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4.1 Forest Land alienation
4.2 Commercial Over-exploitation of Forests
4.3 Over dependence of the Government on technocracy and policing
4.4 Behaviour of Forest Dependent Population
4.5 Rise of Environmentalists and Social Activists
4.6 Local Revolts for forest use rights and annihilation of forests by slow attrition

Forest policies leading to centralization in different countries of the region had a number of impacts that had cascading effects on the forests of the countries concerned. Some of the impacts such as forest land alienation from the forest users, commercial over-exploitation, over dependency on technocracy and policing, and adverse reaction of forest dependent people have caused and are still causing tremendous forest damages such as reduction of the extent of the forests, the deterioration of their quality and loss of biodiversity.

In contrast, some of the other impacts have played useful roles. These include rise of environmentalists' and green lobbies world over and local revolts. These latter impacts are beneficial as these have forced some governments to take initiatives that may finally reverse the process of damage and bring into focus the need of changes in policy and implementation to bring forth devolution in forest management. The experience of PNG, where forest management was not decentralized had however been different which will be discussed in the section discussing new initiatives.

4.1 Forest Land alienation

One impact of centralization that is proved to be the most destructive of forest is alienation of the people from the forest land. As we have briefly described earlier, most countries of the Asia-Pacific have from the seventeenth century till date have consistently brought the forest land under central control.

Alienation of forest land from the people created a large number of unwholesome situations disastrous to the forest area and its quality. As stated earlier, large areas of the forest land were used by the local people for shifting cultivation with a fallow period of 15-30 years. As more and more land was usurped by the central government, less and less of forest were available for the people for cultivation. In the meantime, some population increase would have taken place so that there would be no chance for the shifting cultivator families to reduce the extent of annual cultivation. The only course open for the people was to gradually reduce the fallow period which affected the forest land quality. A reasonable good land husbandry of shifting cultivation thus became, due to land alienation, centres of erosion and deforestation. Another effect of alienation is the loss of indigenous forestry knowledge. Only recently it has been realized how extensive is this knowledge gathered through thousands of years of empirical evidence by various tribal people. Unfortunately, a lot of this knowledge disappeared for ever along with the disappearance of some of the tribal groups. Yet another problem due directly to the land alienation was not so obvious but nevertheless a major phenomenon, namely the loss of the way of life of a large section of the local and indigenous people. The culture of these people were inexorably linked with the forests. As the forest areas became closed to their use, the tribes were uprooted from their habitual ground. Some of the tribes felt culturally lost and disappeared by waste, some tried to get mixed up with the local rural milieu only to be annihilated by disease and a very large section became marginal farmers some of whom became urban slum dwellers, took to begging and became a permanent liability and a focus of crime in many developing countries. These alienated people will visit the forests again this time either to fight retrieving their rights to forest land or to annihilate it.

4.2 Commercial Over-exploitation of Forests

Study of the forest management policies of some of the Asian Pacific countries make strange reading. That sustainability is one of the basic element of use of any resource was totally lost sight of. The countries concerned reacted to the market demand of timber as if the goods that the forests generate are manufactured and thus can be made available on future as well on will. When the timber prices went up, the governments concerned leased out large areas of forests to the concessionaires for harvesting. For example, by 1991 the number of concessionaires in Indonesia was 580 covering 60 million ha or about 31% of the country's land. In Philippines, it was 4.67 million ha in 1989 (Gasgonia, 1993). The area of broad-leaved forest harvested annually in 1986-90 in the Asia- Pacific forests is 2,314,000 ha compared to 588,000 ha in 1961-65 i.e. about 4 times as much or an annual increase of 15.7% over 25 years. The timber production increased from about 24 million m3 to 76 million m3 (FAO, 1990). In 1982, Malaysia and Indonesia exported more hardwood than all Latin America and African countries combined (Gillis quoted in page 31 by Miller and Tangley, 1991) Although there were agreements with the concessionaires that the latter would undertake tree plantations to make good the failure of the forests to have the required natural regeneration, the concessionaires hardly ever followed it in practice. The total area reforested in each year in Indonesia 164,000 ha. against the estimated deforestation of 920,000 ha. of forests and woodlands (Miller and Tangley, 1991).

