Dr Oudara Souvannavong, FAO Representative, Rome; Dr Baskaran Krishnapillay, Executive Secretary, APAFRI; Dr Simmathiri Appanah, Senior Programme Officer, FORSPA, Bangkok; Dr Sim Heok-Choh, Executive Director, APAFRI; Padam Shri Chandi Prasad Bhatt; distinguished delegates, members of media, print as well as electronic, ladies and gentlemen, I am extremely delighted to welcome you all today to this Asia-Pacific Regional Workshop on "Forests for poverty reduction: the changing role for research, development and training institutions". We were looking forward to this opportunity for long, the idea was floated in Sri Lanka during December 2002. The meeting was originally slated to be at Delhi in April, but could not be held due to the outbreak of the SARS epidemic.
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 population for the fulfillment of their daily needs. But today the forest ecosystems have become fragile and are much less productive and under an acute form of degradation.
In India, of the 576 000 villages approximately, 175 000 villages are located in and around forests and the predominantly tribal population consisting of about 350 million people has a symbiotic relationship with the forests. They are substantially dependant on the nearby forests for their livelihood requirements. Though 19.27 percent of the landmass in India is under forests, only 11 percent is under good forest cover. With 1.8 percent of the world's forests, we have to meet the needs of 17 percent of the world's human and 18 percent of the livestock population.
One-third of the country's area is stipulated to be brought under tree cover and to achieve this an area of 29.70 million ha has to be brought under plantation. For this an investment of Rs. 50 billion is needed as against the present availability of Rs. 16 billion.
The problem of forest management is linked to the rural poor and overuse of the resource. An increase in the population in the previous century has put severe pressure on scarce natural resources in India. The long gestation period of the forests has led to a situation where a big gap exists between the demand and supply for timber, fuelwood, fodder and non-wood forest products.
Though poverty is in both urban and rural areas, rural poverty is of greater concern as approximately 67 percent of the population resides in rural areas and is predominantly dependant on forests to fulfill their basic needs. The process of development has been such that the benefits of the green revolution and other developmental activities could not be passed on in a uniform manner and consequently a separate class of rural poor consisting of marginalized groups (mainly scheduled castes and landless) has emerged. This has resulted in disparities in incomes. The people living in and on the forest fringes have particularly been affected adversely.
The process of degradation of natural resources and inequity in the society can be reversed if focus is maintained on the following aspects:
increase in income from the forests to the target groups;
empower landless and marginalized groups;
establish processes and mechanisms which can provide cushion in times of environmental imbalances like floods, droughts, cyclones, etc.
Efforts need to be undertaken at all levels to ensure that the development process is pro-poor. It requires informed and pro-poor policy-making, strategy planning and programme formulation. The forestry research during the past century has been focusing on the basic disciplines of silviculture, forest product utilization, wood technology, entomology, pathology, mensuration and soil science, etc. Though all these are of immense relevance for furthering the development of forestry science, today the focus has to shift to research which can bring quick changes and improve the economy of the poor, leading to poverty reduction.
The purpose of carrying out forestry research today should be to generate benefits for poor people by the application of new knowledge to natural resource management. This shall include livelihood strategies based on the sustainable use of the forests including wildlife habitat and planning strategies to sustain the livelihoods of poor people dependent on forests adjacent to croplands. The three basic things which are essential to the rural poor are fuelwood, fodder and small timber for agricultural implements and house construction.
The fuelwood requirement was estimated to be 390 million m3, while recorded production from the forests is estimated to be 56 million m3, which leaves a gap of 334 million m3.
Against a total requirement of 1 712 million tonnes of cattle feed, the availability from non-forestry sources is only 664 million tonnes. The gap is met from forest areas leading to heavy pressure on the fragile forests. There is demand for 55 million m3 of wood but the availability is only 29 million m3, thus there is a gap of 26 million m3.
Field-based research has to focus on these major issues with standardization of permutations and combinations where silvi-pasture can be encouraged with improved soil and moisture conservation techniques. Slope management has to be such that maximum water is conserved for enhancement of soil productivity and moisture retention. Promotion of user-managed research is an essential step in the right direction.
There are several specific development projects which are being carried out. Their conventional mandate of reducing poverty within a geographical area could be met more effectively if they could:
identify sub-groups of poor people more clearly and target them specifically;
improve prioritization and sequencing to reduce the risk of elite capture;
mainstream crosscutting themes such as gender and environment more strongly. The role of women, though acknowledged, has to be researched from the point of view of mitigating their hardships;
interpret principles of learning, ownership and sustainability in a more pragmatic manner.
The success of any research activity will depend upon its organization in the states and utilization of extension services to carry research from the laboratory to the field. Under this scenario, investment in research, the need for strengthening of human resources for forestry research, training requirements and strengthening of forestry extension, will have to be attended to.
There is a need for a user-friendly and problem-solving thrust in research planning and extension.An example can be cited regarding exploitation of age and growth projections for community managed forest areas and the prevailing calculations have to be modified for coppice and non-coppice areas. The rate of growth in different management systems and compatibility with NWFP at the forest floor and in understory have to be studied.
In a world where there is still so much extreme poverty, inequality and environmental degradation, the concept of technology leapfrogging acquires a new and special meaning.
The best technologies are those that create sustainable livelihoods. They must facilitate the fulfillment of basic human needs and promote basic attitudes of self-reliance. Promoting local water harvesting structures, energy-efficient stoves, biomass-fuelled power stations are such technologies, which strive to fulfill the basic needs of the society. While promoting such technologies, care should be taken that women who face the brunt of poverty are at the centre of development.
There is the possibility of developing eco-farming models under adverse agro-climatic conditions with integrated approaches to land and water management. The ultimate goal of development initiatives is not only to meet the immediate needs of the rural poor, but also to reverse the trend of natural resource depletion.
From the above scenario it is evident that a poverty reduction strategy focusing only on rapid economic growth is unlikely to significantly improve the situation of the poor. Both equity and sustainable growth are required. Poverty reduction would work best when the poor are made more productive so they can contribute to economic growth themselves. A two-way exchange of goods and services in the form of agriculture from non-tribal villages and value-added forest products from tribal villages seems to make ecological as well as economic sense.
A number of participatory research methodologies have emerged recently. Innovative approaches to development and diffusion of pro-poor technology are being pioneered in many parts of the developing world. However, disparities in scientific capacity in a globalizing inter-regional system of research network and the paucity of suitable institutional mechanisms to build on the combined strengths of all research partners and institutions remains a challenge.
There is a growing recognition that local community organizations are often better equipped than their upstream research partners in providing insights into traditional research practices and innovations. They are better placed to help in organizing the communities in natural resource management, utilization, and development. This is because they have access to location-specific, agro-ecological and socio-economic information 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.
This Workshop is being organized to assess the experiences hitherto gained and to identify measures to strengthen these efforts in the Asia-Pacific region as these countries share many things in common.
Your valuable inputs during the course of this Workshop will help in laying the foundation for the bright future of forest dwellers and millions of stakeholders by ensuring livelihood initiatives through forest enrichment. The recommendations resulting from this Workshop are also expected to lay down a road map for research institutions to plan their strategies for reduction of poverty. I am sure that with your wholehearted participation this Workshop shall be a grand success.
I once again heartily welcome you and wish you a pleasant stay in the sylvan surroundings of Doon Valley.
Thank you very much.
 Director-General, Indian
Council of Forestry Research and Education, Dehradun, India; Email: