key activities include enrichment planting and maintaining a physical presence in the forests to complement legislative protection.

In addition to enrichment planting and erection of boundary posts, other implementation activities include: opening and maintenance of nature trails, clearing of fire lines, assistance to build houses for relocation of families, buffer zone planting, an education and awareness programme for communities and schoolchildren, a micro-credit programme, construction of a mini-hydropower station, providing energy efficient stoves and assistance to minor irrigation work.

The main objective of the Knuckles programme is to use local resources to create new economic opportunities in the buffer zone, thereby diverting villagers from their dependence on forests. These income-generating activities include:

Some families living in the buffer zone are being relocated to areas outside the forest reserve and awarded sufficient compensation to enable them to find new means of livelihood.

A number of conservation measures have also been introduced to minimize soil erosion, including the building of stone terraces, introduction of new cultivation techniques and the development of taungya (agroforestry). The Forest Department and the Department of Agriculture have jointly implemented agroforestry development programmes. The most common taung ya system adopted in the area is known as "Farmers' Woodlots," in which farmers are given land and cash incentives for planting trees and crops, such as coffee and pepper, in an integrated manner.

There is a high level of community participation in the management of the Knuckles Range, from the development of strategies to the implementation of management prescriptions. Dayapala, a local farmer, explained: "It's good that the gover nment has continually involved us in the planning and the implementation of various activities in the Knuckles conservation programmes. As a result, we know what actions we need to take and how to do things right. Our involvement has greatly improved our lives."

Farmers in Ranamure, Imaduwa, Narangamuwa, Lakegala and Illukkumbura are currently tilling 40 hectares, which will be planted with paddy and other agricultural crops. They have received assistance from the Knuckles conservation programme. "In the past, the income from cardamom cultivation contributed to around 40 percent of our families' cash income," Punchibanda said. "Today, as a result of the Knuckles programme, we have opportunities to earn alternative incomes from cultivation of additional paddy areas and other field crops. I think this will compensate for the loss of income from cardamom cultivation. All of us are now working as a team - to conserve our Dumbara forests."

Responsibilities for directly managing the forests have not yet been devolved to the communities. However, they participate in forest protection, enrichment planting and other management activities through community-based organizations. Collection of non-timber forest products and participation in ecotourism activities are also planned in consultation with community-based organizations. The new systems mean that the forest is protected while local villages also benefit, through employment, and because their voice is heard in decision making. The intention of the Forest Department is to transfer increasing degrees of management responsibility to local communities as capacity for community-based forest management is developed.

In the long run, the Forest Department plans to institutionalize these programmes through the development of strong community-based organizations. "These programmes will play a big role in facilitating development," noted H.G. Gunawardane, the Deputy Conservator of Forests who is in charge of the programme. "We want all the participating agencies, particularly those working directly with people living in the area, to be capable of managing their income-generating activities without the need for ongoing assistance from the Forest Department."

Future in tourism and conservation

The Knuckles area is rich in scenic, environmental, sociological and cultural resources. Local and foreign tourists enjoy panoramic views of mist-capped mountains, stunning valleys, impressive rock formations, crystal clear streams, hilly terrain, lush forests, waterfalls and cliffs. The ancient villages, picturesque rice terraces and cultural traditions of people living in the peripheral villages contribute to a unique blend of nature and culture. Most of the local people still practise village traditions dating back to the time of the Kandyan kings.

In recent years, tourism has become an important source of income for local people. According to the IUCN and the Forest Department, more than 25 000 tourists visit the Knuckles forests each year. In 2001, the Forest Department and the IUCN prepared an Ecotourism Development Plan for the Knuckles Range.

In 2002, in acknowledgement of the Knuckles forests as a unique national heritage rich in biodiversity, the Forest Department submitted a proposal to the United Nations Education, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to include the Knuckles Range in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

Currently, UNESCO is reviewing this proposal. The proposal stresses the importance - at both local and global levels - of conserving the Knuckles Range. It highlights the area's significance given its "high level of biological diversity and endemism, natural high forest ecosystems, attractive landscapes covering 21 000 hectares of hilly terrain and one of the most important watersheds in the country." The proposal further states "it provides a variety of non-timber forest products for rural communities living in 77 villages and has very high potential as a site for nature-based tourism and recreation. It is a living laboratory providing facilities for environmental education and research for foreign and local researchers."

"We are confident that the Knuckles forests will qualify as a UNESCO Reserve and we intend to further upgrade these forests to achieve World Heritage status in the future," observed Sarath Fernando, the Conservator-General of Forests.


The courageous step of the government in declaring the unique Knuckles Range as a conservation forest, despite the socio-economic consequences, attests to the determination of the Government of Sri Lanka to conserve this unique ecosystem. However, the success of the conservation programme largely depends on finding alternative income generation options for the peripheral dwellers who depend on cardamom cultivation for their livelihoods. The programme implemented to date has achieved a measure of success in strengthening people's participation and augurs well for success in the conservation of the Knuckles Range.

About the author

H.M. Bandaratillake has long experience as a forester with the Forest Department of Sri Lanka. From 1993 to 2002, he served as Conservator-General of Forests, the country's top government forestry post. Currently, he is Director of the Forest Resources Management Project of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of Sri Lanka.

Forests of Huoshan County: a path towards poverty alleviation

Jiang Chunqian

Name of forest:

Huoshan County Community Forests


Houshan County, Anhui Province

Area (hectares):

3 000

Managing entity:

Individual farmers and Huoshan County Forestry Bureau

Mgt. objectives:

Multiple use, poverty alleviation



Historically, Huoshan County, in China's eastern province of Anhui, has been one of the country's poorest areas. In the late 1970s, the annual income per capita averaged less than US$18.50. Starting in 1978, in line with nationwide economic liberalization, the government facilitated significant social and economic development in Huoshan County. These efforts resulted in steadily increasing incomes in the county, reaching US$192 per capita per year by 2000.

Nonetheless, enormous challenges still confront the county. Transportation facilities remain poor and only 21 villages - out of 280 - are accessible by road. Soil erosion is a serious environmental problem, with landslides and related natural disasters occurring frequently. Infrastructure for combating floods is insufficient. Many people do not have adequate access to potable water.

"Even though the standard of living for many farmers has improved, many people still have problems in meeting their basic needs," deplored Li Qiyi, an afforestation programme officer for the county.

Huoshan County is predominantly rugged, with three-quarters of the county's 204 570 hectares classified as mountainous. Only 20 620 hectares are considered suitable for permanent agriculture. The county contains 24 townships and 280 villages, with a total population of 366 000 - about 90 percent of whom are farmers.

The educational level of most farmers is very low, thus limiting their ability to understand and implement improvements based on scientific advancements and introduced technologies. Even those farmers who have learned to read still face a major challenge to gain access to technical information, which is rarely available in this remote county.

Fortunately, Huoshan County has abundant natural resources such as bamboo, tea, mulberry and medicinal plants. The county is best suited for forestry development because the mountainous topography is generally unsuitable for agriculture. Therefore, it is perhaps not surprising that 75 percent of farmers' incomes is currently derived from the forests. The county actively participates in several national forest initiatives, including the Natural Forest Protection Program and various reforestation programmes.

In March 1996, China and the Netherlands signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Development and Cooperation, funding a five-year cooperative project in Huoshan with the aim of alleviating poverty in the county. The Sino-Dutch Poverty Alleviation Project started in December 1997, supporting a broad range of activities including agriculture, forestry, irrigation, enterprise development, hygiene, education, transportation, participatory development and institutional strengthening.

Community forestry - which includes a number of individual programmes such as "Household Forestry," "Farmers' Self-help Organizations," "Demonstration Households" and "Training in Participatory Concepts and Forestry Techniques" - is one of the key sub-projects of the Sino-Dutch Project in Huoshan County. There are three basic principles guiding all project activities: participatory approaches, gender consciousness and environmental protection awareness.

Xu Jiaqi, a community development specialist for the project, explained: "Everyone is involved in project activities. Each person is allowed to share his or her ideas during meetings and discussions. A decision is made by the group before the end of the day. Women are given importance in all activities. In fact, in some groups such as the Bamboo Farmers' Association, most of the members (70 percent) are women."

Community forestry activities have been implemented in 68 villages surrounding the townships of Manshuihe, Daoshichong, Shangtushi, Taipingfan, Taiyang, Zhufo'an, Heishidu, Luo'erling and Taoyuanhe. These areas were chosen because they were among the poorest in the county. More than 16 000 households have participated in community forestry, covering an area of 55 119 hectares. As a result of the project, the forest cover of the county has increased from 59 percent in 1989, to almost 70 percent in 2002.

Household forestry

The concept of "Household Forestry" focuses on the establishment of micro-level projects by individual farmers. Household Forestry is a component of the Community Forestry sub-project and incorporates a number of discrete activities such as establishment of economic plantation forests, afforestation on barren hills suitable for tree planting, improvement of low-yielding forests, conservation of forest resources and prevention and control of pests and diseases in economic forests.[25] The farmers themselves decide on the type of forest management activities that are to be implemented. Forestry officials and technicians support communities in their activities by participating in discussions and providing advice. They also assist in the design of activities, participate in joint decision making and monitoring of activities - besides supplying technical help.

Lands surrounding individual households are selected as project sites. Often, the key objective is to enhance soil and water conservation on steep farmland. Some farmland is converted into forest by planting trees and woody species including chestnut (Castanea spp.), moso bamboo, tung tree (Aleurites fordii, which produces tung oil) and tea oil camellia (Camellia oleifera). Most of these species are able to rapidly generate income for farmers.

Some of these "economic species," including chestnut and moso bamboo, had been tested earlier, but did not grow well and production was low; others were damaged by pests and diseases. Many farmers were becoming increasingly discouraged, until the township forest station and the project intervened through Household Forestry activities to offer assistance in overcoming technical problems.

Many farmers applied to participate in the project, from which the best-qualified were selected as "demonstration households." Selection was based on gender, educational background and practical capability. The project provided researchers and technicians to train demonstration householders in techniques to solve problems relating to the cultivation of tree crops.

Demonstration households were contracted by the project to assist other farmers in solving problems relating to forestry activities. In turn, the demonstration households received funds to improve their project sites. These undertakings have worked effectively to improve productivity and to increase the incomes of participating farmers.

From 1998 to 2002, a total of 3 810 hectares of forest plantations of economic species, such as chestnut, bamboo, oil camellia and various medicinal plants were established through Household Forestry activities. More than 15 000 households are benefiting from these activities, with current incomes totalling US$0.95 million.

Sustainable and viable?

Key questions about project activities relate to their sustainability and long-term viability. An exemplary case is that of Mr Su Huaxun, a very poor farmer from the Lao Jia Wan Group in Daganjian Village. Mr Su's family has five members, including his 80-year-old mother and a disabled son. He was made aware of the project through the township forest station.

Since 1988, Mr Su has been involved in chestnut grafting. "I have grafted almost a hectare of chestnuts and have interplanted them with tea," he said, describing his accomplishments to date. "After two years of tending, I was able to harvest 800 kilograms of chestnuts from my plantation, earning me an income of more than US$420. This is a huge amount of money for me."

This lucrative initial income motivated Su to farm his chestnut plantation more carefully. To learn more about chestnut farming, he attended a training course organized by the Sino-Dutch Project. He likewise developed a closer relationship with the township forestry station. The additional knowledge he accumulated through these activities enabled him to increase the production and quality of his chestnut plantation, thereby increasing his income and lifting his family out of poverty.

Income is not the only factor that motivates farmers. Membership in groups such as Farmers' Self-help Organizations also provides motivation. There are three types of these organizations: "Farmers' Professional Associations," "Community Development Fund Management Organizations" and "Forest Products Processing Associations." Mr Xu Jiaqi explained: "The primary aim of Farmer's Self-help Organizations is to improve the economic and social environment for farmers and their families. By empowering farmers to manage their farms according to their own livelihood preferences, it is hoped that their dependence on the government will be reduced. Farmers are free to join or drop out of any organization - as they choose. Each Self-help Organization has its own rules and regulations. The farmers themselves elect the management committee."

Songlin Village provides an interesting example of the effectiveness of a Self-help Organization. Due to its remote location and difficult access, most farmers in Songlin Village of Tainyang Township were very poor. Nonetheless, the village is endowed with abundant mixed coniferous and broadleaf forests, and since 1997 especially, local farmers have cut secondary broadleaf forest to obtain raw material for raising edible fungi.

Unfortunately, the farmers initially lacked technical knowledge on how to use forest resources sustainably. Large trees were felled and cut into small pieces to provide a medium for raising mushrooms and other edible fungi. The farmers in neighbouring villages also followed this pattern of exploitation, quickly depleting the resource and denuding an area of nearly 200 hectares of natural forest surrounding the villages.

To help curb this practice and to bring an element of sustainability to the operations, the project office consulted with the farmers. The consultations resulted in an agreement to establish a Forest Farmers' Association that worked with farmers to allow their continued use of the broadleaf forest resources, but in a sustainable manner under controlled harvesting regimes. The project awarded a grant of more than US$6 000 in community development funds to support the establishment of Forest Farmers' Associations in village communities.

Mr Li Qiyi, of the county's Forestry Bureau, explained: "Aside from the project grant, farmers also paid US$200 as shares to join the association. The money from the grant and the farmers' contributions was put together as a community development fund. This fund is managed by the association according to established rules. The members of the association can each borrow US$25-200, which is used for mushroom production. Less than 50 percent of members are allowed to borrow money at any given time. The borrowed money must be repaid with interest, within six months. The association members who have not borrowed money, supervise the use of the money. The money raised from interest payments is used to send drop-out children back to school."

Local farmers assisted the Forest Farmers' Association to identify 160 hectares of mountainous forest land for natural regeneration. The Farmers' Association implemented new mountain closure techniques, which identified tree species and vegetation to be conserved, but allowed other species to be harvested and used as raw material for fungi cultivation.

This practice protects the overall forest health while enabling farmers to continue improving their economic status. In the first year of the project alone, 100 participating households harvested 140 000 bags of edible or medicinal fungi, netting revenues of more than US$25 000. The money earned was divided equally among participating households.

