Land and Forest Tenure
Law and Order
Holistic or Multi-Sectoral Policy
Universally the problems faced by the individual countries and the region as a whole can be related back to the issue of population pressure and human demand for resources, of which the forest is a major contributor. Ironically the forest is also seen as a major impediment to the provision of the resources needed by some communities. However simply knowing that the cause of the problem is population does little to help resolve the issues currently faced.
The issue of increasing population manifests itself in the form of increased removal of forest to convert the land to other uses (usually agriculture), and the ongoing degradation of the quality of the remaining forest. Technology can be both the saviour and the villain in this case. Increasing technology provides better data on the extent of the problem through, for example, satellite imagery, and new ways of overcoming problems, while at the same time enabling the harvest of forests that were previously either physically or economically unavailable. There will be increasing reliance on technology to provide solutions to the issues faced, but this is only part of the answer.
The other part of the answer will come from a commitment to actually resolve the problems faced from all parts of the societies affected. The parties affected are both within the individual country under consideration and the wider global community. The global community's role is as a market for much of the produce emanating from the forests of the countries under consideration, and as a source of capital (both financial and human) to assist with the solutions. There seems little likelihood of any individual country being able to resolve all the issues it faces without a commitment from other members of the global community. There is thus an imperative that nations work towards solutions in a collaborative manner.
Research (or rather the lack of it) is a key matter to be addressed. It is difficult to even know where to begin to find solutions if the full extent of the issue is not understood. The need for research (and transfer of the findings) can be subdivided into three main components.
Firstly there is a pressing need to determine more precisely the extent and quality of the remaining forest resource. An essential requirement of this part of the work is to consider all aspects of the forest resource and the multiplicity of goods and services the forest provides. In the past most work aimed at quantifying forest resources has concentrated on the timber volumes and values. As we are beginning to recognise, this preoccupation with timber volumes grossly undervalues the forest and thus introduces market signals that encourage wasteful practices and further loss of forest. Removal of those distortions is a priority for government policy formulation as discussed elsewhere.
Accurate determination the remaining forest resource will require a combination of traditional forest inventory, ecological base line work, sociological type work (as rural people are a significant part of the equation), and the use of modern technology such as satellite imagery and computer analysis.
In addition, there is an urgent need to develop greater understanding of how best to manage the resources being used. Improved management techniques are only part of the answer. This improved knowledge and information must be made available to those who need it in a format that is appropriate to them. For example publishing new information in a respected scientific journal is unlikely to have much impact on a tribesman from Kalimantan or Sarawak. Innovative methods of transferring knowledge to all affected parties must be developed, while at the same time ensuring all stakeholders receive a share of the benefits created. Distortions in the receipt of benefits has in many cases been the cause of many of the issues we are now seeking to resolve.
The most obvious example of this distortion of benefit shares in the past has been the transfer of the wealth created from harvesting the forest. The rural people who traditionally owned the resource have in general received very little or often none of the wealth created. The timber companies and the governments have been the main recipients. Thus there is scepticism when new ideas are introduced. That scepticism must be overcome in order to implement meaningful change in the way forests are managed.
In general, local, national and international interests in relation to forests are in conflict. For example, to local people, the forests meet basic needs including providing land for agriculture. At the national level, the forests are important sources of foreign exchange, employment, and government revenue. At the international or global level, the forests represent a source of supply of forest products as well as for preservation of biodiversity and their role in global climate. In our drive towards better management of the forest resources we must reconcile these diverse interests. Effective reconciliation will allow the transition from current destructive practice to conservation and sustainable forest management.
At the local level there is a need for education and technology transfer, removal of disincentives to sustainable management, security of tenure, and technical assistance to bring about the necessary changes. Of particular importance is a need to develop effective fuelwood policy and technology.
Participation of local people in any decision making process as affected parties is essential in order for them to feel they have "ownership" of the issue. The method of gaining that participation is itself a challenge to policy makers. Some of the answers may be found through sociological research and the development of appropriate communication strategies. The balance of the answers are most likely to be found through development of necessary infrastructure and incentives, and removal of disincentives (especially those related to tenure rights).
