Do we still need forestry institutions? And with that, do we still need forestry research? I had the enormous mishap of entering into discussion on the subject of forests with a chief minister of a small state in Asia. His argument was that if countries in the Middle East can do without trees, why are we overly concerned with keeping forests? It was of course disingenuous of him - some of his likes are mainly interested in approving logging concessions to a favoured few. I carefully pointed out that the Middle East, fortunately for them, is awash with black gold, and we with green gold. With some small effort, ours is renewable and theirs not. Unlike this isolated case, in all my other meetings of this nature, there was a clear consensus that mankind will need its forests, and likewise the need for forestry institutions.
If that is indeed the case, are our forestry institutions meeting their demands adequately? The stakes are high indeed. If our political masters conclude that our work is ineffective, we are in for the chopping block. Against this reality, the onus is on us to ensure that our work is meaningful, has impact, and the benefits reach the people in need, and the future for forestry is vouchsafed.
If we take a look at forestry across the region, the trend unfortunately seems to go along a predictably poor route. Only three decades ago, many countries in the region were exporters of timber and wood products. Since then, some of them had to take drastic actions, including logging bans to conserve the remaining forests. This was out of concern for environmental degradation. Forestry's contribution to GDP (as measured using current methods) has clearly declined, and likewise, the country's annual budget allocations for the sector have seen a downward spiral. Many are now timber importers both for domestic needs as well as for further processing and re-exporting. More of the domestic timber needs are met from plantations, farm- and agro-forests. Next, the countries that are currently on the producer side too are beginning to show declines in their resources and annual harvests. I may be painting a bleak scenario, but it is becoming reasonable to assume that in the not-so-distant future the natural forests are unlikely to be major source of timber.
Against this backdrop of declining forest resources is an increase in poverty in the region. Although the region has had a burst in economic growth in the last decade, today more poor are living in the region than anywhere else on earth. Another conundrum is the association of gross poverty with forests; most of the poorest are living in forests or in the margins. FAO has pointed out that 1.2 billion people in developing countries depend on trees on farms to generate food and cash, 350 million people live in or next to dense forests and rely on them for subsistence or income, and millions more depend entirely on tropical forests for their survival. This clearly emphasizes how intensely human beings, especially the poorest are dependent on trees and forests for survival. This is not to conclude that forests have impoverished them, rather the governments are largely to be blamed for their indigent state.
For almost a century, forestry institutions in the region were mostly devoted to managing the vast timber resources, and gave scant attention to forest-dependent people's needs. The forests were extensive and the populations small to make a severe dent on them. The main beneficiaries were the government coffers and a small group of people heavily involved in commercial logging activities. The poor and forest-dependent people remained by and large marginalized and unprotected. With the unprecedented growth in human populations in the last half a century, the demand on forest land and other products had grown steeply. This led to overexploitation and degradation of forest resources to such a degree that the consequent environmental problems are beginning to overwhelm us. The natural reaction in many countries has been to swing towards greater conservation, locking away remaining forests. This has greatly affected the poor who are dependent on forest resources from public lands. The result is heavy encroachment and continued degradation of the forests.
It has finally dawned on us that conservation is near impossible unless we meet the needs of the poor communities, and better still involve them in the work. So the big question is whether forests can be used to alleviate poverty? While it is germane to our discussions, for the present we have to assume it is possible, and examine how forestry institutions can bring about the results? This endeavor of course, fits in quite well with the United Nations' Millennium Development Goal. Poverty reduction strategies are thus becoming the framework for development planning and implementation, and are guiding the operations of many donors and international development agencies. So, are our institutions, the planning, management, research, extension, and training agencies, capable of delivering the results? This is the main focus of this workshop.
This enquiry is relevant and timely. One simple clue would be to take a quick glance of the annual reports of forest departments in the Asia-Pacific region, and scan our local and regional forestry journals. They are revealing: for example, the contents of one issue of the Journal of Tropical Forest Science (2003) had articles on vegetative propagation, tree wealth of tribal people, microbial biomass, macronutrients, remote sensing, fruit size, mycorrhizae, genetic variation, growth periodicity, growth performance, and forest type classification. Only one-eleventh of the articles relate directly to poverty issues. This trend is even repeated in a national journal such as the Indian Forester - Volume 130 (nos. 4-6) contains only one article that relates to poverty issue, four indirectly, and the rest (36) deal with traditional forestry subjects such as plantation genetics, silviculture, canopy management, wood utilization, insect pests, seed germination, and thereof. What it means is that many institutions are still trying to solve problems that bear little relation to current needs.
This may be too simplistically arrived at, but it does convey an important message. Perhaps our institutions need to review their work, and revamp their strategies and priorities to deliver that expected of them. This workshop, the first in a series on the theme, "Forests for Poverty Reduction," looks at the institutional needs in order to be able to meet these new challenges.
In the welcome address, R.P.S. Katwal stated that the benefits from the green revolution and other developmental activities could not be passed on in a uniform manner, and this has resulted in a separate class of rural poor, those living in and near forest fringes. Their over-dependence on public forest lands has resulted in further loss and degradation of the forests and environment. Such inequities need to be reversed by increasing their income, empowering them, and establish processes and mechanisms to cushion them against hardships. C.P. Bhatt, a leading social worker in the region, opened the discussion (Chapter 3) by emphasizing that forestry research in India is poorly done, and has not identified people's needs, problems and their expectations. There is a clear mismatch between the needs of development programmes and the priorities of research institutions. Exacerbating the situation, some of the useful research does not get transferred from the laboratory to the field. But such expressions may not be revealing the primary cause. However, in a well-thought out presentation on how forestry evolved in the Indian subcontinent, S. Shanmughasundram (Chapter 13) clearly places the blame on the government and forestry institutions for the current predicament. He outlined forestry development in the country into four phases or generations, when radical shifts in forestry objectives and concepts took place. The first was the 'Forestry for Conservation' that led to consolidation and appropriation of communal forest land by the states. This began the alienation of rural people from access to their forests. The second 'Forestry for Economic Development' resulted in the states trying to generate income from forests. High attention to timber management was given but it only resulted in loss of forest capital and biodiversity. The wealth though did not trickle to the poor communities. The third was 'Forestry with People' which recognized the need to include rural people in the restoration of degraded forests. Many innovative ideas such as participatory forestry and joint forest management were born as a result. But overall, these schemes still used the poor merely as cheap labour. Troublesome issues of equity and ownership remained unresolved, and the poor remained unenthusiastic to such schemes. The fourth, and current one, is referred to as 'Forestry for People.' This calls for integration of forestry in the rural life, with focus on using the resources to alleviate rural poverty.
But before we embark on a major endeavour, it would be better to find out where the poor are, what conditions lead to their impoverishment, and what developmental options can be mustered to reverse the condition. K.D. Singh, in a survey of "Forest and Poverty" (Chapter 14) attempts to grapple the issue. By geo-referencing forest cover, forest area and village data, the spatial correlation in distribution of poor, their occupational patterns, and their distance from the forests can be derived. This would be essential information to base any development strategy. One can argue about why we need to devote so much energy to study the character of poverty. Instead, why not transfer our energy directly to poverty eradication efforts? That would be fine when dealing with tiny pockets of poverty. But when the scale and depth of poverty is expressed in the millions, information about distribution and character would be essential for formulating major development work. Along the same lines, A. Shariff et al. (Chapter 15) presented their findings on the socio-economic and human development profiles of scheduled tribes and scheduled castes in India.
It is one thing to know the character and demography of poverty, but even more critical would be investigations on how such poverty can be alleviated. Not unsurprisingly, an overwhelming number of researchers linked non-wood forest products (NWFP) intimately with the poor, whether they are forest dwellers or those living in the margins. In keeping with that tradition, we have several presentations in this workshop. For a start, P.P. Bhojvad (Chapter 9) looks at research issues in the value chain of NWFP for poverty alleviation of forest dwellers. He highlights the research needs for sustainable management of NWFPs. In light of the findings, he goes beyond to identify the changing roles of research institutes, forest managers and trainings institutes. A.V. Sagar (Chapter 16) next looks at tribal development and the marketing of non-timber forest products. He gives special attention to how cooperatives formed for marketing such products can bring better returns to the people. The theme is further pursued by P.L. Soni and V.K. Varshney (Chapter 11) who attempt to link poverty alleviation through value addition of NWFPs. They point out correctly that research efforts are inadequate, too thinly spread out, and there is a lack of linkage between different institutions involved in NWFPs development.