Demonstration households

Some households have been selected as technology demonstration households in the implementation of community forestry. The demonstration households were identified as being exceptionally skilled and proficient in farming and forestry. Most of the participating farmers are high school graduates.

The heads of the selected demonstration households signed agreements with the project, under which the farmers received training and technical assistance from the project, while in return the farmers agreed to help other farmers to implement new techniques. The project regularly evaluates the performance of each demonstration household. Only farmers who meet all the requirements of the agreement are retained as demonstration householders. Most of the demonstration households have good credit standing, which enables them to successfully apply for loans from rural credit cooperatives.

An interesting example of the use of demonstration households is Liang Ganchong Village of Shang Tushi Town. In Liang Ganchong, 10 chestnut demonstration households were trained by project staff to manage chestnut orchards effectively. The knowledge acquired through training was applied to local farms. The benefits of applying the new methods are readily apparent, with at least 2 households harvesting more than 1 500 kilograms of chestnuts in a single year, yielding approximately US$850 for each household.

While developing their own chestnut orchards, the 10 demonstration households also assisted 70 other chestnut growers in improving their management techniques. Mr He Yu, a 35-year-old farmer, who owns a small chestnut plantation in Chang Chong Village of Taiping Township explained how the system works: "I heard about the project from the township forest station. I sent my application to participate as a demonstration householder, including letters of recommendation from neighbouring farmers. After a thorough review, the project approved my application and I was selected as a demonstration householder. When I joined the project, I underwent training and learned new techniques for chestnut tending and management. Our chestnut production increased to 3 000 kilograms in 2002 and I was able earn US$1 700 from sales. I have used my training to help 19 other households to improve their chestnut plantations."

The training provided by the project has been cited as one of the key reasons why most programmes in Huoshan County have been successful. There are three levels of training: training for trainers, training for technology demonstration households and training for farmers. The project has implemented an extensive series of training courses, resulting in large numbers of technically proficient farmers with the skills and motivation to effectively transfer techniques and technologies to their neighbours.

A total of 405 forestry technicians have been selected to attend Training for Trainers courses. The contents of the training courses include participatory approaches and intensification of applied techniques (such as grafting procedures, silvicultural management, pest and disease control for chestnut-growing, bamboo and Chinese fir cultivation, and uses of common pesticides). After training, the course graduates became instructors for other groups that have expressed interest in improving their forest management.


The results of social forestry activities in Huoshan County are becoming increasingly evident. Farmers in the project area have increased their incomes significantly by participating in household forestry activities, Farmers' Self-help Organizations, technical training and other project programmes.

The project has also provided various other tangible benefits. Farmers are now adopting management techniques that encourage soil and water conservation. During land preparation, small holes are dug along contour lines for planting trees rather than cultivating entire slopes. In addition, stone dams shaped in a half-circle are built around planting holes on the downslope to prevent soil erosion and loss of fertility. The burning of grass and shrubs, and full cultivation of the soil - previously used in forest planting - are strictly forbidden. These measures have greatly enhanced farmers' awareness of environmental protection.

During the implementation of the project, activities focusing on protection and integrated utilization of secondary natural forests were carried out. Closing mountains for natural regeneration was also implemented. These trial activities have changed traditional forestry practices in which utilization generally led to deforestation and required subsequent re-afforestation efforts. The changes are in line with current natural forest protection strategies enacted by the Chinese Government. The project has consequently played a significant role in improving the environment, conserving biological diversity, enhancing people's standards of living and realizing sustainable development.

Another project benefit has been a reduction in the unemployment rate, thereby maintaining and enhancing social stability. On the one hand, the processing industry has created additional employment opportunities for landless labourers and women in rural areas. On the other hand, various types of hillside development activities have attracted farmers, who have abandoned uneconomic plots of land, to earn their livelihoods by participating in various forestry activities.

Awareness of gender issues has also been built up in local communities. Women in rural areas have generally taken the lead in carrying out forestry-related activities. As the project has evolved, women have been increasingly willing to participate in activities, as well as relinquishing traditional reticence towards taking part in decision making. The project has consequently enabled women to improve their social status.


The Sino-Dutch Poverty Alleviation Project has acted as a catalyst for significant changes in forestry practices in Huoshan County. The project effectively developed partnerships between county officials and local farmers, and implemented a variety of participatory mechanisms for technology transfer.

The project's participatory approaches have won popular support among farming households. Most project activities have encouraged participation from beginning to end, while also ensuring that farmers have maintained control of all facets of their operations. This approach encourages farmers to pursue project objectives as a means of improving their own livelihoods.

The participatory approach has utilized two primary means of extending training: the first is from the project office through township governments and forestry stations to farming households; the second involves township governments utilizing Farmers' Self-help Organizations to assist farming households. Township leaders have played key roles as project coordinators and as conduits for extending new technologies to local farmers.

The core focus on capacity building has meant that nearly all participating households have learned at least one or two applied techniques; this has established a foundation for further development and increased self-reliance and capacities to alleviate their own poverty. At a larger scale, the county's forestry sector has accumulated experience and capacity to implement similar projects in the future. Township governments have improved coordination skills. Forestry staff have changed their approaches from a bureaucratic role - overseeing and directing - to a partnership approach that enables the establishment of equitable relationships with farmers and encourages the mutual exchange of knowledge and information.

An old saying asserts: "Give a man fish and he is fed for one day, but teach him to fish and he is fed for a lifetime." This reflects a key philosophy in Huoshan County, and provides enormous optimism that progress will continue well beyond the life of the project. By "helping people to help themselves," the project has ensured the long-term adoption of sustainable forestry practices.

About the author

Jiang Chunqian is a researcher at the International Farm Forestry Training Centre of the Chinese Academy of Forestry. He is also the Deputy National Counterpart for the Regional Model Forest Project in Asia and the Pacific and Chief Secretary of the China Model Forest Network. He has worked with numerous national and international programmes and projects. He holds a Ph.D. in silviculture from the Chinese Academy of Forestry and is a specialist in participatory forestry, agroforestry, rural development and poverty alleviation, non-timber forest products and training and programme management.

Lake Taupo Forest: partners in development

Don Hammond and Bryan McKinlay

Name of forest:

Lake Taupo Forest


Taupo, Central North Island

Area (hectares):

22 000 (stocked plantations), 7 000 (reserves/waterway protection)

Managing entity:

Joint venture between government and Ngati Tuwharetoa (a Maori tribal group)

Mgt. objectives:

Sustainable timber production


New Zealand

Sixty-year-old Joe Heke stood on a small hill overlooking a forest on the eastern shores of Lake Taupo in the central North Island of New Zealand. In the distance, he could see a vast expanse of planted trees, while immediately in front of him he watched a skidder drag another load of logs to the landing. As the logs arrived, he saw the workers, including his son and two grandchildren, begin the process of cutting the stems into high-value logs destined for markets. Where, a few weeks ago, orderly rows of trees had stood - now there was bare ground. Not a single tree remained standing, amid the debris of what was once a stand of mature forest. While many people would see this as devastation, Joe viewed it through different eyes. What he saw was the realization of a dream.

