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Typically forests cover a relatively small proportion of each of the countries of West and Central Asia. Nevertheless they are very valuable in biodiversity terms and as economic resources for the states in the region. Historically they have also been very important to the livelihoods of the rural people who live in and around them. It is also clear, at least in many countries of the region, that they have the potential to contribute to poverty reduction through sustainable livelihood approaches.

In order to enable this to happen, there is a need to develop new approaches and institutional arrangements which improve access to forest resources by the poor. There have been a number of attempts to implement various collaborative and participatory approaches to forest management which have potential implications for achieving this. However, institutional change of this type has not proved to be easy.

This paper examines the existing and potential connections between rural people and forests in the Kyrgyz Republic, with the aim of developing an improved understanding of the role and potential role of the forestry sector in poverty reduction[1]. While the paper focuses on Kyrgyzstan, the wider aim is to show, building on some of the experiences of Kyrgyzstan, how the connections between forests and poverty reduction might be explored in West and Central Asia more generally. In order to identify some possible similarities, the Section 8 briefly explores the situation in other parts of West and Central Asia.

Kyrgyzstan has been selected for a number of reasons. The main reasons are that it has a high level of poverty and the rural population is heavily dependent on agriculture (and therefore natural resources) for its livelihoods. Further, the government has experimented with, and increasingly accepted, a programme[2] of Collaborative Forest Management as a central platform in forest policy. Experiences in implementing this programme provide useful insights for other countries in the wider region, particularly for other countries from the former Soviet Union.

[1] An earlier World Bank study (Brylski et al. 2001) aimed "to identify opportunities for improving pasture and forest management to contribute both to poverty reduction and increased living standards, and to improve management and protection of upper watersheds". The current paper differs in that it is not focused on mountain areas and in its emphasis on discussion of the CFM programme.
[2] The introduction and development of CFM has been supported by the Kyrgyz-Swiss Forestry Support Programme as a project. However it has been adopted more widely by the Kyrgyz government and is now supported by a legal decree. In this paper we refer to this broadly supported activity as a "programme".

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