The Asia and the Pacific region encompasses only about one-quarter of theworld’s land area and yet it is home to 3.3 billion people, or more than one-half of the world’s population. The total area of forests in the region, as estimated by the Global ForestResource Assessment 2000, is slightly less than 700 million hectares, or about18 percent of the world’s total. Unfortunately, the region’s precious forests are being destroyed at an alarmingrate.
“About half of Kalimantan’s forest has been cut down already, and it’sstill going on,” deplored the Indonesian Forum for the Environment in 1997. “By 2015, two-thirds of Kalimantan’s forests will be gone.” A year earlier, more than three million hectares of forests were burned inMongolia. In recent years, major forest fires were also reported in Australia,Indonesia, and Thailand. More bad news. “Commercial harvesting (of trees) has been more widespreadin tropical Asia and the Pacific, than in any other tropical region,”pointed out the 1997 ‘State of the World’s Forests,’ published by the UN Foodand Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The region’s net forest area (forest losses less areas reforested) declined by10.5 million hectares each year during the 1990s. Nine countries in the regionreported annual deforestation rates greater than 1 percent for the period1990-2000.
Amidst this raft of bad news, a new book from FAO and the Regional CommunityForestry Training Center offers some good news for a change. “While the bad news is out there and is true in most cases, there are alsolots of good news stories in the region that are not being told,” saidPatrick Durst, an American who has spent most of the past 25 years living andworking in Asia and the Pacific. The book, ‘In Search of Excellence: Exemplary Forest Management in Asia and thePacific,’ shatters the myth that there is no positive forestry being practicedin the region.
“Inspiring examples that show the way forward,” said Dr. Neil Byron,of Australia’s Productivity Commission. “Yes, excellent forest managementis not only possible but already happening in places across Asia and thePacific.”
Dr. Nigel Sizer, director of the Asia-Pacific Forests Program of the NatureConservancy, echoed the view. “ Stunning examples of innovation, leadership, and success in the forests of Asia and the Pacific. The storiesgathered (in the book) show that there is hope for forests where new ideas are allowed to flourish.” Examples abound in the region. InIndonesia, for instance, the Damar gardens in Sumatra represent totally originalexamples of sustainable and profitable management of forest resources, entirely conceived and managed bylocal populations (the indigenous Krui people).
“The Krui agroforests are managed in such as way that they can meet theshort-term, medium-term and long-term livelihood needs of the Krui people,”observes Dr. Anne Casson, a visiting scientist at the World Agroforestry Centre.”However, this unique forest management system does not only sustain the livelihoods of the Krui people; for it also conserves biologicalvalues, enhances biodiversity and maintains ecological functions.” The same approach happened in the Kalahan Forest Reserve in Pangasinan,Philippines. “It provides a compelling example of an indigenous ethnic group (the Ikalahan) using forestry practices to help maintain cultural midentify,”notes the book. The system incorporates crucial aspects of Ikalahan culture, coupled withentrepreneurship and forward-looking leadership focused on maintaining a mviableethnic culture in the modern world. Forest protection in the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala, India is especiallyinteresting and innovative. The Periyar story is of a group of convicted smugglers – whose basic means of livelihood in the past was toillegally strip cinnamon bark from trees in the reserve – and their transformation into stewards of biodiversity. In Tasmania, Australia, the Huon District Forests are managed in a policyenvironment characterized by intensive controversy among environmental advocacygroups, the timber industry and the state government.
“In Huon District, determining the objectives for forest management is acontinuing source of controversy,” the book editors noted. “However,the systems that deliver forest management, according to established governmentpolicy, are praised by many, although not necessarily by all.”
In the Philippines, the Mount Makiling Forest Reserve – which remains as one ofthe country’s important biodiversity areas and significant forested watersheds – is a living testimony of what people and institutions can dotogether to conserve a natural heritage for Filipinos and for the world. Such approaches, but with a slightly different twist, also took place inthe Can Gio Mangrove Forests in Vietnam. It used to be classified as productive forests, but during the Second Indochina War (1965-1969), theecosystem was almost completely destroyed by herbicides, bombing and over-exploitation. To restore it to its former glory, the local governmentcontracted impoverished residents to manage heavily degraded mangrove areas. Today, Can Gio is widely known around the world because of its extensive Reserveby the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). These are just some of the 28 cases featured in the book published by the FAOregional office and the Regional Community Forestry Training Center for Asia andthe Pacific, both based in Bangkok, Thailand.
A widespread call for nominations identified 172 forests in 21 countries thatwere perceived to be ‘well-managed.” After careful vetting, 28 forests wereselected for detailed case study analysis.
Durst explained: “The case studies featured in the book should notnecessarily be perceived as ‘the best’ among the nominees. In selecting the case studies, we looked for geographic diversity, a range ofmanagementobjectives, diverse forest ownerships, different sized-forests, and compelling stories.” The FAO senior forestry officer, who is also the lead editor of the book,certainly doesn’t believe the outlook for Asia-Pacific forests is all doom andgloom. “My work brings me into contact with large numbers of people mdoingincredible work in managing the region’s forests,” said the FAO regional forestry officer. “The pity is that the knowledge, skill andcommitment of these people are usually buried beneath the horror stories ofwanton logging, purposely-set forest fires and the exchange of large envelopesstuffed with cash in dark and smoke-filled rooms.”
For more information and to obtain a copy, contact: Mr Patrick Durst, mSeniorForestry Officer, FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, 39 Phra Atit Road, Bangkok, 10200 THAILAND. Tel: (66-2) 697-4139; Fax: (66-2)697-4445; E-mail: Patrick.Durst@fao.org