As a young boy, Joe had stood on this same hill while out hunting wild pigs. These are his ancestral lands. As a young man he had again stood on the hill gazing out over the unproductive scrub-covered lands. It was apparent that these scrub lands - belonging to his iwi (tribe) - could never support him and his family unless major changes were made. He was forced, like so many others, to move away to seek work. But always he harboured a dream - living and working on his own land and having his whanau (family) working with him. Today, this dream has come true and Joe is a very happy man.

Lake Taupo Forest provides an outstanding example of a joint venture between an indigenous people and government. Two markedly different parties have been able to combine their resources to create an outcome that is truly beneficial for both. One party (the New Zealand Government) sought to invest funds in commercial forest development, while the other, Ngati Tuwharetoa (a Maori tribal group) were owners of large tracts of underutilized land, but lacked the financial resources to develop it.

Central to any viable development proposals had to be an understanding of Maori traditional linkages to land. Alienation of the land in any form was not acceptable. Thus, a formula whereby both parties could reap benefits while at the same time being assured of the sanctity of their contribution, was pivotal in any agreement.

The result was a management structure that ensured a world-class forest was developed, with substantial and ongoing input from the landowner. Key conditions within the agreement included the ultimate return of the land to the owners along with the opportunity to derive employment and a share in the financial returns.

Today, all parties look at Lake Taupo as a highly successful model for developing such joint ventures.

History of Ngati Tuwharetoa

Among the first people to arrive in New Zealand were the Maori. They arrived from other parts of the Pacific around 1 000 years ago and settled in various locations, mainly around the coast. One of the few groups that ventured further inland to settle were the Ngati Tuwharetoa.

They settled on the shores of Lake Taupo with their traditional lands encompassing the lake and the surrounding lands and the mountains to the south. In spite of gifting the mountains to the government in 1887 to form the nucleus of a national park (the second in the world after Yellowstone in the United States of America), the people retained unbroken ties with the land.

European settlement began in the early 1800s, again, predominantly in coastal locations. Movement inland, however, was not long in following. The Treaty of Waitangi - signed in 1840 by agents of the British Government and the chiefs of various iwi - has been a key element in the development of New Zealand's society. A central theme of the treaty, and a cause for ongoing debate, conflict and political pressure, is the concept of "sovereignty" or tino rangatiratanga. This concept of sovereignty or self-determination has been a driving force in the progressive resumption of Maori control of natural resources in New Zealand.

Box 1. Maori the indigenous people of New Zealand

The Maori are the indigenous people of Aotearoa (New Zealand). Referred to as tangata whenua (people of the land), they settled in New Zealand after migrating from Hawaiiki. The Maori are a tribal society with a social structure based around whanau (family), hapu (subtribe) and iwi (tribe). The various iwi occupy different rohe (regions) throughout the country. The Maori are now fully integrated in mainstream New Zealand, with a number of prominent Maori politicians, entrepreneurs, scientists and athletes.

The Maori have embraced a drive in recent decades to assert further acceptance of their language and culture in mainstream New Zealand, and avoid losing their tikanga (protocol and values) through assimilation into New Zealand/European culture. This has coincided with an acceptance from the government that obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi must be honoured continually. This is exemplified in the changing nature of resource ownership in New Zealand.

The iwi are custodians of the land and have a responsibility to maintain the land for future generations. This is achieved through the concept whereby iwi are kaitiaki or stewards of the land. Forestry concepts and timeframes relate well to the Maori who believe in an intergenerational responsibility to the land. The notion that the land sustains the people and that people in turn have an obligation to sustain the land is deeply rooted in the Maori psyche.

Establishment of Lake Taupo Forest

Joe turned to his friend Charles Schell and commented, "It has taken a long time and it's been a tortuous path but it has happened. It has happened because the government, through people like yourself and those before you, and men like Sir Hepi[26] had a vision and had the courage to see their dream fulfilled."

Mr Schell, the general manager of Crown Forestry, a wholly government-owned group charged with managing the government's remaining interest in planted production forests, agreed with Joe, with whom he has worked for many years. "Neither party could have achieved this outcome without the other," he pointed out. "This is a day to celebrate and the beginning of an even stronger relationship between the government and Ngati Tuwharetoa."

The planting of Lake Taupo Forest started in 1969. The government, under a lease agreement with local landowners, established the forest. The necessary financial resources were provided by the government. A total of 22 000 hectares of commercial forest (primarily Pinus radiata) has been established over a total leased land area of 31 000 hectares. This area is spread over 61 land blocks, representing some 10 000 Ngati Tuwharetoa landowners. The establishment of Lake Taupo Forest took approximately 17 years, with an average of more than 1 000 hectares being planted each year.

The establishment of Lake Taupo Forest was initiated for many reasons. John Malcolm, the New Zealand Forest Ser vice District Ranger initially responsible for the establishment and management of Lake Taupo Forest, noted that, "Lake Taupo is a very important ecosystem deserving a high level of protection. The gover nment believed that conversion of this land to pastoral farming could have detrimental effects on the lake and its tributaries, and therefore had a preferred option of converting the area to commercial forestry." In addition, the government had a policy of expanding the commercial forest estate, of creating employment and of assisting regional development. The core concept was to provide economic benefits from future timber harvesting, while bringing undeveloped or idle land into production. Environmental and ecological benefits would include soil and water conservation, which in turn would protect the lake and its tributaries. Cultural benefits and values would be retained as they were specifically incorporated into the lease agreement. As described below, large areas of the land were left undeveloped to protect cultural sites and areas of unique or important vegetation or scenery.

A cable hauler in Lake Taupo Forest harvesting mature trees with a piece size of 2 to 3 tonnes (courtesy Lake Taupo Forest Trust).

Gaining consent from the collective owners on the Maori lands proved to be one of the greatest difficulties in establishing Lake Taupo Forest. Each land block has a separate title with different groupings of owners. This multiple ownership and governance structure affects the traditional development patterns of these lands. Decision making is slowed by the need for inclusive dialogue and collective agreement. Often the smallest and least economically viable blocks have the greatest number of owners, which makes reaching a collective agreement a challenging process. To further complicate matters, many individual owners did not live near the land, and in some cases were living abroad. Ngati Tuwharatoa iwi went through an exhaustive process of engagement with a diverse group of tribal families scattered not only around New Zealand, but around the globe.

It is little wonder that it took the resources of the government to attempt this project, because many private sector interests would have been daunted by the complexity of the challenge. "In particular," observed Mr Malcolm, "the lease came about because two groups, which had similar goals, felt comfortable with each other, and felt they could commit to a long-term project in an environment of trust and understanding."

Yet, without the willingness to include both large attractive blocks and the smaller less attractive blocks, the deal might not have proceeded. There was an unspoken desire to see the same opportunities afforded to all members of the iwi. Creating an environment of trust and inclusiveness required considerable determination.

From the landowners' perspective, the largest impediment to the development of their land was lack of access to finance. Normal sources of finance, where the land is used as security for loans, were not acceptable to the members of the iwi on the basis that it puts the land at risk (albeit small) of alienation. Additionally, and perhaps more pertinently, debt funding of forestry is generally ill-advised given the absence of cash flow from which the debt can be serviced.