When there were a number of flash floods and damage to property and the data started coming that these are caused by paucity of forest, some governments made knee-jerk response and prohibited all forest fellings or made laws and regulations regulating them. This story is found in India where now all green fellings in the hills have been prohibited In Thailand, commercial fellings have been stopped after disastrous floods in Southern Thailand in 1988. In Philippines, after a series of floods, programmes supporting community forestry became very popular. But the damage to forests have already been done and it will be a colossal task to retrieve the situation. We can forecast that these knee-jerk measures will find their place in due course in Indonesia and Malaysia as well.

4.3 Over dependence of the Government on technocracy and policing

In addition to the impacts discussed above, another was to spurt the government to take a number of initiatives in forest management. One was to try to increase forest productivity to deal with the increasing local and international demand of timber and the second was to increase the protection force to keep the vandals away from the forests. As annual timber productivity of fast growing plantations is more than that of natural forests, the plantation programme was increased manifold by some countries. FAO estimates annual estimated gross planted area is 2.1 million ha (FAO, 1990) in Asia-Pacific region. It is a great anomaly that enormous investment were done by many of these developing countries to grow new forests when the existing forests were more and more degraded and converted to alternate uses. On top of it, the plantations also were to a great extent vandalised thus making most of the investments largely uneconomic.

The second response namely that of increasing forest police force. It was realized in due course that this measure of continuing to increase the protection force was cost ineffective as the deforestation rate increased rather than go down. The enormity of the cost of the staff was so high that in India, there was little money left in some of the provinces to do any worthwhile forest development work. Not only the cost. The supervision of the staff took a large part of the time of staff from their technical function of forest and plantation management (Palit, 1996). The corruption amongst the staff also increased tremendously due to their mushrooming in number.

4.4 Behaviour of Forest Dependent Population

In spite of the fact that most governments have usurped large sections of the forest areas and put them under its own control, there continues to be a large population who are partially if not fully dependent on the forest resources. The approximate number of forest dependent people in several countries are presented in table 1 below.

Table 1 - Non-Governmental Estimates of Forest-Dependent Populations (Lynch and Talbott, 1995)


Dependent people (million)

Living on Public Forest (million)













Sri Lanka






Most of these people living in the forests or dependent on it are extremely poor and live from hand to mouth. Due to the prevailing law of the land, use of the forest as a matter of right is illegal. In some areas, use is allowed as a largesse by the government which can be withdrawn any time the government wants to.

The degree of the dependency is variable. It can be only for fuelwood, fodder, small timber and grazing for own consumption. But additionally, it can be for non-wood forest product for own consumption and sale. Besides, some of the dependent people collect surreptitiously all possible forest products for sale in the local townships for the subsistence of the family. They usually have no other income source.

As the use of forest is illegally made, the users are conscious of their vulnerability to being hauled up any time by the guardians of law. They, therefore, use the forest as a transient resource which should be encashed whenever possible. The users are not concerned about the sustainability of the resource and the income from it as they are aware that the concessionaire if there is one or the government will use the resource or annihilate it as they wish without bothering about the users. The result of this approach to the use of the resource results in its fast deterioration, faster than one would have thought from the total quantity of wood and other products removed from the forest. For example, the users would break the fence of a young plantation and let their cattle in. They will girdle regenerating advance growth of the principal trees to make them dry and then remove it them as dead wood, which is sometimes allowed by the forest authorities. They will lop oak trees to death. They will fell large trees at about breast height thus wasting the best part of the wood as a stump, cut away a small piece of the stem and remove it as quickly as possible leaving the balance of the tree to rot in the forest. They will break forest land to do marginal agriculture to be chased out often, returning as soon as the protection force goes elsewhere. Unlike damages by commercial operations or shifting cultivation, the forests damaged by this form of use goes through stages of degradation to end up in scrub forests and eroding floor.

4.5 Rise of Environmentalists and Social Activists

Another impact of the centralization policies and laws is the appearance of a strong environmental lobby in most countries of the Asia-Pacific region. This is supported by international NGOs and also by the international donors. This lobby is concerned about the loss of habitat, wild animals, and bio-diversity. Their major argument is that the losses are so fast that total disappearance is not far off unless it is pre-empted by segregating sufficient percentage of forest land specifically as biosphere reserves, national parks, sanctuaries etc. Some countries in Asia Pacific have very impressive achievement in this regard. For example, Indonesia has 19% of its forest land kept aside for terrestrial parks and reserves and 15% as permanent protection forests for watersheds (World bank, 1993). In Asia-Pacific areas, FAO (1993) estimates that about 14% of the total land area has been conserved for forestry and wild life.

The impact of this segregation is viewed in two different ways. One view is that the central authorities have deconcentrated management of some areas by creating local offices in charge of these reserves. The outcome is satisfactory in certain cases. For example, some of the animals such as tigers in India almost on the verge of extinction in 1970s have increased in number. The other view is that more and more such land is taken away from use, less and less of land is available for local use, a condition opposite to decentralization that accentuates forest degradation and deforestation in the long run.

4.6 Local Revolts for forest use rights and annihilation of forests by slow attrition

The subterfuge, resistance or fight by the local people to retrieve their rights on lost land happened in many countries. The resistance or fights are attempts to force the government to yield ground. We will mention a few: Chipko movement of India, the resistance of the Penan people of Borneo and Parier land dispute case of Indonesia. On the other hand, what we refer as 'subterfuge' is a means adopted by the people to annihilate the forests by slow attrition and finally to encroach it.

In 1970, when an unprecedented flood devastated many areas in the mountainous Chamoli and other districts of Uttar Pradesh of India, the local villagers of Chamoli connected it to the forest cutting by the contractors. The department was allowing the forests to be cut as a part of their forest working plan by selling the trees to the contractors. In 1973 when the contractors came, the village women with the support of a local cooperative group hugged the trees (Chipko means to hug) to deny the contractors to cut the trees on which the contractors had legitimate rights of, having bought them from the forest department. This hugging movement then spread around other villages in the area and then to other parts of India as well (Guha, 1993) The one most important demand was that the contract system be abolished and the forest products be allocated to the local people. Chipko and other such environmental movements have influenced the government in arriving at the policy of stopping cutting of green trees in the hills and to make appropriate changes in forest policy.

The Penans (a Dayak tribe) of the Sarawak (Malaysia), a hunter gatherer people objected to their forests being decimated by the concessionaires. As the government did not respond to their vocal protests, they started cutting trenches across the transport roads thus stopping movement of the trucks of the concessionaires. In 1989, 71 Penan people were arrested because of law breaking. While no relief is in sight, the Penans have continued to fight their cause (Miller and Tangley, 1991).

Parieri Land Dispute is another case that may be mentioned in this connection (Rumansara and Rumwaropen, 1993). Parieri village is located in the island of Biak of Irian jaya of Indonesia. The land in the village, except the agricultural land, belongs communally. The dispute between the provincial forest department (Dinas Kehutanan) and the local community happened in respect of an area of 2,200 ha where agathis trees grow and copal collected from them for export. The people had an agreement in 1959 with the then Dutch Forest Department that the latter will manage the trees for copal collection on behalf of the community and pay them a specific compensation per tree. The people did not like to have the agreement renewed on termination but wanted the land use revoked to them. The Indonesian government who took over from the Dutch did not agree to. Instead the area was included into a large forest concession and the people were paid a minor compensation for each tree. This resulted in a conflict generating tension between the people and the department. The next conflict flared up when the Dinas Kehutanan decided in 1980 that the area of 2,200 be redeveloped as a part of 13,000 ha of plantations of Agathis for industrial use. The people objected to it and appealed to the district administration. Their case was taken up by the local press supported by a local NGO and the Ford Foundation. The proposal was then dropped, two pilot sites for social forestry were selected in the area and the government are encouraging the community to plant trees in the area under social forestry.

The subterfuge of annihilation of forests by the alienated people is recorded in most of the forested regions of the developing countries of the Asia Pacific region. It generally works in two ways. The first way is by occupation of the forest land. The people, alienated from their forest home in the past, usually end up as landless labourers or inefficient marginal farmers in nearby villages. When a forest is selectively cut, roads opened, timber transported and then their establishment removed elsewhere by the concessionaires, the alienated landless and the marginal farmers make a bee line for these areas. They first cut whatever trees are standing and then start their new life by occupying this land usually for cultivation by different methods.

The second way is by chipping the forest away in bits and pieces. What was once the domain of the local people has been usurped by the centre to do timber business with, without bothering about the peoples' needs. The local people in their turn, now remove stealthily their needs of fuelwood, small timber and non-wood forest products as much as they can so long they are not observed or penalised. This form of unplanned removal damages the forest far more than what is actually removed.

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