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6. People and forests58

58 The primary reference for this chapter is a paper prepared on behalf of the Regional Community Forestry Training Centre (RECOFTC), Kasetsart University: Fisher, R.J., S. Srimongkontip and C. Veer (1997): People and forests in Asia and the Pacific: situation and prospects. Document No APFSOS/WP/27. FAO, Rome/Bangkok. Other important sources are (a) Paine et al. (WCMC) 1997: Status, Trends and Future Scenarios for Forest Conservation including' Protected Areas in the Asia-Pacific Region. Document APFSOS/WP/04. FAO, Rome/Bangkok; and (b) Kuchelmeister, G., (1998): Urban forestry in the Asia-Pacific Region - situation and prospects. Document APFSOS/WP/44. FAO, Rome/Bangkok.

The nature of people/forest relationships
Common considerations
Forests central to livelihoods
Forests as a complementary basis for livelihood
Forests and urban people


People are at the centre of forestry development. How they interact with forests both as managers and users will determine whether forestry as we know it today remains a viable proposition.

The Asia-Pacific region is a leader in developing collaborative forest management (CFM) even though achievements to date are scattered and in many countries the process has yet to become mainstream. Still, CFM has the potential to consolidate and enter the mainstream, to the benefit of millions of poor rural communities. Furthermore, as the region with the largest total urban population in the world, Asia also has an opportunity to seize leadership in urban forestry. Asia's cities represent the full spectrum of wealth and poverty, the inhabitants of which demand everything from a green environment to forest products for their daily lives. Forestry must find ways to satisfy these urban demands despite the high price of land and competition from alternative uses.

The nature of people/forest relationships

The people most intimately related to forests are the hunter-gatherer populations for whom forests offer shelter, fuel and food. Progressively less close are relationships, for example, with carpenters whose livelihoods depend on wood; artisan brick makers, fishermen and tobacco farmers who use wood as fuel for smoking or drying produce; and city dwellers who daily use paper derived from wood. Forests can contribute to human livelihoods in many other ways including household (subsistence) or commercial uses of wood, NWFPs and services; food security, including through income generation; and employment. Forests also serve the age-old role of being a land bank upon which agriculture and other land developments draw. The above are relationships of dependency and consumption but many people also relate to forests in terms of how they participate in forest management.

Whether relationships are dependency-oriented or management-oriented, there are normally important gender considerations (Box 6.1). Rural communities continuously adapt in response to economic developments, migrations and other social change. The relationships of both men and women with forests will also have to adapt over time but the effects will not necessarily be the same for the two groups.

Three main types of people/forest relationships cover the spectrum of livelihood benefits:

· People who live inside forests: often surviving as hunter-gatherers or shifting cultivators, and who are heavily dependent on forests for their livelihood. Such people are often indigenous minority ethnic groups and tend to be outside both the political and economic mainstream; however, non-indigenous migrants into forests are also becoming significant.

· People who live outside but near forests: farmers generally practising their agriculture outside the forest, who regularly use forest products in their agricultural activities (e.g. as sources of fodder or manure), for subsistence or for income generation.

· People engaged in forest-based commercial activities: trapping, collecting minerals or employed in forest industries such as logging. As income is often derived from forest-dependent labour, this type of people/forest relationship exists in both developing and highly industrialised societies (Box 6.2)59. Some people in this group may also pursue some subsistence practices.

59 For example, small rural communities in countries with much forest industry (such as Malaysia or Indonesia) and even highly industrialised countries like Australia or New Zealand can be almost totally dependent on wages from commercial logging or forest products processing.


The gender of those who actively manage the forest and those who collect the different forest products has important implications for sustainable forest management. It is well recognised that men and women often have different roles in forest management and utilise the forest for different products. While the different roles are readily acknowledged, the lack of gender-disaggregated information often results in general stereotypes (e.g. "Women collect fuel, leaf litter for fodder, foods for domestic consumption; men fell trees, and are interested in income derived from forest resources"). Such generalisations ignore the subtleties and the changes that are occurring in the region.

Rural communities are being transformed in response to the dynamic trends of rural outmigration, economic restructuring, and commercialisation of local economies. Although both men and women migrate to urban areas, men migrate in greater numbers (at least in the initial phase of outmigration) and for longer periods. Older couples, adult women, and children increasingly populate rural communities. Women are more frequently assuming not only the role of caretaker for parents and children but also the primary responsibility for fields, trees, and forests. The wide range of responsibilities and activities has in some instances led to a degradation of local forest resources as women have been forced to collect products closer to home rather than from more distant resources.

While the downsizing of extension services in the regions also has a negative impact on the access of men to extension services, even in areas where extension services are available women may find themselves excluded. Cultural barriers in some countries discourage women from becoming extension agents, and severely limit the access of women to male extension agents. Even in countries where such cultural barriers do not exist, other barriers to access to extension services may exist. In the People's Republic of China, for example, the official flow of information within the village is still primarily through the men, so that women are excluded from information from extension services (and men are trained) for products for which women have responsibility.

The current realities of who is managing the forest and what products are utilised (and wanted) must be considered in the formulation of forest policy, implementation, and services. Sustainable forest management will depend increasingly on the needs and actions of rural women - and on the services and support provided to them.

To this list must be added:

· Urban dwellers: people who need forests or trees for amenity/recreation and physical consumption, depending on income stratum.

The rural population of Asia and the Pacific is 2.13 billion (67 percent), with urban population totalling about 1.06 billion (33 percent). The number of people directly dependent on forest resources totals around 0.43 billion in the region (13 percent). It is not possible to reliably ascertain how many other people fall into the categories "people who live outside but near forests" and "people engaged in forest-based commercial activities," but it is likely that these are at present the largest single categories. The exact numbers are not critical; it is, however, important to note that no one category is so small that its interests can be ignored.


