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National policies in context - issues and trends

A number of recent developments both within and outside the forestry sector have influenced forest policies and their regulatory framework. The influences and the responses are highlighted below.

At both national and international levels the economic environment is marked by increased economic liberalization and reliance on markets. Markets are increasingly integrated, and sometimes strongly fluctuating. At the same time, there is a general tendency towards austerity and a smaller public sector.

Amongst other things the forestry sector has been strongly influenced by economic restructuring. In most developing countries and countries in transition, the majority of forest land is state property, and public forest services/institutions traditionally have been responsible for the management of this land. Public forest enterprises have also been organized in many developing countries, both under free market as well as central planning systems, to exploit the forest resources and, in some cases, also to control and supervise the marketing of forest products. Under Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs), the budgets and staffing levels of national forest services have been reduced, in many places drastically, and the roles of the services have changed. There has been a strong move to privatize the state-owned forest industries. While many countries are being affected by these developments, certainly among the most dramatic recent changes in the political economy have taken place in the countries in transition (see Box 1).

A more competitive environment and the need for increased efficiency have meant that the role of the public sector is shifting from one of implementation to one of facilitation and coordination. Although the public sector remains dominant, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, the scientific community and other entities are becoming increasingly important. Forest policies are attempting to reflect this economic and institutional reality and are adapting to a new balance between the roles of government institutions and civil society, and of central level versus regional and local level institutions.

There is increasing momentum for the decentralization of government structures and functions in most countries, regardless of their political-economic model. Decentralization is a complex process having structural, management and financial aspects and taking several forms; deconcentration, or the transfer of control from central agencies to local offices; devolution, or transfer of control to local governments; delegation of authority to local governments which act as agents of the central government; and transfer of responsibility, for example to non-governmental organizations or local associations. This process brings decision making and policy-making functions closer to the field level and thus can be more responsive to local situations and needs. Various approaches are being tried for ensuring that benefits from forestry activities accrue at least partially to the local level, and for encouraging communities to become increasingly more involved in forest management (see 'Trends in forest management and utilization' in Part 1). Although the process is far from complete in many cases, and there have been constraints in implementation, decentralization appears to be improving the chances for sustainable forest management.

The expansion of protected areas, decentralized management, and privatization of forest resources, are likely to result in increasing conflicts between the various interest groups over access and utilization of the resources. Changes in resource policy and implementation are also often sources of conflicts between the various interest groups, especially when they result in the transfer of rights and benefits from one group to another. This is especially evident as flexible, traditional access among various users is transformed into formal legal boundaries that do not recognize the needs of seasonal users (e.g., pastoralists) and those heavily dependent on the forest (e.g., the poor, women and minorities). Conflict management processes are being increasingly developed and utilized.

Since UNCED, countries have attempted to make forestry policy more consistent with the concepts of sustainability and environmental soundness. Forest policy has incorporated the concept of 'sustainability' for many years, but it was largely oriented to sustainable wood production. Many nations have been revising their policies to reflect a wider definition of sustainability which addresses both cultural and biological diversity in planning and changing views on 'trees and forests for whom and for what'. Since the late 1970s, community forestry has been developing various tools and methods for involving communities more actively in planning and managing forest resources (see Box 2).

Forestry policy development will also have to take into consideration important national and regional demographic trends. Population growth will continue to increase demand for forest products and result in increased competition for use of forest land for other purposes. In developing countries, numeric increases may, however, be overshadowed by demographic changes, including continuing rapid urbanization, and occupational transition from rural jobs to the informal sector. Migration has already led in some places to the 'feminization of the countryside' where migration of men to urban and peri-urban areas and their integration into the informal sector have meant that a majority of rural households are now being led by women. As a result, women are playing a greater role in local natural resource decision making.

Box 1
Institutional changes in forestry in countries in transition

Fundamental changes are occurring in the forestry sector of most countries in Eastern Europe, several countries in Asia, and a few others elsewhere as they move from a centralized to a market economy. Measures being taken to improve national economic performance include: reducing the role of the state in productive activities and provision of services; allowing competition between producers to improve efficiency; and stimulating investment at all levels and from all sources on the basis of an assured and fair share of the benefits in return.

Two sets of problems are being confronted by the forestry sector in these countries, i.e., those related to the macro-economic situation and those directly connected to the sector itself. Among those of the former category are the low competitiveness of the processing industry, shortage of managerial and economic skills, and weak marketing mechanisms. The most important factors in the latter are readaptation of forestry policies and legal instruments, changes in the tenure of, and access to, forest resources, and the reorganization of forestry financing and institutional systems.

In the Asian countries, important issues include: the adaptation of forestry policies and legislation; changes in tenure of forest resources; reform of state-owned forest enterprises; the use of incentives for improving forest management; criteria for attracting and assessing forestry investments; extent of value-added processing to be developed in the host country; improved competitiveness; pricing and valuation of forests and forest products; and development of market information systems and marketing support structures.

In most countries in Eastern Europe, the main concerns include: restitution of state forest land to former owners (or their heirs) and privatization of forest operations and of state-owned enterprises; reorganization of forest management systems; reorientation of forestry policies and their harmonization with national development goals and other sector policies; forestry financing; the development of an entrepreneurial culture; and the establishment of appropriate pricing, taxation and marketing systems.

There is clearly no single prescription for countries in transition wishing to make adjustments to the forestry sector. Caution is needed, and it is necessary to proceed gradually while assessing impacts and monitoring carefully the effectiveness and sustainability of reforms.

Box 2
Community forestry: what it is

Community forestry is a term used to describe the participation of communities in the management and use of forest resources. Related approaches include social forestry, farm forestry and joint forest management. In addition, agroforestry development efforts often use principles upon which community forestry is based. While communities have always been involved in the management of their resources, the development of community forestry as an institutionalized forest management approach is relatively recent. Community forestry programmes build upon both local people's and technicians' knowledge and use participatory approaches to help enable local people and their organizational structures address their own goals and concerns through improved access, use and management of trees and forest resources. Community forestry is not a separate type of forestry but is an element in forestry planning and management.

Many countries are attempting to integrate ecosystem management and more holistic management objectives into their forestry policies. This is a substantial challenge as it is often difficult to adequately address the issues of sustainability and diversity by simply 'adding' appropriate language to existing policies.

Over the last few years, several governments have responded to the increasing importance given to environmental issues by creating new institutions, such as ministries of environment, and by adding an environmental component to their development plans and programmes. These new approaches have affected the functioning and structure of forestry institutions. In some cases, responsibility for all forest policy has been transferred to a new environment ministry. Forestry and wildlife management have been separated institutionally in many countries for several years, but there is now a tendency to institutionally separate forest protection and forest production functions, one often being transferred to the new ministries of environment and the other remaining within the traditional forestry services in agriculture and rural development ministries. Another trend is to entrust the management of state-owned forests to autonomous agencies who are expected to be financially self-sufficient.

The 'information revolution' is affecting forest policy development in a number of ways although its impact has been limited to some geographical areas. In some cases, information, which was once managed as a resource to which access was limited or controlled, is being shared in a more open environment, thus allowing more people and organizations to follow forestry debates closely, to voice their concerns, and to influence the outcome.

Finally, the importance of cross-sectoral linkages between forestry and other sectors, and their implications for forest policy development, is widely recognized; many countries are grappling with the question of just how to put such integrated planning into practice. The external policy decisions that affect forestry are too numerous to be mentioned here but include those relating to: economic growth; alleviation of poverty; agriculture; energy; environment; and land ownership and land use. Success in integrated planning, however, is still more a goal than a reality in most countries, developed and developing alike.

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