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Session 2: Driving forces and key issues for Asia-Pacific forestry

Challenging forestry issues in Asia and their Strategies

Don K. Lee1

Asia is the largest and most populated continent in the world; it constitutes 57 percent of the world's GDP and 46 percent of the world's trade. It also harbours most of the world's rare and unique plants and animals. The continent's immensity is also the source of what is perhaps its greatest natural resource — forests. Yet, despite huge potentials, there are many problems and issues in this century that deal in one way or another with forests; these anomalies challenge forest scientists and decision-makers in the policy arena. Some of these issues are the continuous decline of forest cover or forest degradation due to illegal logging, shifting cultivation and forest fire, the loss of biological diversity, the effect of global warming and climate change, desertification and many other issues that need immediate global partnership and cooperation. Adding burden to these challenges in Asia is the socio-economic condition of many of its countries where poverty prevails. This list of inter-related issues is certainly not complete, reminding us all of the fact that the context surrounding forest research and its management is evolving and changing constantly. These issues cannot be solved effectively without concerted effort and collaboration among key forest and environmental institutions and sectors at national, regional and global levels. Forestry can contribute to the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger and to ensuring environmental sustainability. In this paper, some strategies are suggested to address the multifaceted issues related to forestry. Problems and experience related to forests in various countries in Asia are also presented.

Keywords: forest degradation, forest fires, forest biodiversity, poverty, desertification, climate change


Asia is the largest (about half of the world's land mass) and most populated (almost half of the world's population) continent in the world. It constitutes 57 percent of the world's GDP and 46 percent of the world's trade (Ban 2006). Asia's forests are very important as they harbour most of the rare and unique plants and animals in the world. In fact, five countries in Asia are included among the "megadiverse" countries — China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines (UNDP 2006). It has around 40 percent of the world's mangrove forest (IUCN 2006) and it also supplies many commercial timber tree species. The continent's immensity is also the source of what is perhaps its greatest natural resource, forests.

Asian countries are so diverse that on the surface they have little in common. Many societies are composed of multiple ethnic groups and religions, tribes and languages, political and economic systems and cultural traditions, which prevent them from seeking a shared destiny. Their commonality lies in the diversity itself.

Yet, despite huge potentials, there are many problems and issues in Asia in this century that deal in one way or another with forests; these anomalies challenge forest scientists and decision-makers in the policy arena.

During the first five years of the twenty-first century, the variation in the net rate of change in forest area among countries in Asia was dramatic. FAO (2007d) figures indicate that the rate of forest loss has been greatest in Asia with many countries losing more than 1 percent of their forest each year. Economic opportunities, biodiversity and environmental services are being lost and degraded due to problems related to forest degradation and deforestation such as illegal logging, desertification, forest fires and shifting cultivation that contribute to global problems of climate change and global warming, environmental instability, poverty and social conflicts. In this paper, some of the challenging issues related to forestry, particularly in Asia, are discussed with suggested strategies on how to cope with these difficulties. Some country problems and experiences in Asia are presented.

Challenging forestry issues in Asia

Forest degradation

The degradation of Asian forest ecosystems, particularly tropical forests, is not new and the phenomena it generates become more alarming as the amount of degraded forests increase each year. The economic and environmental consequences of deforestation are profound, making it one of the most critical issues facing our global society; thus appropriate attention must be paid. Deforestation is the result of the interaction of many environmental, social, economic, cultural and political forces, which vary in different countries. Although the Asian region as a whole experienced a net increase in forest area of about 633 000 hectares annually during 2000 to 2005, the improvement was largely the result of an increase of more than 4 million hectares/year in China (FAO 2007d) (Figure 1). Many of the countries, especially in Southeast Asia, experienced a net loss.

Source: FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment (2005).

Figure 1. Annual net change in forest area by region 1990–2005 (million ha per year)

In Asia, the agents of deforestation as described by Roper and Roberts (1999) are commercial farmers, slash-and-burn farmers, loggers, commercial tree planters and infrastructure developers. Among these activities, slash-and-burn or shifting cultivation and logging might be considered as the major contributors to forest degradation in Southeast Asia. Shifting cultivation has remained the dominant farming system in Southeast Asia throughout the past 35 to 50 years, despite attempts to eliminate it (Fox 2000). It is also practised in the Eastern Himalayas, Indo-China and elsewhere in Asia. Farmers opted for this practice in an attempt to settle farmland for daily subsistence. However, despite the benefits and income it provides, the forest suffers because of the wrong use of its resources, consequently affecting human lives as well. For example, a major increase in forest fragmentation in Viet Nam and Thailand was attributed to shifting cultivation (Fox 2000). In the study of Myung and Niren (1999), excessive shifting cultivation in the Nam Khane Watershed in Lao PDR not only decreased the forest area, but also changed the primary forest into secondary shrub woodland. It accelerated soil and gully erosion and acidification as well. In Cambodia, shifting cultivation contributes to forest fire (Savet 1999) while in the Philippines slash-and-burn activities are considered to have created large areas of grasslands (DENR 2000).

On the other hand, logging, whether legal or illegal, has a major role in deforestation phenomena. It also contributes to loss of biodiversity and forest fires. Illegal logging primarily has economic and governance roots — poverty, weak governance, corrupt politicians or government officials and many other factors. It is a pervasive problem, causing enormous damage to forests, to local communities and to the economies of producer countries. It has been reported that Indonesia has one of the highest rates of illegal logging in the world. Rampant deforestation, much of it from illegal logging, has destroyed forests that stabilize soils and regulate river flow, causing record floods and landslides. In early 2002, extensive floods in Indonesia killed hundreds of people, destroyed thousands of homes and damaged thousands of hectares of rice paddy fields. Indonesia's situation is not dissimilar to other countries in Asia. The Philippines, once covered by 16 million hectares of forests, is now down to less than 700 000 hectares due to illegal logging, tree felling and conversion to agriculture; this has caused flooding, severe water shortages, rapid soil erosion, river siltation and mudslides that have resulted in loss of life and property destruction (EPI 2002). In 1989, Thailand banned the logging of natural forests in direct response to devastating floods and landslides that had taken 400 lives the year before. Although illegal logging is now at lower levels than before the ban, it is still widespread. Massive flooding of China's Yangtze River in 1998, which was linked to the removal of 85 percent of the upper river basin's original tree cover, forced China to issue a ban on logging in the upper reaches of the Yangtze and Yellow rivers and to begin a reforestation campaign. Myanmar has about one-half of mainland Southeast Asia's forests. Myanmar log exports to China are growing much faster than the trees, many of which are hundreds of years old and cannot be replaced. In 1949, tropical forests covered 21 percent of the country's land area, but now less than 7 percent of Myanmar is forested. In Lao PDR, where the volume of illegal logging is the equivalent of at least one-sixth of the legal harvest, the army openly cuts forests. Now less than 40 percent of the country is forested, down from 70 percent in 1940. In Cambodia, over 70 percent of the timber export volume consists of unreported logs. Viet Nam could lose all substantial forest cover by 2020 if the current rate of deforestation continues (EPI 2002). Just recently, the death toll from floods triggered by heavy monsoon rains and snow melt in South Asia from June to August 2007 approached 3 200 as some rivers in India continued to overflow as a result of deforestation. The losses, estimated at more than 1 billion dollars and major outbreaks of water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, posed a health threat (AFP 2007).

While there are many factors contributing to forest degradation or deforestation, it is a major challenge to halt it in the future. However, there are many opportunities for controlling and minimizing its negative impacts. Alternatives include the protection and management of remaining forests, socio-economic development in rural areas and policy and institutional reforms (Roper and Roberts 1999).

Forest fires

Forest fires have always been a feature of many forest ecosystems. In some ecosystems forest fires occur naturally, while in others they are generated by human-induced activities, which can start from land clearing and even land tenure conflicts (Karki 2002). According to FAO (2007b), forest fires are increasing as a result of climate change and they are affecting larger areas and becoming more severe in many regions of the world. Every year, 9 200 million tonnes of biomass are burnt globally for energy generation. Wildfires consume over 50 percent of this — some 5 130 million tonnes of biomass. At the same time, they release 3 431 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions and thus to climate change.

Fires are common in most deciduous forests in Southeast Asia and the so-called "fire climax" pine forests in Myanmar, Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia, Viet Nam, the Philippines (Luzon) and Indonesia (Sumatra) (Goldammer 1997). In Brunei, forest fires occur in coastal heath and beach forests, which experience a long dry season, windy conditions, have high fuel loads and are easily accessible (Hassan and Manila 1997). Although forest fires have occurred in Southeast Asia for centuries and are an important factor in the development of terrestrial ecosystems, concerns about changes in fire regimes and their impacts are growing (Karki 2002). For example, Pogeyed (1991) noted that in the Philippines, wildfire regimes in the Central Cordillera forests have changed because of increasing population pressure and demand for agricultural, grazing and settlement land has brought new fire patterns to the island, which are more detrimental to the forest environment than ever before. During the Viet Nam War, approximately 12 percent of South Viet Nam's forest cover was converted to areas dominated by extremely flammable grasses, e.g.Imperata cylindrica and the exotic speciesPennisetum polystachyon, through use of herbicides, explosives, mechanical land clearing and burning operations (Goldammer 1992).

Forest fires are also often caused by negligence during charcoal making, by campfires and smoking, by burning trash, agricultural residues or pastures, or when children play with fire (FAO 1991). Fires started by agricultural activities are serious threats to biodiversity in limestone hills in East Asia (Vermeulen and Whitten 1999). In Thailand, most forest fires are caused by deliberate or accidental human activities (Samran and Akaaraka 1997). Arson and the use of fires on agricultural land and for land conversion are major causes of forest fires in Brunei while in Malaysia, negligence and agricultural activities are considered to be the most important causes of forest fires (Hassan and Manila 1997). In 1983, uncontrolled agricultural fires caused catastrophic forest fires in nearby drought-affected forests in Kalimantan, Indonesia (Dennis 1999). The disastrous forest fires of 1997/1998 in Indonesia occurred mainly because of land clearance for large-scale plantations and timber estates (ICRAF 1997).

Policy-makers now realize the importance of fire protection and continued fire management, as emergency response will not prevent large and damaging fires. As a result, sustainable forestry practices, improving agricultural burning practices and promotion of better regional cooperation in forest fire control are the strategies being used at present (Asia Forest Partnership 2004).

Forest biodiversity

Forests are among the most important pools of terrestrial biological diversity. Together, tropical, temperate and boreal forests offer diverse habitats for plants, animals and other life. Forest biological diversity is needed to allow species to continuously adapt to changing environmental conditions, to maintain the potential to meet human needs and to support ecosystem functions.

Deforestation is causing the foremost loss of biological diversity on a large scale. Although tropical forests cover only 6 percent of the earth's land surface, they contain between 70 and 90 percent of all of the world's species (Myers 1991). These tropical forests and hotspot areas of high importance for biodiversity are situated mostly in the world's least developed countries (Figure 2).

Sources: UNDP (2004) and Conservation International (2004).

Figure 2. Human Development Index (HDI) by country and hotspot regions

With continuous deforestation and forest degradation, we are losing between 50 and 100 animal and plant species each day. This loss of species entails a loss of genetic resources. Many of our species are now facing the possibility of extinction. Aside from deforestation, wildlife hunting and trading contribute to the loss of biodiversity. According to Dr Kent Redford, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Conservation Institute and originator of the "empty forest syndrome" concept, "In many parts of Asia, it is easier to see animals in the markets than in the forest." The Wildlife Conservation Society (2004) reported that in the last 40 years, 12 species of large animals have become extinct or virtually extinct in Viet Nam, mainly due to hunting and the wildlife trade. In Sulawesi, the ranges of theanoa (a small species of wild cattle) andbabirusa (a member of the pig family) are shrinking because of hunting pressure. In Thailand's Doi Inthanon and Doi Suthep national parks, all tigers, elephants or wild cattle have been hunted out. Experts at the 7th Conference of the Parties for the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP-7) pointed out that unless the wildlife trade can be controlled, Asia will lose much of its unique biodiversity.


Wood energy is the dominant source of energy for over 2 billion people, particularly in developing countries. Biofuels, especially fuelwood and charcoal, currently provide more than 14 percent of the world's total primary energy. According to FAO (2007a), biofuels are classified as solid fuels, biogas, liquid fuels such as bioethanol and biodiesel, which come from crops such as sugar cane and beet, maize and energy grass or from fuelwood, charcoal, agricultural wastes and by-products, forestry residues, livestock manure and other sources. Fuelwood and charcoal are absorbing around 60 percent of worldwide wood removals, a share that rises to over 80 percent in developing countries, putting considerable pressure on forests and trees.

There is a deeply rooted inter-relation between poverty, access to energy and environmental sustainability. Social and economic scenarios indicate a growth in the demand for woodfuels that is expected to continue for several decades unless other livelihood opportunities are provided and dependence on the forest is lessened.

Forests and poverty reduction

The relevance of forestry in poverty alleviation seems obvious to some (Belcher 2005). Much of the forestry and development debate nowadays in international fora focuses on how forests and forestry can contribute to the UN Millennium Development Goals, including lessening the number of people suffering from extreme poverty and hunger by 2015 (FAO 2007c). In Figure 2, it is very obvious that the HDI, a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education and standard of living for countries worldwide, is lowest in the developing countries. All of these measures have something to do with poverty.

The world's natural forests are shrinking and global climate changes are expected to have serious impacts on forests and agricultural systems in the future. The World Bank (2001) estimated that 1.6 billion people depend to varying degrees on forests for their livelihoods, with 350 million living in or near dense forests depending on them "to a high degree." The challenge is to support specific changes that will increase the benefits of forest and tree resources for poor people, thus enhancing their contribution to the reduction of poverty, especially in rural areas (FAO 2007c).


Desertification is one of the most serious environmental and socio-economic problems in the world today. It has led to a growing concern in a number of countries including China (Fu 2000) and other countries in Northeast Asia. Desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semiarid and dry subhumid areas. It is caused primarily by human activities and climatic variations. It occurs because dryland ecosystems, which cover over one-third of the world's land area, are extremely vulnerable to overexploitation and inappropriate land use. Poverty, political instability, deforestation, overgrazing and bad irrigation practices can all undermine the land's fertility. Over 250 million people are directly affected by desertification. In addition, some 1 billion people in over 100 countries are at risk. These people include many of the world's poorest, most marginalized and politically weak citizens (UNCCD 2005).

