In many parts of the Asia-Pacific Region forest dependent people face reduced availability of the forest resources upon which they depend, wholly or partially, for their livelihoods. The shortages sometimes result from actual shortages and sometimes from reduced access to existing resources as a result of competition with commercial interests or restricted access due to government policies.1
1 The reduced access applies particularly to 'good' forests. In areas where forest resources have been heavily exploited or degraded, access has often been enhanced as governments implement community forestry or Joint Forest Management projects on degraded lands.
Although decline in forest resources partly results from overuse by forest dependent peoples, often due to population pressure, other factors such as commercial logging (legal and illegal), almost certainly contribute more to forest degradation and deforestation within the region. Ironically, forest dependent people often find themselves under attack from both commercial logging interests (who find it convenient to point to the destructive effects of shifting cultivation and fuelwood collection) and environmentalists who make similar criticisms for different reasons.
In this paper we aim to explore the nature of relationships between people and forests in the Asia-Pacific Region, including people who are heavily dependent on forests and those who make use of forest products, but do have alternatives. We are partly concerned with the effects of the actions of such people on forests; we are also concerned with the nature of dependency on forests and factors which impinge on patterns of dependency.
A major concern is to emphasise that the relationships between forests and people cannot be understood by focusing too closely on the local level. 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 globalized economy and the international environmental movement are the two most important factors.
A second major theme is that it is misleading to think of the relationship only in terms of dependency, as if the relationship between people and forests is a one-way process of removal of forest products for human use. It is important to remember that people living in and near forests often actively manage them, by regulating the way they are used and applying practices that are designed to change various aspects of forest structure. Although it is common to think of people carrying out practices which reduce the biodiversity of a forest, indigenous management practices may (and often do) increase the biodiversity of a degraded forest. For this reason it can be useful to think of forest/people relationships as interdependent rather than as solely dependent. The use of the phrase 'forest dependent people' in this paper is not intended to imply a one-way passive relationship, but to allow for an actor orientation which sees people making active decisions about forest use and priorities.
This paper has been prepared as a working paper for the Asia-Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study, which is being carried out for the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
The full terms of reference are at Appendix 2. In broad terms the aims of this paper are to review current knowledge and understanding of the extent of forest dependency and the types of people/forest tree relationships in the region and to explore factors affecting people forest relationships and likely future changes.
The terms of reference refer to the presentation of 'a vision of "most likely" changes between now and the year 2010'. We do not believe this is possible. There are a number of quite different trends which could develop differently and in different combinations throughout the region. The most that can be done is to identify possible scenarios. To try to predict the future situation is rather mechanistic and ignores the fact that political action and decisions may lead to quite different outcomes.
For the purposes of the terms of reference, 'the Asia-Pacific region will extend from Pakistan in the west to the International Date Line in the east; from Mongolia, China and Japan in the north, to include the Pacific Islands inclusive of Australia and New Zealand inclusive in the south.' In practice it is impossible to deal with every country in the region. We will be aiming to characterise the region broadly and then to refer to individual countries as appropriate.
The accuracy of many statistics on 'people and forests' is questionable and what these statistics mean is often unclear in any case. The paper is, consequently, concerned more with themes than with numbers, although there is a need for a preliminary discussion of numbers.