This thematic study provides a review and description of the trends in development of forest related legislation in a selected range of Asia-Pacific countries. A topic of this magnitude by its nature requires some subjective judgements. Interestingly however, the most pressing issues are generally of a recurring theme and are supported by the literature and the experience of those who have contributed.
The major issues identified are:
· The most pressing problem faced by individual countries, the region as a whole, and indeed, the world, can be related back to the issue of human demand for resources which is driven in part by population pressure. The forest is a major contributor to those resources. Despite the enormous contribution made by forests to human society, forests themselves are often regarded as an impediment to human development. Given that the human population will continue to expand for several more decades at least, there exists a real challenge for governments to seek innovative and equitable methods of providing the resources those people need, while concurrently ensuring that forests are managed in a sustainable manner.
· The central need is for a policy environment to be created whereby forests retain both their essential natural functions and their capacity to supply goods and services required by people. The short term imperative is the need to stabilise the existing natural forest both in extent and quality, while in the long run there is a need to develop alternative sources of supply, including sustainably managed natural forest and plantations.
· There is urgent need for an holistic approach to the development of forest policy in the region. The piece-meal or laissez-faire approach taken to date has generally provided short term expediencies which are paid for in the loss of forest resources, and have created the far larger issues with which governments and affected parties are now having to grapple. The holistic approach envisaged must deal not only with the issues directly concerning the forest, but also with such external issues as tax legislation; economic and market factors; population growth and migration; and energy policies. This holistic approach is arguably the crux of the issues facing natural forests in the region, and is the key to their long term viability.
Reform and development of an holistic approach to sustainable forest management is only likely to be effective when integrated into a wider total economic reform of a country's economy. As long as distortions are present within an economic structure, resources will either flow towards or away from a given sector, contingent on the nature of the distortion.
Distortions or market failures often stem from undefined or ill-defined property rights, both within a particular time period, and between the present and the future. The divergence between the prices of forest-related goods recognised in the market and a more complete assessment of social value means that private decisions with respect to the use of forests are not always the best decisions for society, particularly the long term interests of society.
· Provision within forest related policy is required for the supply of fuelwood to rural and urban markets. This often overlooked demand is in many cases as large or larger than the demand for industrial wood, yet often goes unrecognised in policy development. In addition, this demand is commonly concentrated in areas close to large populations, thus placing immense pressure on the ability of the forest to provide this resource in a sustainable manner.
· Land and forest resource tenure is a pressing issue which requires addressing in many countries in the region. In the development of forest policy, recognition by governments of the legitimacy of customary rights to the forest and its resources is required, and those rights require the full protection of the law. Without security of tenure (and capacity to exercise it), there is no incentive for resource users to manage the resources they control in a sustainable manner. Several of the countries studied had in fact removed the rights of rural people to forest resources in the belief that central government control was somehow better. Additionally, that transfer of rights has also resulted in a significant transfer of wealth, often to the disadvantage of rural people.
· Lack of reliable and up to date forest resource information hampers efforts to develop scientific and holistically based policy in most countries. Thus a pressing need is for increased research into all aspects of the forest resource. This includes inventory data, research into forest management, ecological studies, improved methods of utilising forest produce, quantifying the non-wood benefits provided by the forest, and the need for conservation and protection of forest resources. From this improved knowledge must flow a training programme in both technical matters related to the forest, and in raising the general level of awareness among the people of the value of the forest resource.
There is considerable opportunity here for other countries, both from within and outside of the region, to contribute to this work, both financially and by provision of assistance.
· Resolution of conflicting demands on the forest resource. In many situations, the local, national and international demands on forests conflict. Local people see forests providing resources for a daily living, and land for agriculture. At a national level, forests are seen as sources of foreign exchange and employment, while the international perspective often includes protection of biodiversity and the role of forests in the global climate. In striving for better management of forest resources, reconciliation of these diverse interests must occur. This requires both intra- and inter- country work, and a result that does not prejudice local living standards, while maintaining the forests' quality and quantity is held as the objective.
The nature of the various "affected parties" must be understood for any effective solution to be developed. In particular, the role of women - often the group which must obtain and manage the forest resources (as fuelwood and food) - is often overlooked. If this group is omitted from any process to find effective solutions, much opportunity to move towards sustainable forest management is lost.
The following conditions are likely to be required for any solution to have a chance to succeed:* strong political commitment to sustainable forest management;
* genuine involvement of affected parties, including (or especially) rural people;
* development of the necessary research and technology transfer mechanisms;
* adoption of a multi-sectorial approach to policy formulation;
* rationalisation of land use, forest use, and land tenure policies to promote efficiency and sustainability;
* mechanisms to encourage a slowing of population growth;
* involvement and assistance of the international community.