In the People's Republic of China, poverty is particularly acute in the mountainous areas. Of the 80 million poverty-stricken people in China in 1994, most lived in remote central and western mountainous areas with poor access and a stagnant economy. The per capita availability of arable land is about 0.1 hectares, 10 percent lower than the national average. In 1992, the average per capita income for mountain farmers was 20 percent lower than the national average. The mountainous areas have 90 percent of China's total forest land, 80 percent of the country's total wood growing stock, and are the main sources of tree/shrub oilseeds, fruits, tea, bamboo, forest by-products, special produce and medicinal herbs. Forestry is, therefore, the basis and pioneer of other industries in the mountainous area; without it, vigorous advancement of other industries cannot be promoted and achieved. In the near future, it is envisaged that forestry development with an annual growth rate of 15 percent will promote the development of the mountain economy.

In Japan rural communities, especially those in mountainous regions, are rapidly losing vitality and need improved income and employment opportunities and better infrastructure. Promoting forestry, which is a major industry in mountainous regions, and strengthening its linkages with agriculture is necessary for development in these areas. It is intended to improve infrastructure and to improve living conditions, such as facilities for water supply and household waste disposal. Japan will also promote exchange between urban and rural communities through multiple use of forests and better information distribution, apart from training talent for local leadership.

Sources: Country Report - China: Document APFSOS/WP/14. Country Report - Japan op cit.: Document APFSOS/WP/15.

People relate with forests positively, negatively or indifferently. They may get forest-based jobs and useful products and services from them, which may motivate them to manage forests carefully. Or, they may damage forests either due to real need for forest products or for land or because they feel alienated. Many people are so removed from forests as to be indifferent. The Asia-Pacific region offers examples of all shades of these relationships. The following are important to note:

· the highest level of reliance on extensive forests is in the hilly zones and in tropical forest areas;

· the highest level of reliance tends to be in areas with ethnic minorities outside the dominant national culture (leading to relative powerlessness and vulnerability in the face of outsiders); and

· in areas with high population and intensive agriculture, tree products tend to be obtained more from "homestead forests" than from large areas of de jure forest.

Common considerations

When deciding policies and changes to improve the relationships of people with forests, it is most relevant to consider who has rights to access and use forests, who actually uses or manages forests (and for what uses), and who controls the resources (Box 6.3). These factors are more important than the location of people (i.e. whether they live in, near or far from forests). It goes without saying, however, that proximity over long periods often confers rights to the forests or at least may legitimise claims to them by virtue of residence.

Another common consideration in assessing people's relationships with forests is the changing economic situation. In most countries of the region, it is now difficult to find a forest so remote that it is not touched by the expansion of the modern economy. Economic growth has been so rapid that opportunities to adopt new lifestyles have come within reach of people who formerly had little option but to work the forest. The age of forest dwellers' splendid isolation is largely over. In many countries, there are now new economic opportunities - many of them outside forestry altogether. Furthermore, there has been increasing market-orientation of rural areas as they are drawn into the monetised economy. With this integration, and given that the region is rapidly industrialising, it is very likely that far fewer people will depend principally and directly on forests for subsistence livelihood in the future.


· Where forests continue to be central to livelihood systems: meeting local peoples' needs should be the principal objective of forest management, and this should be reflected in control and tenure arrangements that are centred on them.

· Where forest products play an important supplementary and safety-net rote: users need security of forest access, but will need to work through resource-sharing arrangements among several stakeholder groups.

· Where forest products play an important role but wood is more effectively supplied from non-forest sources: management of forests tends to be geared toward agroforest structures; control and tenure may need to be consistent with individual (private) rather than collective (common property) forms of governance.

· Where people need help in exploiting opportunities to increase the benefits they obtain from forest products and forest activities: support and facilitation may need to be provided in accessing markets and credit, and developing skills.

· Where people need help in moving out of dead-end forest based product activities: people may need to be provided with new livelihood options, which are quite likely to be outside forestry.

Source: Abbreviated from Byron and Arnold (1997): cited in Fisher et al. (op cit.).

Mobility of populations has also increased and exposed forest-based people to other lifestyles, not least by bringing migrants or transient outsiders to the forests. Mobility has introduced new mind-sets and offered choices for those who would rather not remain forest-dependent and have capacity to embrace a different lifestyle. Education has accelerated this phenomenon. Due to this opening up, people/forest relationships are no longer influenced only locally. Success or failure often depends on events or decisions physically far removed. International economic and political factors do not merely impinge on the relationships between people and forests, they form a crucial part of the context in which the relationship exists. The development of a global economy and the international environmental movement are the two most important factors.

Given the high value of forests and the associated land resources, it is not surprising that people/forest relationships are often characterised by tensions among interest groups. However, different people and interest groups have different capacities (including political power and influence) to capture opportunities. It is these differences in power, apart from skills and ability, that help to explain why tribal societies often fail to defend their long-held rights over forests against better-informed migrants. The migrants tend to know better how to tap the resources of the mainstream economy and its institutions for their own benefit.

Forests central to livelihoods

Old and new forest dwellers
How forests support forest dwellers

Old and new forest dwellers

Although there are no reliable published estimates of forest-dependent peoples in the region, "guesstimates" for six countries provide indicative numbers (Table 6.1).

Table 6.1: "Guesstimate" of numbers of forest-dependent people in selected countries in Asia-Pacific


People directly dependent on forest resources (millions)

People living on land classified as public forest (millions)













Sri Lanka






Source: Lynch and Talbott (1995): cited in Fisher R. J. et al. (op cit.).

In earlier times, most of the people living in the forest were tribals living as hunter/gatherers. In a few forest areas this is still the case, while in many other areas forest dwellers maintain livelihoods as subsistence farmers (often shifting cultivators). However, as pressure for land has grown, migrants have crowded in and the traditional indigenous forest dwellers' existence has been put into a state of flux.

In the Philippines, for example, the country's forest lands are under constant pressure to be converted to other land uses. Shifting cultivation remains a big problem with the presence of some 30 percent of the country's total population within, or in the fringes of, forest areas. The Philippines' upland population is growing at 4 percent annually and 70 percent of upland residents are migrants from the lowlands seeking forest land to farm. Other examples of this in-migration process are in North India, Bhutan, the Eastern and Western Ghats of India, the Northwest Frontier Province in Pakistan and much of Southeast Asia.

There is general acceptance that it is a human right for people to be able to choose to live in the manner they are accustomed to if they so wish. The question raised by policy-makers and some analysts is whether, in fact, indigenous dwellers really have a choice or are forced to maintain their forest lifestyles for lack of alternatives and lack of the capacity to recognise and capture alternative opportunities. Supporting this view is the fact that most forest dwellers in the region are tribal communities in remote areas, often little exposed to either education or any other capacity building that would enable them to exist in any other mode. On the other hand, it is very clear that the needs of forest dwellers are rarely given attention by national governments and little consideration is given to their claims to rights over resources, including forest resources.

In the absence of some recognition of rights to forest resources and of increased education and other capacity-building, indigenous forest dwellers are highly vulnerable when migration brings new populations into forests and adjacent lands. Migration leads to or exacerbates: (a) conversion of forest land into farms or cash tree crop plantations; (b) pressure on people already living in forests to reduce fallow periods in shifting agriculture; (c) reduced ability to manage forests along traditional lines due to lack of control over the new arrivals; and (d) emergence of new, more commercially-oriented forest dependency by the immigrants. Where there was formerly traditional ownership or management of land, migration often brings uncertainty and competition, with the new arrivals introducing their own perspectives. There are new opportunities for value addition to forests but indigenous inhabitants are ill-prepared to benefit; their traditional subsistence needs are often threatened and extreme hardships may result.

At the same time, new migrants are often inexperienced in sustainably using the forest for livelihoods. Thus they tend to aggressively clear forests for farming and so may cause much destruction of forests in settlement areas.

The emergence of community forestry as a social movement, the development of networks of forest users, and increasing advocacy by NGOs reflect the increasing efforts of forest-dependent peoples to protect their interests.60 Formal statements of policy commitment toward more collaborative-participatory forest management are also being made more frequently. This process is often encouraged by pressure from various donors and international NGOs.

60 Gilmour and Fisher (1997): cited in Fisher et al. (op cit.).

It is impossible to suggest a "most likely scenario" for the future of forest-dwelling people. There are some obvious trends (often in competing directions). The long-term outcomes are likely to be different in various countries, depending on the outcomes of competition between the various concerned actors. There are indications that over time forest-dependent peoples may gain a much greater say in the management of forests. If this happens, the impact on sustainable management of forests may depend on whether it is the migrant forest dwellers or the indigenous people that take the lead.

How forests support forest dwellers

Full subsistence dependency

Livelihoods of indigenous groups revolve around hunting, gathering wood and NWFPs for direct use and marginal commerce, and swidden (shifting) cultivation. Currently, many governments in the region seek to "improve" the lot of forest dwellers by: (a) stabilising swidden cultivation; and (b) promoting livelihoods based on NWFPs.

Swidden farming continues to be a major type of people-forest interaction in many parts of Laos, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Thailand, southern China, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Many authorities dislike shifting cultivation, but even after decades of attempts to "stabilise" it have had little success. In Laos, government policy is to end shifting cultivation by 2000. The government has programmes to formalise land tenure, improve local land-use planning, enhance productivity of crops and livestock, and provide alternatives to shifting cultivation income. Experience has shown that careless attempts to stop crop rotation (the essence of shifting cultivation) may exacerbate soil deterioration. Rather than preventing shifting cultivation, an alternative approach is to focus instead on long-term economic development that creates jobs outside agriculture.

NWFPs are often assumed to be capable of supporting many rural people and numerous efforts are underway to promote NWFP-based income-generation. There is little evidence to support this assumption. While NWFPs are important, their potential contribution to livelihoods should not be exaggerated and forest dwellers should not be encouraged to base their livelihoods on commodities that are marginal to mainstream commerce. In particular, NWFP development efforts should not lead to forest dwellers missing out on alternative or complementary economic opportunities within and outside forestry.

Further, and perhaps more importantly, focus on NWFPs should not be allowed to distract attention away from the need for forest-dwelling people to benefit from some of the income from commercial timber harvesting and processing. Whether this benefit is arranged through payment of royalties to them in partial or full recognition of traditional rights, through positive discrimination in employment by new enterprises, or through other policy measures, is a decision for society to make in each situation.

Commercial opportunities

Some indigenous people and many migrants-turned-forest-dwellers seek opportunities that are commercial or monetised in nature. The logging industry offers one such opportunity. For example, in Laos a trial programme in Joint Forest Management includes a scheme giving local people the right to share the benefits of commercial logging. In Indonesia, the government introduced a community development programme in 1991 under which forest concessionaires are "to assist in improving the standard of living of forest-dwelling communities." Other major opportunities would be in countries such as Malaysia (Sabah, Sarawak), Papua New Guinea and in the more heavily forested Mekong countries (Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos).

Unfortunately, because logging can be a major source of state revenue and political power, it is often a flashpoint for conflict among indigenous local people, political leaders and commercial interests. Among other problems, logging can reduce availability of forest products (including NWFPs) or local people's access to them and can lead to increased competition for resources and economic opportunities with migrant populations. Migrants who follow the logging industry already have skills wanted by the industry and this blocks skill-transfer to local inhabitants. Migrants also occupy and settle on land partially cleared by logging, thus displacing indigenous people. In worst case situations, indigenous dwellers have been forcibly removed61 or forced to accept compensation in exchange for reduced access to forest products.62

61 Fisher (op cit.).

62 One example from the Solomon Islands indicates that a one-off royalty payment caused each villager to lose annually the equivalent of over US$3,900 worth of forest benefits.

Forest dwellers, forest conservation and forest management capacities

Many countries are moving away from trying to achieve conservation goals solely through strictly protected areas surrounded by areas of largely unregulated land use.63 Conservation is moving closer to the people and, unlike the past, will no longer be confined to remote forests. Even in countries where population pressure is light, efforts to extend protected areas under the old "preservation" approach will usually face problems from indigenous and migrant forest dwellers as well as from settlers outside but near the forests. In areas where strict preservation is essential, the outer reaches of the areas will increasingly have to be managed as "buffer zones" to allow some development or utilisation.

63 Paine et al. (op. cit.)

In the long term, economic development, especially in East and Southeast Asia, may help achieve forest conservation. This could arise for several reasons: (a) wealthier people can afford to attach higher values to environmental conservation; (b) economic development can reduce the pressure to clear or degrade forests and protected areas, as people move to better urban jobs (as observed, for example, in the Republic of Korea, Malaysia and southeastern China); and (c) prosperity may bring the ability (as well as the desire) to channel resources into conservation of biological diversity.

In the meantime, the question arises as to whether forest dwellers can manage forests well. There are sharply contrasting views. One school of thought stresses the possession by indigenous people of long-held traditional knowledge and institutions that enable them to use forests responsibly. In this view, it is lack of meaningful control over resources that limits effective management by local people, not the absence of knowledge or local institutions. Another viewpoint is that conditions have changed so much that traditional knowledge and practices have by now lost relevance or efficacy. The latter school frequently portrays forest-dependent people (especially shifting cultivators) as destroyers of forests. Official policies in many countries of the region tend to lean to this view and laws generally mandate the exclusion of people from protected forests. Advocates of forest-dweller interests, however, increasingly ask why local people must suffer hardship to make room for protected areas that often seem to be of primary interest to distant national or international constituencies (Box 6.4).


In Thailand, large numbers of forest-dependent people, usually members of ethnic minority "hill tribes," have been moved out of protected areas into buffer zones or live within protected areas under greatly restricted access to forest products. A Community Forestry Bill has been drafted to address these restrictions. The bill would grant management rights to people living in protected areas. It is, however, strongly opposed by some environmental groups concerned that the hill tribes will mismanage the watersheds crucial to the water supply of Bangkok and other cities. Other environmental groups support the initiative and regard the hill tribes as highly capable of responsible forest management. The issue has achieved great political importance and major protests have occurred to press for enactment of the Community Forestry Bill.

[It is important to realise that the people dwelling in protected areas generally lived in these places before they were designated as protected areas. Indeed, there are cases where hill tribes were forcibly relocated into areas that were subsequently declared to be protected areas.]

Source: Adapted from Fisher et al. (op cit.). Additional note in square brackets added from Fisher (Personal communication).

Indigenous and migrant forest dwellers differ in forest management capacities. The former tend to have interest in forests and traditional knowledge and institutions for management. Migrants generally have neither, and are often most interested in the land for farming. For the latter, probably the main approach to promoting sustainable forest management would be to support forest-based income opportunities, thus offering a justification for forest management.

Forests as a complementary basis for livelihood

Collaborative approaches to forest management
Growing trees outside the forest

Forest dwellers, even if recent migrants are included, are far fewer in number than the people who live outside but near forests. Indeed, most rural people, except in highly deforested countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan, live close enough to interact with forests in a number of ways. Many continue to collect fuelwood and other forest products. Agriculture often depends on forests for water and forest products such as manure and fodder. Where forest resources are inadequate, many rural people take up tree planting. It is from these situations that much of the initial thrust toward collaborative forest management emerged. Recently, the scope of collaborative management initiatives has expanded to include management of well-endowed natural forests.

Collaborative approaches to forest management

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there emerged a perception that the limited input by people living in and near forests over how forest resources were used was a major barrier to the effective management of such forests. This led to the development of programmes and policies known generically as "collaborative forest management." The key element is that government forest departments give local communities the responsibility for protecting and managing forests or establishing plantations. Local communities are given rights to collect and harvest certain forest products for domestic use, and increasingly also for sale. In drier areas (e.g. Rajasthan and Gujarat in India, Pakistan, Mongolia, western China), the possibility of grazing livestock in government forests is also a powerful attraction to local communities wishing to conclude joint forest management agreements.

In some cases, communities are promised a share of the proceeds from future harvests of forests that regenerate as a result of protection provided by local people. In Nepal, for example, the government hands over forests to forest-user groups (FUGs). Negotiated management agreements include provision for managed utilisation of forest products, including grass, fodder, fuelwood and NWFPs. Recently, there have been moves to initiate FUG-managed sawmills and the harvesting of timber from community forests, although these proposals are reportedly meeting resistance from within the Forest Department (Box 6.5).

Collaborative management in most countries is still in the early stages of development. Only 2 to 3 percent of India's public forest estate is estimated to be under community protection recognised by forest departments. A recent study suggests that this could increase to 25 percent by 2010 if forest departments and NGOs expand capacities to negotiate, demarcate, and register forest-dependent communities.64 The likelihood of this may depend in part on progress in planting trees outside forests that reduce some of the need to depend on forests.

64 Paine et al. (op cit.).

In collaborative management, forest tenure is widely regarded as a key factor in increasing effective local control over forest resources and in motivating communities to invest resources, effort and commitment into managing forests. Tenure does not necessarily have to convey outright ownership but can take a variety of forms that legitimise access and guarantee user rights. Tenurial arrangements can range from full local control to limited and specified access. (Boxes 6.6 and 6.7). However, tenure arrangements are only good if they are respected. It is of no use to have legal title that is simply ignored by insiders or outsiders. Therefore, confidence in tenure arrangements matters more than formality. If agreements must be formal, then there should exist enforcement capacity to match.

In order to be sustained, collaborative forest management approaches must become more profitable for the beneficiaries. Success will require allocation of more productive forests for improved income prospects rather than predominantly degraded ones as at present. There should also be better access by the communities to the commercial aspects of the forests they manage, including harvesting, processing and marketing activities.


In Nepal, users of the community forest are defined as those people who use or intend to use a particular patch of forest. Use rights involve more than just consumption of forest products; they include participation in decision-making, in preparing their own charter and operational plan for regulating the user group as an institution, and in managing forestry resources. User groups are now recognised by law as self-governing and autonomous organisations. The government still retains ownership of the land, but the users have rights over the products. They can even use forestry products as collateral for getting bank loans. But decisions have to be made by consensus of the users in an assembly. User-group committees do not have the right to make rules, only to implement rules formulated by the assembly of users.

The Forest Act and its operational guidelines acknowledge that legal awareness and confidence building are necessary if the poor, women and the disadvantaged are to assert their rights. It is of course essential to understand and recognise indigenous management systems, to understand the forest resources and possibilities for their management, and to assess local people's use patterns and needs. However, a more important first step in user-group formation is to identify real users, make them aware of their legal rights, and prepare the voiceless for asserting their rights.

The second step is to prepare operational agreements, to guide both institutional and resource management aspects. As the poor, women and disadvantaged lack bargaining power, they are brought together into small homogenous groups and facilitated in making their own rules, based on their own perspectives and needs. They are also helped to assert their rights by teaching them that they have equal rights with other users. The small groups work together in assemblies to prepare operational agreements, which are presented to the District Forest Officer prior to the handover of the forest resources.

User groups in Nepal still feel threatened by provisions that permit the taking back of community forests on flimsy grounds, the lack of attitudinal change among most government forestry staff, and the lack of awareness and political commitment among politicians and policy-makers. Powerful and opportunistic elite often exploit liberal provisions in the law to the disadvantage of weaker user-group members. In response to these problems, user groups are organising under a network called the Federation of Community Forestry Users in Nepal (FECOFUN). The network addresses various issues and undertakes lobbying and advocacy for users' rights.

Source: Adapted from N. Kaji Shrestha, Women Acting Together for Change (WATCH), Kathmandu (Personal communication), December 1997.


Papua New Guinea: With nearly 80 percent of the country's land under customary ownership, the people own most forests. The state is challenged to find ways of awarding rights to forest use that protect the people's interests, ensure responsible management or exploitation, and allow the investors adequate returns and security of access to resources. A number of instruments have been tried. The latest approach, intended for application on a large scale, is the Forest Management Agreement (FMA). Under the FMA approach, the PNG Forest Authority secures a commitment from the resource owners to follow recommended forest management practices, while simultaneously offering investors access to the forest for a minimum of 35 years. Implementation may involve the state issuing a Timber Permit under which it manages the forest on behalf of the customary owners for the duration of the FMA. State management roles can be implemented through a developer.

On a much smaller scale, "Timber Authorities" are issued by provincial governments upon the recommendation of provincial forest management committees and the consent of the National Forest Board. Such agreements allow the execution of harvest agreements concluded directly with the landowners. It is reported that many foreign companies have abused this facility. As such, new policies on Timber Authorities are now in place to protect forest resources and prevent unnecessary forest clearance on customarily owned land.

Maldives: In the Maldives, the community forest lands on inhabited and uninhabited islands are leased to individual developers of agriculture and tourism. However, uncertainty of land tenure acts as a major disincentive to developing and protecting forests and agroforests and is a significant obstacle to the promotion of tree growing. Very recently, a more secure system of leasing land has been adopted (i.e. renting of uninhabited islands for a fixed term of not more than 20 years). This will encourage tree planting and will develop sustainable land use systems through out the country.

Source: Country Report 1996 - Papua New Guinea. Country Report - Maldives: Document APFSOS/WP/30.


Community-based management has been adopted as the national strategy for management and sustainable development of forest resources in the Philippines, pursuant to a 1995 Presidential Executive Order. To date, more than 500,000 hectares of national forests have been turned over to communities, mostly of indigenous peoples. Unlike previous programmes that granted tenure over denuded and/or degraded forest lands (e.g. agroforestry initiatives), the CBFM approach extends tenure and use rights to well-stocked forests.

Organised communities operate within allowable cut limits set by the government. They harvest timber and other forest products to sell, to use for their own needs, or to process. Timber harvesting by communities typically follows a labour-intensive, low-impact approach. Felling uses small chainsaws, flitching and/or quarter-sawing is done at the stump, and animals are used to skid logs to roadside landings. Income from the sale of timber, rattan, bamboo and other forest products has created new income opportunities in upland communities where poverty is severe. Slash-and-burn forest destruction and illegal logging have declined dramatically in all areas where the CBFM concept has been introduced. In the words of one community leader, "Why should we burn or overcut the forest now that it belongs to us and not to some rich man from Manila?" Results thus far augur well for an expanded programme. The Philippines Master Plan for Forest Development envisions CBFM coverage of 2.0 million hectares within the next decade.

Source: P. Dugan (Personal communication, December 1997).

Growing trees outside the forest

In addition to community management of government forests, a major thrust in many countries has been to encourage people to grow trees on their own lands in what is called "farm forestry" or "agroforestry." The initial impulse came from the perceived need to supply fuelwood for rural users. Early efforts were made in South Asia, where heavy forest loss meant that many farming communities were far from forests.

