Environmental functions of forests
Rural energy development
Enhancement of research
Centrally planned systems for forestry
Market based systems for forestry
Another major group of issues confronting forestry in the Asia Pacific Region relate to conditions of social and economic trends and related concerns regarding the broader human and physical environment. Among the leading concerns is the continuing growth in population which threatens to cancel gains in economic outputs and growth in the per-capita incomes and standard of living for many of the Region's population. Opportunities for economic development, including broader access to participation in the global economy, together with rapidly increasing concerns for the macro environment will change the nature of the role of forests in the development process. Many of the causes and possible solutions will rest outside the forestry sector as traditionally viewed, requiring integration and cooperation between sectors. Those responsible for economic development planning, population, rural settlement, the environment, agriculture, energy, water resources and forestry must all be part of the teamwork addressing these issues. Partial approaches and limitations on what is considered 'forestry' are likely to continue to lead to continued failures where linkages to other sectors are not fully incorporated into policies and programs.
It is clear that forests are increasingly of interest and concern for the non-timber functions in potential conflict with the more utilitarian commodity outputs. These growing concerns are both internal, representing the interests of governments and residents of individual countries as well as the broader international community. Biodiversity, sustainability of the productive capacity of forests, air and water quality, amenity values, wildlife conservation, and global warming and carbon cycles all impinge on traditional approaches to forestry and indirectly to the levels of utilization.
Major issues of equity between the developed countries with diminishing resources and the protection of the environment (particularly tropical and sub-tropical) in developing regions including Asia Pacific place region against region and country against country. The legitimate interests of the developing countries within the Asia Pacific region for greater material and economic well-being often depend upon limited options, including greater use of forests as the instrument of development. In contrast, these forests are seen by others outside the region as one of the last remaining reservoirs of biota capable of sustaining the global environment. Transfer payments and other forms of compensation for deferred use of resources for broad global benefit to offset local and regional options forgone will be central to incentives and viable options for conservation throughout much of the Asia Pacific region.
As noted, one of the most pervasive demands on the forest of the Asia Pacific Region is for domestic energy. Throughout much of the Region the options for energy development are extremely limited. Fossil fuels are scarce and import costs are beyond the reach of most of the population. While increased efficiency in wood-based energy is possible, this alone will not materially reduce demand for fuelwood. Deforestation and degradation of otherwise productive forests throughout the region will continue until viable solutions are found. Greater recognition that many of the fundamental problems and issues are not entirely, or perhaps even largely, centered on the commercial and industrial component of forestry, nor on the role of consumption and trade of roundwood and primary forest products is needed to redirect policy formulation and sector strategies towards other pressing causes contributing to the present forestry sector condition. Energy demand and alternatives will of necessity be central to this shift in focus.
It has been noted that future sector development will require greater understanding of many aspects of forestry beyond the traditional boundaries of the sector. Technical information and science regarding the forest itself will of course remain central to better management and utilization of forests, the utilization of products, and the conditions and limits of sustainability of the forest as a complex natural system. However, the forest does not exist separate from the larger social and economic realities surrounding the sector as uniquely experienced in each country of the Asia Pacific Region. The economic, social, legal and policy framework existent at any given time fundamentally determines how and on what conditions forest use will occur and the likely outcomes imposed on the physical and biological systems. Planting the best genetically improved seedling in the face of ineffective land tenure arrangements, pressures for subsistence agriculture, uncontrolled grazing, undervalued markets, and ineffective management and administration will be certain of failure. Research and analysis of the surrounding framework for the forestry sector in terms of the component influences much seriously support the more technical and scientific research capacity of the region.
Research of both scientific and social-political issues must also be effectively brought to bear on formulation of viable solutions. Much information and analysis exists but is not fully utilized. The implications of the shift from exploitation of natural forest stocks to an era of investment in forest production and competition for both land and resources in an internationally competitive environment should not be underestimated in the context of traditional policies and institutions controlling the forest sector. As adequate as past practices and approaches may have been, the reality of today's conditions and the emerging dimensions of the future will require substantial rethinking based on new knowledge and understandings.
Forestry throughout the Asia Pacific Region, and indeed much of the world, is under central government authority and largely administered under central planning approaches. Whether the issue is the ownership of land and forests, the determination of forest use, the setting of allowable levels of production and harvest, the structure of forest industry, the allocation of products to markets and trade, and many aspects of consumption are regulated and guided by the hand of government. Various political and economic considerations play into the rationale and reasons for this approach. Even in the developed countries of the region, central planning and government intervention in forestry and sector policy is much more common than in other major economic sectors. Almost every country (New Zealand has become an exception) has a large and pervasive government professional bureaucracy for almost all major aspects of the forestry sector.
The structure and adequacy of the established bureaucratic approaches for forestry are increasingly questioned relative to the efficiency and effectiveness of results and the ability to respond to changing conditions. While it is unlikely that major changes in land ownership and control will be forthcoming in most countries, the emphasis on the potential for modifying central controls and administration is growing. Innovative changes are being tried, and mixed economic systems are being developed to supplement central authority.
Policy changes related to 'markets' for all factors of production (including labor, land, capital, and material inputs) are increasingly seen as sources of information regarding relative resource scarcity and management is being recognized as investment activity linked to producing desirable outcomes (commodity or otherwise) in a socially efficient manner. Accountability for results is increasing at all levels of forestry, from forest and plantation through forest enterprises and marketing. The need for responsive administrative structures, and the prerequisite information flows and data at all levels is huge. Even under conditions of publicly administered programs and activities, the fundamental basis for decision-making requires new structures and new and different kinds of information for setting goals, strategic planning, and allocation decisions.
The Asia Pacific Region includes a wide variety of economic systems, from relatively open market systems to administered economies. From the "shock treatment" of New Zealand's decisions to privatize almost all aspects of forestry to China's "Market System with Socialist Characteristic's", the Region is experimenting with the possibilities of greater market-based structures. Lessons are being learned and shared as this process moves forward.9 No single 'model' is likely to emerge, although it is widely recognized that greater reliance on individual initiative and incentives can potentially increase the performance of the forestry sector in contrast to command and control processes. Mobilization of individuals, cooperation and participation in conservation and protection of resources, and efficiencies in utilization of investment resources based on sound incentives is seen as a viable alternative to regulation and prohibitions adversely cooperation and efficiency.
9 The FAO, with funding from Japan, initiated a new Regional Project in 1995 on Market Reforms in the Forestry Sector involving China, Mongolia, Viet Nam, Myanmar and Laos. This project seeks to build upon the accumulated experience of each country under the prevailing unique conditions with the goal of possible adoption of new approaches as appropriate in other situations throughout the participating countries.
Forestry has, over many years, experimented with variable forest management schemers such as community forestry, agro-forestry, social forestry and related concepts in recognition of the need for greater participation by local populations in matters affecting their well-being, either as consumers of forest products (including non-wood forest products), protection of resources (watersheds, wildlife) and to reduce potentially degrading land use practices for short term gain. In many cases, these approaches have at best represented mixtures of decentralized responsibility and decision-making with central control. Results have been mixed, but numerous successful examples exist to encourage further development and experimentation with capturing the huge benefits of personal initiative and responsibility coupled with benefit-sharing and long term potential for gain to replace short term exploitation of resources.