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Asia and the Pacific1,2

1 This section on Asia and the Pacific covers two regions: Asia and Oceania. Asia includes: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka (South Asia); Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam (Continental Southeast Asia); Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore (Insular Southeast Asia); China, Hong Kong, Japan Korea (Democratic Peoples Republic), Korea (Republic), Macau, Mongolia (East Asia). Regional highlights of the Near East sub-region are treated in a separate section - see page 133. Oceania includes; American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, New Caledonia, Niue Island, Pacific Is, (Trust Terr), Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu, Australia, New Zealand.

2 Unless otherwise stated, all data on forest cover and forest products cited are from FAO databases; Forest Resources Assessment and the FAO Yearbook of Forest Products.

The Asia-Pacific region encompasses only about one-quarter of the world's land area, but is home to more than one-half of the world's population. Some of the world's richest, and many of its poorest, countries an located in the region. Some countries have almost no forests, while others have more than two-thirds of their land covered by forest vegetation. The region includes both some of the world's leading importers and exporters of forest products.

Most Asia-Pacific countries have experienced extremely rapid social and economic changes in recent years. While forest resources have helped to fuel the surging economic development, forests have also suffered greatly from the rapid changes. Expanding populations and greater wealth have increased demand for wood products, agricultural land, water, forest-based recreation and ecotourism, electricity from hydro-electric sources, and attractive industrial and residential sites. There are also urgent new calls for the conservation of biological diversity, protection of endangered species, expansion of protected areas and carbon sequestration.

Several countries in the region (e.g., Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Mongolia, and Viet Nam) face special problems and challenges in moving towards market economies. While highly encouraging progress has been made by some of these countries, the transition to more open and flexible market economies has also brought new risks and threats to forest resources, and new management demands. A trend in privatization is seen in other countries as well (e.g., the privatization of most of New Zealand's forest plantations).

Forest resources

The Asia-Pacific region has approximately 565 million ha of forests, or about 16 percent of the world's total. Forest wealth is unevenly distributed. In South Asia, only Bhutan has more than 40 percent of its land area covered by forest, while several countries in Southeast Asia and Oceania have more than half of their land in forest.

Forest cover in the temperate areas of the region has essentially remained constant. In contrast, the region's tropical forests have declined substantially. In the tropical countries of Asia, deforestation amounted to 3.9 million ha per year between 1980 and 1990. This represented the highest annual rate of deforestation (1.2 percent) among the tropical regions of the world. The estimated rate for 1990-95 is somewhat lower (1.1 percent). The two major direct causes of forest loss in Asia and the Pacific are clearing for agriculture (including shifting cultivation) and excessive cutting of timber. Other important causes of forest destruction include fuelwood harvesting; mining, irrigation and hydroelectric projects; and urban expansion.

Forest degradation is also a serious problem in the region. Commercial harvesting has been more widespread (measured as a percentage of total forest area) and intensive (timber volume removals per hectare) in tropical Asia and the Pacific, than in any other tropical region. High population densities have also led to widespread forest degradation from fuelwood and fodder harvesting, cattle grazing, shifting cultivation, and timber harvesting for local construction.

Table 1
Annual rate of change of forest area, 1990-95



annual change
thousand ha

annual change

south Asia



continental Southeast Asia

-1 164


insular Southeast Asia

-1 750


east Asia







-3 419


Fire is a continuing threat to many of the forests of the region, exacerbated by increasing populations, increased human activity in forests, and the expanding urban-forest interface. There have been major forest fires in Australia, Indonesia, and Thailand in recent years. In 1996, more than 3 million ha of forests burned in Mongolia.

Insects and diseases present localized problems but are not considered major problems in the region. The infestation of Leucaena psyllid, which caused considerable damage to Leucaena leucocephala plantations and agroforestry plantings in the 1980s, has largely subsided with the introduction of resistant varieties of Leucaena, diversification of plantings and application of integrated pest management practices.

The Asia-Pacific region leads the world in tropical forest plantation development; its more than 22 million ha represents three-quarters of the world's total. Additionally, the Asia-Pacific region possesses most of the world's 14 million ha of rubber and coconut plantations, both of which are becoming increasingly important sources of wood. In the temperate areas of the region, China, the Republic of Korea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Australia have established substantial areas of forest plantations.

Forest resources development and conservation

Until recently, Asia-Pacific countries could be conveniently classified as either 'forest-rich' or 'forest-poor.' Forest-rich countries tended to focus on economic exploitation of forest resources, often using the resulting capital to fuel overall economic development. In forest-poor countries, priority was given to social and ecological aspects of forestry, reforestation of degraded areas, plantation development, and provision of forest products for local use.

However, the lines between forest-rich and forest-poor countries have become considerably blurred in recent years. For example, several former major producers of forest products have become net importers of forest products. Nearly all countries, including those still possessing substantial forest resources, have come to realize that the resources are not inexhaustible. Greater efforts are thus being made to bring timber harvests within sustainable levels, improve forest management practices, increase forest conservation, accelerate plantation development, and provide forest-derived benefits to a broader range of people. Conversely, many countries with limited forest resources are now offering attractive incentives to individuals and corporations to encourage forest resources development.

Forest management objectives have evolved considerably in Asia and the Pacific in recent years. A major reorientation of many countries is reflected in the inclusion of social and environmental issues in their national development objectives. In India, for example, the 1988 National Forest Policy explicitly gives priority to the environmental and social functions of public forests, while encouraging forest industry to source its raw material needs from private lands. China has adopted a 'two forestry systems' approach, emphasizing environmental forest functions on sensitive sites and production functions on other lands. In 1995, the Philippines adopted 'Community-Based Forest Management' as its primary strategy for forest development. Indonesia recently outlined a long-term forest management strategy that calls for moving from 'sustained-yield management' to 'sustained forest and ecosystem management,' and from 'company profit-oriented forestry' to 'social benefit-oriented forestry.'

Many countries in the region are reducing their reliance on natural forests to provide industrial roundwood and are shifting to other sources. Thailand, Sri Lanka, and New Zealand, for example, have restricted most timber harvesting in natural forests and now depend almost exclusively on plantations, agroforestry systems, farm forests and, in the case of Thailand, imports to satisfy industrial wood requirements. Most countries of the region have accelerated reforestation efforts in recent years. The planting programmes of China, India, Indonesia, and Viet Nam are especially noteworthy for their scale. Thailand has recently launched a 5-year programme to reforest 800 000 ha. Pakistan is set to embark on a massive regreening programme funded by the Asian Development Bank.

Many countries are giving increased attention to forest conservation, exemplified by the creation or expansion of protected areas. Australia, Bhutan, Cambodia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, and Thailand have all designated more than 10 percent of their countries' total land as protected areas (IUCN categories I-V).3 Lingering problems in many countries, however, are ineffective management and weak protection of designated reserves.

3 World Resources Institute. 1996. World resources -1996-97. Oxford University Press. Oxford, UK.

Forest products

Wood products

Countries of the Asia-Pacific region produced about 1.2 billion m3 of roundwood in 1994, or about one-third of the world's total. Fuelwood and wood for charcoal comprise the bulk (74 percent) of all roundwood removals. The Asia-Pacific region currently produces about 19 percent of the world's industrial roundwood; production rose steadily in the past decade, from 250 million m3 in 1983 to 294 million m3 in 1994. Most industrial roundwood is used in the countries in which it is grown.

Fuelwood and charcoal remain the most commonly used sources of energy for a substantial proportion of rural and urban dwellers in most developing Asian countries. The Regional Wood Energy Development Programme has estimated that the value of wood fuels used in its 15 member countries approximates US$ 29 000 million per year. In Thailand, for example, the value of wood fuels, which account for less than 30 percent of all energy use, is an estimated US$ 2 000 million. This represents more than 50 percent of the 1994 energy import bill of US$ 3 800 million. The substitution of wood fuels by kerosene would involve a substantial increase in the import bill, which would be difficult for the country to meet.4

4 Wood Energy News, Vol. 11, June 1996

Some countries (e.g., the Philippines, Thailand) have moved from being major exporters to being net importers of wood products. Reduced availability of timber in many major producer countries (e.g., Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines) has caused harvesting pressure to shift to countries previously only lightly exploited (e.g., Cambodia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands). Other strategies to compensate for declining natural forest resources and increasing demands include expanding forest plantations and increasing agroforestry and farm forestry development.