Between 1980 and 1990, an estimated 9 billion trees were planted on private lands in India, averaging 9,500 trees per village.65 Targets were exceeded in many states and some people planted trees even on irrigated land. After the first trees grew, it became clear that industry also offered an outlet for the wood. Most of the successful plantings took place on highly productive farmlands rather than the intended wastelands and dry areas, prompting concern that trees were capturing land from food crops. A key lesson is that people respond to commercial opportunities and market forces.

65 Saxena, N.C and V. Ballabh (Eds), (1995). Farm forestry in South Asia. Sage publications, New Delhi.

It is precisely in situations where competition with agriculture would be a major concern that agroforestry is being promoted. In Asia and the Pacific, agroforestry builds upon long traditions of homegardens and similar practices. It also responds to concerns and prejudices against communal tenure in some countries as it focuses on private family land. Agroforestry has attracted considerable policy attention, and in countries such as Bangladesh it is the dominant element of programmes involving people and trees. It is also particularly important in social forestry programmes in the People's Republic of China, Pakistan, Indonesia, Viet Nam, Laos and the Philippines.

Good prospects exist for the private sector to work with rural communities, perhaps as subcontractors or outgrowers. India had early success with the WIMCO popular outgrower scheme for match bolts. In the Philippines, smallholder tree farmers have supplied significant amounts of pulpwood and peeler logs to the PICOP wood-processing complex. In other countries, notably Thailand, outgrowing is a developing trend that needs further encouragement.

The outlook for trees outside forests is bright. Even if subsistence needs become less prominent with rising prosperity, such trees have the potential to supply industrial raw materials. Nonetheless, farm tree planting and agroforestry will need to avoid blind promotion efforts that might flood markets and depress profitability. It will also be necessary to achieve higher efficiencies in terms of survival rates, yields, and more diversified species to meet a range of rural needs. Above all, the incentive structure has to reduce the need for direct government and donor intervention and financial assistance. The early successes of India, where private tree planting in high-potential regions was oversubscribed, shows responsiveness to market signals and offers experience to build on as economies liberalise.

Forests and urban people66

66 The main references for this section are: Kuchelmeister, G. (1998): Urban forestry in the Asia-Pacific region: status and prospects. APFSOS/WP/44; Kuchelmeister, G. and S. Braatz (1993): "Urban forestry revisited." In Unasylva, 173 (44) (3-12). FAO, Rome; Sene, E.H (1993): "Urban, and peri-urban forests in sub- Saharan Africa: the Sahel." In Unasylva, 173 (44) (45-51). FAO, Rome; Braatz, S. and A. Kandiah (1996): "The use of municipal waste water for forest and tree irrigation." In Unasylva, 185 (47) (45-51). FAO, Rome; Carter, J. (1994): The potential of urban forestry in developing countries - a concept paper. FAO, Rome; Webb, R. (1996): Urban and peri-urban forestry in South-East Asia - a comparative study of Hong Kong, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur. Unpublished paper. FAO, Rome.

Context and definitions
Status of urban forestry in the region
Issues facing future urban forestry development in the region

Context and definitions

Only 34 percent of the people in Asia and the Pacific live in cities, but this is changing rapidly. By 2025, some 55 per cent of the region's people will be urban residents. The People's Republic of China's urban population is expected to increase from 30 percent to 55 percent; India's from 27 percent to 45 percent; Indonesia's from 35 percent to 61 percent; and Pakistan's from 35 percent to 43 percent. By 2015, Asia will have 17 of the world's 27 megacities (with populations of 10 million or more), with even more urban dwellers in other large but not yet "mega" scale metropolises. Today, over 60 percent of urban people live in towns and cities of one million or fewer people; only 15 percent live in larger ones.

In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in the roles that forests and trees can play in meeting the needs of urban dwellers and improving urban environments. The focus of urban forestry has recently broadened beyond landscape architecture and horticulture for aesthetic purposes to include concerns related to air quality, cooling of cities, protection of water supplies and nature conservation. The fact that the major part of new urban growth is occurring in poor cities of the developing world adds another important dimension to the role of urban forestry - the provision of forest products (Box 6.8).


Definition and scope: Although there is no commonly accepted definition for urban forestry, a working definition may be "an integrated approach to the planting, care and management of trees and forests in and around the city to secure multiple environmental and social benefits for urban dwellers."67 Current thinking leans toward considering the urban forest as all trees and related vegetation in and around towns and cities. It comprises natural woodlands within the urbanised zone and in adjacent suburban or peri-urban areas, parks and reserves, and trees along highways and roads, in yards and homegardens, around public buildings, and in playgrounds and other public places. Urban forestry thus merges arboriculture, ornamental horticulture and forest management and its scope includes activities in the city centre as well as to those in peri-urban areas.

67 Modified version of definition given in Miller, R.W. (1988). Urban forestry planning and managing urban greenspaces. Prentice Hall, New Jersey, USA.

Functions: A conventional view of urban forestry focuses on city parks, green areas and trees for recreation, beauty and shade. But forests also play important roles in conserving soil and maintaining clean and reliable water supplies for cities. Trees are also essential in protecting against drying winds, sand storms and sand dune encroachment in many locations. The needs of low-income city dwellers, however, demand attention to fuelwood and charcoal, poles, thatch and other construction materials and food (such as fruit). Indeed, the "production" aspect of urban forest may well be needed most at the growth frontier of cities where natural resources are being destroyed rapidly, unplanned settlement is occurring, and the poor retain most of their traditional needs for forest products. Trees associated with urban agriculture, including those in homegardens, which are common in some Asia-Pacific cities, have a role in food production.

Sources: Based on Kuchelmeister G. and S. Braatz (1993), op cit.; Sene, E.H (1993), op cit..