In the case of China, one-third of the entire land area is desert and about 7.2 million hectares have been converted to desert since the turn of this century. About 240 000 hectares of land transform to desert every year. Beyond the specific damages that have been occurring in China, desertification is expanding throughout Mongolia and natural forests in the Far East have decreased. In Mongolia, 90 percent of the territory can be regarded as vulnerable to desertification, due not only to climatic variation, but also to sharp continental climate conditions and the impact of human activities (Batjargal 1997). Overploughing, overgrazing, denudation and abuse of water resources have caused dramatic consequences in the northwest of China and Mongolia. Desertification has accelerated the forming of a Chinese "dust bowl" that is sweeping most regions in Northern China as well as across national boundaries, threatening the Republic of Korea and Japan (KU 2007). The Korean Peninsula every year experiences many dust/sandstorms abruptly blown from West China and Mongolia. Japanese islands have been painfully feeling the effects of desertification every spring as well.

Climate change

Although all the effects of deforestation are potentially serious, perhaps the most alarming is that of climate change due to the loss of trees. Global warming and climate change is the greatest environmental challenge of this century, prompting different leaders and experts of all nations to take action and present their very best efforts in finding a unified solution. In the World Economic Forum 2007 at Davos, Switzerland, climate change was considered to have the greatest global impact. Climate change was chosen as the shift most likely to affect the world in the future, narrowly beating the emergence of new markets into second place (World Economic Forum 2007).

In the absence of trees, global warming worsens, as there is nothing to absorb the continuous emissions of CO2 and other forms of gas, the products of different human activities. Global carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise, with the world producing 16 percent more in 2003 than 1990, according to the World Bank (2007). Most of the polluted areas are in the developing countries, which contribute as well to emissions in the atmosphere. However, as shown in Figure 3, they are small compared to emissions by high-income countries.

Source: World Bank (2007).

Figure 3. Emissions by different international categories

Major global threats, such as hunger, poverty, population growth, air pollution, soil degradation, desertification and deforestation are intricately entangled with and all contribute to climate change. Rising to this challenge will entail unprecedented cooperation among the world's nations and strong support from international organizations concerned.

Strategies and prospects for the twenty-first century

All of these intricate issues in Asia and in other parts of the world cannot be solved without a concerted effort and the collaboration of key forest and environmental institutions and sectors at national, regional and global levels. Forestry can contribute to the achievement of UN Millennium Development Goals such as eradication of extreme poverty and hunger and ensuring environmental sustainability.

Hence, we may start from a very basic understanding of the real situation of what is happening in our environment and how we can adapt to this changing world. The core responsibility lies within universities or academic institutions. They may offer new curricula such as Biodiversity, Desertification, Climate Change (Carbon Sequestration), Water and Soil Pollution, Ecosystem Management (including forest sustainability, non-wood forest products, and recreation) and many more courses to formulate a problem-based solution. International exchange and cooperation programmes are needed: Foreign experts in particular fields, for instance, may be tapped for improvement of the courses. Capacity building for young scientists in developing countries should be developed through international organizations such as FAO, CIFOR and the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO). "Open university" would be an approach. This will also produce more forestry experts. Active support programmes on the study of tropical and boreal forests are necessary to improve education. Exchanging foreign students and utilizing trained students in institutes and industries related to forestry as well could help students in improving their knowledge and widening their horizons on the international aspect of forestry.

The next strategy is to create new jobs from new forestry such as tree doctors, information and networking, exploring new medicines from plants, among others. In many parts of the world, not only in Asia, the numbers of unemployed forestry graduates are increasing thereby daunting students to take forestry courses. It is also sad to note that many landed jobs which were not related to their fields. Staff of international institutions like FAO, CIFOR and World Bank could address this issue and offer many opportunities, especially for young graduates.

Regional institutions are also important to have active regional research. The UN Eco-Peace Leadership Training Center, for example, is helping to improve research capacity in Asia. It would also be helpful if Asian forest institutes, like European forest institutes, could be established to address complex forestry-related issues and have institutions that will take the lead in providing extensive networks for young scientists' capacity building in conducting research, education and activities related to the rehabilitation and sustainable management of forests in Asia, especially in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Universities, institutes, governments, industries and companies need to establish collaborative partnerships and networking. Relationships with NGOs should also be established.

Sustainable development based on an ecosystem approach should be the new management approach for forest resources as we are dealing with problems holistically. There is also a need for a change in forest administrations and policies. For adaptation to changing situations, restructuring is warranted.


The environmental problems we are now experiencing are truly disturbing and are interconnected. We may not understand the harshness of the possible consequences that they might create in the future but we should realize that there is not much time for us to act. The effects of all environmental problems are obvious and are seriously affecting the social and economic aspects of each nation. Hence, regional and international issues in forestry/forest science such as climate change, biodiversity and its conservation, restoration of degraded forest ecosystems, desertification, forest fire and bioenergy must receive more attention.

It is difficult to provide immediate and concrete solutions to these problems and solving these issues requires a great deal of work. However, we can do something if we consider approaches for identifying regional priorities and determining how forestry and strategies can be acknowledged within regional planning processes. Regional institutions such as the establishment of an Asian Forest Institute could be one move towards the rehabilitation and sustainable management of forests in Asia. It is time to broaden our perspectives about different forestry issues, particularly in Asia. Economic development, social aspects such as poverty alleviation, access to energy and education and other aspects must be integrated into regional or international environmental processes. In addition, necessary information on forests of different countries in Asia, their potentials and limitations should be identified to contribute to sustainable forest development.

Most of all, these forestry issues can be solved effectively through concerted effort and collaboration, primarily focusing on key forests, by environmental institutions and sectors at national, regional and global levels.


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Belcher, B.M. 2005. Forest product markets, forest and poverty reduction.International Forestry Review, 7(2).

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FAO. 2007d.State of the world's forest. Rome, Italy. 144 pp. (also available at

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1 President of IUFRO and Professor, Department of Forest Sciences, Seoul National University, Seoul 151-921, Republic of Korea. Fax:+82-2-878-9783. E-mail:

Emerging issues in Pacific Island Countries and their implications for sustainable forest management

Suliana Siwatibau1

Published analyses agree that Pacific Island Countries (PICs) face enormous challenges of isolation, limited size, resource paucity, high population growth and restricted opportunities for economic growth. For most small island nations the imperative to sustain economic growth in line with the global development paradigm is a paradox when the physical constraints to sustainable growth are obvious. Over the last decade most of these nations have experienced low if not negative growth in GDP per capita.

Island economies across the region have largely depended on agriculture, fisheries, forestry, mining and tourism with some manufacturing and increasing importance in remittances. Poor performance since 1990 has resulted in rising unemployment, crime, poverty and deterioration in health. Poor governance and corruption have also been contributors. Additional costs include frequent natural disasters exacerbated by the impacts of global warming.

Commercial forestry is important in the larger island nations. Forestry sectors are not free from corruption and weak governance. Destructive logging practices and forest clearing have seriously impacted biodiversity — both terrestrial and marine. Forests are vital to all island communities for the provision of environmental services and a range of products for subsistence.

The reliance of rural and small island communities on forest products has decreased as forests and forest species disappear. The potential for future benefit has been lost. Conservation of indigenous forest stands has yet to become a serious concern.

Forest plantations, small woodlots and agroforestry are features of forestry development. The potential for multiple uses of trees has been recognized. The ongoing development of non-wood forest products has the potential to benefit more rural communities.

Given good governance, political will, sufficient resources and strategic exploitation of global markets, sustainable forest management by 2020 is possible with a combination of large plantations and community or family woodlots of native and exotic species for timber and multiple-use production.

