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In recent years there has been extensive discussion of the linkages between forests, livelihoods and poverty. It is not appropriate to present a detailed discussion of the literature here, but it is useful to make a number of general points.

It is clear that rural people in many parts of the world (and certainly in countries of West and Central Asia) make extensive use of forests as part of their livelihood systems. There are many aspects of this use including direct consumption of forest products and services (foods, timber for construction, fuelwood, fodder for livestock, water, forest farming), collection of forest products for sale (hunting, NTFP collection etc) and the use of forest products for food security in times of seasonal shortages, drought and economic stress. The extent of use and level of "dependence" is highly variable. Nevertheless forests are often of great importance in these ways.

In addition to the use of forest products for livelihood support and risk management, forests are potentially valuable to rural people as a means of income generation and, thus, poverty reduction.

The problem with forest resources in both of these contexts is that forest resources are frequently under the official control of state forest agencies which generally restrict the use of forests by rural people, particularly where serious income generation is concerned. Thus, the potential for forests to contribute to poverty reduction usually involves questions of tenure, access and benefit-sharing between the state (owner) and forest users.

This paper considers both the livelihood maintenance and poverty reduction potentials of forests in Kyrgyzstan.

Discussion of forests and poverty reduction takes place in the context of a great deal of international policy emphasis on attempts to achieve poverty reduction through sustainable forest management at a time when many projects and programmes attempt to integrate forest conservation and development/poverty reduction. There has been some scepticism about this approach. Wunder (2001) argues that the potential for forest led poverty reduction is limited due to issues such as the capital intensive nature of forest industry. (He focuses on tropical forests, but the point may be more broadly applicable.) He also seems to accept the status quo in terms of the absence of rights of people to forest resources as a constraint, rather than identifying it as the key issue to be addressed.

Fisher (2000), in a review of activities (programmes and projects) which consciously aim to combine forest conservation and poverty reduction objectives in Asia, finds that the performance in terms of poverty reduction has been very poor. While there are many claims that people have benefited from such projects, there is very little in the way of attempts to take into account the costs of conservation measures to rural people. Generally only benefits are considered. Limited access to and control over resources are identified as the key issue to be addressed.

As Dubois (2002) points out: "Timber production attracts powerful ‘outside’ interests, and therefore requires sufficient bargaining power; which the poor often lack."

There are many different ways of defining poverty. Some definitions revolve around assets or absolute income levels. Recent World Bank thinking (World Bank 2000/2001) sees poverty in terms of three dimensions: opportunities for growth, empowerment and security. The World Bank Strategy for reducing poverty is based on addressing each of these three dimensions (see Box 1). This approach seems to have been fairly widely accepted and is, in fact, essentially consistent with DFID’s sustainable livelihoods approach. SDC defines poverty in multidimensional terms, placing some emphasis on powerlessness (see Box 2). In this paper we see poverty reduction essentially in terms of the World Bank’s three dimensions.

Box 1: Strategy for Addressing the Three Dimensions of Poverty
[Extracted from World Bank 2000/2001]

Promoting opportunity. Poor people consistently emphasize the centrality of material opportunities. This means jobs, credit, roads, electricity, markets for their produce, and the schools, water, sanitation, and health services that underpin the health and skills essential for work. Overall economic growth is crucial for generating opportunity. So is the pattern or quality of growth. Market reforms can be central in expanding opportunities for poor people, but reforms need to reflect local institutional and structural conditions. And mechanisms need to be in place to create new opportunities and compensate the potential losers in transitions. In societies with high inequality, greater equity is particularly important for rapid progress in reducing poverty. This requires action by the state to support the buildup of human, land, and infrastructure assets that poor people own or to which they have access.

Facilitating empowerment. The choice and implementation of public actions that are responsive to the needs of poor people depend on the interaction of political, social, and other institutional processes. Access to market opportunities and to public sector services is often strongly influenced by state and social institutions, which must be responsive and accountable to poor people. Achieving access, responsibility, and accountability is intrinsically political and requires active collaboration among poor people, the middle class, and other groups in society. Active collaboration can be greatly facilitated by changes in governance that make public administration, legal institutions, and public service delivery more efficient and accountable to all citizens-and by strengthening the participation of poor people in political processes and local decisionmaking. Also important is removing the social and institutional barriers that result from distinctions of gender, ethnicity, and social status. Sound and responsive institutions are not only important to benefit the poor but are also fundamental to the overall growth process.

Enhancing security. Reducing vulnerability-to economic shocks, natural disasters, ill health, disability, and personal violence-is an intrinsic part of enhancing well-being and encourages investment in human capital and in higher-risk, higher-return activities. This requires effective national action to manage the risk of economywide shocks and effective mechanisms to reduce the risks faced by poor people, including health- and weather-related risks. It also requires building the assets of poor people, diversifying household activities, and providing a range of insurance mechanisms to cope with adverse shocks- from public work to stay-in-school programmes and health insurance.

Box 2: SDC’s view of poverty.

The SDC’s comprehensive understanding of poverty takes into consideration the multidimensionality, subjectivity, relativity and dynamics of the topic. Besides income, a multidimensional understanding also includes dimensions such as security, vulnerability, powerlessness and other circumstances that characterise poverty. Those actually affected by poverty determine the dimensions and value of their lives. Hence the value system of those affected significantly influences their concept of poverty. Values are subjective, individual and collective factors. With its understanding of the subjectivity of poverty, SDC respects the principle of the individual’s right to self-determination of his or her welfare, culture and hence cultural diversity. Since the dimension of relativity takes account of uneven distribution, it also incorporates issues of disparity and equity in the concept of poverty. Finally, SDC also gives careful consideration to the dynamics of poverty: poverty occurs in an environment dominated by interrelationships. This viewpoint includes the question of power and is essential in terms of fighting the causes of poverty.

Source: SDC (2000)

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