Normally, a number of municipal bodies, ranging from departments of parks and gardens, public utilities, highways, housing, etc., have jurisdiction over various parts of the urban forest and urban green space. In addition, various private landowners, businesses and civic groups are involved in tree planting and management. Therefore, co-ordinating urban forestry development is often a daunting task.

A major reason that foresters may neglect urban forestry is because forest ministries are not responsible for forestry development in urban areas (it is generally under the jurisdiction of municipal governments and often carried out by landscape designers and horticulturists). Even where national forest administrations are responsible for peri-urban and urban forest resources, co-ordination with the municipality tends to be weak.

Urban forestry also suffers from a lack of political and financial support. Trees tend to rank especially low among the priorities of many developing countries where burgeoning populations demand attention to more pressing needs for shelter, food and sanitation. The result is that green spaces and trees disappear, and future options for developing these are cut off. Another constraint facing urban forestry development is high prices for land in urban areas. This leads to conversion of forest lands in suburban or peri-urban areas and pressure on green areas in the urban centres.

While the constraints to urban forestry are numerous, there are still ample opportunities for forestry development in cities. Growing demands of the urban citizenry for improved urban environments and living conditions, are translating in some places into more political and financial support for urban forestry initiatives. Particularly in some rapidly expanding cities in developing countries, there may be opportunities for urban forestry for productive purposes, due to concentrated demand and ready markets for products.

Status of urban forestry in the region

The status of urban forestry development varies greatly throughout the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in the developing countries. In Australia and New Zealand there is a considerable area under urban reserves. In very densely populated (and less developed) cities such as Jakarta, Old Delhi, Colombo and Dhaka, the area under urban forests is less than in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Sydney, New Delhi, Melbourne, Auckland and Wellington. The poor cities in the region are generally far below the international minimum standard (9 square metres of green space per city dweller) set by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The cover of green space ranges from negligible to more than 25 percent (Table 6.2).

Table 6.2: Green areas in three representative Asian cities


Green area (% of city area)

Green area per inhabitant (m2)

Year of data













References to areas of green space per inhabitant may tend to draw attention principally to trees inside the cities themselves. However, it is important to recognise the importance of managing trees in peri-urban and even more distant locations to meet the needs of cities. In Japan, for example, improvement of forests located in suburbs and villages is a priority concern of policy for the future,68 the intention being to bring access to nature closer to people. Given their relatively easy access, forests and trees near roadsides can be important for cities, even if they are located at considerable distance from the urban centres.

68 Source: Document APFSOS/WP/15, 1998.

The results of a comparative study carried out by FAO of three cities in Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong City and Kuala Lumpur) clearly illustrates the changing role of forestry in the cities in response to various social and economic needs (Box 6.9).

Issues facing future urban forestry development in the region

While it is impossible to predict quantitatively what will happen in terms of urban forests in the region, the future can only bring greater focus on forestry-related needs in cities. As urban populations increase and cities expand in size, forested land will be converted to more financially lucrative land uses, such as real estate development, fruit orchards, or market gardening. In the urban centre where land prices are higher, city planners weigh the social benefits of parks and green space against the financial benefits to the tax base through infrastructure development. The land pressure in poorer, rapidly growing cities will certainly be highest, reducing the opportunities for urban forestry development, both for production and protective purposes.

Box 6.9: urban forestry in three dynamic Asian cities - Hong Kong city, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur

A comparative study of urban forestry in Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur provides important lessons for cities that are at earlier stages in development of their urban forestry programmes. Afforestation of water catchment areas and the protection of remnant forests were the earliest and most important urban forestry activities in both Singapore and Hong Kong. Wood production was also a driving force behind afforestation efforts in Hong Kong. As the economies of all three cities have developed, street tree planting and urban green space for recreation have increased in importance.

Singapore was covered with tropical rainforest when the British arrived in 1819, but subsequent intensive agricultural schemes, coupled with logging and fuelwood collection led to significant deforestation and forest degradation. By 1884, only 7 percent of the island was forested. To provide for watershed protection and wood production needs, in the late 1880s, forest reserves were established and catchment areas of new reservoirs were put under protection. The centre of the island remains forested today, protected as nature reserves and a catchment area managed by the public utilities. Although planting of ornamental trees in Singapore dates from the middle of the last century (with the active involvement of the Singapore Botanic Garden), the most active programmes in street tree planting and urban greening have taken place since the 1970s. Rapid population growth between the end of World War II and the mid-1960s, led to urban congestion and housing shortages. The low rate of population increase after the mid-1960s, and rising affluence, were important factors underlying the successful planning and revitalisation of the urban environment in Singapore. Beautification of the city through tree planting was part of an overall strategy to create a more pleasant and healthy living environment and to stimulate economic growth by attracting foreign investment and business development in the city.

In contrast to Singapore, Hong Kong had little natural forest cover when the British took possession in 1841. At that time, Hong Kong was described as "a barren rock" of grass covered hills with sparse woodland cover in the valleys and small patches of protected groves near the villages. Major reforestation programmes were carried out from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, and again starting in the early 1950s, following extensive deforestation during World War II. These reforestation programmes had a dual purpose: watershed protection and wood production. Government plantations and village woodlots were established to provide fuelwood, poles and timber for the rapidly growing population. In the late 1960s, these programmes were scaled down due to a decrease in the demand for fuelwood and increased availability of alternative fuels. Greening efforts picked up again in the 1970s with establishment of county parks and, later, with various tree planting initiatives. The extremely rapid growth of Hong Kong's population and dense infrastructure development without planning for green space earlier in the century now limits the scope for street tree planting and urban green space in the older urban areas of Hong Kong. Nevertheless, particularly outside the urban core, various public, private and citizen-led efforts are being made in tree planting along streets and roads and in parks and other public areas.

The pattern of urban forestry development was different in Kuala Lumpur, where the major period of population growth occurred much later than in Singapore and Hong Kong. The major period of growth of Kuala Lumpur has been the last few decades, in particular since 1974 when the city became the capital of Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur lies in a region of rich tropical forest. There are still significant areas of forest within the city limits and extensive forest reserves in the peri-urban area, providing for watershed protection, recreation and nature conservation functions. Pressure on the urban and peri-urban forest for provision of wood products is relatively low. Demand for fuelwood is small because the average income level is relatively high and people have access to alternative household fuels. There are also ample supplies of timber for construction and other needs from other sources in the country. Similar to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur has put great emphasis on beautification of the city, both for the benefit of urban dwellers and to attract businesses.

Source: Webb, R. (1996). Urban and peri-urban forestry in South-East Asia: a comparative study of Hong Kong, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur. Unpublished paper. FAO, Rome.

It can be expected that the cities that have a stable or slow rate of population growth, and whose populations are becoming more affluent, will put more emphasis on tree planting, urban beautification and green space development, as has happened in Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Singapore. It is also likely that there will be more support for nature conservation in peri-urban areas.

It is more difficult to predict what will happen in the poorer, rapidly urbanising cities in the region, although it is expected that the environmental and productive roles of forests will receive the most attention. The large influx to urban areas by rural poor, many of whom are unable to purchase fuelwood and construction materials, will put tremendous pressure on the local forest and tree resources. Increased degradation and clearing of urban woodlands and forests can be expected. As these resources are depleted, fuelwood and charcoal will be transported from further away, putting additional pressure on peri-urban forests and forests further afield.

End-use changes on the outskirts of cities will also have direct impact on forest resources. The area of squatter settlements can be expected to expand in many cities, swelled by new rural immigrants unable to afford or find legal housing. Spontaneous settlement generally occurs on seemingly unused or marginal lands, including forests. Degradation of important watershed areas will pose hazards locally from soil erosion and even landslides, and may be expected to create problems for the urban water supply. It may lead to increased sedimentation of water bodies and perhaps to increased incidence of flooding. Degradation of forests or forest remnants along rivers and other water bodies within the urban core will contribute further to water quality problems. Unless urban planning, and implementation of the plans, can be successfully carried out, these problems can be expected to continue well into the next century.

Conflicts are likely to arise because of the different demands on forest and tree resources. As watershed issues become more critical, conflicts arising from the need for watershed protection for the city and the needs of people for forest products and land can be expected to come to the fore. New settlers as well as people who have long lived in these watershed areas may be affected, as can be seen in the case of the Shivapuri Watershed on the outskirts of Kathmandu, Nepal (Box 6.10).


One of the main sources of drinking water for the inhabitants of Kathmandu, Nepal's capital city, is the 14,000-hectare Shivapuri watershed. During the 1970s, the quality and quantity of water derived from this area declined, due to loss of tree cover, overgrazing, and cultivation on steep slopes. The Government of Nepal, in an effort to protect the area, established a watershed and wildlife reserve covering 11,200 hectares of the watershed. A boundary wall and road were constructed around the reserve, and the majority of scattered settlements within it removed, leaving only two villages. Hunting, grazing of livestock, and fuelwood and fodder collection within the reserve were prohibited. Residents forced to move off the land were compensated for the value of their lands and homes, but there was deep resentment by the local people at the loss of access to the forest and to forest resources needed for household use. In addition, many families, that previously had gained a significant part of their income from the sale of fuelwood to the Kathmandu market, were considerably affected by the ban on fuelwood collection. Although illegal, use of the forest and gathering of forest products continued, albeit to a lesser degree. In response to these problems, in 1985, the government initiated the Shivapuri Watershed Management and Fuelwood Plantation Project.

The objective of the project was to implement measures that could help satisfy the needs of the Shivapuri people for forest products, yet maintain the integrity of the forested watershed. Various income-generating activities at the boundaries of the reserve were introduced and improved, and a management plan, which provided for the sustainable use of the resources without compromising the watershed protection function of the reserve, was developed. Efforts continue at Shivapuri to find ways in which conservation and development in the watershed can be compatible, if not mutually reinforcing.

Source: Carter, J. (1994). The potential of urban forestry in developing countries: a concept paper. FAO, Rome.

The extent to which cities can meet the rising demand for wood products will depend on the availability and price of land in peri-urban areas, options for supplying wood products brought from other areas of the country, institutional capacity to manage peri-urban plantations, and the accessibility of alternative fuels (e.g. kerosene, gas). Given the competition of more lucrative uses for peri-urban lands, production forestry must seek public land not needed for alternative uses, such as city waste dumps69 or landfills.

69 The possible use of waste dumps has raised some concern, muted so far, at the possibility of trees absorbing heavy metals and these being released into the atmosphere if the wood were later used for fuel; research is needed to ascertain if this concern is justified.

In some cities in arid and semi-arid areas, opportunities may exist for irrigated tree plantations using sewage wastewater. Sewage wastewater represents a source of nutrient-rich irrigation water, while also helping to solve the problem of prohibitively expensive conventional sewage disposal. Cities in Australia, the People's Republic of China and India have considerable experience in this regard. Limited analysis suggests that forests irrigated with sewage-derived waste water could be competitive with irrigated agriculture or possibly be even more profitable.

The future of urban forestry in the region depends to a large extent on how well urban planning can stay ahead of urban growth, and more importantly, the extent to which plans can be effectively implemented. Key issues will be whether urban forest and trees are considered important when urban infrastructure is first being developed. Effective implementation of the urban plans will depend upon co-ordination between the various entities involved and the means to address conflicts between competing demands on forests and tree resources.

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