· Few countries recognise the forest as having an intrinsic value as opposed to the value of goods and services it can provide. This is a difficult concept on which to place a value, but as forest resources are reduced in both extent and quality, this becomes increasingly important. Past policies have been almost exclusively directed to the exploitation of the productive forest resources - usually wood and the land on which the forest stands.
The value of protective services is commonly ignored, even though many such protective services may prove to be manifestly economic goods in the future. An intact forest is capable of providing a range of goods and services in perpetuity, something a degraded forest cannot do.
· Most countries need to address the market distortions they have created which have accelerated the loss of their forest resources. Matters such as tax incentives; policies which encourage high-grading of forests; poor or wasteful utilisation of the timber produced; and policies which only recognise the wood benefits produced by the forest all contribute to forest loss. These require addressing as part of the holistic approach already noted. There is an urgent need for the values of the protective function of the forest and the non-wood values to be included in the equation of "forest value" and policy decisions.
· Logging is not the sole or even major cause of total deforestation. Where logging does contribute to the loss of forest resources, it is by way of opening up areas that were previously inaccessible, allowing settlers (usually agriculturally focused people) to enter and remove the remaining forest, and convert the land to other uses. The second major impact of logging is to "degrade" the remaining forest, which, while still technically classified as forest, is far less capable of providing a full range of goods and services - both wood and non-wood. Thus again, the need for an holistic approach is highlighted - a simple focus on logging addresses only part of the issue.
· In completing this study it is noted that while many themes are recurring, there also exist some significant differences between countries. The most graphic of these are Western Samoa and New Zealand. Western Samoa is different due to scale - of population, land and forest resource. The development of a long term sustainable forest industry will be a minor part of the overall development of the country, and it will continue to rely on assistance from other countries. New Zealand, on the other hand, is different due to its almost complete reliance on a planted forest resource for its timber needs, and almost total protection of its remaining natural forest estate. In addition, it is a country with an increasing sustainable harvest of wood rather than the more common scenario of declining sustainable harvests.
· With many of the countries studied in this document, the human resources and capacity to manage the sector in place and any inadequacies in magnitude and quality are not major as in many less well endowed countries in the region. Nevertheless, there has been concern that the institutions and structures in place to develop and implement policy and to manage the forest resource do not always have adequate safeguards to ensure the integrity of officials and the system. The result of this can be graft and corruption and loss of faith in the system. The long term result can be severe environmental and economic harm to the region's forests and people. It is imperative that governments move quickly to remove any opportunity for the system to be compromised and to ensure that their own systems are beyond reproach.
· In recent years, forest certification has become a major issue. While laudable in principle, the reality is generally somewhat different. The practicalities of implementing full forest and forest products certification pose substantial obstacles. The magnitude of the trade in forest products alone is daunting. While small scale certified operations will continue to be established, it will take considerably longer for certified products to become the norm.
To the producer, there are costs involved in attaining certified status. If the market is unwilling or unable to bear these extra costs, there is a significant disincentive for producers to seek certification. This issue is compounded by the volume of tropical wood finding its way into low grade end uses where price is usually the major determinant. In these situations, the consumer is not willing to pay the premium needed to justify the processors' investment in the certification process.
· In the past, the value placed on the goods and services provided from the forest has generally been low. For example, land with a forest cover is considered to have a lower value than land with the forest removed. The value of tropical timber has also been artificially low. The result of this under-pricing is to provide false signals to the market about the abundance of tropical timber, leading to wastage of the resource in harvesting, processing and end use. The problem is further compounded when the value of non-wood forest products is omitted from the calculations.
· Few countries have all the answers to all the issues faced, thus there exists a real need for international cooperation. Loss of forests resources transcends national boundaries and affects the entire planet. Given this, the roles of various agencies become vitally important in order to minimise any potential downside and to maximise the upside. Governments, NGOs, intergovernmental panels and the like must work more closely in order to resolve the pressing issues affecting the forests. In many cases, a collaborative approach will provide a solution which is more acceptable to all parties, and more robust than a solution that is developed unilaterally. Societies around the world are beginning to face up to the reality that as a species, man requires forest resources - both the wood and non-wood products a sustainable managed forest can provide. As the guardians of those resources, our performance has, to date, been abysmal. It is with a great deal of urgency that we must turn that record around and ensure that we have sustainably managed forests for the generations that are to follow. Only a long-term global commitment to conservation and sustainable development can reverse the tide of uncontrolled deforestation. A sound policy framework is central to this commitment.