The project required access to considerable funding from the outset. The many individuals involved meant that the initiative incurred significant costs just to seek their participation. At the time, financial resources even to enable the initial owner-coordination process was beyond the means of the Ngati Tuwharetoa.

Most of the land supported naturally regenerating low forest, resulting in high costs for land preparation and plantation establishment - creating a further barrier to the self-development option.

A project of this nature requires not only a vision, but also the energy and leadership to make it happen. The mana (esteem) of Sir Hepi and other senior members of the iwi cannot be underestimated in ensuring the project got off the ground.

"Many landowners could see little benefit for themselves in planting trees, as the rewards were 30 years hence and many were likely to have passed on by that time. Why then should they forgo what little benefit the land could produce now, for a greater benefit that they might never see in the future? Convincing them to see the long-term benefits for future generations was a significant challenge," admitted John Hura, now a professional forester working for New Zealand Forest Managers Ltd.

Mr Hura's grandfather was one of the many people involved in getting the forest concept accepted, and it is a fulfillment of the vision to see people who were not even born at the time the forest was started, now being employed at all levels of operations, and additionally earning a significant financial return from their ownership of the land.

Previously, the land on which Lake Taupo Forest is planted was used for low-intensity livestock grazing, or comprised cutover indigenous forest and scrub lands that had little productive use. The land was, at best, marginal for farming with the multiple land ownership and separate titles making it difficult for farms of a viable size to develop. Infrastructure development and enhancements such as fertilizer application were limited.

It is with this background that Joe, as a boy, could see all this land that his iwi had, but there was no way of earning a living from it. They did not have the money to develop the land into something productive. Selling the land was not an option. Toitu te whenua ("the land remains forever") was what all his people believed. They belong to the land and the land belongs to them.

When the government expressed interest in forest development, a change in land use to commercial forest was mooted. However, a decision was not made overnight. The owners had been farmers for a long time, and the thought of tying up the land in commercial forestry activities for at least a generation was not an easy pill for many to swallow. To overcome these attitudes took courage on the part of the leaders and some innovative thinking in terms of management.

Ownership and management structures

The government was itself involved in large-scale afforestation projects in New Zealand for many years through the New Zealand Forest Ser vice. This government agency established and managed commercial forests throughout the country, while also pursuing social and environmental goals as an employment provider and as a conservation agency. During the 1970s and 1980s, the establishment of large-scale commercial forests on leased Maori land was seen as the blueprint for extending the nation's forestry estate and providing a development option on largely undeveloped land.

Commercial forest development by the government on Maori land in New Zealand reached 52 000 hectares across 20 lease forests by 1987. Most leases were for 99 years (long enough to support three rotations of commercial forest crops) and involved the payment of annual rent to landowners (most rentals are generally in the order of six to eight percent of land value per year). In exceptional cases, a stumpage-sharing arrangement was incorporated into the lease agreement. This structure was written into the Lake Taupo Forest lease agreement (the largest Crown forest lease) along with a timeframe of 70 years.

Collaboration among the principal stakeholders - the government, the landowners and forest management companies - continues to highlight the principles of partnership. Stakeholder communication is vital. The landowners are preparing to move from the role of forest landlords to forest resource owners and managers, and this is requiring increasingly strong leadership and collective vision.

Two companies, representing each of the ownership interests in the forest, currently manage Lake Taupo Forest. New Zealand Forest Managers Ltd. has managed the forest for the past 15 years on behalf of the government. Management covers all aspects of the lease (including harvesting) through to the time when ownership of the forest will be transferred to the Ngati Tuwharetoa. When this transfer occurs, the Lake Taupo Forest Trust (the representative body that acts on behalf of the multiple owners) will assume full management control and ownership. Lake Taupo Forest Management Ltd, a private forest management company, has been commissioned by the Trust to ensure that optimal forest management is maintained throughout the transfer process.

"The combined commercial, social and environmental model of Lake Taupo Forest is an excellent example of the ability to marry together different entities with multiple objectives, through constructive sharing of resources," said Mr Schell. "These multiple objectives focus on the delivery of economic goals along with environmental, social and cultural outcomes for the landowners and the government."

Excellence in forest management

The Lake Taupo Forest Lease was structured around the concept of multiple-use forestry. The lease agreement included objectives such as erosion control, wildlife management and protection of wahi tapu (sacred sites) - in juxtaposition with the production of timber. Adhering to this respect for cultural and spiritual connections to the land (that is, respect of wahi tapu) is a vital component in the relationship between landowners and the government. The high degree of cooperation among stakeholders has made this a special case.

The forest is being managed with a major focus on growing high-value timber suitable for sawing and peeling. The species of choice is Pinus radiata, a softwood tree originating in California, which has adapted so well to New Zealand conditions that growth rates are among the highest in the world. Superior genetic stock is selected, taking advantage of New Zealand's extensive radiata pine-breeding programme. Land preparation techniques and silvicultural regimes aim to maximize site utilization and grow large-diameter sawlogs on relatively short rotations (28 years).

The management regime focuses on clearwood production, typically involving three prunings and two thinnings to produce clear, knot-free logs with large sheath of clearwood grown over the knotty core. Labour-intensive pruning and thinning provide the added benefit of employment in the early- to mid-rotation years of the forest.

Clear felling is the main harvesting system used in plantations in New Zealand, with particular emphasis being placed on volume and value recovery. Harvesting in Lake Taupo Forest consists primarily of ground-based extraction systems. Some harvesting on steeper slopes necessitates the use of cable-hauler logging systems. Soil protection is a key objective, with the use of rubber-tyred skidders to minimize soil disturbance and soil compaction. The presence of riparian strips adjacent to all major watercourses ensures that sediment generated from forest operations is trapped before entering streams and rivers.

The forest stands generally produce up to 700 cubic meters per hectare at harvest. Of this, up to 30 percent are high-value pruned logs - with a further 50 percent being suitable for general sawlogs.

A major recent achievement has been the attainment of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for Lake Taupo Forest. The FSC is a globally recognized independent certification system sought by forest owners as testimony to the sustainable management practices within their forest. Important measures relate to forest sustainability, environmental standards and social contributions. This certification benchmarks the management alongside the best in New Zealand and helps ensure continued market access for "certified" products.

The location of the forest - on the shores of New Zealand's most popular lake, and a major tourist destination - means the visual impact of forest operations can be a major issue. Adherence to best practices for harvesting and road construction, coupled with the rapid replanting of the harvested site ensures that negative visual impacts and consequent detrimental public perceptions are minimized.

The main highway connecting the two major North Island cities, and extending the entire length of the island, skirts the western boundary of the forest. This exposure to the public brings problems related to forest protection. Fire control is a major issue in the hot summer months and general access issues for public use (recreational activities such as cycling, fishing and hunting) are an ongoing concern. The forest is generally closed to the public in the interests of fire control and to further protect the forest from the impact of clandestine activities.