Keywords: PICs, sustainable forest management, land tenure, employment, community participation


Extreme diversity is an often-quoted feature of Pacific Island Countries (PICs) that makes most people hesitate to generalize about them. This must be borne in mind throughout this presentation. Together, PICs comprise 14 independent states and eight territories of metropolitan nations. This paper focuses only on the 14 independent PICs listed in Table 1. They are small by world standards. Apart from Papua New Guinea (PNG), all have populations below a million, with the smallest having a population of only 1 800 people.

The islands' land area, cultures and resources are as diverse as their population sizes. Scattered over 180 million km2 of ocean, the 22 countries and territories comprise a total land mass that is exceeded by the ocean at an average ratio of 300 to 1 (World Bank 2000). Pacific islands are generally grouped into the three major cultural and geographic categories of Melanesia — comprising the larger continental islands to the West Pacific, Polynesia — comprising the widely scattered islands to the East and Northeast (Hawaii) and Micronesian islands that pepper the North and Northwest Pacific.

Only the larger countries of Melanesia are net exporters of timber, while the rest are either net importers or total importers of timber. However, some non-wood forest and tree products could potentially become commercially important, even in non-timber-producing countries.

This paper briefly provides an overview of the current development situation of PICs and discusses emerging economic, social and environmental issues that have implications for sustainable forest management. It discusses the possible future outlook of forests in PICs by 2020 and concludes with some suggestions.


Published analyses about the situation of Pacific islands agree that they face enormous challenges of isolation, limited size, resource paucity, high population growth and limited opportunities for economic growth. From 1990 to 2004, most PICs experienced low, if not negative, growth in GDP (AusAID 2006), accompanied by high population growth resulting in lower growth in GDP per capita as shown in Table 1. Economic growth ranged from -4.4 for Nauru to 4.3 for Tuvalu. In most cases growth has been insufficient to stimulate enough employment opportunities for the highly youthful populations, resulting in significant youth unemployment and increasing crime rates. Rapid urbanization with concomitant growth of informal settlements and deteriorating infrastructure services is common.

Isolation makes transportation expensive and time consuming, limiting opportunities for the development of tradable products. Limited size precludes expansion of an internal domestic market sufficient to promote needed economic growth. Additionally, the small land masses of the islands, particularly the atoll nations, are generally resource poor. For most small island nations the imperative to sustain economic growth in line with the global development paradigm is a paradox when the physical constraints to sustainable growth are obvious.

On the other hand, the larger countries of Melanesia, relatively richer in natural resources, have generally failed to manage their resources sustainably for the long-term benefit of their people. Forest logging and fishery exploitation have often been intensive and marginally controlled as corrupt officials choose to ignore management regulations and poorly resourced government authorities cannot monitor rapacious commercial operators. Local resource-owning communities rely on promises of services (roads, schools, health clinics) that often do not materialize in exchange for the removal of their natural wealth. Usually they are much worse off after logging than before. Landowners' share of returns from forest harvests range from about 10 to 16 percent. Government shares range from less than 10 to about 30 percent. Excess logging profits for companies hover at 30 percent (World Bank 1995). With current logging practices, most accessible indigenous forests are likely to be logged out by 2020 if not earlier (AusAID 2006). Fishery resources in many islands have been exploited beyond sustainable levels. Many of them are near collapse (Science Daily 2007). Developing alternative livelihoods, which could include greater reliance on sustainable forests, is imperative.

Mining operations with minimum monitoring have resulted in the widespread pollution of waterways and coastal fisheries, while weak agricultural services cannot control destructive agricultural practices that result in serious soil degradation and heavy silting of waterways and coastal fishery areas.

Forests have vital roles to play in all island nations for subsistence needs, for watershed protection, for flood and erosion control and for protection of downstream areas and coastal fisheries from degradation. Only the larger nations can sustain commercial timber production. The pressures of rapidly growing populations (see Table 1), however, continue to take their toll on Pacific island forests from the smallest land mass to the largest where forest cover is diminishing. Available data on percentage forest cover in Table 1 show a range from about 30 percent to some 85 percent.

By world standards the islands' forest resources are miniscule. Papua New Guinea with the largest forest resource accounts for only 1.5 percent of the world's tropical forests (CSIRO 1992).

However, rich biodiversity and high rates of endemism raise concerns over the rapid rate of deforestation that ranges from 0.5 to 0.8 percent in Fiji (Lesleyet al. 2004) to 3.5 percent in Samoa, in comparison to 0.6 percent for Brazil, 1 percent for Indonesia and 2 percent for Malaysia (World Bank 1995).

Table 1. Basic data on independent Pacific island states


Pop '000

GDP/cap US$

%AAGR population

%AAGR real GDP

%AAGR real GDP/cap

Forestry in national

% area under




(1990– 2004)

(1990– 2004)

(1990– 2004)

economy (2003)

forest (2003)




3 098




2.5% GDP



5 800





3rd largest



revenue earner

Solomon Is






national revenue




1 427




13% total exports



Cook Is


7 549













4 364











2 030




Sawmilling fees




2 087








1 346





















Marshall Is


1 803








1 786








3 500












6 350






AGAR = Average annual growth rate
NCT = No commercial timber production


FSM = Federated States of Micronesia
NA = Data not Navailable

Source: AusAID (2006); Heads of Forestry Meeting (2003).

Emerging issues and implications for sustainable forest management

Economic and social development issues

According to the AusAID analysis (AusAID 2006) PIC economies must grow at a faster rate in order to effectively address their pressing development needs. Without growth the picture the report paints of the Pacific by 2020 is grim. Good management and wise investment in people and their natural resources are vital for sustainable economic performance. Emerging issues that underlie powerful trends in development need to be understood and addressed as necessary to maintain sustainable island communities into 2020 and beyond.


The tremendous varieties in PIC cultures display a common trait of communal sharing and the recognition of communal rights over individual human rights. Success in our globalized world requires adjustment to a value system based on individualism where individual rights often supersede community rights. Hence cultural obligations can be difficult to overcome when there are temptations to favour extended family members or one's own tribal needs over others. Conflict arises in daily decisions between basic values of the old and the new whether in a personal situation, a company board room or a government office. Development agents need to understand this dilemma and ensure structures are put in place to help decision-makers at all levels to maintain the rules and practices of good governance and just treatment of all citizens.


An important emerging issue identified after wide consultations across the region is political governance (AusAID 2006). However, many reviews have shown that governance in all sectors — private, civil society as well as government — has emerged as an issue of widespread concern. A recent UNDP assessment for example, reasoned that poor growth has been primarily a result of internal factors including adverse "political developments, poor macroeconomic management, corruption and poor governance" (UNDP 2006). Widespread corruption partly results from conflict in cultural values — a topic of frequent discussions in debates about leadership in PICs.

The major economic sectors of agriculture, fisheries, forestry, mining and tourism have not been free of corruption. In the words of the former prime minister of PNG, "Governance has been particularly poor in the area of forestry with the side effect of promoting corrupt practices and undermining environmental sustainability." Law suits have not been uncommon, especially in Melanesian countries.

Corruption in the forestry sector has been particularly prevalent since the entry in the 1980s of Asian logging companies who moved southwards when loggable forests began to disappear in the Asian region. Much can be done to improve logging practices and management in the Asia– Pacific region if authorities cooperate across countries. Monitoring of commercial operators and sharing of experiences, as well as matching legislations, could assist in improving forest management across the whole Asia–Pacific region.

Even without corruption, mismanagement and lack of resources in government, forestry authorities undermine well-formulated codes of logging practices that PICs have developed for themselves over the last decade. For example a recent review of forestry in Fiji expressed concern over unsustainable logging despite an exemplary code of logging practice (Lesleyet al. 2004). A major conclusion of the report was that sustainable forest management was "nowhere being achieved in Fiji" not because of lack of knowledge but the inability to apply it". Natural forest logging in both PNG and Solomon Islands is unsustainable, and the latter's accessible resources will probably last only another ten years.

An additional issue of forest governance that concerns all PIC communities is the rapid loss of traditional knowledge, local culture and customary appreciation of forests and native trees. Modern educated and well-meaning officials collect forest data for modern forest management and may well lack understanding of wider issues, understood by the elders, that impact on the sustainability of island ecosystems. This has been termed a "crisis of ignorance" (Thaman 2005).

Land tenure

"No subject in the Pacific is more contentious than land" (AusAID 2006). Landholding in the Pacific is largely communal under a customary ownership system with some alienated land now either owned by the government, or privately owned under freehold titles (Table 2). Increasing disputes over landownership can be a deterrent to business investments so vital for increased economic growth and for more positive social development by 2020. In the resource-rich countries of PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, communal land is not officially registered, so disputes over ownership are common and investment is often delayed while land cases are settled in court.

Table 2. Landownership in selected PICs

  Customary land % Government land% Freehold land%
Fiji 83 9 8
Vanuatu 98 2 NA
Solomon Islands 97 3 NA
FSM NA 60 40
Kiribati 40 60 NA
Marshall Islands 100 NA NA
Tonga   100 NA

NA: not applicable
Source: Connell and Lea as quoted in World Bank (2000).

Communal landownership poses a challenge for planning and management of a nation's forest cover and allocation of the range of forest land uses including sustainable logging, sustainable subsistence use, protection forest and conversion to plantation forest. Sustainable logging of both plantation forests and native forests requires decades for each cycle from seedling to harvest. Native forest reserves, vital for biodiversity conservation, will have to be subject to strict management rules that will require the full cooperation of landowners over many generations. Careful persuasion of landowning communities to accept the necessary dedication of their land over many decades for such purposes is a necessary component of sustainable forestry management.

Logging companies can easily bribe individual landowning chiefs and obtain their approval. In the absence of community dispute, the logger moves in and ravages the forest with little if no monitoring by the forestry authority, which is not sufficiently resourced to deal with such situations. Lack of vehicles for example has often deterred efficient monitoring by forestry officials. When the same officials have to be transported to the logging sites by the logging company itself, the opportunity for corruption is ripe.

Most island communities rely to varying extents on forests for subsistence needs. As forest owners they are free to do as they like with their forests. Clearing and burning, which still commonly accompany subsistence gardening, can destroy the forest to the extent that it impacts adversely on contingent ecosystems such as streams and rivers or coastal marine areas. Such practices are an anathema to a national forestry planning authority that has to consider the nation's forest systemin toto for sustainable maintenance of the nation's natural ecosystems and biodiversity. Loss of many native species is high, so the Pacific as a region has one of the highest rates of endemism loss in the world. Dealing with land tenure systems for long-term security of forest land use is an emerging important issue of concern for sustainable forest management in the Pacific.

Community participation

Given communal landownership and the associated challenges itemized above, forestry authorities have little choice but to deal with local landowning communities and facilitate their greater involvement in forestry activities. Both government and NGO development agencies now recognize the need to empower local communities through participatory processes to plan, implement and monitor their own development activities. This is an emerging trend that could assist the development of more participatory democracy in political governance to augment current representative democracy systems.

All extension agents must be skilled in participatory methods for engaging local communities for the effective management of any natural resource sector where most of the resource is owned by local communities. Participatory methods recognize the different roles and knowledge of different groups in a society, including women and youth.

Unfortunately, forestry extension officers have generally been meagerly equipped with the necessary skills for community participatory work. These include facilitation of participatory planning, conflict resolution and raising general awareness to empower local people with appropriate information for decision-making. Such skills are necessary components of sustainable forestry in the PIC context. This has been illustrated by the work of the German technical assistance agency Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) and its partners with the Drawa Community in Fiji. The approach with the Drawa community focused on sustainable utilization based on participatory holistic land-use planning. Some 50 percent of the landholdings of the community was allocated for sustainable forestry. About 30 percent was put aside as protection forest and the rest for agriculture. Community members formed a cooperative and forest management committee for operating a mobile sawmill to harvest their timber, which they sell locally (C. Muziol, personal communication, 2007).

Sustainability does not apply only to concerns over maintenance of the forests and their environment. It has to encompass the totality of human interaction with the environment and the maintenance of the integrity of both the natural forest environment and the human communities associated with it. Therefore, active involvement of local landowning communities as partners in forestry activities is a necessary component of good governance and sustainable forest management.

Employment and joblessness

An emerging important area of concern in most PICs is the continuing low employment levels coupled with the existence of a high proportion of unskilled youth. AusAID's recent analysis (2006) of the PIC situation considers employment as "perhaps the most immediate and widespread challenge" for the countries of the island region. The analysis reports a worrying trend of more inactive people who are neither looking for jobs nor studying. Together with the unemployed they compose what the report categorizes as the "jobless". The AusAID analysis reports high unemployment associated with a high crime rate and tendency towards outbursts of violent conflict. Employment creation is therefore of paramount importance for long-term peace and security in the region.

The forestry sector is an important employer in the larger Melanesian countries; it is reported to rival agriculture as the largest employer in the Solomon Islands with over 10 000 people employed (Bouro 2003). It provides employment for about 11 500 persons or 6 percent of the labour force in PNG (Goodwill 2000), some 3 000 people in Fiji (Swarup 2000) and 1 500 workers in Vanuatu (Mele 2003). Samoa's forestry sector has contracted so the total number of employed in forestry activities is expected to decline from 10 to 6 percent of the national labour force through this decade (Iakopo 2000).

The potential for increasing employment in the forestry sector should not be underestimated. It is an important employer of rural people who comprise the bulk of most PIC populations. Improved management and increased productivity as well as diversification of products from the sector can result in a beneficial impact on the PIC unemployment rate. Self-employment opportunities are particularly important where local landowners can be encouraged to plant high value trees — successfully demonstrated with teak tree planting on family lands in the Solomon Islands (AusAID 2006). An additional avenue for increasing forestry revenues is through certification of sustainable timber and other forest products for special niche markets. Several countries have already explored (Fiji) if not entered into such arrangements (Solomon Islands). However, more can and should be done.

Diversification of products targeting special niche markets in both wood and non-wood products should be considered. Non-wood forest products (NWFPs) will of course include the use of forests for ecotourism, a promising development in many island countries. Sustainable forest management includes planning for ecotourism development in forest areas and close linkages with local communities and tourism agencies to ensure appropriate management regimes for such areas. Examples of forest-based ecotourism reliant on forest conservation are increasing throughout the larger Pacific nations.

Trade and employment

PICs have signed on to several trading arrangements including the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA), the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) and the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). Negotiations over these agreements could be utilized to develop special niche markets for high value forest and tree products such as scented woods (sandalwood and eaglewood [Gyrinops ledermanii]) or medicinal extracts (noni [Morinda citrifolia] andMelaleuca), fibres and a range of other useful exotic tradable items. Small-scale production of NWFPs usually engages more people and can expand the available cash income of rural dwellers quickly. This is especially so when the people themselves harvest and sell directly to the marketer rather than wait for official bureaucratic systems to collect and pay them due royalties as in the case of timber logging. Trade in NWFPs can open up more opportunities for women and youth as they are usually more involved in non-wood harvest from forest areas.

Pacific island nations recognize trade agreements as another means of securing employment through trade in services for their unemployed skilled citizens such as nurses, sailors, soldiers and blue collar workers. A resulting emerging trend is the increasing importance of overseas remittances in national foreign exchange earnings. Increased remittances in the years leading to 2020 could stimulate local economic growth through increased consumption as people have more cash to spend. This will increase demand on wood products for example as people are able to afford better housing. Returning Fijian UN peace-keeping soldiers illustrate this well as they divert much of their earnings to building family homes. Sustainable forest management has to assess such future trends in demand for forest products and plan to cater for them accordingly. Given limited land resources and added constraints of communal landownership, Pacific island forestry authorities are challenged to develop innovative means of ensuring that the forest and tree products needed by future generations will be available over several generations.

Small-scale tree farming

Promotion of commercially important tree species may be integrated into extension services that encourage agroforestry systems or small woodlots to rural dwellers. Agroforestry in mixed crop gardens is the customary way Pacific people have farmed. It is not difficult therefore to introduce newer tree species into such systems. In Vanuatu for example, people quickly and successfully integrated the rapidly growing whitewood (Endospermum medullosum) into their gardens when this was promoted by the forestry department. Members of one local community in Vanuatu regularly plant their native sandalwood (Santalum austro-caledonicum) at the establishment of an infant's garden for his/her use at maturity after some 20 or so years. Establishment of small woodlots of multipurpose trees may not be difficult to promote widely as evidenced from the numerous small stands of pine or mahogany in Fiji's rural areas.

Managing limited resources

Small island nations may be more acutely aware of the limitations of their physical environment than larger continental countries. However, translation of this awareness to effective action to conserve resources for sustainable development has been difficult in the Pacific. Without concerted action now, many may destroy a range of ecosystems beyond recovery by 2020. While deforestation is a common phenomenon, the degree to which the process is managed so that the country finally maintains steady forest cover in a sustainable island ecosystem varies greatly. Some countries have failed to arrest deforestation at a sustainable level while others have managed to do so over several generations.

In his analysis of human societies' forest management throughout history Jared Diamond states: " Problems of deforestation arose for many past societies, among which Highland New Guinea, Japan, Tikopia and Tonga developed successful forest management and continue to prosper, while Easter Island, Mangareva, and Norse Greenland failed to develop successful forest management and collapsed as a result." He noted that "A society's responses depend on its political economic and social institutions and its cultural values. Those institutions and values affect whether the society solves (or even tries to solve) its problems" (Diamond 2005). The challenge to sustainable forest management today calls for a holistic approach that recognizes the importance of the various institutions and engages a wide range of stakeholders' inputs into decision-making, whether for policy, planning, implementation or for the sharing of benefits.

Environmental challenges

Emerging environmental issues of importance in PICs include:

For small island nations, sustainable forest management conserves terrestrial as well as marine biodiversity due to the obvious linkages between land and sea everywhere in such close physical proximity. The main objective of a watershed management programme in Guam for example is to address reef degradation (Pacific Islands Forests and Trees 2004a).

While the Pacific region's stock of endemic species is among the richest in the world, the rate of endemism loss is also among the highest. This is a challenge that all Pacific nations, including their forestry authorities, must meet resolutely. The Pacific Plan endorsed in 2005 by the Pacific Island Forum Leaders recognizes the need to conserve the region's biodiversity and seeks to facilitate "international financing for sustainable development, biodiversity and environmental protection and climate change" (PIFS 2005).

A World Bank-sponsored study on the potential impacts of climate change in the Pacific presented the following scenarios:

The impact of such predicted changes on forests is yet unknown but one may surmise that forest borders will shift and forest areas will change along with species composition and diversity. The challenge for sustainable forest management will be to ensure sufficient areas are conserved now in order to assist adaptation to extreme changes in environmental conditions.

Plantation forests and woodlots

Given the state of dwindling native forests and the slow growing nature of native species, many PICs face real threats of degrading their native forests to unsustainable levels by 2020. For all PICs, cultivation of trees for wood needs — whether for timber or for carving and other uses — will increasingly be necessary and has to be a component of normal forestry activity by 2020. Several countries have established or are establishing timber tree plantation forests of faster growing exotics, with a few countries also growing native timber trees. Fiji, for example, is now proposing permanent plantation forests (Ministry of Fisheries & Forests 2007) and easing demand on native forests. PNG, Solomon Islands and Samoa have also followed suit. Plantation forests may have both exotic and rapidly growing native species. Through regional forestry programmes, countries have investigated the cultivation of promising native timber species such asEndospermum medullosumfor Vanuatu andTerminalia richii in Samoa.

Where land is scarce, community tree planting in small stands on their own land will not be difficult to organize given the Pacific islanders' long tradition of cultivating trees such asFlueggea flexuosafor house posts in Vanuatu and Samoa orCanariumspp.for nuts in the Solomon Islands. Planting useful trees close to settlements and setting aside sufficient stands of native forest for conservation, particularly as seed sources of useful trees, has to be integral to community-based land-use planning promoted as part of the nation's sustainable forest management regime. Such developments may assist countries in adapting to climate change and maintaining sufficient native forests to sustain the country's range of biodiversity. However they need to be promoted more aggressively now so that they are well-established by 2020.

Conserving biodiversity through protected forests is similar to investment through a long-term deposit account in a bank. The gene stock in a viable native forest is a treasure trove of potentially important economic products for future generations. This is aptly illustrated by the recent discovery in 1998 of the rare and high value eaglewood (Gyrinops ledermanii) in the forests of PNG (Pacific Islands Forests and Trees 2004b). This has become an important income earner for the landowning communities and for the country as a whole. To keep forests' genetic stock viable, conservation areas must be selected on the grounds of ecological and species composition. Otherwise biodiversity will continue to be lost as rapidly as current losses are occurring.

Pacific forests by 2020

Given current trends in forest logging and in forest clearing the prognosis for Pacific forests by 2020 is not bright. Most, if not all, of the native forests are under local community ownership where disappearance of traditional respect and knowledge of trees and forests has reached a crisis. Commercial forests managed by forestry authorities are being logged at unsustainable levels without much regard for conserving stands on the basis of ecological and species representation. Business as usual in this regard will impoverish our countries beyond possible estimation for future generations, as native forests disappear altogether or are degraded beyond recovery. Certification of sustainable timber where it exists, as in the Solomon Islands, has been too restricted to have had much impact on national level exploitation.

Weak governance and corruption in the forestry sector has to be urgently addressed if forests are to be saved from unsustainable logging and the trends reversed by 2020. Appropriate capacity building is urgently needed to direct the transformation necessary to arrest deterioration in PIC forests before 2020. This must be directed at government agencies, relevant development NGOs and local landowning communities.

Some encouraging positive trends have emerged. These include the establishment of forest plantations, small woodlots and family tree cultivation as part of national forest management. But progress on this front may be too slow to arrest overexploitation of native forests by 2020. Plantation forestry requires more research and careful negotiations with landowners as well as creative management arrangements that do not alienate local communities but ensure just returns to them. Promotion of high value, short-cycle trees, such as sandalwood, in plantation and woodlot forestry is important to shorten future demand on native timber for cash income. Much more attention is required to promote plantation forestry of an appropriate mixture for each island country. Not only will clear policy guidelines be important, but training of extension officers for effective facilitation of community and family forestry plantations will also be necessary.

The additional threat of climate change resulting from global warming is an unknown factor that can have a serious impact on the integrity of PIC forests towards 2020. Some small island nations may not even be able to support viable stands of trees (exotic or native) resulting from extreme climate change that could see much of their land drowned under rising sea levels. Sustainable forest management must build-in adaptive measures to anticipated impacts of climate change if PICs are to maintain viable forest cover, both plantation and native, by 2020.


Pacific island nations' poor economic performance accompanied by rapid population growth, over the last decade and a half, have resulted in rising urban crime, sporadic violent conflict, increasing unemployment and decreasing accessibility to services, particularly for health and education. Commercial forestry activity for timber production is important only for the larger island nations of Melanesia and for Samoa in Polynesia. The forestry sector has the potential to expand and increase its role as an employer in larger, forested PICs. For all island nations forests are valued much more widely because of their roles in subsistence economy and for the environmental services they provide.

Forestry sectors have not been free from corruption and weak governance. This has hindered sustainable forest management. Destructive logging practices and forest clearing for other purposes continue despite national regulations and official intentions to control them. Unsustainable forest use has had a serious impact on biodiversity, both terrestrial and marine. Corruption has been fed by under-resourced forestry authority offices. Widening finance sources in innovative ways should be implemented to support forestry authorities to help curtail corruption.

Rural and small island communities' reliance on forest products has decreased as forests and forest species disappear. Traditional knowledge and appreciation of forests and their potential for future benefits are being lost. The conservation of indigenous forest stands should be a serious concern and become an integral component of sustainable forest management. Climate change poses an additional threat to sustainable forest management but its impact on both the extent and health of native forests remains conjecture. Urgent attention needs to be given to establishing nature reserves to protect representative forest areas and terrestrial biodiversity.

Forest plantations, small woodlots and agroforestry are features of forestry development that could effectively contribute to national sustainable forest management by 2020. The importance of multiple-use trees is recognized. Ongoing development of NWFPs has the potential to benefit more rural communities and to create more employment. Greater participation of local landowning communities in forestry activities, facilitated by national authorities, is an obvious step forward for sustainable forest management.

Given good governance, political will, sufficient resources and strategic exploitation of local and global markets through carefully negotiated trade arrangements, forestry by 2020 in PICs could be a sustainable mixture of representative native forest reserves, sustainably managed native forest stands, tree plantations and woodlots for both timber and non-timber uses.


The author gratefully acknowledges the useful comments made on the draft of this paper by Mr Sairusi Bulai, Forests and Trees Adviser, SPC. Any weaknesses in arguments in the paper are however entirely due to the author.


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1 PO Box 4641 Samabula, Suva, Fiji. Tel: ++ 679 – 3384 074. Fax: ++ 678 – 3590 573. E-mail

Policy and institutional issues

Jagdish Kishwan1

This paper analyses the drivers of past and present forest policies in Asia and the Pacific and future trends are projected. The evolution of forest policies from past to present is discussed. In the past, forest policies centred around the two main objectives of food security and commercial timber harvesting. Contrariwise, present policies are more concerned about the protection and conservation of forests along with enhanced production of forest goods. The common themes of present policies are: (i) curbing illicit felling to check revenue leakage and market distortion; (ii) shifting of industrial wood production to non-forest lands; (iii) maintenance of ecological balance and protection of the environment by extending and strengthening the protected area network; (iv) devolution of management to local communities; and (v) meeting the livelihood needs of local communities with respect to forest products and ensuring availability and value addition of non-wood forest products (NWFPs).

Future policies of the region are expected to be more tilted towards local communities and protection of the environment. Promotion of fuelwood and biofuel production as a mitigation measure for fuel switching is expected to be part of many policies in the future. Policies will in all certainty move from a production-dominant to a conservation-sensitive focus. Revenue earning from non-extractives and environmental services will find prominent mention in the policies of the future. Carbon sequestration and consequently carbon trading will be important elements of the policies. Poverty alleviation and recognition of local communities' rights over forest lands and forest products will be prominent in most policies. The policies will also assert more devolution of management and power to local communities. Joint Forest Management (JFM) and Community Forest Management (CFM) approaches will also be incorporated in most policies. Future policies will be more attuned to environmental concerns, rights of local communities, decentralization of management and globalization of economies.

Keywords: policy drivers, policy themes past/present/future, forest policies, policy review, decentralization, JFM, CFM


A well-founded policy is important for the overall development of a sector. Policy shows the commitment, intention and earnestness of the government in shaping the progress of the sector over a long period of time. However, the sectoral policy needs to be in tune with the overarching national development policy and priorities (Kishwanet al. 2004). Formerly, the forestry sector in the Asia–Pacific region was mostly considered as a source of revenue for the state. However, for some time there was a general absence of comprehensive well-documented forest policies. Notable exceptions are Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, which had their first forest policies or policy statements in 1884, 1894 and 1929 respectively. Even as late as 2002, some countries in the region, for example, Myanmar, Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam did not have comprehensive documented forest policies.

Why documented policy?

A policy is the reflection of the importance of the sector. As the policy needs to be referred to by different stakeholders frequently, it is always handy if the policy is published as a booklet or a pamphlet. The strength of any sectoral policy lies in its regular review through an institutionalized mechanism. The availability of a policy in documented form makes it easy to conduct a review. Amendments and adjustments effected as a result of review are added as appropriate and a reconstituted/consolidated document can be republished. Policy also defines the roles, responsibilities and duties of stakeholders. Comprehensive policies have synergy with other related sectors. Last but not least, a policy ensures continuity of action.

Policy review

The policy of any sector is essentially dynamic — a living entity alive to developments in other sectors and to changes taking place in the national and international perspective. Although traditionally policy is considered to be a long-term document, its frequent review in light of fast changing global concerns and consequently national priorities and equations, cannot be ruled out. In the case of the Forest Policy of Pakistan, four "statements" or "guidelines" have been issued since its adoption in 1955 besides two reviews in 1992 and 1998. The Philippine Forest Policy (PFP) 2001 came into being as a result of the comprehensive review of the existing forestry code, sustainable forest management (SFM) strategy and community-based forest management. The National Forest Policy (NFP) 1988 of India, which is one of the finest documents in its genre in the world, has come a long way since then, but has not been subjected to a systematic critical review except one by the Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM) in 2002, which can best be termed as a half-hearted attempt. It does not really highlight any deficiency in the NFP 1988, but simply makes customary recommendations including more finances for the sector and operationalizing SFM.

Byron (2006) cites three categories of potential triggers for policy review: (i) implementation failures; (ii) changes in social priorities; and (iii) new opportunities. The problem is that none of these triggers may be noticed unless the review of the policy is organized. Generally, there is no institutionalized mechanism in the country that can keep a continuous watch on developments, identify triggers and decide upon the right time for review. Therefore, it is more important to have a system of regular reviews at fixed time intervals, say five years or so, which brings all the stakeholders together. The review process would certainly bring to the fore issues and triggers, some of which could be beyond Byron's three categories and ensuing deliberations could firmly decide whether the triggers were worth enforcing amendments or adjustments in the current policy.

Policies consulted

Table 1 identifies national forest policies that were consulted for this paper.

Table 1. Consulted Asia–Pacific policies

East and South Asia China, Nepal, Bhutan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh
Southeast Asia Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam, Malaysia, Indonesia
Oceania Fiji, Papua New Guinea

Parameters of a good policy

The quality of a forest policy can be judged by the following parameters:

Policy development stages

Forest policies move through three phases of development. In the earliest stage, policies are a mix of statements, legislations, codes and decrees and mainly focus on commercial utilization of forests basically for timber. The forest policies of Lao PDR, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Myanmar and Fiji fall into this category. In the second phase, the mixture starts to coalesce and forest policy starts taking shape, moving towards a more comprehensive document. With respect to essentials, policies at this stage tend to compromise between the commercial utilization of forests and meeting the local community's forest product needs. This phase is also marked by growing concern about the environmental value of forests. The forest policies of China, Republic of Korea, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea can be grouped under this category. In the third stage of development, the policies become most comprehensive and assume the shape of a consolidated document. The forest policies of Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Bhutan are considered to be at an advanced stage of development. Such policies usually are subject to need-based review and some even have a built-in provision for review, for example, the PFP, 2001 (FAO 2002). Policies at this stage are biased towards decentralization in the matter of forest administration; community participation is considered a positive move and conservation of forests takes precedence over their commercial utilization. Environmental services generated from forests are considered more important than timber and wood extraction. Ecotourism and other non-extractive practices become important sources of revenue.

Drivers of past policies

A look at the forest policies of Asia–Pacific countries makes it clear that past policies were driven by two main societal necessities. The first being food security and the second being the quest for revenue. This is not surprising keeping in view the political and socio-economic priorities of those times when states strived to maximize their earnings and also ensure adequate food stocks. Conversion of forests into agricultural lands yielded revenue from timber sales and later from levies on agricultural produce.

Themes of past policies

Matching the drivers of the times, five themes dominated policies or policy implementation. They were:

  1. Increased production: progressively increasing yields.
  2. Introduction of fast growing species of economic importance.
  3. Replacement of natural forests with plantations.
  4. Establishment of a trained logging cadre.
  5. Logging concessions to industry.

The aforesaid themes have been expressed in programmes and schemes of forestry sectors in the past.

Drivers of present policies

The current policies of the Asia–Pacific region are dominated by the following concerns/motives:

  1. Problems of deforestation: Most of the countries are plagued with the problem of continuous destruction of forests, although the intensity of the process varies. Countries that have strong conservation frameworks in the shape of legislation, regulations and guidelines experience the least amount of deforestation. For example, China, India, Bhutan and Viet Nam added forest cover from 2000 to 2005 (FAO 2007).
  2. Widening the gap between supply and demand of forest products: Many important countries in the region are not self-sufficient in production of timber and industrial roundwood and are dependent on imports. Countries deficient in industrial roundwood and sawnwood are China, Republic of Korea, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam (FAO 2007). China is deficient in industrial roundwood and sawnwood at 28.3 and 56.7 percent respectively. For South Asia, these deficit figures are 10.1 and 1 percent respectively. Most of the countries in Southeast Asia have surplus industrial wood.
  3. Environmental considerations — goods and services from forests: Slowly but steadily, awareness is growing about the importance of varied services from forests that include water supply, biodiversity, watershed management, soil and water conservation and recreation, which are in addition to tangible products like timber, fuelwood and NWFPs. The opportunity costs of degradation of these services are being felt strongly — much more than the cost of goods produced by the same forests.
  4. Decentralization, devolution and privatization: A wave of decentralization in the administration of forests is sweeping the region. However, the degree of decentralization is different across the region. Nepal, India and Bangladesh spearhead the movement and have institutionalized the process of people's participation in the management of forests in the form of JFM and CFM.
  5. Forest product needs among rural and forest-dependent communities: Taking care of the needs of local communities with regard to timber, fuelwood and NWFPs is being given the highest priority by almost every country.

Themes of present policies

Common themes running through the existing policies of different countries include:

  1. Curbing of illicit felling, which otherwise results in revenue leakage and market distortion.
  2. Promotion of social forestry, agroforestry and farm forestry to narrow the gap between supply and demand of forest products.
  3. Maintenance of ecological balance and protection of the environment — extending and strengthening of the protected area network.
  4. Ensuring the participation of the local community in the management of forests, e.g. JFM and CFM.
  5. Ecodevelopment, ecotourism, promotion and value addition of NWFPs.

Gaps in present policies

Present forest polices in the region suffer from comprehensive conceptualization in the sense that most of the policies are not a result of intersectoral considerations and analysis. The objectives are therefore very often at cross-purposes. Another problem is that they are ambitious in objectives; for example, the goal of increasing forest cover (FAO 2002). Most of the policies do not adequately address the livelihood needs of local communities and have also failed in leading towards the adoption of SFM. Concomitantly, they prescribe conflicting objectives like production and conservation. Most of the policies do not address the subject of climate change. The policies are also becoming outdated as they are not subjected to timely reviews. Many countries in the region do not have the adequate capacity to conduct policy reviews. Forestry research has not been addressed effectively. These weaknesses are likely to remain in some measure in future policies also. Only with the passage of time and acquisition of capacity will these gaps gradually be filled.

Drivers of future policies

The following issues and considerations are expected to dominate the forest policies of the Asia–Pacific region in the near future specially in the next two decades:

Themes of future policies

General themes running through future policies of the Asia–Pacific region are expected to revolve around:


Future policies will be hard-pressed to manage a balance between the demand and indigenous supply of timber and pulpwood. Concern for climate change will dominate the content of these policies. The promotion of fuelwood and biofuel production as a mitigation measure for fuel switching is expected to be part of many policies in the future. Policies will in all certainty move from a production-dominant to a conservation-sensitive focus. Revenue earning from non-extractives and environmental services will find prominent mention in the policies of the future. Carbon sequestration and consequently carbon trading will be important elements of policies. Poverty alleviation and recognition of the rights of local communities over forest lands and forest products will be prominent. Policies will also assert more devolution of management and power to local communities. JFM and CFM approaches will be included in most policies. In conclusion, it can be said that future policies will be more attuned to environmental concerns, the rights of local communities and decentralization of management.


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Anonymous. 1999.National forestry action programme — India. New Delhi, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.

Anonymous. 2001.Contribution of forestry sector to gross domestic product (GDP) in India. New Delhi, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.

Byron, N. 2006. Challenges in defining, implementing and renewing forest policies. Unasylva,223(57).

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 2002.Forest policies and forest policy reviews. Bangkok, Thailand, FAO.

FAO. 2007.State of the world's forests 2007. Rome, Italy, FAO.

Forest Survey of India. 2002.State of forest report 2001. Dehradun, Forest Survey of India, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.

Government of India. 2000.Vision 2020. New Delhi, Planning Commission, Government of India.

Government of India. 2002.JFM, a decade of partnership. New Delhi, JFM Monitoring Cell, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.

Kishwan, J. 1995. Whither agroforestry?Wasteland News (August to October 1995) published by Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development, New Delhi.

Kishwan, J., Mudgal, S. & Dutta, S. 2004.Reinventing forest policy.Paper presented at the South Asian Workshop on Accelerating Implementation of National Forest Programme: Strategies and New Directions, 10–12 March 2004, New Delhi.

Nair, C.T.S. 2007.Forest policies in a borderless world. Presentation made at the Expert Consultation on Establishing a Regional Forest Policy Think Tank, 21–22 August 2007, Manila.

Stern, N. 2007.The economics of climate change.UK, Cabinet Office HM Treasury, Cambridge University Press.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 2003.Human development report 2003. Millennium Development Goals: a compact among nations to end human poverty. New Delhi, Oxford University Press. pp. 367.

1Director-General, Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, Dehradun, India.

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