Since the 1980s, major timber producers in the region have moved increasingly towards more domestic processing and higher value products. Exports of unprocessed logs have been banned in Indonesia, the Philippines, Peninsular Malaysia, Fiji, and Vanuatu. Similar bans are being phased in, or are being considered, in several other countries of the region. Meanwhile, production and trade of processed products continues to increase. Indonesia leads the world in the production (10 million m3 in 1994) and export (8 million m3) of tropical plywood. Malaysia is the world's leading exporter of tropical sawnwood, exporting 4.6 million m3 in 1994.

With large volumes of plantation-grown radiata pine nearing maturity, New Zealand is poised to increase exports of softwood logs and sawnwood substantially. Already in 1994, New Zealand exported 5.5 million m3 of logs (up from 1.2 million m3 in 1983) and 1 million m3 of sawnwood (increased from 0.4 million m3 in 1983). The value of New Zealand's forest products exports surged from US$ 331 million in 1983 to US$ 1.45 billion in 1994.

Table 2
Forest products trade balance in Asia and the Pacific, 1994 (US$ thousand)


US$ thousand

US$ thousand

trade balance
US$ thousand

south Asia




continental Southeast Asia


1 816.1

-1 140.7

insular Southeast Asia

9 802.6

2 884.9

+6 917.7

east Asia

4 559.2

28 943.7

-24 384.5

tropical Oceania




temperate Oceania

2 078.0

1 789.6



17 946.0

36 116.1

-18 170.1

The Asia-Pacific region, taken as a whole, is a major net importer of forest products, importing US$ 18 billion more than it exported in 1994 (Table 2). Much of the imbalance, however, is attributable to East Asia, especially Japan, which imported nearly US$ 17 billion worth of forest products. Other major importers are China, Republic of Korea, Thailand, and Australia. Of 35 Asia-Pacific countries, 24 are net importers of forest products (in value terms).

Indonesia and Malaysia dominate Asia-Pacific export markets, but exports have increased rapidly within the last decade from continental Asia (i.e., Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos) and Oceania (i.e., Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and Solomon Islands).

Non-wood forest products

In recent years, increased attention has focused on non-wood forest products (NWFPs) and services (such as ecotourism) as potential income-generating alternatives or complements to timber harvesting. Lack of knowledge related to the management, utilization and marketing of these products and services, however, is limiting their development and, in some cases, raising concerns over potential over-exploitation.

Asia and Pacific countries lead in the production and trade of bamboo, rattan, pine oleoresins, lac, natural silk, medicinal plants, bidi leaves, forest-derived spices and chestnuts. Such products comprise a surprising percentage of total forest exports from some nations. More than 70 percent of all forest-based exports from India, for example, are non-wood forest products.5

5 Gupta, B.N.I 994, India country report on non-wood forest products. In Durst, P., Ulrich, and Kashio M. (eds.) Non-wood forest products in Asia. RAPA Publication 1994/28. FAO, Bangkok.

Because collection and processing of non-wood forest products are generally labour intensive, countries with low labour costs have considerable comparative advantage in producing non-wood forest products. In this respect, the developing countries of Asia and the Pacific can be expected to continue as the major suppliers of many such forest products in the future, providing that raw material sources can be sustained.

Forest industries

Asia and Oceania have some of the world's most competitive forest industries, with market-leading companies in both the developing and developed countries of the region. Developing countries have generally capitalized on abundant forest resources and low labour costs, while the developed countries have remained competitive by emphasizing processing efficiency and marketing acumen. A major new thrust of Malaysia and Thailand is to move progressively into exports of secondary forest products such as furniture and joinery. This transformation permits earnings from forestry to remain high even if volumes shipped decline or stabilize.

Considerable attention is now being devoted to developing processing capacity for new forest products in Asia and the Pacific. Most notable is the rapid expansion of medium-density fibreboard (MDF) and pulp and paper, particularly in Indonesia, Malaysia, China and Viet Nam. A major new product development has been the recent rapid increase in rubberwood processing, especially in Malaysia and Thailand. More than 80 percent of all furniture produced in Malaysia now uses rubberwood as the base raw material.

