Small Island Developing States vary enormously according to distinct geographic, biological, social, cultural and economic characteristics, but are similarly constrained to use forest resources sustainably. Common issues include:

  • Limited land area and natural resources. 1 This intensifies competition among alternative land-use options. The relatively limited size of watersheds makes soil and water conservation a priority.

  • Vulnerability to environmental disasters. With few exceptions, these nations are susceptible to cyclones, storm surges, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, forest fires, landslides, extended droughts and extensive floods 2. Since damage often occurs on a national scale, a single disaster can cripple an island's infrastructure and economy. SIDS also face the long-term threat of rising sea levels associated with global climate change.

  • High species endemism but low occurrence of individual species leads to high risk for loss of biological diversity. The small land area of many SIDS makes it difficult to set aside large areas for strict protection purposes. There is a particular need to develop suitable strategies for the conservation of biological diversity, including the conservation of genetic resources of a number of socio-economically important tree species, which are endangered in part or all of their natural range in the South Pacific.

  • High population density, usually concentrated in lowland areas, increases pressure on already limited resources.

  • Economic constraints due to relatively small scale. This results in high costs for public administration and infrastructure, small internal markets and limited export volumes (sometimes from remote locations), which lead to high freight costs, reduced competitiveness and difficulties in establishing competitive forest processing industries.

  • Institutional constraints. National forest agencies have limited material, financial and human resources; forest policies are in need of updating; reliable information is unavailable on forest resources and the value of their productive and protective functions; in some countries, tenure systems result in fragmentation of ownership rights and high levels of migration, particularly of skilled human resources.

  • Lack of integrated land-use planning. Only few SIDS have well-defined and executed land-use plans;

  • Unsustainable forest management practices. Overexploitation of commercial timber resources, inappropriate harvesting practices, forest industries running below capacity, and the use of inferior planting material due to lack of access to seed of high genetic and physiological quality are some of the problematic practices.

Finally, the long timeframe needed for forestry development increases the risks of changes in demand and/or legal provisions (e.g. land tenure), as well as the risk of failure due to natural calamities, pests and diseases. This can be a major disincentive to tree planting and sustainable forest management by the private sector.


1 - Papua New Guinea, Suriname and Guyana are notable exceptions.

2 - The 1990 UN Disaster Relief Organization review of the economic impact of disasters over the past 20 years reports that of the 25 most disaster-prone countries, 13 are SIDS.

last updated:  Friday, October 28, 2005