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Can forestry work for the poor? An assessment of 11 Asia Pacific countries

15 November 2012

Photo Credit: FAO-RAP

Dallay Annawi, Sylvia Miclat, Jeremy Broadhead, and Pedro Walpole

With the persistence of poverty in many forest areas, the high dependence of the poor on forest resources, and continuing State control of vast areas of forestlands, contributing to poverty alleviation continues to be a critical challenge to the forestry sector in the Asia Pacific region, beyond preventing the poor from becoming poorer.

The 2015 target for the UN Millennium Development Goal number 1 is to reduce the number of people living in absolute poverty, adding to the urgent need for a review, re-doubling and re-strategizing of efforts in the forestry sector.

In recent years, poverty alleviation was incorporated in forest management plans.  However, despite broad acknowledgements of the importance of forests for poverty alleviation and rural development, the forestry sector still lacks integration in national development plans and is not positioned at the forefront of poverty reduction strategies.

The publication, Making forestry work for the poor: Assessment of the contribution of forestry to poverty alleviation in Asia and the Pacific, documents the contribution of three broad areas of forestry – community forestry, commercial and industrial forestry, and payments for environmental services and carbon payments – in 11 countries in the region: Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Thailand, and Viet Nam.  The assessment considered three broad areas of forestry: community forestry, commercial and industrial forestry, and payments for environmental services (PES) and carbon payments.

Several obstacles need to be addressed for forestry to take on a significant role in lifting poor families out of poverty.  Though there have been gains in strengthening local people’s tenure and management or rights to forest resources, community forestry is limited by weak legal framework; lack of tenure security and unclear rights; allocation of degraded forests without adequate capacity building or investment, lack of support for non-wood forest development and marketing; and inequitable sharing of benefits from forests.

Small and medium forest enterprises, though recognized to have more potential for poverty reduction than large forest industries (MacQueen 2008), receive less attention in the forestry sector or economic development plans.  These enterprises provide local economic, social and political benefits, but many need support to ensure tenure security and profitable and sustainable operations and meet social and environmental standards.

Except for China and Viet Nam that have advanced in ‘eco-compensation’ schemes and a national PES, payment or market schemes for forest environmental services are still incipient in most Asia-Pacific countries, and it is still too early in many cases to determine to what extent PES initiatives are contributing to poverty alleviation.

Recommendations put forward are practical and doable in re-thinking forestry’s role in poverty eradication, “if this objective is prioritized in national forest policies and forest management plans and programs.”  Recognizing that “forests and forestry alone will not eradicate rural poverty,” efforts in the sector need to be integrated into broader rural development programs.

Four priority actions are identified as fundamental prerequisites to expand the benefits for the poor:

  1. Allocation of clear and secure forest tenure and forest management rights over productive, good quality forests to poor people and local communities
  2. Capacity building for individuals, families, and communities to develop the skills necessary to sustainably manage forests and derive economic benefits
  3. Support for the development of economically viable and environmentally sustainable community enterprises and small and medium forest enterprises
  4. Ensure equitable sharing of benefits from community forestry initiatives, large-scale forestry activities, PES schemes and REDD+ projects.

In addition, specific actions include:

  1. Improving familiarity with poverty in forest areas amongst forestry policy makers
  2. Ensuring consistency and continuity of policies
  3. Training communities in skills necessary to sustainably manage resources and improve livelihood
  4. Strengthening local level institutions and promoting good governance
  5. Supporting movement up the value-chain, especially through development of processing and marketing arrangements.

The development of this publication of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization-Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific was jointly implemented with Asia Forest Network, an affiliate of the Environmental Science for Social Change, a Jesuit research organization in the Philippines, with financial support from the Asia-Pacific Network for Sustainable Forest Management and Rehabilitation

A related story can be found at ESSCNews.

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