Some countries (e.g., the Philippines) are undergoing major restructuring of the industrial processing sector to adapt to the realities of reduced raw material supplies, smaller logs, and increased dependency on plantation-grown wood. Many Asian companies are also internationalizing their operations as domestic forest resources decline. While this adaptive strategy has long been practised by Japanese and Korean firms, it has only recently been adopted by Indonesian, Malaysian and Thai companies. Many of these companies have recently expanded operations into Cambodia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, and even beyond Asia into Latin America and Africa.

Forestry institutions

Government forestry administrations

Throughout Asia and Oceania, most forests are under the control of central or state governments. China, Indonesia, Myanmar, and New Zealand have ministries exclusively devoted to forestry. Elsewhere forestry departments fall under a larger ministry (e.g., agriculture) and thus may have a lower hierarchical profile. Budget allocations and staff resources are often inadequate to monitor forest resources effectively and to ensure sustainable management. Meagre central government resources, a history of government forest management failures, a desire to reform economies towards a stronger market orientation, and a commitment to more socially-oriented forest management have all been factors in a recent trend towards decentralization and devolution of forest management responsibilities to local governments, user groups, and local communities. The trend is exemplified by Joint Forest Management programmes in India, Community Forest Management Agreements in the Philippines, land and forest allocation programmes in countries moving towards market economies (e.g., Viet Nam, Laos, China), privatization of forests in New Zealand and the transfer of forest lands to user groups in Nepal. The staffing of central government forestry agencies has changed dramatically in many cases to adjust to these new economic and institutional policies. Many agencies are struggling to identify their roles and adapt to the rapidly changing resource management environments.

Commercial private sector

Private companies wield considerable influence over forestry in the region. The private sector has invested heavily in harvesting equipment and processing facilities and, more recently, in forest plantations. Commercial forest operations provide millions of jobs throughout the region, and contribute millions of dollars each year to government coffers through the taxes and royalties paid. The transition from centrally-planned economies towards market economies in China, Laos, Mongolia, Myanmar and Viet Nam is presenting new opportunities and challenges for the private commercial sector and the governments involved. These countries face both opportunities and potential risks as forest management and exploitation are opened up to private-sector investment, as state corporations are privatized and as joint ventures are established with international firms.

Non-governmental organizations

Environmental organizations (both local and international) are rapidly gaining in power and influence in many countries. In Thailand, for example, advocacy groups have strongly influenced the pace of development, the orientation of the Master Plan for Forestry, and the development of a community forestry policy. In Indonesia, a consortium of environmental groups recently succeeded in elevating the debate over reallocation of government reforestation funds to international levels by challenging the government in court. International NGOs have been especially helpful in developing local capacities in countries such as Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Laos and Viet Nam, which previously had limited links to international organizations.

Local governments and communities

In many countries of the region, local governments and community organizations are being given increasing levels of responsibility for forest management and protection. The movement is most pronounced in South Asia and the Philippines, where social forestry programmes have evolved considerably since the 1970s. In Oceania, tribal and clan ownership and management of forest resources has been a longstanding tradition. In Fiji, the Native Land Trust Board assists in the management of forest land. In other South Pacific countries, forest management decisions are made exclusively by local groups or in collaboration with government organizations.

Research and education institutions

The Asia-Pacific region has a large number of forestry research and education institutions; recent surveys identified more than 138 forestry research organizations, and 170 forestry education and training institutions in the region, including 119 in developing countries.6 The region also hosts the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the Southeast Asian Regional Research Programme of the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), the Regional Community Forestry Training Centre (RECOFTC), the ASEAN Institute of Forest Management (AIFM), the ASEAN Tree Seed Center, the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), and several other regional or international forestry institutions.

6 FAO. 1993a. Directory of forestry research organizations. FAO Forestry Paper 109. FAO, Rome; FAO. 1995. Directory of forestry education and training institutions. FAO, Rome.