A key group that is often overlooked in many attempts at gaining local participation is women. This group makes up half the population, and are often the individuals who obtain and manage the resources from the forest, and thus must be included in policy decisions. If they are omitted from the decision making process much opportunity to move towards sustainable forest management is lost.
At the national level, countries need to put in place the following conditions:
· strong political commitment to sustainable forest management backed by public support;
· commitment to genuine involvement of affected parties (especially rural people) in any policy formation and decision making processes;
· development of the necessary research and technology transfer requirements in all matters pertaining to the forests, their sustainable use and their protection;
· adoption of a multi-sectoral approach to policy formulation and to resource management to replace the ad-hoc approach commonly taken to date;
· development of rational land and forest use policies that also provide for the intensification of existing agriculture, in order to reduce the demand for additional land to be converted from forest;
· land tenure policies that recognise the rights of rural people and give them the full protection of the law; and
· mechanisms that encourage a slowing of the overall population growth. This is often achieved by increasing the wealth of the existing population making larger families less desirable.
While these themes continue to be discussed, unless there exists a clear commitment to them at a national level, progress towards sustainable forest management will be slow at best.
At the global level, solutions to the existing problems are less clear-cut. Often the interregional effects of poor forest management are difficult to measure, and the costs associated with them are even more difficult to assess and to allocate.
There is, however, the fact that preserving forests intact with a full range of attributes is in the international interest. Thus involvement of the full international community becomes essential. In particular, the international community reaps the benefit of the maintenance of intact forests and thus must expect to bear the costs associated with that protection. The cost is in some cases an opportunity cost forgone by the country which has the forest when that forest is protected rather than utilised. While there are counter arguments to this, the ability to pay must also be recognised. Often the countries where the need for forest protection is most pressing have the least ability to pay. They therefore look to other countries for assistance.
The issue of land tenure is a recurrent theme. Security of tenure is a prerequisite in order for rural people to manage their forest resources in a sustainable manner. This security must also have the force of law behind it in order to protect those with few resources at their disposal from those with plenty of resources who seek still more. Those seeking more may do so for a number of reasons, but the most common is economic gain. Government policy and the law that emanates from it must address this matter with some urgency. In addressing this issue, governments must recognise the legitimacy of customary land rights and must give them the full protection of law. Without such recognition, any solution will at best be a temporary reprieve, the problem later returning in a significantly magnified state.
Integral with the issue of tenure is recognition of the multiplicity of benefits that accrue from the forest. To date most governments have only recognised the commercial benefits which are usually measured in terms of commercial timber volumes. Apart from the timber benefits a forest resource offers, there are a range of other wood and non-wood resources produced, and there are the on and off site protection benefits that accrue. These include protection from soil erosion, protection of water supplies, and protection of biodiversity. In addition governments must recognise that forest resources have an intrinsic or existence value. Some commercial benefit may be derived from this, for example through tourism, but in general the mere existence of the forest should be recognised as having value.
The value placed on the forest in many cases may come from both inside and outside of the country. As a result there is a need for governments in developing policy to consider the needs of both their own people and the international community as some of the affected parties who need to be heard. The contra to this is that those same people may well come from the more wealthy nations and thus have a responsibility to assist in the protection and sustainable management of those forest resources, through financial and technical means.
The use of fuelwood is often overlooked. This is a major oversight, as in many countries the volume of fuelwood consumed exceeds the volume of commercially harvested timber. Indeed in most countries governments need to consider the issue of fuelwood supply, demand and efficient use with a large degree of urgency. This is the case for many areas as the harvest of fuelwood is threatening the very existence of the forest in some places.
The extent of the fuelwood problem is one that is difficult to measure as often there is not a recognisable market structure. It is however a fundamental need of the people and thus the problem will not go away and will rapidly worsen if not addressed. The two main issues are the supply of fuelwood and its use. In order to resolve the problem, governments must address the provision of adequate supplies, and secondly, to seek more efficient use of the resource in order to reduce the demand increases that come from population increases.
