Many people in the Asia-Pacific region continue to use forest products to support their livelihoods. Types of people-forest relationships vary from substantial dependency (with little choice of alternatives) to occupancy of a range of niches involving some level of forest use. It is difficult to provide accurate or meaningful numbers of forest-dependent people, partly because reliable data are not available and partly because definitions of forest dependence are problematic. There is no doubt, however, that the livelihoods of substantial numbers of people involve forest use.
Understanding people-forest relationships requires two perspectives. Firstly, it is essential to take into account international economic and political factors. In particular the development of a globalized economy increasingly reduces the ability of local people to influence forest policy and control their lives. The international environmental movement is a two-edged sword. It has served both to empower and disempower local people in various circumstances.
Secondly, it is incorrect to think of people-forest relationships in terms of a one way relationship, with people simply using or depending on forest resources. It is important to recognise the active involvement of people in forest management.
People-forest relationships are changing, with some major trends being apparent. The first of these is the increasing emphasis (at least at the rhetorical level) on various collaborative approaches to forest management. At the same time, the increasing globalization of the economy and the international environmental movement work against the interests of local people in forest use and management. Another major trend is the importance of general economic development, which often provides new economic options for people who currently rely on forests and which will increasingly lead to the development of new economic niches, often outside forestry altogether.
While there is an apparent movement towards devolution of control of forests, forest resources are valuable and there will control of forest resources will be contested in many countries.