The case of Kyrgyzstan shows clearly that there are connections between forests and poverty reduction. Although the total area of forests is relatively small, people living in and around forests make considerable use of a variety of forest products for their livelihoods. There is evidence to show that income form forest products can, in some cases, make a positive contribution to income generation and poverty reduction, but only if the institutional arrangements governing access to the products are seriously reformed.
Many countries in West and Central Asia have much in common with Kyrgyzstan, both in terms of the extent of forest cover and the ways in which people use the forests. They also share some institutional features, including a strong emphasis on state ownership of forests and management by strong forest agencies.
Some general lessons can be drawn from the situation in Kyrgyzstan in general and the Kyrgyz experiment with CFM in particular and we believe that many of these will be applicable to other countries in the region. At least they are key themes, or focus points.
The potential for forests to contribute to poverty reduction revolves around the need for improving access to resources. Clearly, this requires changes to laws and regulations affecting access and an enhanced focus on participatory approaches to forest management.
Providing private access to forests (whether through temporary leases or permanent rights) does not equate to poverty reduction. To achieve poverty reduction requires a deliberate focus on providing and guaranteeing access to the poor. If this cannot be achieved through positive discrimination then conscious efforts must be made to guarantee equal access.
Forest authorities may be reluctant to fully commit themselves to poverty reduction objectives in place of more traditional concerns with forest protection, reafforestation and even institutional maintenance. Mechanisms may be needed which make them more accountable to broader government objectives and policies. The areas of concern here are (1) the need for institutional change within forest departments and ministries as they begin to manage forests for the benefit of people and in collaboration with people and (2) the need for strengthened civil society institutions which can empower people in forest management and access issues.
In order to move more directly towards the use of forests to contribute to poverty reduction, countries in the region will need to grapple with a variety of issues and to face a number of gaps in knowledge.
At the national level there is need for analysis of forest policy, both on paper and its implementation in the field, focusing on its implications to poverty reduction.
What tools, mechanisms, processes are supposed to contribute to poverty reduction according to policy documents (conceptual documents such as national forest programmes, forest law, etc.)? Which other existing tools and mechanisms might be useful for poverty reduction? A matrix with key aspects of poverty (security, opportunities, participation-empowerment etc.) might be useful for such an exercise.
What is the reality, the current situation in the field? Who benefits from forest use? All members of rural communities? Mainly local elites? What about the poorest members of the local communities? If they do not benefit, why not, what are the constraints? What potentials exist for improvements? As we have seen in the paper, it is not enough to conclude that forest use contributes to poverty alleviation from the observation that members of rural, often marginalized and hence poor communities use forest resources. It is clear that one has to identify "the poor" first (using wealth ranking as a key tool), describe the benefit they get from forest resources under the existing regime(s), comparing this to people who are better of, and identify obstacles and constraints currently limiting forest benefits for poor people.
Once such a national level analysis has been carried out, this information could be used to develop policy changes specifically targeted to the benefit of poor people ("the poorest of poor rural communities"). One way this could be done is by exploring the contribution of forest services to national poverty reduction strategies.
The potential for new or changed policies needs to be checked against probable consequences or scenarios. How are particular changes expected to affect poor people (decreased versus increased access, security, participation in decision-making etc.)? What can help the poor? What risks locking them in poverty (potential poverty traps)?
A further step might be the exchange of relevant experience between neighbouring countries, possibly at occasions such as sub-regional meetings. Meetings held in the process of the elaboration of the Forestry Outlook Study for West and Central Asia might provide such an opportunity.