Provision of adequate supplies requires development of appropriate policy, development of appropriate market mechanisms to ensure the resource is valued correctly, and the development of the necessary technology. Alternatives to simply relying on the natural forest resource are required in many areas. The provision of fast growing plantations, purpose planted for fuelwood, offer an alternative in some regions. There is often a need for education associated with those plantations if they are to be successful. There is also an opportunity to seek assistance from the international community in developing these plantations, drawing on the skills and expertise developed elsewhere in the world.
The second issue is the efficient use of the fuelwood resource. Systems to use the resource through more efficient cookers and cooking techniques have been developed. The fact that they have not been universally adopted suggests a technology transfer challenge or possible failure. Whatever the reason, there is a pressing need in some areas to reduce the demand for fuelwood without adversely impacting on the standard of living of the affected people. There has been evidence in some areas that these efficient cookers have some additional benefits in terms of improved health amongst rural people as a result of less exposure to smoke.
For many countries there are issues surrounding the integrity of government and their officials which can rapidly undermine any benefits that improved policy, legislation and management may provide. In order to progress the cause of sustainable forest management, any doubt about the integrity of the government and its agencies must be removed from the minds of the people.
There must be a political commitment to the concept of sustainable forest management. This requires the people and governments to work together and trust each other. Any hint of corruption or graft will undermine the public's commitment to the concept to the detriment of the country and the forests.
Additionally, governments must demonstrate a commitment to the protection of property rights, especially those belonging to rural people. Security of property rights is central to the concept of sustainable forest management, regardless of the government system in power in any given country. That security is generally the only incentive people have to encourage them to consider long term sustainable management of the forest. Undermining that security undermines the entire concept of sustainable forest management as the rural people cannot see any benefit accruing to them for their efforts.
To date, few governments have been able to take an holistic view of the issues facing their country with regard to the future of their forests. Almost without exception the approach has been piecemeal, and only one part of the issue has been addressed, often at the expense of creating a new problem or market distortion somewhere else. Interestingly, New Zealand is one of the exceptions to this general observation. In this case, the approach has been to recognise forests as just one part of the total picture which the government has to deal with, and building that into an overall reform strategy which encompasses all sectors of society. The problems faced are arguably somewhat simpler than those faced by many other countries, in that they do not have rural people dependent on the forest for their survival, and their forestry industry is based on a planted resource rather than the natural forests. A further advantage they have is the relatively limited population pressure on the forests.
In spite of the relative ease with which New Zealand is able to address the sustainable management of its total forest estate and its production estate in particular, there are potential lessons to be learned that can be considered for application elsewhere. Of greatest significance is the holistic approach taken to reforming the entire economy rather than just parts of it. These reforms focused on removing market distortions which influenced the way decisions were made. People then started to focus on what they were doing rather than, for example, on what tax advantages they may gain. The use of market forces to achieve various government objectives has also been used in the management of natural forests. While not universally applicable, conceptually it warrants closer examination.
Market failures 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. Because today's decisions shape and constrain tomorrow's, markets must deal with long time periods for private decisions to reflect society's preferences.
The most appropriate model is for governments to react to these market distortions and correct them. Unfortunately, this is seldom achieved, and more commonly, any intervention compounds the problem.
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.
A significant first step is for governments to change existing incentives at various levels. Elimination of current policy distortions by correcting concession policy and royalty systems, removal of explicit and implicit export subsidies on timber and other forest products, and removal of incentives that encourage the expansion of agriculture are necessary. This lays a foundation for governments to then address and correct market distortions. Market failures can be corrected by creating incentives for tree planting, conservation and preservation of forest resources, strengthening forest institutions and especially property rights, and recognising the non-wood value of the forest resources.
Subsequently, a sustainable approach to land use policy is required for the more efficient use of these resources and to reduce the pressure on the forests. For example intensified agricultural practice on existing agricultural land reduces the need to clear additional areas to increase food production.