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An enormous challenge awaits developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The region as a whole has seen a dramatic economic transformation in the last 30 years. However, these benefits have eluded significant portions of its population. The existence of such extreme poverty makes its removal the region's most critical development challenge. Quite a significant number of the poor are forest dwellers or from the communities living close by. By virtue of that association alone, it can be said that forest-dependency has led to their impoverishment, yet these forests can also be the solution to their indigent condition.

This would come as a surprise to most though. In former times, most forests belonged to local rulers, and villagers had complete access to most of the non-timber forest products. The people lost their access to such wealth following consolidation of the forest lands into forest reserves to be managed by the government authorities. Most of the governments focused management towards production forestry to support the timber industries and increase their foreign exchange earnings. Poor people's dependence on forests was usually relegated to themes such as minor forest products.

Readjusting our focus back to the socio-economic role of forests would require considerable adjustments to the system. For a start, forest policies would have to be revised so as to prioritize the role of forests in meeting the needs of forest-dependent communities. Agencies that are involved in forest management would have to rethink considerably their strategies, and restructure their departments to take on roles that previously were given minor attention. This would also require engaging personnel with completely new skills in subjects such as participatory processes, community approaches, gender issues and other poverty reduction strategies. The work does not end here. The role of research institutes is pivotal to the success of new programmes in poverty alleviation. This would require a considerable revision of the research agenda, and likewise the hiring of people with new skills. Additional attention would have to be given to transfer of technology, extension, and effective implementation of these new programmes.

A number of participatory research methodologies have emerged recently. Innovative approaches for development and diffusion of poverty alleviation technologies are being pioneered in many parts of the developing world. There is also growing recognition that local community organizations can assist in natural resources management, utilization and development planning; and can play a critical role in facilitating community level application of basic and strategic research results and in translating them into highly adoptable and profitable technologies. However, disparities in scientific capacity and capability, coupled with the often archaic and bureaucratic administrations, in the developing and underdeveloped countries, have hindered the effective adaptation and application of these technologies.

All in all, we see considerable work ahead for many forestry institutions in the region. But most of all, there is a need for considerable transformation in their objectives, agenda, and the products they will have to deliver. This workshop, the first in the series of three workshops held in 2003 on the theme of Forests for Poverty Reduction - Exploring the Potential, was organized to share the experiences hitherto gained from poverty alleviation initiatives by forestry research and development agencies in the Asia-Pacific region. These proceedings, a collection of papers presented during the workshop, could serve to increase the recognition of the role of forestry in poverty reduction, as well as the awareness of policy-makers and specialists on the need for a more pro-poor focus in their undertakings.

Forests have great influence on the welfare and economy of human society. In developing countries the linkage between forests and the people is more intense due to higher dependence of the people for their livelihoods. Considerable work lies ahead to bring about the desired results of using forests for alleviating poverty. The renovation of the forestry institutions represents the beginning.

He Changchui

M. A. Abdul Razak

Assistant Director-General


and Regional Representative

Forest Research Institute Malaysia

FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific


Asia Pacific Association of Forestry Research Institutions

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