Other researchers looked beyond NWFPs as a means to alleviate poverty. These include: (i) report from Zhang et al. (Chapter 24) on the role and application of community forestry in mountain development in China; (ii) P. Kant and R.P.S. Katwal's proposal (Chapter 6) to incorporate environmental goods and services from forests for poverty alleviation; (iii) M.K. Singh's study (Chapter 7) on Joint Forest Management scheme in India; (iv) S.S. Negi's study (Chapter 19) on the experiences gained from participatory forestry; and (v) the work of M. George et al. (Chapter 12) on agroforestry for poverty alleviation and environmental restoration.
But if this workshop had dealt with issues relating to community forestry, NWFPs, ecological services and what not, we would have missed the point. Our main purpose is to look at how forestry institutions should re-engineer themselves to meet the new challenges of meeting the needs of the poor. Most forestry institutions have been caught somewhat unprepared for the change in demands. Whereas, traditionally the work was focused on timber management from forests mostly owned by the state, today foresters have to look far beyond this narrow dimension. People's issues are paramount, and a typical forester has to contend more with issues ranging from conflict resolution, ownership sharing, participatory processes, NWFPs, and so on. The research institutions have had to shift away from typical subjects as silviculture, mensuration and management, and more into policy related issues such as governance, tenure, taxation, multi-sector planning, certification and thereof. Similar demands are made with the ministries, NGOs, extension and training bodies. The curriculum for forestry education has to be completely revised if the training is to meet the rapidly changing needs.
In keeping with this need, several valuable discussions followed on issues of research, development and training. Let us start with the research issue. At the very start, R.P.S. Katwal in his welcome address calls for efforts to be undertaken at all levels to ensure that development process is pro-poor. He points out that research should shift away from basic disciplines such as silviculture, entomology, wood technology, etc., to income-generation activities geared for poor people, which would include fuelwood, fodder and small timber. In another presentation, P. Kant and R.P.S. Katwal (Chapter 6) go further to identify R&D requirements. They point out that the Joint Forest Management in India has achieved only modest success as it remained confined to NTFPs such as small timber and fuelwood that have remained in the non-monetized economy. They propose research to include environmental goods and services like carbon sequestration, soil and water conservation, ecotourism, etc., to enhance income generation for the poor people. In view of the changing demands on forests, forestry research institutes have been set up for the single purpose of developing technology to meet the needs of the poor. P.K. Shukla and S.S. Bisen (Chapter 5) describe the work of Tropical Forest Research Institute, Jabalpur, India, as a case in point. This institute has developed appropriate agroforestry models, popularized cultivation of medicinal plants among farmers, and introduced multi-use of forest flora. The institute pays additional attention to user uptake of the results to ensure the findings reach tree growers and farmers. Along the same vein, A.K. Rana and N. Gera (Chapter 4) express concern that in the prevailing forestry research systems, the intended beneficiaries have not adopted the technologies to the desired extent. The reasons include inadequate linkages between research institutions and user groups, mainly due to lack of extension efforts, and failure to integrate technologies with the development process. The way to overcome some of these constraints is to ensure that the target groups are not only beneficiaries but are also active partners in the R&D process. The role of research institutions have to be broadened to integrate livelihood support systems, health and nutrition, education and capacity building, revival and strengthening of traditional knowledge systems and development of marketing channels. Further fine-tuning the ideas, K.S. Rao (Chapter 8) calls for forestry research institutes to minimize curiosity-driven research, pursue research that meets society's needs, and give greater consideration to socio-economic issues. F.A. Polisco (Chapter 22) also calls for a major change in the way forestry research institutions work. He proposes greater facilitation or direct transfer of technology to the users, building capacities of communities in sustainable management, and influence policy development that is pro-poor. Indonesia (Chapter 30) has likewise, undertaken a series of improvements to its forestry research institutions, such as capacity development, and formulating new strategies that take into account local community participation in forest management. Recognizing that most of the forest management problems such as encroachment and illegal logging stem from poor social and economic conditions, a new research centre for social and economic research for forestry has been set up. In keeping with the changing demands, even academic institutes have begun to move, for example the College of Forestry and Natural Resources (University of the Philippines) has revised its curriculum and shifted its research focus into socioeconomic issues and forestry (E.O Peralta, Chapter 21).