Benefits of development

The benefits of the forest are evident from the financial earnings derived from harvested trees. Forest harvesting has returned significant monetary benefits to the government and Ngati Tuwharetoa. Infrastructure development (especially road construction) has expanded - especially as the forest has matured and wood-processing facilities have been established.

During the initial planting years (1969-1991), many jobs were created for local people. Much of this workforce made the transition to silvicultural activities (pruning and thinning) once the establishment phase was complete. Further employment was generated as road construction and harvesting commenced and the forest cycle was completed. Since this employment and development occurred on previously undeveloped or idle lands, it represents job creation as opposed to job replacement. Less tangible social benefits achieved through employment - including increased self-esteem and establishment of role models - are difficult to quantify, but nonetheless are important.

"It is vital that whatever we do, we ensure the government gets a proper return on the funds it has entrusted to us. The benefits that accrue include earning a financial return on investment, combined with meeting the government's social and regional development goals and assisting Maori to achieve their aspirations," explained Murray Sherwin, Director-General of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

Environmental and ecological benefits are also important. Lake Taupo and its tributaries are a world famous fishing and tourism attraction. Recreational lake users have benefited from the improved water quality that has resulted from better and more sustainable soil and water management in Lake Taupo Forest catchments.

The full potential of the economic power that the forest bestows on Ngati Tuwharetoa has yet to be realized. Lake Taupo Forest Trust administers an enormous asset that produces an increasing cash flow. This allows the Trust to invest in a range of other initiatives. The forest cash flow provides a debt-servicing capacity and enables borrowing to invest in new projects. This gives the iwi potential to develop its own processing or value-added plants if it chooses, without putting the land at risk.

Lake Taupo Forest also helps the government to meet its targets for expanding Maori business, economic and social benefits. "When looking at the history of Crown involvement in Maori land development, the Crown Lease model has been probably the most successful to date," observed Mr Schell.

Ownership in transition

A variation to the lease in 2000 established a process by which Ngati Tuwharetoa will resume management control of the area at the rate of around 1 000 hectares per year. This will result in ultimate stewardship of the entire resource (land and trees) by landowners within two decades. These decisions on behalf of Lake Taupo Forest beneficiaries pose major commercial and logistical challenges for the Lake Taupo Forest Trust. Substantial sums of money are being dealt with and prudent investment decisions on behalf of beneficiaries are needed.

Proceeds from forest harvesting are re-invested in forestry, and also in other sectors such as health, housing, education and community projects. In particular the iwi is committed to providing education for young people with the hope that they can become part of the Ngati Tuwharetoa management team (in forestry and in other sectors such as tourism). Already, many of the people and businesses operating in the forest (including contractors) are of Ngati Tuwharetoa descent. Thus the process of managing their own destiny with their own resources is well advanced and is continuing to develop.

Joe Heke, who is a member of the Trust, has watched at close quarters the way its activities have expanded in the past few years as the owners have assumed a greater degree of ownership and management responsibility for the forest. This aspect of taking part in the decision-making process and having increasing local control is particularly pleasing to Joe. "Controlling our resources for the long-term benefit of our people is part of our duty as kaitiaki (stewards) of the land whilst we are here," he acknowledged.

Implementing the transfer of the government's forest ownership rights to the Maori landowners is the current task of Mr Schell. Detailed planning and liaison with the Lake Taupo Forest Trustees is vital to facilitate a smooth transition. This is part of the mandate of Crown Forestry, acting on behalf of the government.

Maintaining a professional management approach to ensure forest sustainability is an integral part of the handover process. "Clear communication between stakeholders is imperative in this," said Mr Schell. Both the government and Lake Taupo Forest Trust are aware of the expectations of each party and the need for the handover process to take place with a minimum of disruption to ongoing forest operations.

The benefits of this continuity are re-iterated by Mr Heke: "As Trustees we see the need for a strong relationship with the government," he explained. "This helps our forest management company, and in turn, helps our contract workforce. We are conscious of the need to create a suitable operational environment for our contractors."

The transfer of control is catalysing a paradigm shift for Ngati Tuwharetoa - from passive landlords to active forest owners, managers and decision-makers for the forest. This transition, achieved through the planned and deliberate transfer of forest areas, has helped Ngati Tuwharetoa to achieve control of their resources and has empowered the iwi to determine its own destiny.

The story is not over yet, and adapting to new challenges with strong leadership and innovative thinking will be inherent to the success of Ngati Tuwharetoa. Forming the original Trust and entering into the lease agreement with the Crown took courage and vision. This must now be extended to the next phase of resource ownership by ensuring that re-investment of revenues is astute and commercially focused. "The Lake Taupo Forest Trust looks forward to meeting these challenges on behalf of our Ngati Tuwharetoa people," Mr Heke indicated. "It is our responsibility to give our children a future on their land, a land that is in better shape than when it was given to us to care for, and in turn those children to hand it on to their children. Toitu te whenua."

The scar across the forest that Joe and Charles looked over is the result of harvesting the first crop of commercial trees from the land, the beginning of the process to transfer ownership of the trees to the owners of the land. The government has received a return on its investment - and at the same time, the iwi has received cash and retains the land, ready for the cycle to start anew. The land will soon be replanted and green again, as the next crop of trees further builds on the foundation prepared by those farsighted people who began the process more than 30 years ago.

It is indeed a moment for reflection and satisfaction that with vision and determination, great things can be achieved.

About the authors

Don Hammond, has worked for more than 25 years in all aspects of forest management within New Zealand and internationally. He is a New Zealand Institute of Forestry Registered Consultant, and has completed numerous assignments for commercial and government agencies. His highest profile work in recent years has been the eradication of the painted apple moth from New Zealand by aerial spraying over a large city. Previous positions include Senior Policy Analyst for the New Zealand Ministry of Forestry, Manager of the New Zealand Forestry Training Centre and Operations Manager for the New Zealand Antarctic Programme.

Bryan McKinlay, prior to his work as a private forestry consultant, was General Manager for a large Maori-owned forestry company that was in a joint venture partnership with a Korean Company. The joint venture established several thousand hectares of radiata pine plantations on Maori-owned land. Bryan previously managed the East Coast Forestry Project, aimed at encouraging planting of trees on erosion-prone land and for a wide range of other forest management operations.

Pruning in Lake Taupo Forest, New Zealand (courtesy Lake Taupo Forest Trust).

Imabari-Tamagawa-Asakura Forest: a century of water conservation

Yasuhiko Nisawa

Name of forest:

Imabari - Tamagawa - Asakura Watershed Forest


Ehime Prefecture

Area (hectares):

2 500

Managing entity:

Imabari - Tamagawa - Asakura Watershed Forest Cooperative

Mgt. objectives:

Watershed protection, recreation, wood production



The prefecture of Ehime, located on the island of Shikoku in southwestern Japan is one of the country's most disaster-prone areas. Typhoons and drought frequently devastate the area. Although the prefecture receives relatively little precipitation (about 1 200 millimetres annually), floods frequently occur along the Soja River - especially when typhoons generate torrential rains. The area also suffers from severe droughts periodically.

For many years, two major concerns of the people and officials in the region have been to manage the excess water during times of flooding and to alleviate water shortages during droughts. Considerable emphasis has been given to regulating water flow through careful management of the mountainous forests in the region.

During the feudal era (prior to 1868), the governing feudal lords attempted to protect the Soja River watershed by restricting people's access to parts of the surrounding forests and prohibiting the harvesting of forest products. The feudal lords also constructed dykes to control the water flow of the Soja River. At the same time, the meandering course of the river was straightened to guide the flow of water directly from the mountains to the sea in order to minimize damage to the watershed.

These water management initiatives took many years to complete. Even after completion of the initial stages, all men over 16 were required to work every year to dredge the channels and maintain the dykes. "Although the work was hard, people generally obeyed the order, knowing that they would benefit from the work. Today, after many generations, we appreciate what they did as we now have controlled water flow from the river," said Ken Aoi, the current chairperson of the Imabari-Tamagawa-Asakura Common Forest Management Cooperative (ITA Cooperative), which manages a major watershed area in Ehime Prefecture.

With the establishment of central government control under the Emperor in 1868, the government consolidated revenue collection, including the taxation of landowners. The government began conferring legal ownership over de facto private lands and started collecting land taxes from the "new" landowners. In fact, many lands were controlled privately, even before 1868, but without legal status.

In many areas, farmers had difficulty establishing ownership over communal forests since they did not have adequate evidence of prior use and occupancy. Many were also afraid or unwilling to pay the land tax levy. Throughout the country, many communal forests were nationalized in the absence of identifiable private "owners" to whom the land could be allocated.

The experience with the Imabari-Tamagawa-Asakura forests was, however, markedly different. In 1880, the local farmers, fearing the loss of their communal lands, petitioned the prefectural governor to recognize their communal property rights. However, despite the governor's support, the petition was rejected by the central government.

During the following years, the local people paid for land surveys, filed an endless number of petitions and made provisional payments of land taxes with support from the prefectural government. The prefectural government condoned the status quo, recognizing the importance of the communal approach toward forest management developed over the years by the local people and endorsing the people's close relationship with forests.

In 1891, the continued strong petitions by the prefectural government finally struck a chord with a central government official, who had once been a governor of the prefecture. In 1892, the central government finally recognized the rights to communal ownership of the forest by local people - 12 years after the initial request. Initially, ownership rights to the forests were vested in towns and villages. By 1926, however, ownership had evolved into a cooperative, which was recognized as a special legal entity. The cooperative was accorded recognized ownership and management rights over 2 500 hectares of communal forest lands in the prefecture.

Evolution of the ITA Cooperative

In 1897, a new Forest Law came into effect, providing a legal basis for forest protection and management endeavours in Japan. Separate legislation was framed to allow the creation of specialized cooperatives to manage communal lands, such as the Imabari-Tamagawa-Asakura Common Forest. However, only a handful of cooperatives were established to manage communal lands, mainly because of difficulties in achieving consensus among the diverse stakeholders from various towns and villages.

The ITA Cooperative was unusual in that the community was exceptionally cohesive as a result of the many years spent struggling together against floods and droughts, and working to control the Soja River.

"These characteristics helped to build consensus among people for creating a cooperative aimed at forest protection," observed Dr Fusho Ozawa, former Director-General of the Forestry Agency of Japan, who has taken personal interest in the modern development of the ITA Cooperative. "There are two key factors which have carried the ITA Cooperative through to the present - long-term commitment by the community and selfless leadership by a handful of strong individuals," he added.

Extensive floods in 1892 killed 23 people, injured 10 others and destroyed 1 300 houses, as well as roads, dykes, bridges and several hectares of paddy fields. The newly-formed cooperative recognized the urgency for conservation efforts in the 2 500 hectares of forest lands. However, the cooperative was not endowed with funding and contributions had to be collected from the cooperative members.

In 1893, the (still de facto) cooperative decided to permit half the communal forest to be used by non-members on payment of a subscription fee. This was a means of raising the necessary funds to implement effective forest management. The local assemblies, which were members of the cooperative, also paid membership dues. The promulgation of the new Forest Law provided access to new resources since the law enabled the central government, through prefectural governments, to provide funds and technical guidance to encourage tree planting.

Encouraged by this assistance, the cooperative took an important step forward by deciding to undertake extensive tree planting to rehabilitate its forest lands. In the early stages (around 1902), trees were planted mainly for soil erosion control and water conservation. Growing realization that the cooperative must become financially self-reliant led to the decision to plant more commercially-oriented timber species such as Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica). The first trees, planted across 280 hectares, have now been growing for more than 85 years and those remaining from these early plantings currently have an average diameter of 70 to 80 centimetres.

Planting continued for 20 years, during which time a total of 1 048 hectares were afforested. Among the first trees planted were 75 hectares established by students, with financial support from schools and parents. It was envisioned that the schools and the cooperative would share the final revenue.

In 1926, following the early success with forest rehabilitation, members of local assemblies in 14 towns and villages in the prefecture decided to formally transfer ownership of the communal forest lands to the cooperative - enabling it to become an independent entity.

Japanese cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa):85-year-old (upper-storey) and 8-year-old (lower-storey) trees (courtesy Yasuhiko Nisawa).

The subsequent years - from 1927 to 1940 - are now referred to as "The Silvicultural Period," when the focus was on protection and maintenance of the planted trees. In 1940, the ITA Cooperative celebrated its fiftieth anniversary and the fortieth year since the first trees were planted. However, around this time, plans for the expansion of rehabilitation efforts were hampered by a lack of funds. Available funds were exhausted for the maintenance of the planted trees, road improvements and various other infrastructural developments.

During and immediately after the Second World War, a heavy demand for timber throughout Japan resulted in the harvesting of many trees in the communal forest. In 1943, approximately 30 hectares of 30-year-old forest were destroyed by fire. Following the war, and during an acute timber shortage, local governments urged the ITA Cooperative to permit harvesting of trees by the owners. These various factors contributed to the reduction of the planted forests to only 150 hectares - about one-seventh of their maximum previous extent.

In September 1945, a strong typhoon almost destroyed the dykes along the Soja River, creating an imminent danger of flooding. The memoirs of Mr Michitora Ochi, the eighth chairperson of the cooperative, recall this as a major catalyst for stimulating the rehabilitation of the denuded forests.

Second planting phase

Throughout the late 1940s to the early 1960s, the cooperative continued rehabilitating the denuded areas. This period is documented as "The Second Planting Phase," in the history of Imabari-Tamagawa-Asakura Forest. Initially, 150 hectares of deforested areas and 150 hectares of bare lands were targeted for reforestation and afforestation, respectively.

Prior to tree planting, ITA cooperative staff, headed by a trained forester, conducted surveys, planning and evaluation of potential planting sites. The cooperative hired local farmers to carry out tree planting. In order to accelerate planting, the cooperative introduced a revenue-sharing scheme, designed to benefit those who participated in planting and protection, when the trees were eventually harvested. The cooperative planted 600 hectares under its direct supervision, with an additional 600 hectares being established under the revenue-sharing strategy.

During this period, the cooperative placed special emphasis on the construction and maintenance of roads. An adequate road network is indispensable for tree planting and good forest management. "Forest roads are very important, not only in the ITA Cooperative, but throughout Japan, because they facilitate effective and economical transport of workers, seedlings and equipment," explained one official. "In addition, roads enable thinning and harvesting operations to be mechanized, thereby overcoming labour scarcity."

The ITA cooperative staff implemented initial surveys and carried out the basic design for forest road construction. Local firms were commissioned to provide the detailed design and to implement the actual construction work.

Adjusting to stagnation in the forestry sector

In 1961, the central government liberalized the timber trade in Japan, because demand for timber was very high and the domestic timber supply was limited. At that time, increasing timber prices were cited as a leading cause of price inflation in Japan. The liberalization resulted in heavy timber imports, causing the domestic forest-growing industry to languish.

By 1986, 2 181 hectares (88 percent) of the total 2 500 hectares managed by the ITA Cooperative had been planted. The influx of low-cost wood imports, however, made it increasingly difficult to justify expenditures on plantation development and management from a financial perspective.

The downturn of the industry led to what is known as the "the stagnation of Japanese forestry," which has largely persisted until the present time. With massive timber imports holding down domestic timber prices and rising wage rates in the expanding Japanese economy, the financial viability of domestic forestry was eroded dramatically during the 1980s - a worrying situation for the ITA Cooperative.

As early as 1963, the ITA Cooperative had adopted a 50-year-harvesting cycle, which was maintained as the standard for the cooperative until 1986. The 50-year-cutting regime is several years longer than that officially prescribed for the region. The cooperative harvested only one-fiftieth of the total area every year, thus allowing adequate time for trees to regrow in harvested areas. This approach was previously considered to be optimal for maximizing revenues, while also being beneficial in terms of forest conservation.

By the mid-1980s, like most forest managers in Japan, the cooperative faced significant financial challenges. In 1983, the ITA Cooperative abandoned direct employment of local farmers and opted instead to contract the local Forest Owners' Association to carry out silvicultural work. This change was made for three reasons:

1. The aging of the rural population and migration from rural areas to urban and industrialized centres resulted in a critical decrease of available labour.

2. The capacity of the local Forest Owners' Association was underutilized and it had considerable forest management experience to assist the ITA Cooperative.

3. The quality of work by the Forest Owners' Association silvicultural teams was considered to be generally higher.

Forest Owners' Associations were first created in Japan in 1907, under the mandate of the new Forest Law. In 1978, an independent Forest Owners' Association Law was promulgated. Along with the increasing importance of Forest Owners' Associations in practical forest management, an important legal consolidation has also taken place. In Japan, there are almost 1 100 Forest Owners' Associations and approximately 1.2 million forest owners. Forest owners participating in the associations are not confined to individual forest owners but also include companies, temples, shrines and various other types of organizations. Forest Owners' Associations have their own labour forces, and are paid for the forest-related work assigned to them.

Environmental conservation

Although the ITA Cooperative has faced major obstacles that have hindered financial viability, the value of its forests for environmental conservation is now fully recognized. "The founding philosophy of the ITA Cooperative - water conservation through forest conservation - is finally blooming after 100 years of people's endeavours," enthused the present cooperative chairperson, Mr Ken Aoi, who also stressed the financial difficulties that the cooperative is experiencing.

Nonetheless, Mr Aoi noted that that the structure of the ITA Cooperative affords it several advantages over most other private forest owners. For example, the ITA Cooperative belongs to the Ochi-Tamagawa Forest Owner's Association, which has about 1 300 members who collectively own 7 000 hectares of forests, including the 2 500 hectares owned by the ITA Cooperative. Thus, all other forest owners, on average, own 3.5 hectares of forests. This confers the ITA Cooperative significant scale economies in its forest management activities. In addition, the central government pays the cooperative for its services in planning, road design and construction and for forest land conservation activities that are designated as public works, thus providing a valuable source of revenue to help defray forest management costs.

In total, the ITA Cooperative has planted 2 412 hectares, mainly with Japanese cedar and Japanese cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa). An extensive forest road network has been established (with a per hectare road density of 20.4 metres), and is carefully maintained by the cooperative.

The ITA Cooperative has largely solved the problems created by excesses and shortages of water through proper forest management. Since 1979, the region has not experienced any significant flooding. Water flow in the lower parts of the watershed catchment has stabilized. Even during droughts, the Soja River maintains its water flow, thereby meeting the needs of people, particularly farmers. Today, water from the Soja River contributes to the development of a local industry - towel production - which requires significant volumes of water in the manufacturing process. Ehime Prefecture is the largest towel production centre in Japan.

The establishment of a complex, multistoryed forest with long-harvesting cycles - along with a dense forest road network - is ideal for good forest management. The ITA Cooperative, which started out rehabilitating bare forest land in 1927, now provides an exemplary forest management model for the rest of Japan - and the wider Asia-Pacific region.

Present situation

The future of the ITA Cooperative forest seems brighter. "To ensure proper watershed management and natural disaster prevention, we always have to keep in mind the fragile soils of this region," said Mr Akira Ochi of Tamagawa town. "From this point of view, adopting a longer harvesting cycle, in tandem with a multi-storyed canopy forest, constitutes prudent forest management. Longer harvesting cycles (combined with heavy thinning that assures a continuous timber supply to the local people) are the only way to cope with continuing stagnant timber prices."

The ITA Cooperative is now applying a 100-year-cutting cycle, harvesting only one-hundredth of the total forest area each year. Total volumes harvested are consequently lower, but comparatively higher-valued timber is produced. Unit prices for older wood are higher and the costs of tending each year are lower. The longer harvesting cycle means that the final crop trees are larger and the density of stands must be kept lower. Consequently, some additional revenue is earned from larger volumes of thinnings.

"Privately-owned forests in the region are now generally in disarray due to stagnant timber prices. In fact, very few forest management activities are now being undertaken by private forest owners," lamented Mr Akira Ochi. "For instance, thinning is no longer carried out in a timely manner. Consequently, forest stands are excessively dense, retarding tree growth and preventing sunlight from reaching the forest floor. This in turn inhibits understorey growth and kills forest grasses, thereby reducing the water-holding capacity of the soil. In comparison, the floor of the well-managed ITA Cooperative forest receives considerable sunlight - thanks to its multi-storyed canopy and the careful thinning regime carried out by the Forest Owners' Association on behalf of the cooperative. The ITA forest, in my view, demonstrates a system that must be followed by other local forest owners."

About the author

Yasuhiko Nisawa graduated from the University of Kyoto in 1966 and joined the Forestry Agency of Japan in the same year. During his 30 years of dedicated service to the forestry sector, he also worked with the FAO Forestry Department (1980 to 1985), and with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (1992 to 1994). He retired from government service in 1996. Currently, he is Executive Director of the Japan Overseas Forestry Consultants Association (JOFCA).

Primary school pupils planting Pinus spp. and flowering trees (courtesy Yasuhiko Nisawa).

[25] "Economic forest" is a term generally used in China to describe trees planted primarily to generate income from fruits, nuts, oils, medicines and other non-timber products.
[26] Sir Hepi Te Heu Heu was the late paramount chief of Ngati Tuwharetoa.

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