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East Asia & Pacific/South Asia

Governance
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Picture Credit: Grant Milne (World Bank). Legend: The village community and Forest Department staff discuss forest management plans for the coming year


Why forest governance is important for Asia

  • Asia has almost 450 million forest dwellers, more than Latin America and Africa combined.  Most of them live at relatively high population densities, over 200/km2.  So people and trees are in close contact in Asia; ownership and access to these resources is critical to livelihoods.
  • Disputes over forest resources can deprive poor people of resources, and have provoked deforestation and forest fires in Indonesia. 
  • Many Asians live in ‘forests without trees’ – areas zoned for forests but where trees have been removed.  At least 40 million Indonesians live in such areas, which are found throughout the region. Land tenure and agricultural development is insecure here.
  • Tropical deforestation in Asia has been about 2.8 million hectares a year in the 1990s, with another 1 million hectares degraded, despite zoning regulations.  Deforestation has resulted in costly and health- threatening haze episodes; threatens irreplaceable biodiversity; and contributes to global warming.
  • Resolving these environmental and social problems requires fair allocation of rights to forest use, and reliable enforcement of these rights.

How to improve forest governance

  • Better environmental management can be sustained only if there is a domestic constituency for it.  An Indonesian public opinion poll found that even in forested provinces there was popular support for partial restrictions on deforestation – with strong support for restrictions on burning.  Environmental education can help to strengthen this constituency over the long run.
  • Transparency, and information provision, can potentially be powerful tools to aid in enforcement of agreed policies.  An example is FOMAS, a forest observation system under development by the Indonesian Forest Ministry in collaboration with the World Bank, World Resources Institute, South Dakota State University and a number of other organizations.  The system would use new technologies for remote sensing and information processing to inexpensively provide current information on the location and extent of deforestation.  It would also compile information on zoning and on park and forest concession boundaries. Combining these information sources would allow identification of deforestation ‘hotspots’ including illegal deforestation. 
  • Redefinition and renegotiation of access rights to forests is underway throughout South Asia.  In India, for instance, Joint Forest Management now encompasses 17 million hectares and 8 million families.  Scattered information suggests that these programs have been successful in improving forest conditions.  There is a need for more in depth assessment of these programs’ impact on welfare and environment.  This information could help to replicate the model in the many places where forest tenure remains disputed or unclear.

The potential role of forest carbon finance

  • Considered for their value in storing carbon, many Asian forests are worth more as standing environmental assets than as cleared and burned fields. But forestholders are currently unable to tap the financial value of these environmental benefits under existing global carbon finance systems such as the Kyoto Protocol.
  • An enhanced system of global finance for forest carbon could help to motivate forest conservation and regeneration while funding higher productivity, sustainable agriculture on already-degraded lands.
  • Better governance, including more secure and equitable forest tenure, is a prerequisite for implementing forest carbon finance.  However, the prospect of carbon finance can help to motivate the construction of improved institutions for forest governance.

A fresh look at poverty and deforestation

  • Deforestation and poverty in this region are sometimes but not always related.  Deforestation is undertaken by rich and poor; it sometimes creates assets for the poor and sometimes destroys them.  For instance, poverty rates are at least temporarily low in forested areas of Kalimantan (Indonesia) where valuable timber is exploited and deforestation rates high.  But in Sulawesi, where the timber industry is not so prominent, remote forest dwellers are overwhelmingly poor.  So it is important to carefully diagnose the causes of forest poverty and of deforestation in order to design appropriate policies.
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