Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Session 3a: Societal transition and social developments

Is there a future role for forests and forestry in reducing poverty?

Thomas Enters,1Mark Sandiford,2Yurdi Yasmi3and John Guernier4

The main aim of this paper is to discuss the current and potential future contributions of forests and forestry to poverty reduction. Central to the theme is an extended discussion on what is meant by poverty reduction. The evidence presented clearly shows that forest-based income currently plays a role in poverty reduction. However, the income is not equitably distributed and for a variety of reasons, with elite capture being a critical one, benefits contribute little to poverty elimination and long-term economic advancement among the extreme poor living in and around forests. In most cases, forests and forestry only contribute to poverty mitigation, which from the perspective of contributing to the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty rates, is clearly unsatisfactory, if not disappointing. The paper concludes by presenting three scenarios for the future, which serve as food for thought for further discussions and action.

Keywords: poverty reduction, forestry sector, devolution, non-wood forest products, future scenarios


Poverty is one of the most serious problems on earth. Half of the 3 billion people living in rural areas in the developing world live on less than US$2 per day. In general, the Asia– Pacific region has made commendable progress towards poverty reduction mostly due to the spectacular economic growth of China, India and Viet Nam. However, the region is still home to more than two-thirds of the world’s poor. The absolute number of poor people in the region remains larger than in other regions (UNESCAP, UNDP and ADB 2006). Of the region’s poor, a substantial number lives in and around forests, although their exact number is contested, as is their level of dependence on forest resources. Because many poor people live in and around the forests, it is commonly assumed that forest and forestry have an important role to play in poverty reduction. This assumption — while widely accepted — is questionable. To what extent forests and forestry can significantly lift people out of poverty remains a subject that needs serious exploration.

The main objective of this paper is to discuss and assess to what extent forests and forestry contribute to poverty reduction in the Asia–Pacific region, taking into account current regional development and trends. We clarify our approach, discuss some recent changes in the Asia– Pacific region with a bearing on the issue of poverty reduction and the role of forests and forestry, present our findings of the current situation and draw up three scenarios on what the future might hold.

Poverty as a concept: its definition and limitation

Whilst we recognize the wealth of literature devoted to the definitions of poverty, in this paper we focus on the narrow concept of income poverty. We use US$1 per day, adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP), as a threshold for the discussion. We fully recognize that the level of income is only one dimension of poverty, but in the long run income generation remains an important driver of change. Also, while US$1 per day is criticized for being a reductionist and one-dimensional indicator, it can be easily measured and allows for monitoring changes over time and comparisons between different geographical locations (Angelsen and Wunder 2003). Finally, while other dimensions of poverty are very important, poor people will remain poor if they are unable to generate a certain income. Increasing incomes alone is not sufficient to reduce poverty, but in most cases it is absolutely necessary to help lift households out of poverty.

Information on forest-based income is not difficult to find. There is no question that major corporations generate income from the forests. Poor people do likewise. But does this income lead to their socio-economic advancement, or do they remain extremely poor, just slightly less so? We will provide a definite answer to the last question, by distinguishing explicitly between poverty elimination and poverty mitigation or avoidance (Figure 1). Sunderlin et al. (2007, p. 22) note that poverty avoidance or mitigation “involves the use of forest resources to meet household subsistence needs, to fulfill a safety net function in times of emergency, or to serve as a ‘gap filler’ in seasonal periods of low income, in order to lessen the degree of poverty experienced or to avoid falling into poverty. The term ‘poverty elimination’ refers to the use of forest resources to help lift the household out of poverty by functioning as a source of savings, investment, accumulation, asset building, and lasting increases in income and wellbeing.”

Figure 1. Definitions of “poverty alleviation” and examples related to forests and forestry
:Sunderlin (2004).

Rapid developments, transforming economies and generating choices

The Asia–Pacific region — home to three-fifths of the world’s population — is widely hailed as a developmental success story and a major driver for powering global growth over the last two decades, the two mightiest components being China and India. The speed of economic growth in the region’s developing countries has surpassed global growth rates for several years. Despite this fact, it is the common view that Asia and the Pacific remains a region of farmers and forest dwellers. However, a considerable transformation has occurred during the last 15 years. Notable changes include: a) employment shifts from agriculture to the service and industry sectors, b) increased outmigration and c) the significant role of remittances in the region’s economy and people’s livelihoods.

A significant shift from the agriculture to the services sector is noticeable in all of the subregions with the exception of the Pacific Island countries. Between 2006 and 2015, total employment in agriculture is projected to contract by nearly 160 million, with employment in industry and services expanding by 172 million and 198 million, respectively. By 2015, the services sector will have become the largest sector, representing about 40.7 percent of the region’s total employment. The share of industrial employment is expected to increase from 23.1 percent in 2006 to 29.4 percent in 2015, while the share of agricultural employment is projected to decline from 42.6 percent to 29.9 percent between 2006 and 2015. Yet, given its size and importance for poverty alleviation, agriculture will remain an important sector, even though the main engines of the region’s growth will be elsewhere (ILO 2007). As described by Preston (1989), a significant percentage of the rural population has become “too busy to farm” as it finds alternative employment.

The region’s urban population has also increased fivefold since 1950, although levels of urbanization remain low in all but a few countries (UNFPA 2007). In relative terms, rural populations decreased in most countries in the region between 1997 and 2007. Outmigration is prevalent not only in the more accessible lowland rural areas but also affects remote areas such as the highlands of Sarawak (Lee and Shamsul Bahrin 1992). Socio-economic studies carried out among Punan hunter–gatherers in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, indicate a consensus among all Punan (those who migrated and those who stayed behind in remote upstream villages): Downstream people are generally better off due to better access to more cash-earning opportunities, access to education and lower infant mortality (Levang et al. 2005).

There is also increased evidence that the region’s economy is supported by remittances. There are over 50 million migrants from Asia and the Pacific worldwide. India is the region’s main exporter of migrants. Asia received almost US$114 billion in remittances in 2006 — the highest regional total in the world. India and China are the top recipient countries, receiving US$24.5 billion and US$21 billion, respectively. Transfers make up 23 percent of regional per capita income. Remittances to smaller economies (e.g. the Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal and Tajikistan) constitute between 20 percent and 70 percent of per capita income. On average, remittances in Asia are 2 percent of the GDP and 15 percent of exports. The flow of remittances into rural areas in Asia is among the highest. This is partly because half of the Asian countries are 65 percent rural. The ratio of remittances per capita to per capita GDP is 23 percent and the highest in the world (IFAD 2007). Little is known about the effects of migration and remittances on forests and forest management.5

The observed trends and changes indicate that the role of forests in generating income can increase as more and more people are connected to markets. At the same time, widening choices translate into many more people turning their backs on forests.

How important is the contribution of the formal forestry sector?

The Asia-Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook study for 2010 concluded that the “overall importance of forestry in national economies is limited, although it is of major importance in some countries” (FAO 1998, p. 4). Examining the contribution of the formal forestry sector to the region’s economy is problematic due to data inconsistencies across countries, the differences in key terms used, the lack of time series information and the questionable precision of the data. At best, only a very general picture can be produced.

In 2000, the forestry sector provided employment for 4.9 million in developing Asia–Pacific countries. A closer look at available country data shows gains and losses between 1990 and 2000 (Lebedys 2004). Overall, there has been a substantial decline due to shrinking employment in India and China. In China, 0.9 million forestry employees lost their jobs due to the forest-harvesting restrictions that were imposed in 1998. Similar job losses, although of a smaller magnitude, can be assumed in other Asian countries (e.g. Thailand and the Philippines) when

logging bans were put into effect. There is no information available on the extent that formal sector forestry jobs contribute to poverty reduction. According to industry sources, in Sarawak, female unskilled workers from Indonesia have a starting salary of about US$2.6 to US$3.15 per day. Adjusted for PPP, the daily wage is about US$3.9 to US$4.7, which excludes benefits such as accommodation, meals and insurance. Adjusted for PPP, a tree feller’s daily income is between US$21.5 and US$28.6, although it is unclear what work-related expenses have to be covered by the worker. It is safe to say, that at least in Sarawak, people employed in the industry cannot be considered poor, although it is unclear how many family members foreign workers have to support in their home countries.

What is the contribution of the informal forestry sector?

As we have indicated, data for formal employment and how important it is for the poor are wide open to question. Even less is known about the informal sector and small- and medium-sized forestry enterprises (SMFEs). ILO (2001) reported that at the global level, the informal and subsistence forestry sector provided jobs for 30 million people. Mayers (2006a) suggests that most SMFEs play a major role in providing jobs to many rural poor. For example, he states that in many countries, 80 to 90 percent of forestry enterprises are SMFEs and over 50 percent of all forest-sector employment is in SMFEs. Data for SMFEs and the informal forestry sector in Asia and the Pacific are scarce. In India, SMFEs comprise 95 percent of all forestry enterprise activity: 98 percent of sawmills, 87 percent of plywood factories and 94 percent of paper mills (Saigal and Bose 2003, cited in ITTO 2006).

There are three caveats to the discussion on the contribution of formal and informal forestry sectors to poverty reduction. First, wages are comparatively low compared to other sectors and have been falling (ILO 2001). Second, most of the employment is in the processing sector and it is not always clear from where the raw material has been sourced. Townson (1995, cited in Arnold and Townson 1998) observed that some of the most important “forest” products were hardly drawn from forests at all. Third, in some countries significant quantities of timber, as well as other “forest” products are derived from trees outside forest, homegardens and agroforestry systems. All of these systems and their products contribute to national economies, employment and income generation. Yet, whether they should be considered “forests” or “agricultural systems” remains a controversial issue.

The question remains as to whether the opportunities provided by the formal and informal forestry sectors have lifted any of the poor out of poverty, have only prevented a slide into ever deeper poverty or have in fact created further exclusion and poverty.

Contribution of forests and forestry to poverty reduction

This section explores the role of devolved forest management, the non-wood forest product (NWFP) sector and forestry outgrower schemes in poverty reduction. It highlights the constraints that hinder forests and forestry from being more effective contributors to poverty reduction.

Devolving forest management: who benefits?

The area of land — although not necessarily forests — managed under devolved and community-based forest management (CBFM) systems has dramatically increased in many countries (White and Martin 2002). The number of communities and individuals involved in forestry appears to have expanded significantly as well. For example, by December 2005, around 25 percent (or 1.19 million hectares) of Nepal’s forest area had been handed over to more than 14 227 community forest user groups (FUGs) that represent more than 1.6 million households (Chhetri 2006). In India, 84 000 Joint Forest Management (JFM) committees are managing 17 million hectares of forests in 27 states (Bahuguna 2004). By 2004, the CBFM Program covered more than 5.7 million hectares of forest land benefiting more than half a million households (Acosta et al. 2004) in the Philippines. Expansion in other countries has occurred too. However, these numbers do not tell us about who benefits from devolution and to what extent participating in devolved forest management helps poor people alleviate their poverty. The examples hereunder may provide some enlightenment.

The aforesaid numbers tell us little about who benefits from devolution and to what extent being a member of a FUG, a JFM committee or a people’s organization (PO) helps poor people to lift themselves above the poverty line. What does empirically-based knowledge tell us? Let us examine a few examples.

Our first example takes us to the middle hills of Nepal. Villagers in Nepal benefit directly from community forestry, if they are members of a FUG, and indirectly through the development and/ or improvement of local infrastructure. However, wealthier members can take more advantage of the infrastructure projects (Table 1). This is particularly apparent for the provision of electricity and the construction or improvement of irrigation canals. Many poor households do not own electrical gadgets; they have little or no land that benefits from irrigation.

Dev and Adhikari (2007) show that not one infrastructure project was implemented with the objective of benefiting particularly poor people. Elites and wealthy households on the other hand managed to gain disproportionately more from what at a cursory look appears to be beneficial for the whole community. This should not be surprising, as elites dominate FUG committees in Nepal (Malla et al. 2003).

Table 1. Improvement of community infrastructure funded partially by FUGs in Nepal (1993/1996 to 2004)

Infrastructure Number Quantity Contribution of FUGs Main
of study Nepalese % of total beneficiaries
FUGs rupees cost
Village trail 8 45 km 226 000 50 All
Temple 1 One 65 000 85 All
School support 9 9 schools 527 001 25 Wealthy and
some poor
Electricity 1 One village 300 000 30 Wealthy
Water supply 5 Five projects 214 000 35 All
Health facility 1 One building 310 000 20 All
Improvement of 5 20 km 200 000 35 Wealthy
irrigation canal        

Source: Adapted from Dev and Adhikari (2007).

In the second example we look at the contribution of income derived from forests and non-forest sources to total household income for different wealth groups in Forest Protection Committee (FPC) villages in West Bengal. Richer households rely almost exclusively on income unrelated to forest use. The proportion changes as people become poorer, with the landless poor, in relative terms, relying on forest products the most. In absolute terms however, medium-rich and poor households derive more forest-based income (Table 2).

Table 2. Average annual household income derived from forest and non-forest sources in West Bengal (n = 167)

Income sources Rich Medium rich Poor Poor/landless
(in Indian rupees)
Forest 1 169 6 116 5 727 5 441
Non-forest 131 258 34 912 15 622 11 507
Total 132 427 41 028 21 349 16 948
% of income derived from the forest 0.9 17.5 36.7 47.3

Note: Total non-forest income includes agricultural employment, services and monetary value
of products collected from the forest and used at home.
Source: Adapted from Banerjee (2007).

Has forest-based income eliminated extreme poverty in the FPC villages in West Bengal? Without the forest-based income, rich households have a daily income, adjusted for PPP, of US$4.51 per household member (Table 3). They are therefore far above the threshold for extreme poverty. Medium-rich households find it more difficult to stay above the poverty line yet they manage even without the additional income from the forest. The poor and landless poor fall below the poverty line. Their poverty is somewhat reduced by whatever they can obtain from the forest. This is considered merely poverty avoidance/mitigation (Sunderlin et al. 2007) but not poverty elimination. These findings are similar to those of Vedeld et al . (2004) who estimated “forest environmental income” based on an analysis of 54 case studies in India and found that forest and non-forest income combined was on average only US$0.83 (adjusted for PPP) per person per day, which is still below the poverty line.

Table 3. Average daily income per person in FPC villages in West Bengal

Income sources Rich Medium rich Poor Poor/landless
(in US$ adjusted for PPP)
Forest 0.04 0.21 0.20 0.19
Non-forest 4.51 1.20 0.54 0.39
Total 4.55 1.41 0.73 0.58

Note: Household size was assumed to be six people, which is likely to be an underestimate.
Source: Based on data provided in Table 2.

Why has devolving forest management served the poor so poorly?

While we have drawn evidence from India and Nepal only, findings in other countries appear to be similar. For example, Liu and Edmunds (2004, p. 54) conclude that in China farmers have not always been able to benefit from devolved forest management for a number of reasons such as tax and regulatory policies, lack of capital and technical expertise, social inequalities and lack of government accountability.

So far our analysis indicates that empirical evidence that devolved forest management has contributed to reaching the MDG of eradicating poverty is lacking. The question as to why this is the case has been receiving considerable attention in the literature for more than a decade. Hobley (2007, p. 25) succinctly summarized the work of Edmunds and Wollenberg (2001). According to this summary the effects of decentralization in forestry are:

While the aforementioned list is comprehensive, several additional reasons emerge from the analysis of the literature.

Are minor forest products and outgrower schemes making a major contribution? 6

Most of the evidence indicates that NWFPs are supportive of subsistence livelihoods, as they “act as seasonal gap fillers and provide a safety net during emergencies.” They are of significant importance to the extremely poor, but have not sufficiently contributed to the sustainable socioeconomic advancement of the poor out of poverty (Neumann and Hirsch 2000). There is a strong correlation between NWFP dependence and poverty and “the poor often use forest products due to the (permanent and temporary) lack of better alternatives” (Angelsen and Wunder 2003, p. 21). In fact, Angelsen and Wunder (2003, p. 22) go one step further when they proclaim, “forest activities only attract poor people”.

Angelsen and Wunder (2003) indicate three main reasons why NWFPs have not contributed effectively to poverty reduction:

  1. Low returns from most NWFP activities as natural forests are frequently inferior production environments economically.
  2. Remoteness and poorly developed physical infrastructure complicate market access, and usually only a limited number of high-value products can pay their way out of the forests (compare with the aforementioned Indonesian case).
  3. Some forest product trade is characterized by monopsonies7and exploitative market chains, which can lead to lack of transparency (many poor people have no market information whatsoever) and manipulation.

To this “trinity of imminent misery” (Angelsen and Wunder 2003) we can add restrictive legislation and bureaucratic procedures and permit systems, which reduce returns even further by opening windows of opportunities for corruption, a cost to traders, which ultimately pushes down prices paid to the producers (Belcher and Schreckenberg 2007).

Despite their long history, outgrower schemes have received scant attention in the literature. To what extent they can contribute to poverty reduction has received meager analysis. Experiences from South Africa indicate that outgrower schemes have involved the poorest and underemployed smallholders, because of credit extended by companies, while employment opportunities have benefited the landless in some areas (Mayers 2006b). However, in India they appear to favour medium- or large-scale farmers, i.e. not the extreme poor. In fact, as Mayers (2000, p. 40) continues:

… there is evidence of absentee landlords favouring these farm forestry contracts and thereby pushing tenants off the land.

This means that landless people may not only be unable to participate in a company–smallholder forestry scheme, but they may also lose their jobs, which previously had at least a poverty-mitigating effect. Also, we need to keep in mind that tree growing is a long-term, high-risk investment, while the poor require income in the short term and strive to minimize risk. Outgrower schemes allow better-off farmers with idle lands opportunities to create assets to continue to stay above the poverty line or even to move further away from it. At the moment, there is very little evidence illustrating that such schemes have a truly pro-poor effect.

Today’s forests’ and forestry’s poverty reduction effects remain elusive

We derive one main conclusion from the evidence that we have presented. There is a clear distinction between “income generation” and “poverty reduction”. There is no doubt that forests and forestry contribute to income generation. However, they have to date not provided meaningful and sustained revenues to lift people out of poverty. They unarguably play a role in poverty mitigation, as millions of poor people use forest products to support their subsistence livelihoods and cultural practices, and to supplement their meager incomes. However, it is also obvious that the benefits that they are able to derive are very often insufficient to eliminate their poverty and to provide for long-term socio-economic advancement. Therefore we can conclude that today forests and forestry are a “safety net” at best and a “poverty trap” at worst. What does the future hold?

Future forests: “little” or “big trees” for “little people”?

The potential of forests and forestry to contribute to poverty reduction has been largely unrealized despite many changes to forest policy and an increasing shift to various forms of decentralized forest management. We will reach 2020 in 12 years. The questions that remain to be answered are:

We have touched briefly on where pro-poor forestry initiatives have shown promise and the barriers that have been identified by various authors to that promise being fully realized. We suggest however that even under perfect conditions the role of forests and forestry with respect to poverty reduction will largely remain mitigatory rather than a significant driver of long-term socio-economic advancement as compared to other sectors. This is not to say that forests and forestry should be moved off the agenda, and therefore in effect the large numbers of poor who are dependent on forests, but that we should be more realistic and also take a broader approach. So what does the future hold? At this point, a disclaimer is required before we lay out the three potential if simplistic scenarios. Making our points and drawing a forward-looking picture requires generalizing, with all its shortcomings. There will be many exceptions. Overall the real exceptions and deviations from the mean will not have a significant influence on developments at the regional level. They do at national levels, and this we acknowledge.

SCENARIO ONE or business as usual: In this we expect that forest exploitation will continue unabated given the massive demand for raw materials in the region, the poor regulatory framework of many forest-rich countries and the conversion of forests to more financially attractive land uses, driven in part by the biofuel revolution and rising prices of food items.

As a result of this scenario forests and forestry will be marginalized to such an extent that they will become non-issues in terms of contributing to poverty reduction. Some lip service will be paid to those who cannot leave the now degraded forest lands in terms of further project-based community forestry initiatives, but any poverty reduction role this may play will continue to be ill-served by the remnants of traditional forest departments and local elites. Both key players will defend the status quo, and the forest-based income that might be generated by the most needy will be insignificant. On the other hand, partnerships between forest industries and tree growers might thrive and provide more opportunities for generating income in wood-deficit locations. However, as we discussed above, little in terms of poverty elimination can be expected from such forest outgrower arrangements.

SCENARIO TWO or reforms are realized: National governments will implement pro-poor policies to enable the poor to move away from forest-dependent livelihoods and/or genuinely and meaningfully involve them in forest management through cutting “red tape”, implementing participatory decision-making and institutionalizing fair benefit-sharing arrangements. The “frozen style of management of forests” will slowly thaw and the “hegemonic role” that many forestry administrators have continued to play until today will transform to a “facilitating role”, where forestry agencies take on a service provider role, especially for the poor. The forest industry also recognizes the importance of corporate social responsibility for reducing conflicts and securing continuous access to raw material. In fact, this latter trend is already playing out in numerous countries as the run for continuous raw material supplies is intensifying.

National governments also begin to realize the importance of forest environmental services and their potential for generating real income through environmental services’ payments — there is a tremendous interest in financing carbon storage in forests — and as a sustainable source of fiscal revenue. In a parallel development, good governance and political processes provide more room for the voice of the poor, and opportunities for the elite to capture most benefits from forests and forestry are reduced. CBFM in particular will no longer be viewed as a sole vehicle for watershed management and forest rehabilitation. Its importance in rural development and poverty reduction will be taken seriously and rights to more valuable forest resources will be secured by poor rural communities. As a consequence poor people find it easier to generate forest-based income although not necessarily enough to eliminate poverty. Off-farm and off-forest income generation will accelerate. Experiences indicate that they are not exclusive but complementary processes.

SCENARIO THREE or other sectors win the day and poor people turn their backs on forests: Largely as a result of non-forestry sector developments (e.g. services and industry) there will be a continued drive towards middle-income status for most countries in the region. We have stressed earlier the importance of agrarian change and the increased diversity in options and aspirations that people in general and young people in particular have. Outmigration from poor rural zones to urban areas and poorer countries to better-off countries in and beyond the region with labour shortages will continue and remittances will make up a major part of many poor families’ income.

Little is known about the effects of migration and remittances on forests and forest management. Hecht and Saatchi (2007) found that remittances contributed significantly to forest recovery in El Salvador between 1992 and 2001. Mayfroidt and Lambin (2007) noted similar developments and attributed the causes of reforestation in Viet Nam to increased incomes, although the causal relationship was not uniform across the landscape. Labour shortages in rural areas have also led to the establishment of more smallholder plantations in countries as diverse as Thailand, Lao PDR, Indonesia and Malaysia. Similar processes can be observed in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, although the driving force in these two countries is not labour shortages but secure landownership coupled with asset creation.

Growing wealth and awareness of the environmental service functions of forests are also increasingly taking precedence for growing urban populations. National governments respond with enabling policies and targeted policy instruments to ensure forests are at the centre of conservation and climate change mitigation initiatives. Eventually, economic and social development will have taken such a turn that the forest-dependent poor are consigned to a footnote in the history books, the “little people” turn their backs on forests and forests and forestry become a non-issue with respect to poverty reduction and are more linked to a “prosperity and equity” agenda. The decline of the forest estate is arrested, although natural forest areas are likely to decrease further.

Final remarks

In drawing the three scenarios we have not taken into account potential shocks to the system. Will for example the growing effects of climate change be of such a scale as to reverse the positive changes seen in terms of economic growth and therefore to further push the environment from national political agendas? Will initiatives related to mitigation of climate change through, for example, “biofuels” and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) prove clumsy tools that further exasperate inequity and increase poverty and forest degradation? The picture of the future role of forests and forestry in poverty reduction that we have painted goes against conventional wisdom. We believe it is realistic but hope at the same time that we might provoke realism amongst practitioners in the forestry sector and some food for thought. Certainly, our analysis can be enriched by presenting more data and discussions.

Do the three scenarios have equal likelihood of being realized? We have debated this at great length. All three are realistic. If not, we would have rejected one or the other. Business as usual is just as likely as improvements in forest governance and the “re-invention” of forest agencies. The most difficult to envision is a retreat of elites and the creation of wider spaces for the truly needy.

The last scenario is an overlay of the first two. The processes of forest transitions, agrarian transformation and globalization are by no means new, although they have entered the forestry literature only with considerable delay. The speed of such processes will determine by 2020 to what extent any changes in the forestry sector and how and by whom forests are managed will make any difference to poverty reduction. In this sense, the traditional forestry sector might miss the boat altogether and there might be little reason to contemplate strengthening the currently weak link between forests and forestry and poverty reduction.


Acosta, R.T., Pulhin, J.M. & Enters, T. 2004. Enhancing the Community-Based Forest Management Implementation Strategy in the Philippines. ETFRN News, 41-42/04 : 93–95.

Angelsen, A. & Wunder, S. 2003. Exploring the forest-poverty link: key concepts, issues, and research implications. CIFOR Occasional Paper No. 40. Bogor, Center for International Forestry Research.

Arnold, J.E.M.& Townson, I. 1998. Assessing the potential of forest product activities to contribute to rural incomes in Africa. Natural Resource Perspectives 37. London, Overseas Development Institute.

Bahuguna, V.K. 2004. Root to canopy: an overview. In V.K. Bahuguna, K. Mitra, D. Capistrano & S. Saigal, eds. Root to canopy – regenerating forests through community state partnerships . New Delhi, Commonwealth Forestry Association–India Chapter and Winrock International India.

Banerjee, A.K. 2007. Joint forest management in West Bengal. In O. Springate-Baginski & P. Blaikie, eds. Forests, people and power. The political ecology of reform in South Asia , pp. 221–260. London, Earthscan.

Belcher, B. & Schreckenberg, K. 2007. Commercialisation of non-timber forest products: a reality check. Development Policy Review, 25(3): 355–377.

Chhetri, R.B. 2006. From protection to poverty reduction: a review of forestry policies and practices in Nepal. Journal of Forests and Livelihood, 5(1) : 66–77.

Desmond, H. & Race, D. 2003. Global survey and analytical framework for forestry outgrower arrangements (FAO). In Towards equitable partnerships between corporate and smallholder partner – Workshop Synthesis, pp. 75–115. Rome, FAO.

Dev, O.P. & Adhikari, J. 2007. Community forestry in the Nepal hills: practices and livelihood impacts. In O. Springate-Baginski & P. Blaikie, eds. Forests, people and power. The political ecology of reform in South Asia, pp. 142–176. London, Earthscan.

Edmunds, D. & Wollenberg, E. 2001. Historical perspectives on forest policy change in Asia. Environmental History, 6(2) : 190–212.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 1998. Asia-Pacific forestry towards 2010. RAP Publication 1998/22. Bangkok, FAO.

FAO. 2007. The state of the world’s forests 2007. Rome, FAO.

Hecht, S. & Saatchi, S.S. 2007. Globalization and forest resurgence: changes in forest cover in El Salvador. BioScience, 57(8) : 663–672.

Hobley, M. 2007. Where in the world is there pro-poor forest policy and tenure reform ? Washington, DC, Rights and Resources Initiative.

International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). 2007. Sending money home. Worldwide remittance flows to developing countries. Rome, IFAD.

International Labor Organization (ILO). 2001. Social and labor dimensions of the forestry and wood industries on the move. TMFWI/2001. Geneva, ILO.

ILO. 2007. Visions for Asia’s decent work decade: sustainable growth and jobs to 2015. Paper prepared for the Asian employment forum Growth, Employment and Decent Work. Beijing, China, 13–15 August 2007. Geneva, ILO.

International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO). 2006. Status of tropical forest management 2005. Yokohama, ITTO.

Lebedys, A. 2004. Trends and current status of the contribution of the forestry sector to national economies. Working paper: FSFM/ACC/07. Rome, Forest Products and Economics Division, FAO.

Lee, B.T. & Shamsul Bahrin, T. 1992. Mobilizing the unobilized interior of Sarawak: patterns of outmigration in the Baram Valley. Malaysian Journal of Tropical Geography, 23(2) : 61–68.

Levang, P., Dounias, E. & Sitorus, S. 2005. Out of the forest, out of poverty? Forests, Trees and Livelihoods, 15 : 211–235.

Liu, D. & Edmunds, D. 2004. The promises and limitations of devolution and local forest management in China. In D. Edmunds & E. Wollenberg, eds. pp. 20–54. Local forest management. The impacts of devolution policies. London and Virginia, VA, Earthscan.

Malla, Y.B., Neupane, H.R. & Branney, P.J. 2003. Why aren’t poor people benefiting more from community forestry? Journal of Forest and Livelihood, 3(1) : 78–90.

Mayers, J. 2000. Company-community forestry partnerships: a growing phenomenon. Unasylva, 200 : 33–41.

Mayers, J. 2006a. Small and medium-sized forestry enterprises. Tropical Forest Update, 16(2) : 10–11.

Mayers, J. 2006b. Poverty reduction through commercial forestry. What evidence? What prospects? The Forest Dialogue, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven.

Meyfroidt, P. & Lambin, E. 2007. The causes of reforestation in Vietnam. Land Use Policy . Doi: 10.1016/j.landusepol.2007.06.001.

Neumann, R.P. & Hirsch, E. 2000. Commercialisation of non-timber forest products: review and analysis of research. Bogor, Indonesia, CIFOR. 176 pp.

Preston, D.A. 1989. Too busy to farm: under-utilization of farm land in Central Java. Journal of Development Studies, 26(1) : 43–57.

Sunderlin, W.D. 2004. Community forestry and poverty alleviation in Cambodia, Lao-PDR, and Vietnam: an agenda for research. Position paper presented at the Regional Consultation Workshop on ADB-RETA 6115 “Poverty Reduction in Upland Communities in the Mekong Region through Improved Community and Industrial Forestry”, 1–2 September 2004, Bangkok.

Sunderlin, W.D., Dewi, S. & Puntodewo, A. 2007. Poverty and forests. Multi-country analysis of spatial association and proposed policy solutions. CIFOR Occasional Paper No. 47. Bogor, Center for International Forestry Research.

UNESCAP, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) & ADB. 2006. The Millennium Development Goals. Progress in Asia and the Pacific 2006. Bangkok, UNESCAP.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). 2007. State of world population report 2007. Unleashing the potential of urban growth. New York, UNFPA.

Vedeld, P., Angelsen, A., Sjaastad, E. & Kobugabe Berg, G. 2004. Counting on the environment. Forest incomes and the rural poor. Paper No. 98. Environmental Economics Series. Washington, DC, World Bank.

White, A. & Martin, A. 2002. Who owns the world’s forests? Forest tenure and public forests in transition. Washington, DC, Forest Trends.

1Singtanaa Associates.
2Formerly Senior Program Manager, Regional Community Forestry Training Center for Asia and the Pacific (RECOFTC), PO Box 1111, Bangkok 10903, Thailand. Tel: +662 940 5700. Fax: +662 561 4880. Web site:
3Program Officer, RECOFTC.
4Senior Program Officer, RECOFTC.
5Hecht and Saatchi (2007) found that remittances contributed significantly to forest recovery in El Salvador between 1992 and 2001. Meyfroidt and Lambin (2007) noted similar developments and attributed the causes of reforestation in Viet Nam to increased incomes, although the causal relationship was not uniform across the landscape.
6We aware that the term “minor forest product” has fallen out of fashion and has been replaced by “non-wood forest product”. We use it to indicate that to the vast majority of foresters and revenue-seeking finance departments, NWFPs remain a minor consideration.
7A monopsony is a market form with only one buyer, called a “monopsonist,” facing many sellers. It is an instance of imperfect competition and the reverse of a monopoly , in which there is only one seller facing many buyers.

The future of forest-dependent indigenous communities in Asia and the Pacific

Peter Walpole and Kumiko Shimamoto-Kubo1

Millions of indigenous people live within and outside forests in Asia–Pacific countries. Most studies indicate that indigenous communities are among the poorest and often continue to be largely excluded from the process of human development and provision of basic needs. Many countries have attempted to reverse the process, re-examining and revising forest policies and legislation aimed at restoring the rights of indigenous communities. A wide spectrum of situations exist in the Asia–Pacific region ranging from indigenous communities historically maintaining their ownership to recent initiatives to restore indigenous people’s rights to forest land in or near where they reside.

This study reviews the region-wide experiences of policy changes influencing forest-dependent indigenous people and actual on-the-ground changes in Asia and the Pacific. Countries with active policies or recent policy changes attempting to restore the rights of indigenous people who manage forest lands are highlighted: Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and India among others. Based on the experiences in these countries, the paper examines the key factors hindering and facilitating indigenous people — from benefiting from such policy changes to rights and access to forest conditions. Major drivers for positive policy changes are analysed based on the findings from the countries’experiences. Finally several future scenarios covering policy attitude, integration, implementation and the ability to re-envision a new society culturally, as well as environmental pressures that are likely to further re-enforce cultural attitudes are presented.

Keywords: indigenous people, forest policy, legislation, indigenous rights


This overview focuses on the importance of indigenous people in the very complex developments of forest management in the twenty-first century. National and local governments are under continuing pressure to attune development models, change strategies and incorporate more direct participation of people and practices that sustain the environment. The idiosyncrasies of each culture and context prevent generic responses but there are lessons being learned and realities coming to bear that allow for a range of scenarios to emerge and for people and governments to chart ways forward.

In order to discuss and better understand indigenous people, their livelihoods and their relationships with forests and their conditions, it is necessary to move into their contexts and to understand what their “life views” are, which this paper attempts to do.

As the driving forces of national and global economies pressure exchange with indigenous people for their land and resources, there is major conflict in sustaining livelihoods and productivity that meet the needs and demands of such a relation. For indigenous people’s participation in governance, the role of local government is of great importance in the necessary balancing of relations and emergence of a secure position for such communities. Carefully examining such dynamics and their impacts, both positive and negative, leads us to better understanding of the actual condition of the forests.

How do forests and forestry fit in the livelihoods of indigenous communities and vice versa?


The cultural importance of forests is seen in most, if not all, indigenous communities, ranging from objects of their animist-based belief to the processing of forest products for the global market. However this importance is weakening in certain contexts where the cultural concept of the “environment” no longer has coherence and this is considered to be a threat by many.

National society

Acceptance of indigenous communities by national governments and society greatly influences the attitude and support given to these people. This translates to indigenous people’s self-identity and sense of belonging within the country and helps in objectively reviewing emerging transitions and in many cases basic needs, livelihood sustainability and more equitable engagement in a national society. The opportunity and capacity to participate in any form of governance is of further significance in securing recognition.

When identities of indigenous people are suppressed by society, there is sometimes united resistance or submissive avoidance and if their sense of belonging is lost, they become a mere part of the greater poor. In this sense indigenous people become displaced and join the landless poor and urban poor who do not share national identity.

Why discuss indigenous people now?

Given this is the first time that FAO’s Forest Outlook Study includes a review on indigenous communities in the forests, this section reflects the increasing importance given to indigenous people in the context of forestry studies.

Extensive number of people

There are millions of indigenous people, many of whom are vulnerable in terms of human security and attained level of basic needs. With some exceptions of those living in coastal and pastoral areas, they predominantly reside in forest or forest-related areas.

Resistance group: Having no other place to go

Although displacement of indigenous people by governments has been witnessed in many countries of the region, many cases show that these people would strongly resist such forcible acts as they have no other place where they belong or can go.

Increasingly recognized presence and impacts on indigenous people

Inclusion of a clause in the Convention on Biological Diversity and UNDP’s engagement on indigenous people reflects increasing recognition of indigenous people facing disproportionately vulnerable situations.

Broadened definition of forestry

In recent years, the term forestry is not only concerned with silvicultural practices and economics but with human development, human security and basic needs, in light of growing recognition of the role of forests in people’s lives. Formal and informal recognition of indigenous people’s engagement in local markets and international trafficking of products is gaining importance.

Policy, legislation and institutional arrangements

Policy, legislation and institutional arrangements are important factors in changes concerning indigenous people’s rights. This section presents cases in selected countries in the Asia–Pacific region with such active or developing arrangements.

Australia and New Zealand: similarities and differences

Aborigines and Torres Strait islanders in Australia have gone through a long process of recognition that intensified in the 1970s with demonstrations against the administration of the time but still remains ill-defined in its direction.

In New Zealand, indigenous Maori people have struggled to obtain recognition. At the same time, they have been involved in national forestry activities as major stakeholders.

This illustrates both similarities and stark differences between Australia’s Aborigines and New Zealand’s Maori people in their association with the forests.

India: recognition of the Forest Rights Act, 2006

Recognition of the Forest Rights Act of 2006 is now in effect in India; its draft rules were announced as recently as June 2007. This act is considered to be one of the most revolutionary concerning Indian forests and the people within, yet there are many criticisms, mainly concerned with the changes made to the original bill submitted in 2005 due to interventions from legislative bodies.

The Philippines: Indigenous People’s Right Act

With its large indigenous populations, the Philippines has successfully written indigenous people’s rights into its constitution; however, it faces numerous difficulties in implementation. Actual contributions of the law to the lives of indigenous people with realization of their rights and resources are still viewed as severely limited after ten years of enactment of the Indigenous People’s Right Act (IPRA).

Papua New Guinea: land tenure

As a country with enormous physical and cultural diversity, often illustrated by over 740 languages spoken within its borders, PNG faces needs and difficulties in providing social stability and human development in the context of resource extraction for people. Although as much as 97 percent of national land is categorized as customary land that indigenous people are supposed to “own” and “control”, the situation still results in manipulation, misrepresentation and mismanagement.

Malaysia: indigenous people and bumiputra

In Malaysia, the bumiputra (sons of the soil) policy was openly designed to favour the Malay populous of an otherwise colonially dominated migration of Chinese and Indians and raised the importance of the Malay indigenous people.

Indonesia: customary law

The rights of Indonesia’s indigenous people have increasingly been recognized under Indonesian law in recent years. It is estimated that between 30 to 65 million indigenous people are entitled to customary lands in the forests; however, forest-dwellers are still experiencing particular disadvantages.

The Pacific islands

There are variances in indigenous people’s rights due to different cultural origins and pressures, political history and relation to the availability of the islands’ natural resources.

Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam: people divided by national borders

Some indigenous groups have occupied certain areas for generations, where the national borders of Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam intersect.

Impacts of conservation and commercial resource exploitation

Impacts of protected areas on indigenous communities

Under the pretext of conservation, many indigenous communities have been subject to relocation when their land was declared as a protected area or a national park for biodiversity conservation, despite the fact that they had been living in the area for generations. There have been many reports that indigenous people’s human security has been brutally violated, as they refused to be relocated. Such assaults included destroyed structures and farms, rape and even the killing of villagers.

Indigenous people have also been blamed for the destruction of natural resources and hindering watershed management, due to incorrect perceptions about their traditional shifting cultivation practices and their land use for agriculture.

Impacts of commercial resource extraction: plantation and mining

Large-scale plantations such as oil-palm and fast-growing timber species may also threaten indigenous communities as large enterprises encroach on their lands. Particularly when governments side with large plantation enterprises, which generate benefits to the national economy, indigenous people are sometimes incorporated without adequate equity or are forcibly subjected to relocation from their ancestral lands.

Indigenous people’s impacts on conservation

Although there are many cases where indigenous people are wrongly accused of negatively impacting on biodiversity and natural ecosystems of the areas in which they reside, it needs to be noted that not all indigenous practices are considered to be environmentally friendly.

Key constraints to benefiting from policy

Conflicting policies

As witnessed in many cases in Asia and the Pacific, potential policy benefits can easily be undermined if there are conflicting policies with unclear priorities or rectification processes.

National government development model

When the national government is keen on economic development, priorities are often given to extractive or other large-scale businesses over indigenous people’s rights, leading to a situation where benefiting from potential policy or future changes is limited.


Even if there is a policy intended to benefit the indigenous people, actual benefits can hardly be felt by the people if the central/local government imposes strict regulation and requirements on the people that take time and skills they do not have. This also gives rise to corruption and maintenance of the status quo.

Diversity and disparity of indigenous communities

It may be difficult to benefit all the indigenous communities in a given country through one specific policy change, especially when indigenous communities are diverse and there is a wide disparity in the levels of social status among the communities. Policy changes might benefit only those who may be less disadvantaged than other indigenous people. The varying condition of forest land could also serve as a constraining factor.

Process of and clarification on resolution and implementation

Having policy in favour of indigenous people is an important step; however, it may not change the livelihoods of the people living in vulnerable conditions if implementation does not take place. The process of implementation therefore should be carefully laid out and steps for conflict resolution need to be in place.

Enabling conditions for indigenous communities to benefit from policy changes

This section lists likely conditions that facilitate policy changes to benefit indigenous people.

Strength and capacity of indigenous communities

Many policy changes do not simply give rights to indigenous people, but often require them to organize, or in certain cases, to register under specific systems in order to receive benefits. It is therefore crucial that communities are equipped with capacity to organize and consult among themselves as well as with appropriate national agencies or potential supporters.

Policy and security environment

The sense of living in a secure environment free from conflicts or insurgencies is a precursor to any positive changes. If there is no security, no enabling policies can surface to benefit the people. Policies therefore need to be carefully constructed with consideration for such security issues in any given area.

Ability to deal with changes

If indigenous people are capable of adapting to changes, it is more likely that they will benefit from certain policy changes, as such policy changes often come with certain requirements and responsibilities. Providing support to those who see difficulties in adapting to changes should be considered at the policy implementation stage, as they are the ones who need the most help.

Level of collaboration

Collaboration is needed with the central and local government as well as other external parties who could accompany and support indigenous people, especially where they lack capacity to handle the requirements to attain benefits from policy changes.

Drivers of change and future scenarios for indigenous people in forests


Attitude and recognition of the “need for change”, as a result of compunction from society, is the basis for changes to take place, led by the driving forces described hereunder:


Constitutional changes and movements leading to national shift are key drivers, especially when pre-existing laws and policies hinder positive impact from or narrow opportunities for indigenous people.

Resource depletion and conservation

Much indigenous knowledge on forest land use considers impacts on hydrological, nutrient and biodiversity aspects, which are of high importance to both the ecosystem and the livelihoods of indigenous people.

Clear understanding of resource depletion and conservation needs may serve as a driving force for positive policy changes for indigenous people when their roles in protecting the resources are recognized and valued.

International agreements, UN and other events

Incorporation of human security, basic needs, multiple-use zones, recognition and use of mother (first) languages in national uplift strategies leads to more attention being given to indigenous people who live in vulnerable conditions and greater national recognition of their place in society.

Access to market, trade and tourism

In many cases in Asia and the Pacific, the distance between various economic institutions and indigenous people has been lessened. Ecotourism that highlights the cultural uniqueness of indigenous people could educate general society about them. Such changes and positive exposure can also empower indigenous people and equip them with organizational and social skills.

Understanding local food and finance cycles

When the local food and finance cycle is well-understood by local governments and implementing authorities, activities are more likely to supplement if not shift levels of subsistence leading to larger positive impacts.

Recognition of poverty

Better recognition of poverty in broader terms brings more attention to disproportionately vulnerable conditions in which indigenous people live. This in turn can serve as a driving factor for a movement towards policy changes to improve their livelihoods.

Greater local governance and autonomy

With decentralization, community land management and its mechanisms has been given more attention. Engaging with policy development in this process should also be highlighted and integrated in land-use planning. The autonomy of indigenous people strengthens their identities and other indigenous communities are inspired by such examples and may be able to learn lessons from their success.

Cultural expression

The more recognition of diverse cultures in a given country, the more opportunities and support there will be for indigenous people as part of national celebration and learning.

Disaster risk response

The impact of extreme climate and the El Niño Southern Oscillation in the Pacific region is leading to disaster; disadvantaged indigenous people are more likely to be severely affected. Better understanding of disaster impact on these communities strengthens sustainability.


These scenarios look at policy attitude, integration, implementation and the ability to culturally re-envision a new society, as well as the environmental pressures that are likely to further reenforce cultural attitude. One of the scenarios below may dominate in a given country, but there will be local variances.

Scenario A: more supportive policy and institutional environment for the empowerment of indigenous people

The importance of indigenous knowledge in forest management is recognized by national governments and supported with broad social recognition of indigenous people. Forest lands are increasingly managed by indigenous communities both within and outside protected areas. In certain areas rich in natural resources, joint management/ownership of forest land takes place, benefiting the indigenous people from its resource rent, while views of indigenous people are valued and extractive industries discontinue their destructive practices.

With increased recognition of diverse indigenous culture, more attention is given to preserving the languages, customs and beliefs. Threats of losing indigenous people’s identities are lessened by the government, which now recognizes them as national citizens and provides for their basic needs. Ecotourism and marketing of forests/agricultural products and traditional products provide additional revenue to indigenous people.

Scenario B: persistent conflict with government and development

This scenario brings us closer to reckoning with external negative impacts and the realities of government and society. This is where national development strategies overemphasize that, as in the Industrial Revolution in Europe, it is acceptable even if some must suffer for a time so that national growth may occur and benefit all.

Scenario C: internal conflict within indigenous people

Forest conditions are not adequate and indigenous cultures are not able to continue. This scenario looks more at the limitations within the livelihoods of indigenous people in today’s world, their struggles or inabilities to come to terms with society and their adaptations to avoid joining the unemployed marginal, rural or urban populations.

Scenario D: resource exploitation for economic development without meeting indigenous people’s needs

Forest conditions are not adequate due to external pressures. Many indigenous cultures are lost and the people become landless poor. Forest lands also rapidly disappear, while people are displaced in order to make room for national economy development that works on a large scale. Unequal growth of limited factors creates huge imbalances in forming a better overall picture and proposed intention.


In order for indigenous people to have a positive impact on the forests, the community has to maintain its integrity and its life vision. Unless these issues are articulated, the norm and national economy will over-ride their livelihoods. What is needed is space for these cultures, in the struggle for more responsible attitudes and diversity of engagement in the present global world that seeks quality of life for all.

1 Regional headquarters: Rizal Street, Sacred Heart Village, Tagbilaran City, 6300 Bohol, Philippines. Tel: +63 38 5018947. Fax: +63 38 2355800. E-mail: Web site:

Lessons learned from new initiatives in forest management

Neela Mukherjee1

The paper focuses on relatively new forest management practices involving forest communities and the scope for local livelihoods. It draws lessons from four case studies in China, India, Lao PDR and Nepal, where ongoing forest management initiatives at the grassroots level aim to enrich forests through biodiversity conservation, poverty reduction and sustainable livelihoods. For Lao PDR, the case study from Attepeu Province clearly indicates how forest-based communities are becoming marginalized in the mainstream development process, how their traditional livelihoods are being uprooted and what options they could have.

Keywords: participatory forest management approaches, forest-based communities, sustainable livelihoods and poverty reduction

Introduction and background

There are many ongoing initiatives in Asian countries to evolve best practices in forest management. This is because in many Asian countries forests are not only carbon sinks but constitute crucial habitats not only for flora and fauna but also for human settlement (Ghimire and Pimbert 1997). The paper draws crucial lessons from case studies at the grassroots level for four countries — China, India, Lao PDR and Nepal — on community-based forest management and draws lessons on this basis for strategic forest management until 2020, regional forestry frameworks, democratic governance, macro–micro linkages, data requirements, community development, indigenous knowledge, access to resources, social capital, food security and gender aspects of such management within the broad framework of sustainable livelihoods analysis (see Appendixes 1 and 2;


China has many national nature reserves that local communities inhabit, especially different ethnic minorities. One example is the Longxi–Hongkou National Nature Reserve, 100 kilometres from Chengdu; it is located at an altitude of 820 to 4 582 metres and encompasses 34 000 hectares of primitive forests and plants. The people residing in and around the park belong to different minority groups — many being Qiang, others include Tibetans, Hui and also the Han (the Chinese majority). The three studied villages in the Longxi–Hongkou National Nature Reserve were Shengqi, Hongshe and Gao Yuan; they are located in high mountains. The reserve, with a population of over 6 000 people, can be accessed by most forms of telecommunication. Tourists are attracted by its scenic value and local hospitality. In order to attract the hotel industry, promotional material for the reserve states that it provides an ideal location for developing villas, vacation resorts and hi-tech farming.

In the three villages interactive sessions showed that most of the people belonged to subsistence households and were engaged in ecodevelopment. In the 1980s and the mid-1990s, they were neglected by the government. Many poor farmers, besides farming, also started planting kiwi trees (the agroclimate being conducive) due to lack of support from the government. However, after 1999 under the project “reducing farmland and increasing trees”, the local government provided high yielding varieties of kiwi seedlings and financial assistance of 100 yuan/mu2 per year for a period of two years. Since 1999, local communities, both in and around the nature reserve, were forced to diversify their livelihoods because they were not allowed to grow rice on farmland converted to horticulture/agroforestry. Among fruit trees, the villagers mainly grew kiwi and vegetables such as radish, carrots, beans and leafy vegetables on small patches of land for the market. Some also grew magnolia trees and sold the bark for medicinal usage. A few households, mostly the wealthier families, hosted tourists in the tourist season in addition to practising agroforestry.

One kiwi tree yields at least 40 kg of fruit in season, which can be sold at 2 yuan3/kg (approximately). So a farmer could earn 80 yuan from one tree — equivalent to US$10/tree. The earnings are not only seasonal but also disproportionately low when compared to the cost of labour and other inputs. However, most households residing in the reserve have between one to three kiwi trees, the fruit being vulnerable to price fluctuations and attack by wild animals. Such trees can sustain them only for a short period and household income has to be supplemented by other activities such as raising livestock, for example pigs and ducks. Livestock manure fertilizes the kiwi trees but 100 trees require manure from more than 12 pigs. On an annual basis, the trees require at least four times this quantity of manure. Those possessing fewer pigs borrow manure from others (Mukherjee and DasGupta 2004).

Near the main entrance of the reserve, the relatively wealthier families are engaged in tourism-supporting activities by offering boarding facilities to tourists. The construction of large buildings and other concrete structures poses a threat to the landscape of peaceful Tibetan villages and the reserve apart from vehicular noise, other disturbances and air and water pollution.

Field interactions showed that biodiversity conservation in the reserve has experienced some success over time through various policies although local livelihoods still have to emerge from the subsistence poverty trap. In terms of biodiversity impact, the number of trees fell between 1960 and 1990 but increased thereafter. The volume of wildlife, although considerable in 1960, fell in 1980 due to increased hunting activities but recovered later. Local people asserted that this was the impact of the wildlife conservation policy of the government, translated into practice. The human population in the area has also increased over time. The area under farmland increased sharply between 1960 and 1990 but plummeted in later years. By 2000 it had disappeared.

Selected findings: Lessons from the aforementioned case study are provided hereunder. Forest and nature reserve policies need to be restructured and made people-friendly. Selected steps in this direction are:

Increased involvement of such indigenous groups in official decision-making processes and giving them reasonable access to forest resources to meet their food and livelihood needs are important steps to support the nature reserve, forests and biodiversity conservation — and to reduce local poverty. Only political will can make this happen over time. Although this was started by the Sustainable Forestry Development Project (SFDP) in March 2001, the top-down system is still the main vehicle of forest governance. Another point to be noted is the relatively small size of many nature reserves and parks compared to the opportunities for sustainable livelihoods for the populations living in and around them.


In the rural areas of the State of West Bengal, the situation for most landless women is quite grim. Although many poor landless families have been allotted small khas (government-owned land) under the state’s land reform programme, there has been little mitigation of chronic seasonal vulnerabilities in livelihoods and food insecurity. Case studies of two villages, Benagariya and Mulbandh, located in Paschim Medinipur District of West Bengal show that opportunities for livelihood enrichment and environmental protection can have high positive correlation. When livelihoods become undermined there are chances of the environment being degraded by local people.

Benagariya (with 90 households, 30 women-headed households) and Mulbandh (with 80 households, 12 women-headed households) are off the metalled road and both are located in the interior areas of Paschim Medinipur District. There is acute water shortage in both villages that have many poor landless households. The livelihood food calendars from the study villages (see Appendix 2) indicate that such “seasonality” is considerably pronounced for landless rural households. There are at least two clear hunger periods together with endemic poverty.

Both the villages are under Joint Forest Management (JFM), which is an innovative experiment in protection of forests by local communities in collaboration with the forest department. The objectives of social forestry under JFM can be broadly summed up as follows.

While JFM is a success story in Mulbandh, in Benagariya the forest is periodically threatened. The women’s groups of Mulbandh are relatively well-organized with considerable social bonding compared to the women in Benagariya. Faced with acute livelihood crisis, increased group mobility has helped the women of Mulbandh to access better quality natural resources in surrounding localities and thereby to protect their local forests. In terms of livelihoods and JFM there is a constructive and positive situation in Mulbandh, while a vulnerable situation prevails in Benagariya; consequent impacts on local livelihoods and forest resources differ between the two villages. The local forest in Mulbandh is well looked after by the local communities in collaboration with the forest department. Relative deprivation amongst local poor households is comparatively lower because the women are organized as informal groups who together travel daily outside the village to collect and sell snails and other aquatic items from a pond. They are also able to sell items such as leaves and fuelwood from their local forests. This is in direct contrast to the experience of women in Benagariya. Mulbandh shows how local knowledge and opportunities seized by women’s groups in the agricultural off seasons have helped to tide them over the deficit periods, especially during May to June and August to April (Appendix 2).

Mulbandh villagers have collaborated in JFM since 1988 on 82 hectares of forest land. Active participation of the members of the Forest Protection Committee (FPC) has contributed towards growth of the local forest, thereby improving the local fuelwood situation. The community is well aware about the objectives of JFM and has also received its share in timber as and when the forest is harvested by the forest department. Its experience under JFM has been productive in comparison to the past when the local forest disappeared and it was forced to enter other forests to collect minor forest products. This was not a pleasant experience. The local women and men think that the nature of the forest department’s work has changed considerably under JFM. The department’s role is that of advising the FPC from time to time, patrolling, resolving land-related issues, arranging meetings with community members and collecting fines.

The remote village of Benagariya is located in the Duganhari FPC of Sankrail beat. The FPC has an area of 502 hectares with a total of 15 mouzas (administrative villages) and 910 members. The village is near the young sal forest of the Durganhari FPC that has a front line of eucalyptus trees. Most people are so poor that they cannot afford to send their children to school at a distance. The village and surrounding areas generally grow one crop and if there is timely rain the people can expect some work. There is acute water scarcity in this region due to the drying up of lakes. The public well is polluted and the public tubewell is defective and does not work. In a village of 90 households with 30 women-headed households there are very few work opportunities available. It is often difficult for a single woman to find work outside the village or to travel long distances, leaving the children at home to fend for themselves. This is especially acute in some months e.g. the rainy season (June to August) and February to March when there is general scarcity. According to the women’s group the former sal forest was felled because of acute scarcity of food.

The forest is gradually regrowing under the current JFM because the forester has mobilized the community. Benefits from the forest include collection of dry leaves and twigs as fuel sold at Rs2/gunnybag and making plates from sal leaves (Rs20/1 000). In addition, JFM has also provided one-off work opportunities for the women such as planting saplings and applying fertilizers. But the problems of the women-headed households remain and they are still required to cope with acute scarcity periods.

Selected findings: Mere establishment of institutions such as FPCs does not guarantee that local natural resources will be managed in a sustainable manner. Such community institutions need to be nurtured and strengthened with the participation of both local elites and poor groups. The process of social capital formation amongst local communities including women’s groups and space for its gradual development are critical. Such factors hold the key to collective achievement of common goals and objectives. Livelihood planning at the microlevel, especially of poor women’s groups, is important for conserving and managing forests. If local livelihoods are endangered, the forest could be jeopardized as well.


In Nepal the concept of poverty reduction and ecorestoration through leasehold forestry (LF) has been put into practice by the Government of Nepal since 1993. Small parcels (around one hectare each) of degraded forest land were identified and leased for 40 years to poor households constituted into small leasehold groups. In a holistic approach to development, the LF groups were given support for livestock resources through forage/fodder from LF, microfinance, skill building and marketing avenues for related products. LF groups were mobilized socially and facilitated to form institutions. With social enclosure and controlled grazing the natural regenerative capacity of forest land was activated together with the growing of grasses, non-wood forest products (NWFPs) and trees. In order to reduce vulnerabilities, LF emphasized thrift amongst the participants, reliance on multiple sources of livelihoods and a combination of both immediate (e.g. credit and group mobilization), medium-term (e.g. grass, medicinal herbs, vegetables) and long-term benefits (e.g. timber).

For the study villages (Mukherjee et al. 2003) — Chowkitole (Makwanpur District), Lamidanda (Chitwan District), Baniyatar (Tanahu District) and Haibung (Sindhupalchowk District), poverty trends associated with LF interventions showed a mixed picture. In many leasehold groups short-term benefits accrued with reduction in income poverty. The participants benefited from LF in terms of forest products such as grass, fodder, herbs, fuelwood and timber. For many beneficiaries, their low income increased over time from the sale of forest products and from the sale of milk/livestock and with gradual increase in ownership of assets such as buffalo, goats and other animals. With regard to human poverty reduction there were many positive impacts among the LF groups such as higher social inclusion of women, rise in women’s empowerment, participation and decision-making, opportunities for children’s education, improved nutrition, capacity building, rise in ownership of assets and rise in living standards. Reduction in human poverty was facilitated by social and technical support provided by different agencies, thereby improving confidence levels and capacity, raising the quality of life and increasing social capital over time. With a period of 40 years’ land-lease, the feeling of “ownership” was high among many participants (Mukherjee et al. 2004).

However, it was also observed that in many leasehold groups such benefits had not occurred due to heavily degraded soil or inferior soil (dry, sandy and stony) and/or lack of water, soil erosion and damage by floods. Another issue was that the LF programme was not appropriately designed for inclusion of subsistence households, where degraded leasehold lands could not yield instant production to support livelihoods. Although the programme arranged for provision of loans to the poor for land preparation, it was usually difficult for the abject poor to undertake repayment on loans. This was more problematic in poor households with many dependents and/or no working members. The other problem was the selection process of beneficiaries under the LF programme in which not all of the poor households received prior information and insufficient LF awareness was created.

Among the gains from the programme, the capacity of the LF participants increased over time based on a range of social and technical skills acquired, e.g. skills in group mobilization, institution building, thinning and pruning of trees etc. However, needs’ assessment and targeting of beneficiaries were weak areas together with insufficient follow up.

Cooperatives were started by some LF groups in order to overcome the practical problem of giving a receipt to the buyer on the sale of grass. With limited funds, many cooperatives could provide loans up to a maximum of NRs3 000, although a buffalo costs NRs20 000. The LF cooperatives did not have access to external sources of funding and faced the problems of recovery and late payment.

Bureaucratic forest rules posed a constraint to maintaining and harvesting trees. For example in Chitwan, fuelwood trees could be harvested in six years’ time, but the participants were unaware whether the forest department would allow them to do so. Traditional forest practices were dominant and the concept of poverty reduction through LF was quite new to the conventional foresters. According to the LF participants, Community Forestry (CF) was the foresters’ priority.

Access to funds was affected by the limited outreach of the Agriculture Development Bank and emphasis on collateral was a clear source of exclusion. With closure of its field offices mostly due to the Maoist insurgency, its outreach was affected adversely.

In the context of the elite bias of community forestry, it was widely recognized that the space for participation of the poor households in community forestry was considerably limited. Thus LF carved out a space for poor households to participate in forestry and directly benefit from it although people were not clear about the future of LF. Geographical location, environmental fragility and poor infrastructure also excluded poor households. Many poor households in the terai region were excluded from LF due to lack of surplus forest land.

There were limits to livestock husbandry. A poor household could increase the number of livestock but this also meant looking after the animals on a full-time basis. An important issue was the shortage of water and fodder for livestock in lean months, especially from March to June, when dry straw from farmland was used to feed cattle.

Protection issues in LF could have been better handled with timely receipt of an LF certificate and better legal provisions for reducing/avoiding conflicts and theft. Conflicts were rampant. There was conflict between LF and community forestry, due to overlapping boundaries in that area. There was a subtle conflict of objectives between the forest department and the LF participants. The project objective was to increase land coverage under forests to maintain environmental balance. But the LF participants preferred to grow more grass or seeds for feeding livestock and subsequent selling. Production of grass declined due to the “shed” effect of trees in LF. The Maoist struggle adversely affected the movement of project personnel and monitoring of LF progress. One positive aspect was that the Maoist movement had led to greater/better response by local government service delivery institutions.


Attepeu Province is located in the south of Lao PDR; it is one of the underdeveloped provinces despite rich natural resources and hard-working people. In a study based on Vangyang village, Phuvong District and Kengmakhua village in Saysetta District (Mukherjee et al. 2004), the wealthier households had enough rice for consumption throughout the year and also surplus rice to sell in the market. The self-sufficient households (or the middle group) had enough rice for consumption throughout the year, although no surplus. The poor households had enough rice for consumption for less than a year (from three to six months). The poorest faced acute food insecurity (two months of rice stock); many had started a new family, with little or no paddy land, were families with small children and very few working members, or were widows with no helping hands and no livestock. For the lowland villagers of Attepeu, agriculture was the main source of livelihood, especially lowland paddy cultivation. A one-season paddy crop was cultivated and a few dry crops such as green beans, groundnut and tobacco were also grown and harvested after the paddy crop. Home garden production was mostly for home consumption but was also partially sold or exchanged.

NWFPs and the poor: The poor households had high dependence on NWFPs from the local forests and accessed them from the forests, which were important sources of livelihoods. Many items were consumed such as wild potato, wild vegetables, tree leaves, leafy plants, mushrooms, bamboo shoots and wildlife. As sources of food, the NWFPs were very important in the deficit season — the sixth and seventh months of the year. NWFPs sold/exchanged comprised, inter alia, rambutan, mushrooms, broom grass, thoop, bamboo shoots and machong fruit. One main source of income from NWFPs was kissi (tree sap) for which the traders offered a good price. However, the availability of kissi was declining in many villages with the official felling of large trees for timber. Compared to 1995, the availability of kissi had declined by almost 80 percent in 2003. The price had doubled from 600 kip4/kg in 1995 to 1 200 kip/kg (local price) and 1 600 kip/kg (in the district centre) in 2003. Bamboo shoots collected during the rainy season were abundant and also sold. The price of bamboo shoots had increased from 50 to 100 kip/bundle in 1995 to 1 000 kip/bundle in 2003. Also wild mushrooms collected during the rainy season were plentiful and the price of button mushrooms had increased sharply from 1 500 kip/kg in 1999 to 5 000 kip/kg in 2003. Although rambutan was very much in demand by the traders, its availability from the forest had declined sharply and was negligible. Iron and steel detritus from unexploded ordnance dropped by the United States in the 1970s conflict littered the forest and was sold by villagers — owing to scarcity since 1999 the price shot up from 100 kip/kg in 2001 to 800 kip/ kg in 2003. Both fish and frog collection had declined sharply by 90 percent compared to 1995. The villagers went to different areas to catch fish and frogs and exchanged them for rice.

Recommendations for strengthening local forestry: Attepeu Province urgently needs steps to increase the availability of NWFPs and to set up forest regulations for sustainable forestry and cutting of trees/timber and forest protection. Its flat land and rich forests, if properly invested in, could help the numerous poor households to pursue a sustainable means of livelihood. With subregional road connections, trade has increased over time and new markets have emerged for cashew nuts and NWFPs (such as mushrooms) for example. Kissi and namayang (NWFPs) have been poached from the Vietnamese border, where few or no forests exist. Timber felling in Attepeu and timber trade with neighbouring countries has affected poor people’s livelihoods in terms of reduced NWFPs (e.g. namayang and kissi). The Provincial Authority has approved timber felling near different villages, which has affected both large and small trees and also the livelihoods of the local poor. The villagers want to save the forest around their villages. Promoting NWFPs is important because 80 to 90 percent of the poor villagers are dependent on local NWFPs as a major source of livelihood. The following activities were suggested by the local poor:

(i) Management and utilization of important trees and local forest regeneration.
(ii) Implementing a tree replantation programme and associated protection through village groups overseen by unions of elders.
(iii) Land allocation for tree species and NWFPs important to the poor.
(iv) Exploring marketing opportunities for NWFPs.

Common lessons learned

Individual lessons learned have been indicated earlier in the country case studies. Some common lessons learned are briefly mentioned below.

(i)Strategic forest management by 2020: The local communities as primary stakeholders should have proper access and rights to local forests and be involved in related decision-making and action. Institutional rules and processes will have to be changed (for example in China and Lao PDR) in the coming years to involve local communities in decision-making related to local forestry. Access and users’ rights to the forest resources of local communities require legislation and should be made more workable through mutual understanding among the concerned stakeholders. Opportunities for forest resources to support forest-based communities, including women, need to be explored and planned for the short, medium and long term (for example India and Nepal); suitable legislation and frameworks need to be devised in coming years and implemented.
(ii)Participatory community development: Forest policy and practice cannot be kept isolated from the involvement of indigenous communities (for example China). The needs and aspirations of such communities should be taken into account for holistic forestry development in such a way that local forests are “owned” by the primary stakeholders and not threatened by bad policy and unsuitable management practices. In this regard, forest users’ access and rights need greater clarity, equitable relationships and legislation.
(iii)Regional framework for forestry: At a regional level, provisions for enriching regional forestry will have to be negotiated so as to evolve a regional future for forestry similar to that of free trade. At no cost should this picture become diluted and enough preventive and conservative measures should be plugged in to preserve and conserve regional forestry. At the moment it is not present in practice and needs proper frameworks and formats for such negotiations. Some lead agencies in forestry such as FAO can move forward in this direction so that the size and quality of forestry at the regional level is taken more seriously.
(iv)Scope for combining community forestry with leasehold forestry is important: Community elites may tend to block or influence decision-making so that gains from forestry are made in their favour. Hence, a suitable mechanism needs to be created through legislation so that the poor and voiceless in a community can participate actively within a community forestry framework through differential practices such as leasehold forestry.
(v)Bettering access of the poor to NWFPs: Poor households have crucial dependence on forest resources/NWFPs to make a living and much of this dependence is seasonal (for example India, China and Lao PDR). The poor will be in a worse state in the absence of forests and it is crucial to increase their access to such resources (as in India, China and Lao PDR).
(vi)Monitoring food–livelihood security: The local food–livelihood situation is a significant determinant of good forestry and it is important to internalize it in any plan for forest management.
(vii)Building social capital: The higher the social bonding among local communities, the easier it is to establish forest arrangements with local communities and to solicit their participation for community-based forestry. Such formation of social capital needs to be nurtured over time.
(viii)Micro- and macropolicy linkages: The microlessons learnt from the grassroots level will have to be fed into the macropolicy framework for responsive policy-making. Processes and procedures will have to be established to listen to the voices of the poor and their priorities and include them in policy-making.
(ix)Enrichment of databases: Conventional forestry databases will have to be enriched by other types of data relevant to participatory forest management. Baseline data arrangements for monitoring access to forests, utilization of forest resources, outcomes of forest-based livelihoods, participatory decision-making and many new variables may have to be introduced into forest databases.
(x)Democratic governance: There needs to be transparency in forest department activities and those of related agencies; democratic principles need to govern their relationships with local communities.
(xi)Respecting indigenous knowledge: Indigenous knowledge, practices and the experiences of local communities have to be respected and integrated into local level decision-making; documents should be maintained of such knowledge and practices.
(xii)Gender imbalances: Gender imbalances in forestry management need to be offset by involving more women’s groups in decision-making and action.


This paper was prepared with inputs from Dr Amitava Mukherjee (UN–ESCAP, Bangkok); Drs Meera Jayaswal and Sumita Roy (India); Deepak Timsina and Sarita Lama (Nepal); Zhou Shengkun (China); Soulichanh (Lao PDR); and Se (China). Thanks are due to the participants from the Commonwealth Forestry Conference 2005 for their comments on an earlier version of the paper. All errors and omissions can be attributed to the author.


Department for International Development (DFID). 1998. Sustainable rural livelihoods. What contribution can we make? Edited by Diana Carney. London, DFID.

Ghimire, K.B. & Pimbert, M., ed. 1997. Social change and conservation. London, Earthscan Publications.

Mukherjee, N. 1994. Participatory rural appraisal, methodology and applications. New Delhi, Concept Publishing Company.

Mukherjee, N. 1997. Participatory appraisal of natural resources. New Delhi, Concept Publishing Company.

Mukherjee, N. 2002. Participatory learning and action: with 100 field methods. New Delhi, Concept Publishing Company.

Mukherjee, N. & DasGupta, R., eds. 2004. Learning to share. Volume 3. New Delhi, Concept Publishing Company.

Mukherjee, N., Timsina, D. & Lama, S. 2003. Study report on leasehold hills, leasehold forestry and forage development project — phase II, sustainable livelihoods analysis. IFAD.

Mukherjee, N., Chanh, S., Shengkun, Z. & SLA team. 2004. Study report on sustainable livelihoods analysis in Laos. IFAD.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 1996. Report on human development in Bangladesh, a pro-poor agenda. Volume 3. Dhaka, UNDP.

Appendix 1

Sustainable livelihoods approach: A sustainable livelihoods (SL) framework was adopted for each country case study. Such a framework accounts for the factors that contribute to poverty and vulnerability given the existing different types of resources, for example forests, and the institutional framework and policies. Some core concepts of the SL approach are that it is people-centred, holistic, dynamic, builds on strengths, links macro and micro and underscores sustainability (DFID 1998; Some core SL concepts are listed below:

Based on the SL framework as indicated above, the field methodology of Participatory Rapid Rural Appraisal (PRRA) (see UNDP 1996) was adopted for interactive sessions with poor groups in the study villages. PRRA is a variation of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), widely used across developing countries, where information is required by external agencies but must be expressed by the communities themselves in their own way. The tools and techniques applied included semi-structured interviews, focus group discussion, criteria listing and scoring, poverty grouping/mapping, livelihood time line, listing, oral livelihood analysis, livelihood matrix, preference ranking, social/resource/institutional mapping, matrix scoring, institutional (Venn) diagramming, joint walk and observation and seasonality analysis. The villages studied for each case study were selected based on criteria such as remoteness/proximity from a metalled road; nearness to forests; villages dependent on forests for livelihoods and broad coverage of socioecological–physical features.

Appendix 2

Food–livelihood calendar and rural landless women — Benagariya and Mulbandh villages in India

MonthLivelihoods, food availability and vulnerabilities
Mid-April to mid-JuneBenageriya: For most women, agricultural work or other jobs are not available. However, a few married women join their husbands to harvest paddy for 8 days. Between 2 to 4 days of work is available for a few women who assist men in earthworks. Women are paid at Rs10/day plus a bowl of puff rice. Most women stitch sal leaves for making plates and also collect a few bags of dry leaves/twigs to sell. On many days poor families are forced to reduce food intake and live on empty stomachs. Mulbandh: Only 5 to 8 days of work available for harvesting boro (irrigated dry season) paddy for which they get Rs30/day. The women sell dry twigs and leaves from the forest. Many women prepare chura from paddy rice for better-off farmers in other localities and receive paddy rice in return. In Baisakh, they borrow 60 to 70 kg of rice from better-off farmers for their own consumption and repay it by working for them.
Mid- June to mid-AugustBenageriya: The women get transplantation work for 10 to 12 days at a daily wage of Rs21 plus some puff rice, for which they need to travel far. In some years forest-related work is also available under JFM. Some women are engaged in weeding on agricultural land for 2 to 10 days at a daily wage of Rs21 plus a bowl of puff rice. With their income they are able to buy vegetables and rice and also collect small snails to eat. Mulbandh: The women go to nearby villages and prepare chura from paddy for better-off farmers and receive paddy in return. Some also work in farmers’ homes. Some transplantation work is available during these months for 8 to 10 days for which they get Rs.25 and 1.86 kg of puff rice per day. Another activity undertaken by women in a group is visiting distant waterbodies/ponds and collecting snails and fish to sell in the nearby market. The food status of landless poor households is relatively better during this month.
Mid-August to mid-FebruaryBenageriya: Agricultural work is not available for all women. Some women collect and sell atandi leaves to farmers who use them as fuel and pay Rs5 for one bundle of leaves. A few women get 2 to 10 days work related to the harvesting of khudi paddy and threshing of paddy, although this is done mainly by men. Some work related to rice husking and winnowing is available for 2 to 4 women. Some women try to survive on money earned by men and also draw upon the savings made during Ashar. They try to keep some cash for medical treatment since illness is rampant during the monsoon. Others survive by eating less. To supplement food stocks, they also try to catch fish from farmland once the rainwater recedes. The survival strategy is one of beg and borrow from people. Survival is harsh. Mulbandh: The women do weeding for which they get Rs25/day plus puff rice. This work is available for 2 to 4 days. They continue with their activity of collecting fish and snails and selling them. Some collect dry twigs and leaves and sell them while other women go to nearby lakes and ponds and catch fish and snails to sell. The livelihood from preparing chura lasts until Poush and Agrahyan. Such diverse jobs help women to earn a living.
Mid-February to mid-AprilBenageriya: The agricultural work is over by Magh and Poush because most farmers grow one crop. The women enter the forest and collect fuel and sell it at Rs1/bag, usually earning around Rs5/day. In the absence of work opportunities the food situation is grim. Mulbandh: The women’s group visits a distant pond in a lorry, collects small snails and sells them at Rs3/kg. Sometimes they are able to gather around 25 kg of snails, a small portion of which they eat. The food situation is better compared to the earlier period.

Note: Baisakh, Ashar, Poush, Agrahyan and Magh are months in the local calendar.

1 Development Tracks, Training, Research and Consultancy, 52/82 C.R. Park (Basement), New Delhi, 110019, India. E-mail:
2 15 mu = 1 hectare.
3 8 yuan = US$1.00.
4 9 067 Lao kip = US$1.00 (September 2007).

Communities in conservation: protected area management and enhanced conservation in Banagladesh

Sharif Ahmed Mukul1 and Shimona A. Quazi2

In the last few decades, the natural resource base of most developing countries has decreased alarmingly because of enormous population pressure and extreme poverty. Bangladesh is no exception, having lost most of its forest in the last 30 years. The Government of Bangladesh (GoB) has adopted various approaches to conserve the country’s remaining biodiversity, including protected areas (PAs). However, the creation of PAs alone has not produced positive conservation results as expected, due to a purely ecological focus that excluded the needs of local forest-dependent people. The introduction of community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) for nature conservation in PAs is relatively new for Bangladesh compared to other South Asian countries, but it seems to have effected significant changes. The GoB recently adopted CBNRM in five of its PAs as part of a pilot programme in collaborative management. This paper is a case study of the changing trends in PA management, people’s livelihoods and attitudes in and around one of these pilot sites. We observed that some changes have already taken place in forest resource collection patterns and in the attitudes of people in the locality. People’s income sources and dependency on protected forests have also noticeably shifted away from forest areas in the last year. Although gradual, people’s participation seems to be changing the direction of future forest conservation in Bangladesh. We conclude that bringing a larger number of people under various income-generating schemes, clearly defining the rights and responsibilities of the local people in PAs and ensuring more effective governance should be the next steps for the future of participatory management in the country.

Keywords: protected areas, co-management, livelihoods, alternative income generation, Bangladesh


Forests cover almost 25 percent of the world’s land area and are critical in meeting human needs for water, food, shelter, medicine, fuelwood, fodder and timber. They also provide a wide range of environmental services, including biodiversity conservation, watershed protection, soil protection and global climate change mitigation (Landell-Mills and Porras 2002). In spite of their value, forest and biodiversity losses have increased globally, at rates that are vastly higher than ever before (Kaimowitz and Angelsen 1998). Over the last 8 000 years, the world has lost about 50 percent of its forest cover, but most of this has occurred in the past 30 years (Bryant et al. 1997). Over 15 million hectares of natural forest are lost in the tropics every year, which is more than the area of Nepal or Arkansas (State) in the United States (FAO 2006). It is now widely perceived that the poorer populations of most developing countries, many of whom live in and around the world’s remaining forests, are somehow responsible for deforestation and will be most affected by its consequences (Sunderlin et al. 2005; Koziell 2001).

The establishment of protected areas (PAs) is one of the key global actions that are being taken in the face of massive forest and biodiversity loss. For a long time they have been considered the most effective and widespread measure for conserving nature and natural resources in situ, and are regarded as the cornerstone of all national and regional conservation strategies (Mulongoy and Chape 2004; Lewis 1996). Globally, the number of PAs has been increasing significantly over the past few decades and presently there are more than 100 000 PA sites worldwide covering nearly 12 percent of the world’s land surface (Scherr et al. 2004). However, simply setting aside PAs has not produced positive results as expected, due to their purely ecological focus and low recognition of traditional and indigenous people’s customary forest rights and practices. Such omissions have led to misunderstandings between PA managers and local forest user communities, ultimately resulting in PAs that fail to meet their conservation goals (Borrini-Feyerbend 2002; Gadgil 1990).

As a response to this situation, several people-oriented approaches have been developed and widely promoted by various international conservation agencies over the last 20 years, under the broad banner of community-based natural resource management, or CBNRM (Fisher 2003; Jeanrenaud 2002). This approach has been further modified for different field contexts and may be referred to as co-management, collaborative management, participatory management, joint management, or adaptive management (see Colfer 2005; Fisher 2000; Kothari et al. 2000 for more information). Community-based conservation is a major emerging issue for conservation policy in Asia, yet it is not being addressed uniformly across the continent (A.T. Smith, personal communication, 2007).

As one of the most densely-populated countries in Asia, Bangladesh is an instructive microcosm of Asian conservation. The country was densely forested until the colonial period, with about 20 percent forest cover; even until 1980 it was home to about half the bird species and a quarter of all mammal species in South Asia (Poffenberger 2000). Currently, forest cover is estimated at 6 percent of the total land area and many species have become locally extinct. Although the beginnings of government conservation efforts can be traced to 1966, before Independence, few of the goals were actually met (FAO 2000). At present, Bangladesh has 18 PAs, which cover 1.67 percent of the total land area. These figures are among the lowest in the world (World Resources Institute 2007), yet many species of global value exist in these sites. At the same time, many of the rural poor are either forest dwellers or dependent on forests for subsistence (Sharma et al. in preparation; Roy and DeCosse 2006). Collaborative management is therefore a necessity for Bangladesh, not an option, if the country is to maintain its forests and biodiversity into the future.

Although Bangladesh has a long history of community involvement in forest management, beginning with taungya (agroforestry) systems in 1871, and various social forestry projects from the 1960s onwards, the concept of co-management in PAs is a novel approach (Zashimuddin 2004; Poffenberger 2000). In 2002, the Forest Department of Bangladesh began to develop a programme of forest co-management called the Nishorgo Support Project (NSP), which is partially funded and supported by USAID. The project covers five pilot sites that have been created out of existing reserve forests in the areas. All five sites are located in hilly areas, which are atypical of the otherwise flat deltaic landscape. Consequently these sites harbour unique flora and fauna, notably migratory birds and several endangered species of primates.

A key challenge for the NSP is addressing the prevailing misconceptions among local and indigenous forest communities and respective forest-governing authorities that so far have hindered effective forest conservation. Various initiatives have been taken at these sites to increase people’s active involvement in PA management and conservation, ranging from awareness-raising activities to developing alternative means of livelihood. In this study, we collected qualitative and quantitative data to explore the changing trends in forest use, local livelihoods and people’s attitudes towards co-management over a one-year period at one of the northeastern pilot sites. This work is an important initial step for assessing the progress of this new approach to conservation in Bangladesh.


The case study site

Satchari National Park is one of three Nishorgo PAs situated in the northeastern hilly region of Bangladesh (Figure 1). The park is one of the newest PAs comprising about 243 hectares of forest carved out of the Raghunandan Hills Reserve Forest (RF) in the Satchari Range, situated nearly 130 kilometres northeast of Dhaka. Administratively the park is located in Chunarughat Upazila, an administrative subdistrict of Habiganj District. India borders the park to the south and other adjacent lands are under tea estates, rubber and agar (Aquilaria) plantations and paddy fields. The area was previously classified as moist evergreen forest, but the large-scale conversion of indigenous forest cover to plantations has resulted in just 200 hectares of natural forest (Choudhury et al. 2004); the rest is secondary (raised plantation) forest. The park is also one of the last habitats in Bangladesh of the endangered primate, the hoolock gibbon (Hoolock hoolock) (NSP 2006).

Figure 1. Northeastern protected areas of Bangladesh

Selection of the villages

Local people have traditionally collected various resources from the national park and adjacent reserve forest in the Satchari area. A previous study by Mollah et al. (2004) identified 19 villages with varied degrees of dependency and interest in the national park. This included one village, Tiprapara, which is located within the national park and inhabited by people from the Tripura ethnic community. The other villages that have stakes with the national park are located about three to eight kilometres away. For the present study, we randomly selected four villages, one from each of the first four forest dependency categories as identified by Mollah et al. (2004), i.e. major, medium to major, medium, and medium to minor. The five villages classified as having minor stakes in the forest were not considered. However, after field observation, we found that the rankings of two of the villages, Deorgach and Ratanpur, had changed. Accordingly we adjusted our categories from those of Mollah et al. (2004) (Table 1).

Table 1. Study villages, location and sample size

Village Location Pop. (HHs) Sample size (n) Forestpractices* Forest Dependency
Tiprapara Inside 22 n = 22 Collect fuelwood, house building materials, fruit and other NWFPs, cultivate lemon and produce Major
Ratanpur Outside 156 n = 16 Mainly involved with illegal tree felling and collecting fuelwood Medium to major
Deorgach Outside east 316 n = 32 Mainly collect fuelwood, some involved with illegal tree felling Medium
Goachnagar Outside west 328 n = 33 Mainly collect fuelwood, some involved with illegal tree felling Medium to major

* As described by Mollah et al. (2004).

Data collection and field techniques

The study was carried out from January 2006 to January 2007. We arranged focus group discussions (FGD) in each of our study villages to construct community maps and community profiles of the respective villages. Information gathered during the community mapping exercises was also checked and verified through field visits in the study villages. During the FGD we used local people’s perceptions regarding their dependency on the forest to develop three preliminary forest dependency categories, i.e. completely or mostly dependent, moderately dependent and least dependent. We also used the group discussions to collect information regarding comanagement incentives, efforts to enhance livelihoods and efforts to motivate people for comanagement in the study villages.

We then conducted two sets of formal household surveys, one year apart, using semi-structured questionnaires in our four sample villages. In Tiprapara, we took a 100 percent sample (i.e. 22 respondents), because villagers are highly dependent on the park for their subsistence and income, and because the village is very small. In other study locations a 10 percent sample of households was taken from each of the three forest dependency categories using a stratified random sampling approach. During the study we interviewed 103 households with 597 members (49 percent female), out of a population of 818 households from the studied villages.

The household surveys used a semi-structured questionnaire to interview the heads of the selected households. Details about household demographic and educational status, income sources, forest-based income, products harvested from nearby forests, quantity of forest produce harvested and livelihood patterns were collected and noted. Additional data on the household’s overall views and perceived benefits from the existing forest management system and their expectations from the local forest governing authorities were also recorded. Respondents were free to express their views on all topics.


General findings

We used the data from the FGD to classify the households into three income categories. These were: extremely poor (monthly income below Tk2 000)3, medium to poor (income between Tk2 000 and Tk7 500 per month) and rich (monthly income is Tk7 500 or higher). Based on our income scale approximately 37 percent of households in the four sample villages were extremely poor, followed by medium to poor (32 percent) and rich (31 percent).

The literacy rate in the villages was about 54 percent. The primary occupations observed over all the study villages were agriculture, mainly paddy cultivation (37 percent), followed by non-wood forest product (NWFP) extraction (18 percent), timber poaching (18 percent), day labour (15 percent), small business (5 percent), government and non-government services (4 percent) and overseas employment (2 percent).

The scenario was different in Tiprapara, as it is located inside the park and there is no agricultural land, unlike the other villages. Villagers from Tiprapara worked mainly as day labourers (38.5 percent), followed by NWFP extractors (mainly for fuelwood, 32 percent). Forest patrolling is the main service done by Tiprapara residents (82 percent of respondents).

Co-management activities aimed at improving livelihoods and community participation

The Nishorgo Programme of the Forest Department is developing a range of options and incentives for the people of the area, aimed at regulating forest use. Different strategies have been used for the interior and exterior villages at Satchari National Park as their needs and limitations are dissimilar. Villages located inside national parks are particularly vulnerable to the changes that occur when a park is created, while exterior villages may be impacted in ways that are less visible or obvious, yet equally important for long-term management.

The ethnic Tripura community living inside the park has a long tradition of various forest practices, such as jhum or shifting cultivation, hunting and the collection of fuelwood and harvesting fruit and building materials from the forest. Because the declaration of the area as a PA reduced their access to many of these uses, the Forest Department granted the Tripura formal permission to cultivate lemon within a specific confined zone within the park. Additionally, since there are no alternate energy sources available for domestic use, the village has informal permission to collect fuelwood for their own consumption. The Forest Department has also recently allotted 0.5 hectare of denuded forest land from the park buffer area to each Tripura household, as part of a long-term benefit-sharing agreement (J. Roy, personal communication, 2006).

Most of the Tripura villagers, who were formerly involved in illegal logging and fuelwood collection from the park, now work as members of the Forest Department’s forest patrolling team. Several teams from Tiprapara also work in rotations guarding the forest. Other alternative income-generating activities that are being promoted include ecotourism, livestock rearing and weaving traditional Tripura fabrics. Men and women both receive training and initial support for these ventures and are now contributing considerably to their family incomes.

In the other three study villages, such incentives were confined mainly to technical support and financial assistance. Some illegal loggers from these villages have been rehabilitated with training and loans for alternative income generation activities such as nursery raising, home gardening, aquaculture and cattle rearing. Nishorgo has also held tour guide training for educated youths in these villages. Five groups of women were assisted in raising funds on a cooperative basis to further invest the funds in small enterprise development (purchasing cattle etc.). Table 2 lists the NSP support activities made to date in the study villages.

Table 2. Activities to improve local livelihoods and generate alternative income in the villages in and around Satchari National Park

Type of support
Tiprapara Ratanpur Deorgach Goachnagar
Cattle rearing/fattening
Ecoguide training - -
Fisheries - -
Forest patrolling team - -
Land (i.e. buffer area) - - -
Nursery raising - -
Piggeries - - -
Promotion of handicrafts - - -
Vegetable farming -

One of the problems in the application of these initiatives that was identified through the FGD is the uneven distribution of support within the villages. Although some villagers are happy with the initiatives undertaken to alter conventional forest practices, villagers who are not receiving livelihood training or support from the co-management authorities expressed their dissatisfaction, as the creation of the PA has restricted their forest use and affected their incomes.

The exclusion of local people from natural resource management is one of the main causes of unsustainable resource management. In Satchari National Park, Nishorgo has formed a comanagement committee (CMC) with 19 representatives from various forest stakeholder groups. The objective of this committee is to allow local people to actively contribute to the management decisions of the park by sharing and expressing their views and interests at regular committee meetings. Our FGD indicated that in most cases, villagers felt that they had enough access to the CMC, and that people are now increasingly consulted to take new decisions regarding park management. However, clearly there are still gaps and inequities in the new management system that prevent effective communication and resolution of problems affecting local stakeholders. These must be addressed in order for holistic PA management to succeed in the long run.

Changing trends in forest use, forest dependency and forest-based income

Traditionally, the people of the Satchari area have engaged in various types of resource collection. These include forest villagers, poor people from villages outside the park and tea estate labourers. We found that many households, particularly poor households in our study villages, rely partly or entirely on the national park and the surrounding reserve forest for fuelwood, timber, bamboo, fruit, medicinal plants and other NWFPs. Local people in the study area collected timber, fuelwood and 13 other NWFPs from the adjacent forests. In addition, day labourers from all of our study villages collect fuelwood on their off-days (mainly during agricultural off-periods).

In our quantitative analysis of the new management system at Satchari National Park, we considered changing trends in the collection of forest products, changes in local forest dependency levels and changes in respondents’ income sources. In our comparisons we analysed the data in terms of three main forest products: timber, fuelwood and NWFPs. Because findings for most NWFPs were very variable across the four sample villages, they were not considered individually in this analysis. However, fuelwood was considered as a separate forest product even though it is an NWFP, due to its high significance in local livelihoods. The results suggest that people’s involvement in forest product collection decreased over the study period. We also found a shift in people’s dependency away from the forest, most of which was occurring in Tiprapara and Ratanpur, but was less apparent in Deorgach and Goachnagar. The extent of people’s incomes based on forest resources also made a noticeable shift towards non-forest sources. The findings are described in more detail hereunder.

Forest use and forest products: All households from the village inside the park, Tiprapara, collect fuelwood from the forest for both domestic consumption and sale, but only 60 percent of respondents from Ratanpur, 55 percent of those from Deorgach and 56 percent of Goachnagar respondents reported collecting fuelwood from the park for sale or own use in 2006. In contrast, illegal timber was harvested, only for sale, and almost exclusively by villagers from outside the park — Ratanpur, Goachnagar and Deorgach (Table 3).

Table 3. Numbers of respondents from the four study villages collecting forest products from Satchari National Park for sale in 2006 and 2007

Timber Fuelwood NWFPs
Village (n=) Jan 2006 Jan 2007 % change Jan 2006 Jan 2007 % change Jan 2006 Jan 2007 % change
Tiprapara (22) 1 0 -5 6 2 -18 1 0 -5
Ratanpur (16) 8 3 -31 5 4 -6 4 3 -6
Deorgach (32) 6 7 3 3 4 3 2 3 3
Goachnagar (33) 4 1 -9 2 2 0 0 0 0
Total 19 11 -8 16 12 -4 7 6 -1

In terms of forest products extracted solely for sale, the overall number of respondents extracting forest resources decreased during the study period (Figure 2). In January 2006, around 18 percent of respondents were involved in timber poaching from the nearby forest, which declined to around 11 percent in January 2007. Overall household involvement in collecting fuelwood and other NWFPs also declined considerably.

Figure 2. Overall change in the collection of forest products between January 2006 and January 2007

Percent reduction in forest resource extraction was uniformly greater for the two villages with higher forest dependence, Ratanpur and Tiprapara (Table 3). Both these villages reported lower levels of resource extraction in 2007, with Ratanpur showing the greatest reduction occurring in terms of timber felling: Fifty percent of the Ratanpur respondents had previously claimed to fell trees in 2006 and less than 25 percent said they felled trees in 2007. In terms of fuelwood collection, Tiprapara reported the most reduction over the study period. In the two villages that were classified as less dependent, where forest extraction was low to begin with, there was no considerable change. Goachnagar showed a reduction in tree felling, no change in NWFP collection levels and an increase in fuelwood collection from about 6 percent of surveyed households in 2006 to 9 percent in 2007 (i.e. one household). However, in Deorgach, extraction showed a very slight increase in household involvement in timber poaching and NWFP collection, from 19 to 22 percent for timber and from 6 to 10 percent for NWFPs. These changes represent one additional household in each case. This may be less of a concern for NWFP extraction because the levels are low, however in terms of timber felling this may warrant further investigation. Deorgach and Goachnagar have both been identified as villages with many illegal tree fellers and there are several sawmills and fuelwood traders in Deorgach (Mollah et al. 2004).

Forest dependency: We derived three categories of household forest dependency (as opposed to overall village dependency) using a combination of local people’s perceptions regarding their dependency on the forest obtained during the FGD, together with a calculated dependency value. To determine a household’s level of forest dependency, we considered the contribution of the forest to the household’s annual cash income — i.e. the direct cash derived from the sale of forest products and the cash value of products consumed from the forest, which a household could otherwise have purchased from the market. According to levels of forest-based income, the categories were: Tk154 000 or more per year corresponding to high forest dependence, Tk54 000 to Tk24 000 yearly for moderate dependence and below Tk24 000 per year for least dependence.

We found that overall people’s dependency on forest products varies with their socio-economic condition, i.e. people with higher incomes rely on forests less than those from poor households (Figure 3).

Table 4 shows the change in forest dependency of the households in the four study villages between 2006 and 2007. The changes were most striking for the most forest-dependent village, Tiprapara. In one year, the percentage of people in the most dependent group dropped from 67 percent (15 persons) to 18 percent (four persons), mostly moving into the moderately dependent class. In Ratanpur, the village with medium to major forest dependency, the percentage change from the most dependent group to the moderately dependent group also showed reduced forest dependency, but at a lower magnitude (6 percent). The less forest-dependent villages, Deorgach and Goachnagar, showed negligible changes: A small number of people moved from moderate forest dependence to either higher or lower levels of dependence. The reason for this pattern is primarily because Nishorgo has put the most effort into changing people’s forest-use levels in those villages with the highest dependency levels. However, the fact that Tiprapara is a very small, easily accessible village may affect the rate at which co-management can effect changes, as well as the actual calculated values.

Figure 3. Variation of forest dependency according to income level

Table 4. Percentages of respondents in each household forest dependency class for the four study villages in 2006 and 2007

Village Most dependent % Moderately dependent % Least dependent %
2006 2007 2006 2007 2006 2007
Tiprapara 67 18 17 59 16 23
Ratanpur 22 16 29 31 49 53
Deorgach 11 12 12 9 77 79
Goachnagar 8 9 13 11 79 80

Forest-based incomes and local livelihoods: We found an overall shift away from forest resources in local people’s income patterns over the study period, for all four villages. We classed local people’s income into two types, forest-based income and non-forest-based income. Forest-based income was further classified into three categories, namely illegal income from timber, income from fuelwood and income from NWFPs. All other forms of income were considered and calculated as non-forest income, including income from business, agriculture, services and income-generating activities facilitated by Nishorgo. Figure 4 illustrates the overall change across the four villages in various income sources from 2006 to 2007. Non-forest income over all four villages increased from 68 to 77 percent during the study period. The reason for this shift can be attributed largely to increased opportunities for people to work in non-forest sectors, including alternative income generation (AIG) activities under the co-management project. For example, information on illegal income from timber extraction was provided by former illegal loggers who had recently stopped logging and moved to other occupations such as nursery raising and forest patrolling. This is further discussed hereunder.

Figure 4. Shift in income sources between January 2006 and January 2007

Changes in people’s attitudes and responses towards comanagement

Although access to the support schemes under Nishorgo for people in the Satchari area is still very limited, the preliminary results of these efforts are encouraging. It is important to have an understanding of people’s perceptions of the project, a well as their motivation for participating, in order to better anticipate the future needs of the local people that the project should address. The FGD revealed an overall positive view of co-management; according to a local person from Ratanpur interviewed in January 2007, people in the four villages are considerably less involved in practices such as illegal logging, fuelwood collection and NWFP harvesting in the forest compared to previous years.

During the study we also met several former illegal poachers who now contribute to the betterment of their society by participating in environmental restoration activities such as tree planting (Box 1). Nishorgo and other NGOs have worked to create AIG opportunities among primary forest stakeholders in Satchari and their dependency on the forest for livelihoods is decreasing. A greater understanding of the necessity of forest conservation to their own survival and to secure their future generations, combined with a viable means of earning a living, has motivated some people to change their minds as well as their occupations. For some of the local poor who were previously forest “destroyers”, co-management also offers a chance to improve their social status, as they can now contribute to forest protection in spite of their past activities. A former illegal logger of Tiprapara explained this view in January 2007: “Nishorgo recruited us as forest protectors instead of as illegal loggers, which has made our lives more secure. We are more respectable in society than we were before.”

Abul, age 25, is from Ratanpur and used to work as an unskilled illegal logger. In January 2006, he took Nishorgo training on nursery raising and also received raw materials from Nishorgo to develop his own nursery. His yearly profit from the nursery is now more than Tk50 000 per year. He and his family now work at the nursery and he has an agreement with the Forest Department to supply seedlings for their annual plantation programme. He is now a role model for the youth of the Satchari area.

Box 1. Shafiqul Islam Abul: from tree cutter to tree grower

Abul, age 25, is from Ratanpur and used to work as an unskilled illegal logger. In January 2006, he took Nishorgo training on nursery raising and also received raw materials from Nishorgo to develop his own nursery. His yearly profit from the nursery is now more than Tk50 000 per year. He and his family now work at the nursery and he has an agreement with the Forest Department to supply seedlings for their annual plantation programme. He is now a role model for the youth of the Satchari area.

Abul stands proudly in his nursery with a new outlook.


The purpose of community-based PA management in Bangladesh is to reduce and reverse the country’s rapid decrease in forest cover, by providing or creating alternatives to deforestation for the local forest-dependent people. Ensuring livelihood security for local stakeholders is critical to forest conservation; therefore, the creation of alternative income sources to shift local stakeholders’ income away from the forests is a specific objective of the Nishorgo Project. In our study we assessed the degree to which opportunities for people to change their forest practices, people’s perceptions and attitudes towards collaborative management and their livelihood patterns have been affected by the new management system.

We believe that our study accurately represents the overall co-management situation in Satchari National Park. We found small but definite positive changes in PA management, local people’s attitudes and responses to co-management and forest resource collection patterns in the area, even within the short period of our assessment. People’s income sources and dependency on protected forests have noticeably shifted away from forest areas in the last year. On the whole, satisfaction and morale are high, there are some exemplary success stories and local people are increasingly consulted in decisions regarding park management. People’s participation appears to be gradually improving the prospects for forest conservation in Bangladesh.

However, we also uncovered some inequities in the current implementation of co-management that may become problematic if left unattended. The uneven distribution of AIG support, both within and across villages, was voiced as a problem by villagers in group discussions. Benefits are not always equitably or rationally distributed within the same village and rural producers need improved market access to sell their products. Other recent studies in Satchari and other Nishorgo sites indicate that AIG opportunities are sometimes inappropriately matched to the recipient, e.g. poultry-rearing assistance to inexperienced individuals (Subhani unpublished data; Karim unpublished data). Such irregularities can undermine conservation efforts by wasting limited resources and reducing people’s confidence in a project. Similarly, a study to assess local people’s attitudes towards conservation and tourism in the Sariska Tiger Reserve in India found that because of limited AIG opportunities and motivation in the villages outside the reserves, villagers experienced few benefits from tourism (Sekhar 2003). Similar observations were made by Malla (2000) in Nepal.

Our quantitative data on forest use weakly support the claim that AIG support is unequal across different villages: Although the most forest-dependent villages have reduced forest resource extraction considerably, resource extraction is increasing (albeit very slightly) in the less-forest dependent villages. Illegal forest extraction is extremely difficult to track, but our discussions with reformed ex-loggers suggest that a possible explanation for this is that the less-dependent villages receive less AIG assistance from the co-management programme. This warrants further examination of the villages surrounding Satchari National Park, especially as only a few of these villages are treated as having high (major or medium–major) interests in the forest. Out of the 14 villages round the park with forest interests not classified as “minor”, ten villages were classified in lower-dependency categories in the Mollah et al. report (2004).

The risk of focusing AIG support and other conservation initiatives too heavily on a small number of high-interest groups is that the long-term forest impact of a much larger number of moderately forest-dependent groups may be underestimated. Adaptive management calls for regular monitoring and evaluation so that tasks can be administered and implemented on a flexible schedule based on appropriate responses to a given situation, rather than a pre-set plan. As the highest risk groups demonstrate the desired outcomes and management of the more obvious impacts improves, it will be time to work more closely with the other “less-dependent” stakeholders. Villages known to harbour illegal loggers, or those located closer to sawmills and wood traders should receive special attention in this regard, as the creation of the park has undoubtedly affected people’s earnings.

Another critical long-term issue for park management in Bangladesh that we identified in this study is governance. A historically long and widespread pattern of corruption and abuse at various levels of forest management has been one of the main barriers to establishing co-management at all five pilot sites. However, co-management is an opportunity for the Forest Department and local stakeholders to open up channels of communication that were previously non-existent. Our study highlighted that progress is being made in this area, yet both local people in PAs and local authorities are still unclear as to their rights and responsibilities with respect to park management. Addressing this gap by empowering the stakeholders is the key for more effective governance in participatory management.

The long-term sustainability of co-management in Satchari National Park ultimately depends on poverty reduction through broader, more equitable and appropriate distribution of AIG programmes to local people. This in turn requires that the governance mechanisms of park comanagement must also be more clearly defined and made more efficient. Given the time and financial constraints of the pilot project, as well as the fact that co-management is still in its infancy in Bangladesh, we recognize that the level of investment required in order to do this may not be available at this stage. However, these are critical issues for the long-term success of this and other community-based forest management projects in the country. Particularly because Nishorgo is a short-term donor-funded programme to initiate co-management at the pilot sites, sustainable sources of financing must also be secured in order to maintain the actual comanagement systems into the future. Building stronger collaborations with local NGOs, administrators and institutions with overlapping objectives, as well as with the private sector, may also provide more cost-effective means to address shared long-term aims of co-management, conservation and socio-economic improvement.

Box 2. Some Nishorgo initiatives for socio-economic uplift in Satchari area

  • Provide training on nursery raising, fisheries, home gardening, livestock and poultry rearing; provide initial support in terms of start-up supplies (e.g. for nurseries, seedling bags, seeds, fertilizer; for livestock rearing, animals and feed).
  • Rehabilitate former illegal poachers by involving them in forest patrolling.
  • Form co-management committees with representatives from the local elite, different forest user groups, local women, etc.
  • Train local educated youth as ecotour guides for emerging ecotourism prospects.
  • Arrange field tours to other PAs with exemplary management regimes.
  • Create awareness through billboards, stage shows, cultural programmes, group discussions, essay and art competitions at the school level, student hikes, etc.


The research was partially funded by USAID under a joint fellowship programme of the East– West Center and Nishorgo Support Project. We are indebted to Dr Jefferson Fox, Mr Mohammad Belal Uddin, Mr A.Z.M. Manzoor Rashid and Mrs Begum Marzan for their invaluable assistance and guidance during various stages of the study. The field assistance of Mr Joydip Roy is also gratefully acknowledged. Finally, we express our deep gratitude to the inhabitants of our four study villages for their heartiest cooperation during field data collection.


Borrini-Feyerbend, G. 2002. Indigenous and local communities and protected areas: rethinking the relationship. Parks, 12 (2): 5–15.

Bryant, D., Nielsen, D. & Tangley, L. 1997. The last frontier forests: ecosystems and economies on the edge. Washington, DC, World Resources Institute.

Choudhury, J.K., Biswas, S.R., Islam, M.S., Rahman, O. & Uddin, S.N. 2004. Biodiversity of Satchari Reserved Forest, Habiganj. Dhaka, Bangladesh, IUCN Bangladesh Country Office.

Colfer, C.J.P., ed. 2005. The complex forest: communities, uncertainty and adaptive collaborative management. Washington, DC, Resource for the Future (RFF) and Bogor, Indonesia, Center for International Forestry Research.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 2006. Global forest resource assessment 2005: progress towards sustainable forest management. FAO Forestry Paper 147. Rome, Italy, FAO.

FAO. 2000. Bangladesh country profiles: FAO forestry report (available at

Fisher, R.J. 2000. Decentralization and devolution in forest management: a conceptual overview. In T. Enters, P.B. Durst & M. Victor, eds. Decentralization and devolution of forest management in Asia and the Pacific, pp. 3–10. Bangkok, Thailand: RECOFTC and FAO– RAP.

Fisher, R.J. 2003. Innovations, persistence and change: reflections on the state of community forestry. In The Community forestry current innovations and experiences, pp. 16–29. Bangkok, Thailand, RECOFTC and FAO-RAP.

Gadgil, M. 1990. India’s deforestation: patterns and processes. Society and Natural Resources, 3: 131–141.

Jeanrenaud, S. 2002. People-oriented approaches in global conservation: Is the leopard changing its spots? London, IIED and Brighton, UK, Institute for Development Studies (IDS).

Kaimowitz, D. & Angelsen, A. 1998. Economic models of tropical deforestation: a review. Bogor, Indonesia, CIFOR.

Kothari, A., Pathak, N. & Vania, F., eds. 2000. Where communities care: community-based wildlife and ecosystem management in South Asia. Pune, India, Kalpavriksh and London, UK, IIED.

Koziell, I. 2001. Diversity not adversity: Sustaining livelihoods with biodiversity. London, UK, IIED and Department for International Development (DFID).

Landell-Mills, N. & Porras, I.T. 2002. Silver bullet or fools’ gold? A global review of markets for forest environmental services and their impact on the poor. London, UK, IIED.

Lewis, C., ed. 1996. Managing conflicts in protected areas. Gland, Switzerland, Keystone Center and IUCN.

Malla, Y.B. 2000. Impact of community forestry on rural livelihoods and food security. Unasylva, 202(52): 37–45.

Mollah, A.R., Kundu, D.K. & Rahman, M.M. 2004. Site-level field appraisal for protected area co-management: Satchari Reserve Forest. Dhaka, Bangladesh, Nature Conservation Management (NACOM).

Mulongoy, K.J. & Chape, S.P., eds. 2004. Protected areas and biodiversity: an overview of key issues. Montreal, Canada, SCBD and Cambridge, UK, UNEP-WCMC.

Nishorgo Support Project (NSP). 2006. Protected areas of Bangladesh: a visitor’s guide. Dhaka, Bangladesh, Nishorgo Support Project.

Poffenberger, M., ed. 2000. Communities and forest management in South Asia. Indonesia, IUCN, DFID and Asia Forest Network. pp. 35–46.

Roy, M.K. & DeCosse, P. 2006. Managing demand for protected areas in Bangladesh: poverty alleviation, illegal commercial use and nature recreation. Policy Matters, 14: March 2006. Available online at

Scherr, S.J., White, A. & Kaimowitz, D. 2004. A new agenda for forest conservation and poverty reduction — making markets work for low-income producers. Washington, DC, Forest Trends, Bogor, Indonesia, CIFOR and Cambridge, UK, IUCN.

Sekhar, N.U. 2003. Local people’s attitudes towards conservation and wildlife tourism around Sariska Tiger Reserve, India. Environmental Management, 69(2003): 339–347.

Sharma R., DeCosse, P., Roy, M.K., Khan, M. & Mazumder, A. In preparation. Comanagement of protected areas in South Asia with special reference to Bangladesh. Nishorgo Support Project (NSP), Bangladesh.

Sunderlin, W.D., Angelsen, A., Belcher, B., Burgers, P., Nasi, R., Santoso, L. & Wunder, S. 2005. Livelihoods, forests, and conservation in developing countries: An overview. World Development, 33(9): 1383–1402.

World Resources Institute (WRI). 2007. Earth trends: the environmental information portal. Available at Washington, DC, World Resources Institute.

Zashimuddin, M. 2004. Community forestry for poverty reduction in Bangladesh. In H.C. Sim, S. Appanah & W.M. Lu, eds. Forests for poverty reduction: Can community forestry make money? pp. 81–94. Bangkok, Thailand, FAO–RAP.

1 Department of Forestry, School of Agriculture and Mineral Sciences, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Sylhet 3114, Bangladesh. Corresponding author. E-mail:
2 Department of Botany, University of Hawai’i, 3190 Maile Way, Honolulu HI 96822 USA. East-West Center, 1601 East-West Road, Honolulu, Hawaii 96848-1601 USA.

3 Tk68.5 = US$1.00 (September 2007).

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page