Forestry policies and planning

Most countries in Asia and the Pacific have made significant progress in reorienting forest policies and strategies to lay the foundation for sustainable forest management in line with UNCED and Agenda 21. Particular attention is given to policies that strengthen and enhance the conservation of biological diversity, the environmental functions of forests, economic stability, social and cultural values, forest health, and participatory decision making and management.

However, considerable work remains to review and reorient policies in related sectors that have an impact on forests (e.g., agriculture, land use, population, rural development, energy, transportation, tourism, etc.).

Many countries in the region have adopted the National Forestry Action Programme (NFAP) framework, including seven that have developed Forestry Sector Master Plans in cooperation with the Asian Development Bank, World Bank and various bilateral organizations. Fourteen Asia-Pacific countries have completed the NFAP planning phase and are in various stages of programme execution (i.e., Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Fiji, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam). Planning activities are under way, or soon to be initiated, in India, Myanmar, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu. Some countries that developed NFAPs several years ago are now reviewing and revising their NFAPs (e.g., Indonesia, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Sri Lanka).

New initiatives in forestry

Throughout the Asia-Pacific region, attention is now focused on bringing forests under sustainable management. National initiatives, tailored to specific local needs and conditions, exist in nearly every country of the region. These country-level initiatives are complemented and supported by a wide array of international initiatives. A current challenge in the region is to operationalize the ITTO Guidelines for Sustainable Management of Natural Tropical Forests, UNCED's Forest Principles and other broad forest management concepts.

Most tropical timber producing countries in Asia and the Pacific, and most of the region's major consumers subscribe fully to ITTO's Objective Year 2000. While progress towards meeting the objective is uneven (e.g., only Indonesia and Malaysia, among Asia-Pacific producers, are judged to have a reasonable prospect of bringing their entire production forests under sustainable management by the year 2000), most countries are judged to be moving in the right direction.7

7 Kemp, Ronald H. and Dhira Phantumvanit. 1995. 1995 mid-term review of progress towards the achievement of the Year 2000 Objective: consultants' report. ITTC(XIX)/6. ITTO. Yokohama.

Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea are active members of the Montreal Process which is working to develop criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management in temperate and boreal forests. Indonesia and Malaysia recently proposed an initiative to develop regional criteria and indicators for Asia and the Pacific.

Various donor organizations are helping developing countries in the region to translate the concepts of sustainable forest management into action at the field level, such as through support for initiatives in reduced-impact logging, harvest planning and monitoring, 'Model Forest' management, application of codes of forest practice, community-based forest management, resource inventory, etc.

Several countries and NGOs in the region are currently exploring the feasibility of forest product certification and the ecolabelling of forest products. Several site-level certifications have, in fact, already been made in the region. Best known among the national-level initiatives is the work of the Indonesian Ecolabelling Institute, which is working with CIFOR and the Forest Stewardship Council to develop certification procedures.8

8 Nugroho, Tri. 1995- An illustration of implementation of sustainable forest management and forest products certification in Indonesia. Paper presented at the FAO-ITTO Regional Expert Consultation on the Implementation of Sustainable Forest Management, 12-15 December 1995, Bangkok, Thailand.


The tremendous dynamism of the Asia-Pacific region which has greatly influenced forests and forestry development in the past, is sure to continue in the foreseeable future. Forestry will remain a key economic and development sector in many countries. New competing demands for the region's forest resources will increasingly be added to the already formidable requirements the region places on its forests. While some countries in the region are coping with these pressures and are moving rapidly towards more sustainable forest management, others are likely to experience continued, or even accelerated, forest degradation in the near term.

It is likely that the region will face increased competition from other forest product producing regions in the future. This will force some less competitive companies and producing areas out of business, but others are likely to adapt by improving efficiency, diversifying product lines, developing or acquiring new raw material sources, and targeting niche markets.

Major recent trends in Asia and the Pacific are the reorientation of forestry towards local people, a more participatory approach to forest management, and the development of strategic alliances to meet, simultaneously, the needs of local communities, industries, and national and global environmental interests. Forestry organizations and institutions are undergoing major restructuring to accommodate and facilitate this movement. Policies, similarly, are being reoriented. It is likely that such restructuring and reorientation will continue; indeed, this is essential for the successful future development of forestry in the region.

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