Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Session 4: Dynamics between protected areas and economic use

Emerging trends in protected area management

Ghazala Shahabuddin1

Protected areas (PAs) worldwide have become the pivotal strategy for the long-term conservation of biodiversity. Since 1992, the number of PAs globally has doubled and today as much as 11.5 percent of the earth’s land area is covered by protected status of some sort. Yet, the overall effectiveness of PAs in protecting biodiversity in the long run is increasingly being called into question. Local extinction of animal species, continued overexploitation of biological resources, heightening livelihood conflicts with local communities, financial shortfalls, lack of scientific management, lax law enforcement and increasing ecological isolation of PAs are only some of the problems that are becoming apparent with increasing research.

Recently there have been distinct changes in national and international policies to develop more inclusive paradigms, to develop pathways for more equitable distribution of resources from PAs, for greater sharing of the opportunity costs of PA establishment and for increasing awareness about the importance of PAs. Simultaneously, there has been a significant increase in ecological knowledge created by scientists and social researchers that has the potential to guide much more effective management in PAs. This paper attempts to summarize and evaluate the recent developments in PA management and policy with a focus on South Asia.

The key issues will be dealt with under the following five themes: (1) Enlarging the landscape vision for PAs; (2) steps towards participatory management of PAs; (3) economic tools for PA viability; (4) connecting management with science; and (5) addressing threats from urbanization and industrial development.

Keywords: protected areas, participatory management, economic tools, urbanization, industrial development


Protected areas (PAs) worldwide have become the pivotal strategy for the long-term conservation of biodiversity. PAs are receiving far more attention by mainstream policy-makers and planners than ever before due to the recognition of their importance for preserving ecological structure and function as well as their immense indirect contributions to human welfare (IUCN 2004). Since 1992, the number of PAs globally has doubled and today as much as 11.5 percent of the earth’s land area is covered by protected status, recognized under one of the six categories designated by IUCN (IUCN 2004). Even in the developing countries of South Asia, characterized by high population density and low financial commitment to parks, the percentage of land area under PAs is as high as 7.6 percent in Nepal and 29.6 percent in Bhutan (World Resources Institute 2005). For instance, Myanmar, which has been in a state of political turmoil for a number of years, has declared 7 percent of its land area as protected (Rao et al. 2001).

Despite the increasing amounts of natural habitat being dedicated to PAs worldwide, their overall effectiveness in protecting biodiversity in the long run is increasingly being called into question (see van Schaik et al. 1997 for an overview of tropical countries). There is a disturbing trend of animal species being lost from even strictly protected areas (i.e. IUCN categories I, II and III; henceforth referred to as SPAs). In India, a 2005 assessment indicated that the royal Bengal tiger, a flagship species for much of India’s conservation efforts since the 1970s, today exists far below its carrying capacity in most of the 28 designated tiger reserves in the country and has even been rendered extinct from one of them (Ministry of Environment and Forests 2005). Illegal hunting and land-use change within PAs still determines the fate of other highly endangered species such as the one-horned rhinoceros in India (Johnsingh 2006b). Other continents with more progressive and better-funded management systems are no less vulnerable to local extinctions. For instance, the harpy eagle has been lost from the Monteverde Reserve Complex in Costa Rica. The top carnivore, the jaguar, has reportedly been reduced to a few individuals in the same reserve (Powell et al. 2002). Further, while many PAs have significantly stalled the rate of loss of forest area within their boundaries (Bruner et al. 2001), they are simultaneously being isolated by deforestation outside their boundaries (Naughton-Treves et al. 2005; Johnsingh 2006b). In the process, PAs are losing ecological connectivity to other similar ecosystems and consequently, their long-term viability. For instance, in China, rates of deforestation and fragmentation were found to be as high inside Wolong Nature Reserve as outside its boundaries, following its establishment (Liu et al. 2001).

Above all, many PAs in developing countries still face considerable hostility from resident and peripheral villagers because of the loss of access to natural resources necessitated by PA establishment (Goodall 2006; Saberwal 2003; Brockington 2002). To reduce deforestation within PAs, village displacement is being promoted on a large scale, often without adequate planning, causing further alienation among local people (Sharma and Kabra 2007). Habitations around parks face heightening conflicts with large mammals that endanger human lives and property — situations that have not been managed satisfactorily (Madhusudan and Mishra 2003). PAs also face increasing habitat degradation due to overexploitation for fuelwood and non-wood forest products (NWFPs) and livestock grazing by dependent people (Karanth et al. 2005; Kumar and Shahabuddin 2005; Rijksen 2002). PAs are confronted by a number of other problems such as water pollution and spread of invasive species that threaten to further reduce biodiversity. What exacerbates the situation is that many PA managers do not possess the scientific tools to design effective strategies for habitat management or conflict reduction. Clearly PAs in the developing world are experiencing a crisis even though more zones continue to be added to the list.

The causes for biodiversity loss in developing country PAs continue to be hotly debated. The controversy on the impact of forest-dwelling people on natural ecosystems is manifested in prominent debates in the global conservation literature such as the relative effectiveness of extractive reserves and SPAs in South America (Schwartzman et al. 2000) or the effectiveness of integrated conservation and development programmes for protecting nature (Adams and Hulme 2001; Barrett et al. 2001). However, at the same time, there is a growing consensus among conservationists on the principal underlying causes of the current crisis.

Causes and perceptions

It is now recognized that an important reason for lack of PA effectiveness in protecting nature is that the costs of nature conservation are being borne disproportionately by local communities as a result of displacement from PAs (Sharma and Kabra 2007) and the loss of access to ecosystem resources, without adequate compensatory mechanisms (Shahabuddin et al. 2007). As a result, there is little local support for the aims of PAs; rather, hostility exists in many cases. There is now substantial documentation of the alienation that local people feel from the aims of PAs in Asian countries, for instance in India (Shahabuddin et al. 2007; Maikhuri et al. 2000), in Mongolia (Bedunah and Schmidt 2004) and in Nepal (Ghimire 1999). What makes matters worse is that few PAs have effective ways of compensating local residents for losses suffered from wildlife-induced damages (Mishra 1997). Nor do many of the existing benefits from PAs, such as from commercial wildlife tourism, reach local residents. Instead, the benefits are cornered mainly by elites and distant business interests (Dinerstein 2003). Not surprisingly, rates of poaching and degradation due to the extractive activities of local people are still at worrying levels in most Asian PAs.

Many PAs, particularly in the developing world, suffer from lack of scientific management and poor enforcement of laws, which in turn, can be attributed to poor financial and scientific commitment for PAs. PAs are chronically underfunded owing to a general lack of recognition of their direct and indirect economic benefits to human welfare, both among the public and governments (Bruner et al. 2004). Trained human resources are also at a premium in many cases. Consequently, many PAs exist simply on paper with little on-the-ground implementation to justify their existence — often referred to as “paper parks”. Few PA managers in developing countries have the institutional capacity to address complex questions such as management of human–carnivore conflict, elimination of invasive plant species or habitat management for endangered/rare species. Neither do they possess the financial resources to “outsource” such knowledge-seeking to competent scientists (Srikosamatara and Brockelman 2002 [Sri Lanka] and Rao et al. 2001 [Myanmar]).

PAs are as much at threat from expanding urbanization and infrastructural improvement as from biomass overexploitation or poaching. Very few countries have a tamper-proof land-use policy that effectively protects PAs against mineral exploration, dam building, adjacent infrastructural improvements and construction in the future (Rao et al. 2001). Developmental activities, even if they take place outside the boundaries of PAs, have the potential to affect ecological functioning inside them through fragmentation, diversion of river water or pollution. In fact, many PAs in remote areas exist in an uncertain period of neglect until the next powerful real estate, industrial power or mining concern finds that using part of the PA can be highly profitable.

Starting in the 1990s, much greater attention has been paid to these and other problems. The World Parks Congress in 2003 in particular played an important role in focusing attention on the inequities involved in creating sanctuaries for wild animal species, such as displacement of village communities (IUCN 2004). With the realization that PAs can be effective only if they represent positive gains to the people living around them, many innovations are being attempted both by governments, local NGOs, academic institutions and international conservation organizations. Recently, there have been improvements in national and international policies to develop more inclusive paradigms, to develop pathways for more equitable distribution of resources from PAs, for greater sharing of the opportunity costs of PA establishment and for awareness generation about the importance of PAs (Kothari 2005). Following the recommendations from the World Parks Congress in 2003, the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 7th Conference of Parties, adopted the principles of “governance, equity, participation and benefit-sharing” for the first time (Pathak et al. 2004). At the same time, there has been a substantial increase in ecological knowledge created by scientists that has the potential to guide much more effective management than before. This paper attempts to evaluate recent developments in the multiple aspects of PA management with a focus on South Asia.

Enlarging the landscape vision for PAs

It is being increasingly recognized that PAs cannot function in a vacuum, isolated from the surrounding human-modified ecosystems. A PA’s intrinsic ecological connection with the landscape around it has to be recognized and the resulting conflicts between the goals of conservation and economic development have to be managed rather than simply wished away. As such, PAs need to be part of the broader regional approaches to land management (McNeely 1994).

In this regard, two different developments have occurred during the last decade: First, more and more governments and NGOs are now looking at conserving landscape-level units that cover thousands rather than hundreds of square kilometres. An example is the WWF conservation programme for endangered landscapes worldwide. One case is the Terai Arc landscape covering North India and the Nepal plains where contiguous habitats are planned for elephants, tigers and rhinos. Scientists have begun to design solutions to human–wildlife conflicts by understanding landscape-level interactions, as witnessed in Indonesia (Nyhus and Tilson 2004).

As a natural corollary, much more importance is being accorded, scientifically, financially and administratively, to areas that are not strictly protected but form important complements to SPAs. These include community-conserved areas (CCAs) such as community forests in Nepal and extractive reserves in Brazil. The importance of community-managed areas as a means to divert extraction pressure from PAs and as buffer zones for strict nature reserves, is increasingly being recognized by conservationists (Bray et al. 2003). The case for recognizing a range of protected area regimes, from strictly protected ones with highly restricted access to multiple-use areas giving far more access to local residents, is increasingly being acknowledged by national governments.

Steps towards participatory management of protected areas

Given the importance of building strong local constituencies in conservation, there are increasing instances of co-management or participatory management that are being experimented with in Asia. Participatory management is typically based on: (1) attempting sustainable use of natural resources from PAs; (2) a considerable degree of devolution of decision-making power on natural resources to local people; (3) more equitable sharing of benefits from the ecosystem under question (both cash and in-kind); and (4) compensation for livelihoods or assets that are lost due to the adjacent PA. Conceptually, examples of participatory management range from reserves with almost complete community control to those providing much less autonomy in decision-making to local people. Participatory management can imply a range of benefits to local people ranging from limited tourism activities (see Powell et al. 2002) to year-round biomass extraction, such as in community forestry in Nepal.

CCAs represent a category of participatory management that often begins spontaneously as a reaction to a resource shortage. CCAs tend to be small and scattered but many that are created by governmental effort can be quite widespread. Interestingly, Nepal has made significant strides towards expanding the area under formal community conservation in two large mountain PAs— Annapurna Conservation Area Project (7 629 km2) and Kanchenjunga Conservation Area (2 035 km2). The latter was “handed over” to the local community for management in September 2006 after a long period of capacity building, scientific studies and infrastructure development. Sacred groves in Asia (Garcia and Pascal 2005), extractive reserves in Brazil (Ruiz-Perez et al.2005) and selective timber logging such as in Quintana Roo, Mexico (Bray et al. 2003) are other examples where the local community wields considerable control on the use of natural resources, and possesses genuine decision-making authority over the management of resources. Another example, trophy hunting of the rare ungulate species, markhor and ibex, in the northern mountains of Pakistan, is reaping considerable benefits for local villages, which earlier were marginalized and poor (Shackleton 2001; Ali and Butz 2005). Datta (2007) describes an initiative that aims to enlist the support of local tribal hunters in managing and protecting Namdapha National Park in the northeastern Himalayas through improvement of their living conditions and employment as research assistants, educationalists, health workers and guards. Similar examples from other continents come from Powell et al. (2002) and Wright and Andriamihaja (2002), who documented efforts to involve local communities in protecting SPAs through the incentives of returns from research and tourism as well as management of research facilities. For instance, in Monteverde National Park in Costa Rica, tourism (approximately 50 000 tourists per year) has generated 400 full-time jobs and annually contributes approximately US$3 million to the local economy (directly and indirectly) (Powell et al. 2002). In Bagmara Community Forest, managed by villagers in the buffer zone of Chitwan National Park in Nepal, US$276 432 were realized as income exclusively from tourist entry fees. The endangered one-horned rhinoceros is the primary attraction for many domestic and foreign tourists, a species that local villagers are now actively working to protect (Dinerstein 2003). In Sinharaja World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka, the implementation of various controlled extraction activities with local villagers is leading to significantly reduced incidence of forest offences (Wijesooriya 2005).

Apart from engendering strong local constituencies for conservation, there are other by-products of participatory management. The strategy of actively seeking the support of indigenous and local people to become partners in PA management is more effective in mitigating poaching and staving off looming threats from external economic development (Goodall 2006). In Periyar Tiger Reserve, poaching incidents have declined dramatically since the recruitment of local villagers as nature guides and forest guards. In Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in India, the ecodevelopment programme, aimed at providing alternatives to fuelwood in the adjacent villages, considerably reduced the threat of poaching and biomass overexploitation in parts of the reserve (Annamalai 2002). Given this evidence, it is clear that participatory management might be the only way to make existing PAs more effective in the long term. It is important to note that participatory management is also important for strict nature reserves (IUCN categories I to III) where enlisting the support of local residents may be critical in preserving the natural ecosystem as “inviolate space”.

The success of participatory conservation has yet to be evaluated from biological and economic perspectives. Currently there are extremely few evaluations of the biological effectiveness of CCAs that are based on sustainable use of biological resources (but see Zimmerman et al. 2001). In sites where such studies have been carried out, the literature indicates that animal and plant populations that are subject to human extraction can be sustained only under carefully controlled extraction programmes that are managed by local residents with a stake in the conservation of the given resource (Rai and Uhl 2004). Many seemingly sustainable, use-based programmes are dogged by difficulties, both biological and economic in nature (Rodgers et al. 2003). For instance, in the case of community-managed trophy hunting in the northern mountains of Pakistan, numerous hurdles remain in understanding the genetic and ecological impacts on hunted populations (Shackleton 2001). Many recently initiated programmes in use-based conservation such as the Joint Forest Management (JFM) scheme in India and Community Forest Enterprises in Mexico (Shahabuddin and Prasad 2003; Bray et al. 2003) still lack rigorous evaluation from an ecological perspective. A recent study indicated that while sacred groves provide invaluable refuges for a wide diversity of plants and animals, the proportion of endemic species that they protect ranges from one-half to one-third of those preserved in SPAs (Garcia and Pascal 2005). Similarly, a review of the fragmentary biological evidence on JFM in India showed that JFM has not been successful at reviving the entire range of forest tree species that originally existed in the area, but rather encourages monoculture of the tree species that are required for local livelihoods (Shahabuddin 2003).

In other cases, highly controlled extraction may not always allow use of forests to the extent that they will provide sufficient economic incentives to the local populace for long-term conservation (Plowden 2004; Silvertown 2004). Some documented examples demonstrate that when the needs of economy and livelihood take precedence over biodiversity conservation, ecosystems are likely to lose some of their biodiversity (Weinstein and Moegenburg 2004; Siebert 2004; Baral et al.2007). Thus it would be safe to assert that success in “sustainable extraction” is likely to be contingent upon a host of local ecological, social and market conditions that are, as yet, far from universally applicable and above all, scantily studied (Rai and Uhl 2004; Silvertown 2004).

Additionally, serious study is required of the conditions under which community-based conservation can be effective in terms of institutional, social, political and economic conditions. There is still considerable controversy on the linkage between the economic benefits and engendered incentives from a PA (Barrett et al. 2001). Some reviews indicate that sustainable management of biotic resources, such as NWFPs, fish, wildlife and other resources, does have the ability to support rural livelihoods but rarely provides a sufficient surplus to allow the poor to move out of poverty (Naughton-Treves et al. 2005; Silvertown 2004). On the other hand, ecotourism programmes can be important tools for generating employment and, therefore, incentives for protecting natural areas if they are designed correctly (Wunder 2000). Another problem is that the economic benefits may be large but may not reach the most marginalized sections of society that are most dependent on natural resources for their cash income (Barrett et al. 2001).

Economic tools for PA viability

The effective management of a comprehensive PA network requires adequate staff, equipment, training and scientific inputs, without which ecosystems will remain under continued threat. Financial evaluations indicate that PAs around the world are chronically underfunded (Bruner et al. 2004). Analyses indicate that the current PA budget as a percentage of necessary annual spending is estimated to be approximately 20 percent in Cameroon to 70 percent in Bolivia (Bruner et al. 2004).

The three most common sources of funds for PAs in the current situation are: (1) governmental allocations; (2) donor financing; and (3) visitors’ entry fees.

Very few Asian countries today have comprehensive indigenous sources of funding for their entire PA network in the form of separate environmental allocations. Given the considerable importance of natural resources in the vast majority of these countries’ livelihoods, these are indeed meager allocations. In Sri Lanka, for instance, there is no financial allocation for supporting even the basic management functions of PAs, even those that are World Heritage Sites such as Sinharaja (Wijesooriya 2005).

Donor financing by foreign aid organizations and countries is usually uncertain over the long term and additionally is perceived as decreasing national sovereignty (Emerton 2005). This is not a favoured means for conservation, although there has been enormous dependence on it in developing countries during the last several decades.

Visitors’ entry fees can generate a significant proportion of PA financing, but only if they are leveraged properly. First, visitors’ fees need to be enhanced substantially to match the level of willingness-to-pay of both domestic and foreign tourists. The contingent valuation method, applied to foreign tourism for parks in Madagascar and Costa Rica, reveals that visitors’ fees can more than compensate for the opportunity costs to local residents, and even land acquisition costs (Kramer and Sharma 1997). Presently, visitors’ entry fees are ridiculously low in some countries. In India, for instance, the fees range from Rs25 (US$0.56) to Rs50 (US$1.13), even in high-profile tiger reserves. Therefore, even doubling the fees can result in highly enhanced revenues that can be re-invested into reserve management. Some countries allocate a share of visitors’ fees as “ecological cess” to PA management, a practice that can be adopted on a much larger scale. In Nepal, the law mandates that 50 percent of all tourism revenues must be allocated to activities in the buffer zones of national parks via the Buffer Zone Management Council, a conglomerate of representatives from surrounding village committees (Budhathoki 2005). In India, the Tiger Task Report recommended similar measures to make the economic benefits more equitable, but the Government of India has yet to adopt these measures (Ministry of Environment and Forests 2005).

Other domestic financing instruments include payments for indirect and direct environmental services performed by PAs, performance bonds, levying taxes on tourist visas, tourist companies utilizing the PA area and on plant and animal products sourced from PAs. Payments for environmental services (PES) are an emerging way to encourage land uses that are friendly to natural forests and other ecosystems.

Capturing international financial flows such as debt-for-nature swaps, utilizing carbon credits and formation of trust funds are other innovative approaches for subsidizing in-country nature conservation in protected areas (Emerton 2005). For instance, Bhutan has created a US$30 million trust fund for wildlife conservation financing based on a combination of foreign donor money and governmental allocations (Namgyal 2005). This fund is managed transparently by government representatives and the private sector and undertakes a highly focused set of activities in wildlife conservation and research (Namgyal 2005). Debt-for-nature involves purchasing foreign debt, converting that debt into local currency and using the proceeds to fund conservation activities (Resor 1997; Grieg-Gran et al.2005). Debt-for-nature has the advantage that on the one hand, much-needed attention is drawn to conservation and on the other hand highly indebted countries can obtain partial relief from foreign debt. For instance, in 1988, the WWF purchased an initial US$390 000 foreign debt of the Philippines at US$200 000 (50 percent discounted rate). Having been relieved of the debt, the Central Bank of Philippines agreed to pay the peso equivalent of US$200 000 to support conservation projects in the country (Resor 1997). Debt-for-nature has been believed to have had positive effects on local incomes, land tenure security and socio-institutional strengthening because of investment in local conservation and development activities including tourism (Grieg-Gran et al. 2005; Brown 1998). Yet the long-term impacts of debt-for-nature swaps remain to be studied properly and in depth because it is unclear to what extent, debt-for nature can fulfil the twin objectives of environmental conservation and development (Grieg-Gran et al. 2005). There are issues of national sovereignty, of difficulties of close monitoring of promised interventions and possible long-term livelihood impacts on people that need to be addressed.

Another aspect of PA financing is that of community participation. Community involvement in management may reduce the costs of protection for PAs, and help make PA financing sustainable. The costs of PA protection come down because development expenditure and compensation to local residents are increased and there is self-generation of funds for local participatory programmes. As a part of co-management, the development of community-level financing institutions is another way to decrease central spending on PAs (Hussain 2005). Community financing involves joint contributions from project-implementing organizations, with local committees responsible for managing the funds (Hussain 2005). Community private joint business ventures at the local level such as in wildlife tourism and marketing of handicrafts and forest products can also increase the earning capacity of local communities. In Periyar Tiger Reserve in India, collectives of ecotourism guides from local villages have been successful in setting up a community development fund that is meeting some of the costs of village development, monthly salaries to local guides, educational and health loans to villagers as well as contributory grants to PA management (Ministry of Environment and Forests 2005).

Addressing scientific gaps in developing countries: connecting management with science

One of the major problems in Asian developing countries is a general lack of science-based management resulting in inappropriate management measures and an inability to design and control use of biological resources (Middleton 2003). The underlying reasons for the discontinuity between science and management are many and varied but this paper will explore only a few of them briefly (see also Shahabuddin 2007).

Typically, there are few formal linkages between academic institutions and forest managers. In sites where they do exist, these linkages are not nurtured or enriched through mutual interaction. This has resulted in researchers not taking the management needs of a PA into consideration in planning their research. Neither do PA managers learn from the knowledge advances already made by researchers in their area or encourage research.

Ecological research is not a priority in developing countries. This is reflected in the very limited number of postgraduate ecological research institutions or postgraduate courses that are offered in universities. The paucity of trained researchers in general translates into a generally low level of research in PAs and on applied ecological problems.

There is insufficient scientific training among forest personnel, or it is highly limited. For instance, in India, forest officers are called upon to train younger officers, so existing systems and ideologies of management are perpetuated, rather than new ideas and fresh knowledge being imparted. Further, many forest personnel come from educational backgrounds other than biological sciences and do not have sufficient training to meet the needs of PA management.

In India, wildlife researchers are increasingly being discouraged with regard to working in PAs or on endangered species; this is manifested through delays in obtaining research permits and difficulties in obtaining formal permission for foreign collaboration, manipulative experiments or nocturnal observations. Permits do not come easily through a fair and transparent review process. Recently promulgated new guidelines in 2006 are likely to make the process of obtaining research permits in India even more difficult as additional formalities have been added to the extant documents (Shahabuddin 2007).

The only way forward is encouragement of scientific studies in PAs by simplifying permit procedures and increasing interaction between managers and researchers. Many hands-on conservation interventions in India have been undertaken by biologists who are working closely with PA managers. There is a need to develop a dedicated cadre for ecological research juxtaposed by closely interacting managers. Foreign collaborations need to be actively encouraged rather than discouraged. For instance, much of the quality research and capacity building in Asia has been undertaken because of foreign involvement. Countries such as India, which have traditionally excluded foreign biologists, stand to gain tremendously from a system of foreign collaboration in which foreign and indigenous scientists work together in partnership, based on a formal memorandum of understanding. Foreign donors should emphasize enhancing capacity of in-country scientists and managers through formalized postgraduate courses and training programmes in which foreign academic collaboration is made mandatory.

Threat from urbanization and industrial development

Few developing nations appear able to withstand the onslaught of rapidly expanding urbanization and booming industrial growth that irretrievably destroys the capacity of natural ecosystems to self-revive. The number of instances of developmental threats to PAs in the Asian region is mounting by the day. In Viet Nam, McElwee reports that the government declared a new national highway to bisect the large Cuc Phuong National Park literally into two (McElwee 2006). Ironically, the highway is planned through the very section of the PA that was earlier sought to be protected by the displacement of a village of Muong tribal people who practised slash-andburn cultivation (McElwee 2006). The Leuser region of Indonesia, one of the hotspots of biodiversity in Southeast Asia, was threatened by four transmigration projects, six logging concessions, two roads and various swamp drainage programmes (Griffiths et al. 2002); these threats were later circumvented through the formation of a private NGO that led a struggle against the developments. Palm oil plantations threaten to sabotage the gains made in PA conservation in Sabah, Malaysia (Christy Williams, WWF–USA, personal communication). Johnsingh documents how the construction of a 13-kilometre power channel, an army ammunition dump and a resettlement colony has led to the fragmentation of valuable elephant habitats around Rajaji National Park in northern India, leading to heightened human and elephant conflicts (Johnsingh 2006a). In Thailand, the threat of fragmentation and forest submergence due to dam building threatens most PAs today (Srikosamatara and Brockelman 2002). The list is endless. For instance, a recent issue of Protected Areas Update (Vol 13[4]) published in India by the Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group documents at least four cases of developmental threats to PAs in India: a proposed wind energy project, railway tracks, raising of dam heights, and prospecting for hydro-electric projects.

Development of road infrastructure, residential construction, mining, industries and commercial plantations in the vicinity of PAs leads to shrinking of buffer zones as well as direct impacts upon PAs themselves through hydrological changes, pollution, habitat fragmentation and increased resource extraction. Ultimately, there is a need to review policy on economic development that leads to such impacts. PAs need to be protected from such pressures if they are to maintain their ecological integrity, which means that in some cases, economic development has to take a back seat to PA protection. This can only come through political commitments.

In some countries, there is legal backing to stop such developments. For instance, in India, there is a legal provision of declaring the area of land within a considerable radius of a PA as an “ecologically sensitive zone” where damaging developmental activities can be prohibited. Yet, very few of the PA managers in India have actually used this provision to stop mining or urbanization in their backyards (Menon and Kohli 2003).


While the area under PAs in Asia continues to expand considerably, many PAs continue to be ineffective and remain “paper parks” with inadequate financing and inappropriate management. One of the main reasons is that PAs still remain largely marginal to the economic planning of developing countries and the economic potential of many PAs remains either underutilized or appropriated by elites. Additionally, PAs face a precarious future in the face of haphazard infrastructural and industrial development, booms in real estate markets and expansion in commercial plantation activities. The runaway economic boom in countries such as China and India threatens to further escalate destruction of natural ecosystems without adequate restoration measures being in place. Much of the current economic growth is attributable to heightened exploitation of mineral resources and infrastructural expansion for industrial growth. At the same time, high population growth rates in underdeveloped rural areas accompanied by poor development are likely to increase livelihood activities based on the exploitation of biomass from PAs. The prognosis for the future conservation status of PAs is grim if current trends are any indication.

Policy changes and ground-level initiatives for improving conservation in PAs are slow, scattered and many remain experimental — and have been so for the last few decades. Developing countries have to adopt appropriate policy changes on these various fronts on a war footing if they are to make PAs effective in their central purpose: biodiversity conservation. Recognition of the direct and indirect economic benefits from PAs in national planning, greater integration of PA management with scientific establishments, development of modes for reducing conservation costs to local residents and implementation of laws for strict protection of established PAs from rampant development activities are some of the pathways along which policies for PAs can be formulated in future.

It is true that we have come a long way in improving PA management conceptually, but this knowledge needs to be actively translated into drastic policy changes and on-the-ground implementation, and soon.


Adams, W.M. & Hulme, D.2001. If community conservation is the answer in Africa, what is the question? Oryx, 35: 193–200.

Ali, I. & Butz, D.2005. Shimshal: Building governance for conservation. InU.R. Sharma & P. Yonzon, eds. People and protected areas in South Asia,pp 33–39. Kathmandu, IUCN-South Asia & Resources Himalaya. 177 pp.

Annamalai, R.2002. Ecodevelopment in Kalakadu Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, India status report.Chennai, World Bank & Tamil Nadu Forest Department. 219 pp.

Baral, N., Stern, M.J. & Heinen, J.T.2007. ICDP life-cycles in the Annapurna Conservation Area. Biodiversity & Conservation, 16(10): 2903–2917.

Barrett, C.B., Brandon, K., Gibson, C. & Gjertsen, H.2001. Conserving tropical biodiversity amid weak institutions. BioScience,51(6): 497–502.

Bedunah, D.J. & Schmidt, S.S.2004. Pastoralism and protected area management in Mongolia’s Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park. Development & Change, 35(1): 167–191.

Bray, D.B., Merino-perez, L., Negreros-castillo, P., Segura-Warnholtz,G., Torres-Rojo, J.M. & Vester, H.F.M.2003. Mexico’s community-managed forests as a global model for sustainable landscapes. Conservation Biology, 17(3): 672–677.

Brockington, D.2002. Fortress conservation, The preservation of Mkomazi Game Reserve, Tanzania. London, James Currey. 228 pp.

Brown, D.O.1998. Debt-funded environmental swaps in Africa: vehicles for tourism development. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 6(1): 69–79.

Bruner, A.G., Gullison, R.E., Rice, R.E. & da Fonseca, G.A.B.2001. Effectiveness of parks in protecting tropical biodiversity. Science,291: 125–128.

Budhathoki, P.2005. Royal Chitwan National Park: a World Heritage Site with a buffer zone. In U.R. Sharma & P. Yonzon, eds. People and protected areas in South Asia,pp 50–55.Kathmandu, IUCN-South Asia & Resources Himalaya. 177 pp.

Datta, A.2007. Threatened forests, forgotten people. InG. Shahabuddin. & M. Rangarajan, eds. Making conservation work: securing biodiversity in this new century,pp. 165–209. Delhi, Permanent Black. 298 pp.

Dinerstein, E.2003. The return of the unicorns: the natural history and conservation of the Greater One-horned Rhinoceros. New York, Columbia University Press. 316 pp.

Emerton, L.2005.Building a secure financial future for Asia’s protected areas. InU.R. Sharma & P. Yonzon, eds. People and Protected Areas in South Asia, pp. 69–78. Kathmandu, IUCN-South Asia & Resources Himalaya. 177 pp.

Garcia, C.A. & Pascal, J.P.2005. Sacred forests of Kodagu: ecological value and social role. InG. Cederlof & K. Sivaramakrishna, eds. Ecological nationalisms, nature, livelihoods and identities in South Asia,pp 199–232. New Delhi, Permanent Black. 399 pp.

Ghimire, M.1999. The Royal Chitwan National Park and its impact on the indigenous peoples of Chitwan and Nawalparasi, Nepal. In M. Colchester & C. Erni, eds. Indigenous peoples and protected areas in South and South-east Asia: from principles to practice,pp. 66–81.Copenhagen, IWGIA.

Goodall, H.2006. Exclusion and its re-emplacement: tensions around protected areas in Australia and Southeast Asia. Conservation & Society, 4(3): 383–395.

Grieg-Gran, M., Porras, I. & Wunder, S.2005. How can market mechanisms for forest environmental services help the poor? Preliminary lessons from Latin America. World Development,33(9): 1511–1527.

Griffiths, M., Van Schaik, C. & Rijksen, H.2002. Conserving the Leuser ecosystem: politics, policies, and people. InJ. Terborgh, C. van Schaik, L. Davenport & M. Rao, eds. Making parks work: strategies for preserving tropical nature,pp 203–217. USA, Island Press. 511 pp.

Hussain, A.2005. Conservation funds and community financing. InU.R. Sharma & P. Yonzon, eds. People and protected areas in South Asia,pp 90–93. Kathmandu, IUCN-South Asia & Resources Himalaya. 177 pp.

Johnsingh, A.J.T.2006a. Twenty years in Rajaji National Park. In A.J.T. Johnsingh. Field days: a naturalist’s journey through South and Southeast Asia, pp. 195–215. Hyderabad, Universities Press. 339 pp.

Johnsingh, A.J.T.2006b. Enchanting Kaziranga. In A.J.T. Johnsingh. Field days: a naturalist’s journey through South and Southeast Asia, pp. 241–251. Hyderabad, Universities Press. 339 pp.

Karanth, K., Curran, L.M. & Reuning-Scherer, J.D.2005. Village size and forest disturbance in Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, Western Ghats, India. Biological Conservation,128: 147–157.

Kothari, A.2005. Community-oriented conservation legislation in South Asia: halting progress. InU.R. Sharma & P. Yonzon, eds. People and protected areas in South Asia,pp. 1–6.Kathmandu, IUCN-South Asia & Resources Himalaya. 177 pp.

Kramer, R.A. & Sharma, N.1997. Tropical forest biodiversity protection: who pays and why. In R. Kramer, C. van Schaik & J. Johnson, eds. Last stand: protected areas and the defense of tropical biodiversity,pp. 162–186.Oxford & New York, Oxford University Press. 242 pp.

Kumar, R. & Shahabuddin, G.2005. Effects of biomass extraction on vegetation structure, diversity and composition of an Indian tropical dry forest. Environmental Conservation,32(3):1–12.

Liu, J., Linderman, M., Ouyang, Z., An, L., Yang, J. & Zhang, H.2001. Ecological degradation in protected areas: the case of Wolong Nature Reserve for pandas. Science, 292: 98–101.

Madhusudan, M.D. & Mishra, C.2003. Why big fierce animals are threatened: conserving large mammals in densely populated landscapes. InV. Saberwal & M. Rangarajan, eds. Battles over nature: science and the politics of conservation, pp. 31–55. New Delhi, Permanent Black. 412 pp.

Maikhuri, R.K., Nautiyal, S., Rao, K.S., Chandrashekhar, K., Gavali, R. & Saxena, K.G.2000. Analysis and resolution of protected area-people conflicts in Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, India. Environmental Conservation, 27(1): 43–53.

McElwee, P.D.2006. Displacement and relocation redux: stories from Southeast Asia. Conservation & Society,4(3): 396–403.

McNeely, J.A.1994. Protected areas for the 21st century: working to provide benefits to society. Biodiversity & Conservation,3: 390–405.

Menon, M. & Kohli, K.2003. A conservation strategy. Frontline, 20(12) (online edition).

Middleton, B.2003. Ecology and objective-based management: case study of the Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, Rajasthan. InV. Saberwal & M. Rangarajan, eds. Battles over nature: science and the politics of conservation,pp. 86–116.New Delhi, Permanent Black. 412 pp.

Ministry of Environment & Forests.2005. Joining the dots. Report of the Tiger Task Force. Government of India.

Mishra, C.1997. Livestock depredation by large carnivores in the Indian trans-Himalaya: conflict perceptions and conservation prospects. Environmental Conservation, 24(4): 338–343.

Namgyal, T.S.2005. Sustaining conservation finance in Bhutan: the experience of the Bhutan Trust Fund. InU.R. Sharma & P. Yonzon, eds. People and protected areas in South Asia,pp. 79–85. Kathmandu, IUCN-South Asia & Resources Himalaya. 177 pp.

Naughton-Treves, L., Buck Holland, M. & Brandon, K.2005. The role of protected areas in conserving biodiversity and sustaining local livelihoods. Annual Review of Environmental Resources,30: 219–252.

Nyhus, P. & Tilson, R. 2004. Agroforestry, elephants, and tigers: balancing conservation theory and practice in human-dominated landscapes of Southeast Asia. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 104: 87-97.

Pathak, N., Bhatt, S. & Balasinorwala, T.2004. Community conserved areas: a bold frontier for conservation. Briefing Note No. 5. TILCEPA,CEESP-WCPA (IUCN), CMWG, CENESTA, Islamic Republic of Iran.

Plowden, C.2004. The ecology and harvest of Andirobaseeds for oil production. Conservation & Society, 2(2): 251–272.

Powell, G.V.N., Palminteri, S., Carlson, B. & Boza, M.A.2002. Successes and failings of the Monteverde Reserve Complex and Costa Rica’s system of National Protected Areas. In J. Terborgh, C. van Schaik, L. Davenport & M. Rao, eds. Making parks work: strategies for preserving tropical nature, pp. 156–171. USA, Island Press. 511 pp.

Rai, N. & Uhl, C.F.2004. Forest product use, conservation and livelihoods: The case of uppage fruit harvest in the Western Ghats, India. Conservation & Society, 2(2): 289-313.

Rao, M., Rabinowitz, A. & Khaing, S.2001. Status review of the protected area system in Myanmar with recommendations for conservation planning. Conservation Biology, 16: 360–368.

Resor, J.P.1997. Debt-for-nature swaps: a decade of experience and new directions for the future. Unasylva, 188. 1997.

Rijksen, H.D.2002. Biodiversity conservation in the Kingdom of Bhutan. In J. Terborgh, C. van Schaik, L. Davenport & M. Rao, eds. Making parks work: strategies for preserving tropical nature, pp. 232–240. USA, Island Press. 511 pp.

Rodgers, A., Hartley, H. & Bashir, S.2003. Community approaches to conservation: some comparisons from Africa and India. InV. Saberwal & M. Rangarajan, eds. Battles over nature: science and the politics of conservation,pp. 324–382.New Delhi, Permanent Black. 412 pp.

Ruiz-Perez, M., Almeida, M., Dewi, S., Costa, E.M., Pantoja, M.C., Puntodewo, A., de Postigo, A.A. & Andrade, A.G.2005. Conservation and development in Amazonian extractive reserves: the case of Alto Jurua. Ambio,34(3): 218–223.

Saberwal V.K.2003. Conservation by state fiat. InV. Saberwal & M. Rangarajan, eds. Battles over nature: science and the politics of conservation,pp. 240–263.New Delhi, Permanent Black. 412 pp.

Schwartzman, S., Moreira, A. & Nepstad, D.2000. Rethinking tropical forest conservation: perils in parks. Conservation Biology, 14(5): 1351–1357.

Shackleton, D.M.2001. A review of community-based trophy hunting programs in Pakistan. Mountain Areas Conservancy Group (mimeo).

Shahabuddin, G. & Prasad, S.2004. Assessing ecological sustainability of non-timber forest produce extraction: the Indian scenario. Conservation and Society, 2(2): 235–250.

Shahabuddin, G.2003. Ecological sustainability of forest management practices: The case of the regenerating sal forests of south-western West Bengal, India. Social Change, 33(2–3): 142–172.

Shahabuddin, G.2007. The endangered wildlife biologist. Seminar (online edition, September). New Delhi.

Shahabuddin, G., Kumar, R. & Shrivastava, M.2007. Creation of inviolate space: lives, livelihoods and conflict in Sariska Tiger Reserve. Economic & Political Weekly,Vol. 42 (20): 1855–1862.

Sharma, A. & Kabra, A.2007. Displacement as a conservation tool: lessons from the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh. In G. Shahabuddin & M. Rangarajan. Making conservation work: securing biodiversity in this new century,pp. 21–47.Delhi, Permanent Black. 298 pp.

Siebert, S.F.2004. Demographic effects of collecting rattan cane and their implications for sustainable harvesting. Conservation Biology,18(2): 424–431.

Silvertown, J.2004. Sustainability in a nutshell. Trends in Ecology and Evolution,19(6): 276–278.

Srikosamatara, S. & Brockelman, W.Y.2002. Conservation of protected areas in Thailand: a diversity of problems, a diversity of solutions. In J. Terborgh, C. van Schaik, L. Davenport & M. Rao, eds. Making parks work: strategies for preserving tropical nature, pp. 218–231. USA, Island Press. 511 pp.

Van Schaik, C.P., Terborgh, J. & Dugelby, B.1997.The silent crisis: The state of rain forest nature preserves. InR. Kramer, C.P. van Schaik & J. Johnson, eds. Last stand: protected areas and the defense of tropical biodiversity, pp. 64–89. New York & Oxford, Oxford University Press. 242 pp.

Weinstein, S. & Moegenburg, S.2004. Acai palm management in the Amazon Estuary: Course for conservation or passage to plantation? Conservation & Society,2(2): 315–346.

Wijesooriya, A.2005. Sinharaja World Heritage Site. InU.R. Sharma & P. Yonzon, eds. People and protected areas in South Asia, pp. 56–61. Kathmandu, IUCN-South Asia & Resources Himalaya. 177 pp.

World Conservation Union (IUCN).2004. Durban Action Plan (adopted at the Fifth World Parks Congress, Durban). Durban, South Africa.

World Resources Institute.2005. Earth trends data tables: biodiversity and protected areas. Washington DC, World Resources Institute.

Wright, P. & Andriamihaja, B.2002. Making a rain forest park work in Madagascar: Ranomafana National Park and its long-term research commitment. In J. Terborgh, C. van Schaik, L. Davenport & M. Rao, eds. Making parks work: strategies for preserving tropical nature, pp. 112–136. USA, Island Press. 511 pp.

Wunder, S.2000. Ecotourism and economic incentives: an empirical approach. Ecological Economics, 32: 465–479.

Zimmerman, R., Peres, C.A., Malcolm, J.R. & Turnet, T.2001. Conservation and development alliances with the Kayapo of south-eastern Amazonia, a tropical forest indigenous people. Environmental Conservation,28: 10–22.

1 Environmental Studies Group, Council for Social Development, 53 Lodi Estate, New Delhi 110003, India. Tel: +91-11-24611700; 24615383. E-mail:

Agricultural land use in Asia and the Pacific

Yuji Niino1

The stock of land in Asia and the Pacific is fixed, so clearly changes in agricultural land uses in the region can and do significantly impact on forest areas. This paper introduces a cross-sectoral perspective by presenting projections for agricultural land use in the Asia–Pacific region and information gathered as part of FAO’s land resources evaluation and monitoring activities.

Keywords: agricultural land use, land degradation, desertification, urbanization, biofuel, land cover change


The Asia–Pacific regional economy continued to grow at a high rate during 2000 to 2005. Within the region, manufacturing activity in developing countries increased by 40 percent from 1995 to 2002 and was the basis for expanding trade. Regional agricultural production also increased by over 60 percent from 1990 to 2002. Commodities produced for export contribute to pollution and other environmental pressures in the producing countries and this represents one of the most important drivers of environmental change in the region.

By 2050, the world’s population is estimated to increase from the current figure of nearly 6 billion to nearly 9 billion and almost all of this population growth will occur in developing countries. Economic growth for poverty reduction is still an over-riding concern as nearly 670 million people are living on less than US$1/day and over 500 million people are undernourished across the region. Southern and Southeast Asia face the most critical challenges. Natural disasters cause major loss of life and damage to infrastructure and impact on future growth prospects. Nearly 80 percent of all such disasters globally occur in Asia and the Pacific, but insufficient investment has been made to prepare for and mitigate them.

The ability of the region’s natural resource base to sustain human activity indefinitely or its carrying capacity is determined by two factors: its natural resource endowment and the pressure placed on it by human activity. “Ecological deficits” in many countries across the region show quantitatively that many nations are overexploiting their own natural resource bases, and/or through trade, are using the natural resource bases of other countries to support their consumption patterns and economic growth.

The region is less generously endowed with natural resources than some other parts of the world and these resources are shared among much higher populations. The regional population density is 1.5 times the global average and freshwater availability per capita is the lowest of all global regions. The biologically productive area per capita is less than 60 percent of the global average and the arable land area per capita is less than 80 percent of the global average. The biologically productive area required to support current consumption levels already exceeds the available area. Natural resource endowment remains relatively constant or is declining under environmental pressure; the size of the human population that can be sustainably supported based on the current consumption patterns and prevailing technologies is decreasing.

The total land area of the Asia and the Pacific region is 3 001 million hectares or 22.9 percent of the world’s land area. However adverse soil, climate and topographic factors limit the possibilities for sustainable agricultural production in about 86 percent of the region. Loss of potential soil productivity due to erosion and soil nutrient depletion, with an increasing net negative balance in the soil is the biggest threat to meeting the region’s future agricultural needs. Furthermore, it causes high additional national costs in food imports, reduced exports and higher social welfare costs. The intensified utilization of land and water resources for ensuring food security, poverty alleviation and broad-based rural development is crucial. Estimates show that between 1997 and 2030, about 80 percent of projected crop production growth in developing countries will come from intensification via higher yields (69 percent) and cropping intensities (11 percent), with only 20 percent coming from arable land expansion. The share resulting from intensification will exceed 95 percent in land-scarce South, Southeast and East Asia.

Land-use and land cover change

The land-use pattern in Asia and the Pacific has undergone a major change over the years with a sharp increase in cropland and a marked decline in forest and pastures. The increase in agricultural land, which occupied 16.7 percent of the total land area between 1994 and 2003, was about 9.9 million hectares. The annual change of forest cover during 1990 to 2000 was 364 000 hectares or 0.1 percent for Asia and 365 000 hectares or 0.2 percent for Oceania where 23.3 percent of the land is covered by forest. Tree plantations and woodlots increased during the last decade, but plantations are not a substitute for natural forest and increasing deforestation needs to be addressed. Southeast Asia still has a substantial area under forest (49 percent) while other subregions have depleted natural forest cover by excessive exploitation. Deforestation and overexploitation are the major causes of human-induced soil degradation.

The region has already reached the safe limits of horizontal expansion of agriculture. Future needs for growing populations can only be met by intensification, an option that will not be easy because yields are already showing signs of stagnation on some soils caused by widespread land degradation. A major cause of degradation is erosion generated by water and wind. Only a limited and shrinking area is free from soil-related constraints in the context of agricultural production. These constraints include steeply sloping land, severe soil fertility limitations and the mining of soil nutrients (FAO 1991). Dent (1990) indicated that only 14 percent of the region’s land was free from soil-related constraints vis-à-vis agricultural production. Arable land in 2003 accounted for 16.7 percent of the total land area of the region and lands with low production potential have been utilized increasingly. Often these low productivity lands or marginal lands are used by marginalized populations.

Land degradation

The current trends in Asia and the Pacific indicate that soil degradation problems, especially those related to irrigation, could intensify in the future. The greatest policy challenges in coming decades will be in densely populated areas with soils of lower resistance and higher sensitivity to degradation, which is increasingly limiting agricultural production, economic growth and rural welfare. For countries with limited high quality rainfed and irrigated land, the impacts may be especially acute. The most important consequence of land degradation is lost productivity, estimated at an aggregate global loss of 12 to 13 percent of agricultural supply.

A UNDP/UNEP/FAO study on land degradation in South Asia (FAO 1994) attempted to assess the economic cost of land degradation for the subregion. The best estimate is that land degradation is costing the countries of the subregion more than US$10 billion per year, equivalent to seven percent of their combined agricultural gross domestic product (GDP).

Agricultural productivity has been declining at the rate of 2 to 5 percent a year due to soil erosion, creating annual economic losses of nearly 1 percent of the gross national product (GNP) or approximately 3 percent of the GDP.

Water erosion is the most pervasive cause of land degradation and is responsible for over 70 percent of the degraded land of the region and almost 50 percent under the Status of Human-induced Soil Degradation in South and Southeast Asia (ASSOD) study. Although common to all subregions, the most severe water erosion occurs throughout the Himalayas, Central Asia and China. Also particularly affected are the Islamic Republic of Iran, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Wind erosion has been estimated to affect some 20 percent of the total degraded area. The destruction of natural vegetation cover resulting from excessive grazing and the extension of agriculture into marginal areas are the main causes (through human intervention). Wind erosion is a widespread phenomenon in arid and semi-arid climates, such as South and Central Asia, China and Australia. Erosion by wind is the dominant factor in western India, affecting some 13 million hectares.

Chemical soil degradation occurs due to the loss of nutrients and/or organic matter, salinization, acidification, or pollution from industrial activities. It is estimated that almost 25 percent of degraded land is caused by chemical degradation. Agricultural mismanagement and deforestation are major causes of chemical soil degradation, whilst industrial and bio-industrial activities are the main sources of pollution.

The main processes of physical degradation are waterlogging and aridification, compaction, crusting and sealing and subsidence of organic soils.


Desertification has been defined as “land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climate variation and human activities” (Holtz 2003). A recent study conducted by UNCCD (1998) indicated that Asia has 1 977 million hectares of drylands, comprising 46 percent of the continent’s and 32 percent of the world’s total surface area, over half of which is suffering from desertification. The most badly affected area is Central Asia (with nearly 60 percent of the land affected in some form) followed by South Asia (nearly 50 percent) and Northeast Asia (nearly 30 percent). Desertification damage includes lost income and the cost to rehabilitate degraded land.


Land area per household is decreasing due to industrialization, urbanization and other nonagricultural uses. Land loss to urbanization is increasing the pressure to raise crop yields, although the magnitude of this loss is not as large as commonly supposed. Much of the “loss” in cultivated land in China in recent years has been for ecological purposes such as conversion of marginal sloping lands to forests or because of shifting cropping patterns in favour of horticulture. Nevertheless, non-agricultural construction claimed a cumulative 1.1 million hectares between 1997 and 2002, equal to about 0.8 percent of cultivated land at the beginning of the period. There is little scope for extension into new areas without causing environmental degradation. Land fragmentation is generalized. Some foreseen general trends in the region for urbanization are:

Structural changes in the agriculture sector

Structural changes in the agriculture sector that impact on land use have been recognized. The agricultural population in newly industrialized countries and developed countries is declining. In Republic of Korea (RoK), it decreased from 12.7 percent in 1994 to 6.8 percent in 2004. The average agricultural population in industrialized countries is a little over 3 percent while the average for the Asia–Pacific region is about 52 percent. The agricultural population in RoK fell sharply from 14.4 million or 44.7 percent of the total population in 1971 to 10.8 million or 28.3 percent in 1981 and 3.5 million or 7.4 percent in 2003. Comparatively, however, the share of the agricultural population in RoK is still relatively high.

In RoK, another important point to note is the increasing average age of the agricultural population. In 1971, 7.6 percent of the agricultural population was over 60 years of age, but the corresponding figure for 2003 was 39 percent. Indeed, the issue of the ageing agricultural population is very serious. It is also found in East Asian developed countries, including Japan.

Rice farming predominates in RoK. The importance of rice declined in the 1970s but rose in the mid-1990s; it is still important for generating agricultural income and farm employment. There were three reasons for the rebound: (1) rice was exempted from tariffs in the Uruguay Round; (2) the government has maintained a price-support system for rice so that it remains a profitable exercise for farmers compared with other liberalized commodities; and (3) mechanization enables older farmers to continue with this activity.

Although land is usually considered as a fixed factor of production in industrialized countries, it is more appropriate to account for land as one of the important factor inputs in the Thai agriculture sector. Land abundance allowed Thailand to have a strong comparative advantage in agriculture. However, land has no longer been in plentiful supply since 1980; the area per agricultural worker has declined at an annual rate of about 1 percent. In particular, plantation crops such as rubber, oil-palm and sugar cane have occupied large areas used for rice cultivation or forests. In the last decade, industrialization has put more pressure on available resources including land and water.

Corporate development, especially for oil-palm plantations in Indonesia, was the main agent in accelerating deforestation during the 1990s. Formerly, the government tended to blame deforestation, and especially forest fires, on shifting cultivators, the traditional farmers who practised slash-and-burn agriculture. However, during the 1997 fires, the government at last acknowledged, in the light of the evidence from satellite imagery, that the large plantation companies were primarily responsible for setting the fires.


Growing crops for biofuels has been criticized frequently because of land competition with food crops. However, it is questionable whether there really will be a food or fuel dilemma. It is unlikely that fuel crops will replace crop land for food crops. But it is likely that food prices will rise again after many years of decline. Growing biomass for biofuel production may give farmers greater flexibility to switch between commodities for food production on the one hand and bioenergy commodities on the other.

The major global issue, however, is the impact on biodiversity. If natural vegetation is cleared to produce bioenergy, this will have negative impacts on the environment comparable to those of the destruction of rain forests for cattle grazing. This is just another example of the trade-offs between different aspects of sustainability that often accompany development: benefits in terms of reduced emissions of greenhouse gases when biofuels substitute for petroleum-based fuels in transport versus the adverse impacts of land expansion. To really unlock the potential of bioenergy we will need to continue to invest in improving agricultural management in general and improving the efficiency of agricultural production in particular.

Bioenergy will affect food security both positively and negatively. At the household level higher food prices will have a negative impact on the food security of the poor, of whom the urban poor will suffer the most. On the other hand new thrusts in the agriculture sector present new opportunities for rural communities. At the national level bioenergy can offer novel development opportunities for countries with significant agricultural resources, if barriers to biofuel trade are eased or removed. Africa, with its significant sugar-cane production potential, is often cited as a region that could profit from Brazil’s experience and technology, although obstacles to realizing the goal (infrastructural, institutional) should not be underestimated.

If policies that integrate bioenergy farming with food and feed farming are implemented, there is potential to decrease local food shortages and increase the incomes of the world’s poorest people.

Consequences of land-use changes

Food production

Freshwater resources

Forest resources

Climate and air quality

Conclusions and recommendations

Inescapable future scenarios include continued dramatic land-use change to meet increasing demands for agricultural products, transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies and further urbanization. The challenge of sustainability translates into challenges for science, policy and economics.

Ecosystem management, matching land use with land capability, institutions and systems aligned with private and social benefits for society overall and ecosystem services should be more comprehensive in regular markets and national accounting. Policy-makers need to consider carefully the impacts of forest removal or alteration and reforestation on land and water resources.

The region is prone to natural disasters. The most destructive to the food and agriculture sector are floods, droughts, tropical cyclones and typhoons, forest and plantation fires. Many disasters have devastating long-term impacts on food production and the environment. Many factors come into play in these catastrophes but the more important determinants are inter-related: rural poverty, exploitative agricultural systems and practices, land degradation and deforestation and settlement patterns. There is a need to reduce vulnerability to disasters and build a resilient society.

There is a need to promote effective and equitable management, conservation and sustainable use of natural resources — one of the main challenges is to identify management practices and supporting technologies for sustainable intensification of agricultural production while preserving the environment for diverse cropping systems and agro-ecological conditions. Thus, adoption of integrated natural resource management, conservation, capacity building and improved and more responsive delivery of services to farmers are urgently needed to mitigate insufficient productivity that affects food security and poverty; these measures are juxtaposed by the importance of preserving biodiversity and harmonizing with phytosanitary measures and integrated pest management. Improved policy instruments and institutions for enabling environments are required.


Dent, F. 1990. Land resources of Asia and the Pacific. In Problem soils of Asia and the Pacific,pp. 44–67. RAPA Report 1990/6. Expert Consultation of the Asian Network on Problem Soils, Bangkok, Thailand, 29 August to 1 September 1989. Bangkok, FAO.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) & Centre for International Research on Forestry (CIFOR).2005. Forests and floods: drowning in fiction or thriving on facts? RAP Publication 2005/03. Bangkok, Thailand. 30 pp.

FAO. 1991. Sustainable agriculture and rural development in Asia and the Pacific. Regional document No. 2. FAO/Netherlands Conference on Agriculture and Environment. S-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, 15–19 April 1991.

FAO. 1994. World resources reports. Rome, FAO.

FAO. 2005. State of the world’s forests 2005. Rome, FAO.

FAO. 2007. Selected indicators of food and agricultural development in the Asia-Pacific Region 1996-2006.RAP Publication 2007/15. Bangkok, FAO.

Holtz, U. 2003. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and its political dimension.Bonn, 26 May 2003.

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). 1998. The social and economic impact of desertification on several Asian countries: inventory study.Geneva, Interim Secretariat of the Convention to Combat Desertification.

1 FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, 39 Phra Atit Road, Bangkok Thailand 10200. Tel: +662-697-4213. E-mail:

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page