Perhaps the thrust of the meeting has dealt with reformation of research institutions and the research agenda to meet the challenges of using forests for poverty alleviation. However, other presentations, while not with the same intensity, do recognize the need for training institutes, policy makers and development organizations to have clear and paramount roles in this initiative. Several country reports (e.g. D. Tshering, Chapter 23) made general recommendations along these lines. There are also calls for policy revisions, legislation, decentralization, greater participation, and increasing the social forestry programmes. Proposals are made for introducing national forest programmes which incorporate poverty alleviation strategies into forestry plans and policies. In some cases the concepts have moved beyond theory to practice, as in the case of the Peoples Protected Areas (PPAs) in Chhattisgarh, India. R.C. Sharma (Chapter 17) describes the creation of 32 PPAs, each covering around 15 000 ha of forest land, in the newly created State of Chhattisgarh in India. Considering more than 50 percent of the people living in and around the forests depend for their subsistence on them, the Forest Department is looking into management models with appropriate entitlements to enhance the welfare of the people. In the same realm would be the Community-Based Forest Resources Management (CBFRM) strategy adopted in the Philippines (F.A. Polisco, Chapter 22).
The concept of using forests for poverty alleviation is beginning to gain recognition in the Asia-Pacific region. This is clearly indicated in the country reports. Viet Nam (Chapters 25 & 26), for example, has prioritized forest protection and forestry development which are linked to poverty reduction. Supporting policies and legislation have been approved, and departments are beginning to make the adaptations to implement forestry programmes that include land allocations for households, 5 million ha reforestation programme and improvement of agricultural practices so less pressure is exerted on forest land. Community forestry projects have become the mainstay in Bangladesh (Chapter 29), and are getting more attention in Myanmar (Chapter 31): these are geared towards better landuse efficiency, employment generation, environmental stability, and greater social equity.
Perhaps the country that can best exemplify the shift from traditional timber-production focus to a pro-poor forest management is Nepal. K.C. Paudel (Chapter 20) gives a brief on the developments. Nepal took the initiative to involve local people in the management and utilization of forests for improving livelihoods of local communities in the 1970s. It began with the creation of the Community Forestry Programme. This was followed by the Leasehold Forestry Programme. Some 1 million ha of forest area are now under such management. In keeping with this, the policies are being formulated to transfer government-owned land to the communities. In the 1980s, the Forest Department began involving local people into managing protected areas. To support these developments, the government initiated several measures to increase capacity of local forest users in forest management, participatory methods, revenue sharing mechanisms, and greater women participation. Meanwhile, research was stepped up in propagation and establishment of multi-purpose tree species, forest management in the mountains, agroforestry, and biomass estimations. Appropriate harvesting and processing techniques for key NTFPs have been developed and disseminated. The government recently created a high level coordination committee for promoting high value NTFPs. Yet, Nepal still recognizes problems exist in several areas, such as limitations in planning and management, poor transfer of technology, inadequate links between researchers and users, benefit-sharing mechanisms still in infancy, and low investment into forestry research.
In conclusion, it would be incorrect to claim that a workshop like this has successfully identified all the key institutional issues and provided the strategies and directions to take. However, the workshop has been able to articulate the problem effectively, and push for change across the board. Nevertheless, overall it can be claimed that a definite shift in the thinking is taking place. Countries in the region are taking cognizance of the decline and degradation of their forest resources, the impoverishment of the landless people, and the need to link forest conservation and management to that of poverty alleviation. These will require almost a complete re-engineering of our forestry institutions. Institutional changes, albeit hesitant and uncoordinated, have begun. The experiences gained by countries such as Nepal would provide models for adaptation. The huge innovations in social forestry in India will provide additional direction. While more thought should be given to a number of issues, particularly in the structure and organization of the institutes, new skills are also needed. Gone are the days when a diameter tape and notebook were the forester's equipment. People are going to be his biggest challenge - dialogue, engagement, and meetings would fill his portfolio. But nothing will happen unless we are prepared to change. As Gandhi said, "We must be the change we wish to see in the world." As we transform ourselves, so will our world.
 National Forest Programme
Advisor, FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand;