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Session 10: Overview of main findings and the way forward

Summing up

Neil Byron1

How can I summarize such an excellent and diverse set of papers?

I thought I would start by looking for major recurring themes over the past three days. To help me do this I reread the Executive Summary of the first Asia–Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study (APFSOS) and even some of the 32 working papers from the study, completed in 1998. Many of the burning issues of a decade ago, the opportunities and constraints, still seem to dominate our discussions here: demand and trade in timber; non-wood forest products (NWFPs); environmental services; pressures on natural forests and opportunities for plantations; the need to improve management of forests, whether for timber, NWFPs, biodiversity conservation or watershed management; and the need to craft new and better institutions to make this possible.

The last outlook study observed:

Natural forests are likely to continue to be converted to other land uses, although perhaps at a slower rate. Promising opportunities are emerging for developing countries to capture investment funds for forestry for carbon sequestration…achieving sustainable financing to manage forests for non-marketed services is a major challenge.

Yes, we can probably re-use these quotes in the next Outlook Study.

Jag Maini reminded us on the first morning of how forestry has been a matter of such intense debate at all levels, especially since UNCED in Rio in 1993. Virtually all speakers here have reminded us of how more and more pressures seem to be added, in what societies want or expect or demand from forests — not many people seem to want less — and yet many of these demands are hard to reconcile.

We were informed by ESCAP and ADB economists that the number of people dependent on agriculture has declined rapidly, especially in China. As J.P.L. Srivastava said, in the very dynamic societies and economies all across Asia, there have been tremendous changes from subsistence to a consumer economy. The previous Outlook Study observed: The rights of indigenous people to manage ancestral homelands and forests are increasingly recognized.

Recognizing the rights of indigenous people to their traditional forest lands was a good start, but we might reflect on the implementation and actions that should have followed such recognition.

So now I return to my task of identifying major themes. What new topics have been discussed this week that were not on the agenda ten years ago?

One obvious topic is corruption. I think most of us have known about it for ages, but were afraid to openly and publicly address it. I first encountered two institutionalized forms of corruption in the Queensland forestry sector before I had even graduated from forestry school, so I quickly recognized the smell in many other countries where I worked, and I wrote about it. Now the spotlight has really fixed on it.

One reason arises from environmental concerns (an important criterion for sustainable forest management); another is for social justice concerns — the impoverished who collect NWFPs (especially women) have to pay bribes to local forest guards and transit checkpoints; and a third explanation comes from concerns on loss of revenue to developing country governments. But I suspect the real reason is international commerce — companies and countries whose legislation is complied with, and where taxes and charges are paid, complain vigorously of unfair competition. Ahma bin Buang from ITTO and Barney Chan from Sarawak raised the issue of whether the emphasis on legality and sustainability of tropical timber is seriously distorting world markets, compared with non-tropical forest produce and competing non-forest products whose environmental and social ramifications are not scrutinized.

Corruption will not be easy to stamp out. But I have never seen a country where only the forestry sector was corrupt and everything else was snow white and clean. Conversely, I am unaware of any country where corruption permeates everywhere else but the forestry sector remains untouched. So let us be realistic — what happens in forestry is a microcosm of the whole society and economy — no better and no worse. So, yes, let us try to eradicate it or at least control it, but do this evenly across all sectors, instead of picking on only one.

Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) and biofuels have been discussed in depth. I address them together because they are both part of policy responses to climate change, and they both involve potentially huge amounts of money. I would like to repeat Frances Seymour's wise observation trees don't grow on money. While it is very easy to become excited about vast sums of new money that would bankroll all the wonderful worthwhile activities that we have always wanted to do in forestry — whether for industrial, social or environmental reasons — we should not let money get in the way or become a fixation. It is the results that matter — the funding is merely a means to help achieve the results, and many of the most important outcomes do not require hundreds of millions of dollars — they require a Minister's signature on a land reform bill; enforcement of existing laws and policies; removal of discrimination against the poor, the women, the old, the landless minorities and other marginalized groups. In many forestry contexts, throwing a wad of money at a problem is like trying to extinguish a fire by throwing a bucket of gasoline on it. As David Cassells told us, REDD is "too big to ignore but too small to be a complete solution".

Do you remember biodiversity prospecting? That was going to be an answer to many prayers — vast amounts of money from rich pharmaceutical companies that would finance the conservation and sustainable management of tropical natural forests while enhancing the livelihoods of indigenous people. Good idea, a few small localized successes, but it was not a panacea or silver bullet solution.

I suspect many of us were surprised to hear Dennis Nielson's description of a tsunami of investment capital sloshing around the globe. Few of us have encountered the "problem" of trying to find a place for trillions of investment dollars. His explanations of why much of it is unlikely to come to Asia at present, but could go to other countries producing timber for global markets, in competition with Asian producer countries, have generated much discussion.

These are just some of my opinions from what I have heard here, but no doubt, most of you may have quite different interpretations. I think the main recurring theme has been interconnectedness and complexity — most speakers expressed it in different ways, and gave different examples of it. But they all agree that if there was once a simple past, it has now gone forever. The future will be, and should be, quite different from the past. But if we do not understand the past, we will be unable to shape the future the way we want to see it evolve.

Once upon a time, long long ago, (when I was just a young forester), governments had set aside forest reserves to be managed by a specialized forestry agency with a dedicated cadre of trained professionals (all of whom had been to very similar forestry schools) supported by technical and field staff. Although we all knew and believed in multiple use, watershed management, the importance of "minor" forest products to local people, etc, the reality was that the main idea was to supply industry with the timber it wanted at low prices, in the misguided belief that this was how we could best contribute to what society wanted (often cheap timber for house construction). As Jag Maini said, the forestry insiders, working in government agencies, were generally content with this status quo, and it was the NGOs that challenged it. Not only did they rock the boat, they smashed it and sank it, in many countries. What else would you do, when you find out that, like a supertanker, it is impossible to turn it around? Forest services were smashed and demolished to the extent they could not be reformed or re-oriented.

So in the 1950s and 1960s, the foresters were working in their forests, supplying industry with
In the 1970s we had all the challenges:

Forests were subjected to environmental impact analysis, social impact analysis, benefit–cost analysis and gender analysis. All forestry, whatever the primary focus, had to pass all of these tests. Industrial plantations had to operate within social and environmental guidelines; social and community forestry had to maintain or enhance environmental values; protected areas had to work with local and indigenous people and enhance their well-being.

We spent the whole of the 1970s and 1980s trying to work through all of these elements and find ways to integrate all the perspectives that were all about making forests and forestry much more responsive to what people really wanted, but which we had been deaf to. I doubt that many places ever really accomplished the complete spectrum, but there were a few, enough, good examples to make it worth attaining. The International Model Forests programme provided some excellent role models. But frankly we are still wrestling with this integration in the field, as well as trying to improve performance within each of the elements.

In the 1990s, we discovered it was really even more complex. There were all of the intersectoral pressures. What happened in and to the forests was often determined more by policies outside the forestry sector — inter alia in agriculture, transport, energy, defense, trade and exchange rates — than by what the foresters and the forestry agency said and did.

As Jag Maini said, "SFM was the combination of understanding the ecology of the forests and the sociology of decision making".

We were just starting to come to grips with this level of multidimensional complex interconnectedness, when we realized that it was all in a static, timeless (and predictable) world — no trends and no random shocks. So we started thinking about the dynamic drivers. Mette Løyche Wilkie spoke of the five Ps: population pressure; prosperity; profits; productivity; and politics/policies. But I will list them as follows:

Remember the green revolution and the biotechnology revolution? Would intensification of agriculture reduce pressures for forest clearance if farmers found a new more profitable crop or technology? My argument was that it would encourage existing and new farmers to clear even more forests. And this argument is recurring now with biofuels.

The information technology/communications revolution is already affecting our information flow, perceptions and ability to influence. Ordinary citizens with mobile phones, filming incidents at any hot spot anywhere in the world and broadcasting worldwide within minutes via YouTube and the World Wide Web, backed up by GPS etc. This is democratization of the media!

Such issues induce headaches, yet this is what the FAO's Outlook team is trying to address. Many of us here have started looking at some of these outside drivers, one by one, and this is a good start.

Actually we know that all these processes are happening simultaneously and often the effects will be polarized; so it is very hard to intuitively tell how they will all eventuate, in terms of the attributes we are interested in — the quality and extent of forests and their ability to provide societies with the diverse and changing mix of goods and services we expect. Katie Warner exemplified how China's demand for rubber (and the rising oil prices that make synthetic rubber so expensive now) could lead to a tenfold increase in the area of rubber plantations in Lao PDR. How do we begin to comprehend all the environmental, social and economic effects, especially when so many other forces are in play — the five Ps?

Better understanding of the complex interactions with other sectors and regions might help us prepare for what might be going to happen, but it does not give us any control over it (similar to understanding the meteorology of hurricanes or the geology of earthquakes does not confer control). However, understanding does give us the chance to be slightly better prepared.

A child playing chess will anticipate how his/her opponent will respond to the next move. A grand master can anticipate up to 15 or 20 moves ahead, with an array of possible responses to all the possible developments as the game evolves. This week I have heard many speakers arguing that we all need to start thinking more broadly, and more steps in advance, rather than just the immediate and the obvious.

Here is an example of a more complex and difficult question.

What will be the effects of climate change on agricultural production for global markets, when there are fewer and older farmers but with more productive technologies, and the demands of wealthier urban people have changed? And how will all of these responses affect biodiversity conservation on a landscape scale?

Perhaps I am overstating the point, but I hope you will agree that we have to start anticipating multidimensional responses to different simultaneous external shocks. We are beginning to do so, but it is not easy.

I would like to return to one of the most important themes a decade ago, and discussed many times here this week, to illustrate this.

Especially since the late 1970s, many of us have emphasized the importance of NWFPs among the poor, the local people in and around the forests, often indigenous minorities. Over time we realized and documented their indigenous knowledge and their traditional or informal forest management strategies. We emphasized that in so many countries, local people (especially women) were already managing their local forests, but for products the forestry agency and the technical foresters did not appreciate, using rules, institutions and management systems that forest departments could not see and did not understand. We built a compelling case for recognizing and working with forest communities, or devolving management authority and responsibility to them, getting secure access for them, and trying to increase the yield and value of their NWFP outputs to enhance local livelihoods. Katie Warner described this as "a very noble undertaking".

But as Yam Malla discovered in his doctoral research 20 years ago (and many of us, including Katie Warner later observed in the fields of many countries) there was one potentially serious weakness in this approach. At the very time we were arguing for handover to local communities and user groups, those groups were beginning to fall apart in some countries and districts. People were moving to get better paid jobs in town, or where their children could find better education and health care; new opportunities were opening up where they could make US$5/day, so they were not very interested in ways to increase their forest income from 50 cents per day to 80 cents per day (a 60 percent increase in income that we thought they would be very excited and enthusiastic about). With new agricultural technology (e.g. chemical fertilizers), cattle dung became less important and so their interest in fodder collection from forests declined. With movement to towns, the traditional or spontaneous user groups and the social cohesion that is the very basis of community-based resource management began to disintegrate.

So we have heard arguments here this week, not about the need to help the poor people of the forests, but whether the best way to help them is in the forests, or to help them escape from the forests if they so wish, if being forest-dependent is "a livelihood of last resort". We have had numerous debates in the breakout sessions and between sessions, late into the night, about this issue. I think the answer one arrives at depends on what we assume about forest people's opportunities and preferences. They will make their choices — we outsiders must not force them to stay or to leave — but whether they stay or leave, and whether they become more or less forest-dependent, will depend as much on what happens outside the forest sector as within it. Like Katie Warner and others, I expect "forest dependency" will decline as broader socioeconomic development creates other livelihood options that they will find more attractive.


Mette Løyche Wilkie explained why forests in 2020 will be quite different to the forests of 1990 in location, quality, composition and extent; other papers confirmed this, and added that the institutions and organizations for the management and stewardship of forests are likely to be very different too.

So many papers have argued, and given detailed examples, that the future of the forests and the people in around them, and of the broader forestry sector, will be greatly affected by what happens outside forests and the forestry sector. Foresters and forestry agencies, and NGOs focused on the social or environmental values of forests, cannot control these external forces, but may be able to influence them.

Jan Heino asked how we can prepare for the large, rapid and sometimes unexpected changes that will sweep over the forestry sector.

The answer that I have heard, sitting here the past three days, is that "It will be difficult but not impossible".

There is an old saying that there are three kinds of people in the world:

Those who make things happen;
Those who watch things happen; and
Those who scratch their head and wonder what has just happened to them.

For every complex question there is a simple and obvious answer, which is invariably wrong!

I do not believe anyone can confidently predict all the external shocks that will influence the forestry sector, sometimes profoundly, in any one country. We cannot give a formula, or write a script, but in Jag Maini's words, we can "share the solutions".

While none of us individually can know or understand all these factors, by sharing knowledge, information and insights, we can collectively learn a great deal. Rather like the project to link thousands of computers together over the World Wide Web to get enough computing power for space research.

While pooling knowledge and experiences, we must not forget about the Pacific islands. They may be small and off everyone's radar screen here — they will not affect all of us here the way that developments in China and India will — but they certainly have ideas, wisdom and different insights that will enrich and expand our collective thinking about the future of forestry as societies, large and small, adapt and evolve.

As Jan Heino, Jag Maini, Frances Seymour, Maharaj Muthoo, Katie Warner, David Cassells and others have so powerfully argued here this week, we can prepare ourselves by trying to think ahead and more broadly and by ensuring that we are as flexible and responsive as possible, to recognize opportunities and threats as they happen, and to tell the difference. Sometimes what appear to be threats can be turned into opportunities.

And as almost all of the speakers have said, "communication is critical". We all need to learn to listen, explain and influence much better than we have done in the past. Foresters have to engage with society much more, rather than simply hiding in the forests.

1 Commissioner, Australia Productivity Commission.

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