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Policy responces

The downside of forest clearance and degradation has been widely recognized and many governments have implemented forestry legislation and programmes that aim at conservation and afforestation. Some countries are also opting to control the clearance of land outside conservation and protection areas. Logging bans now exist on 10 million ha but have met with mixed success. In countries such as Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand, implementation has been inadequate whereas bans in New Zealand and Sri Lanka which have shifted harvesting to alternative sources have proved effective (FAO 2001b). Zero burning policies have been adopted by Thailand and Malaysia. Some countries have introduced economic instruments for the conservation of forest resources. For example, afforestation fees and licences are used in China to strengthen the cultivation, protection and management of forests. In Lao PDR, logging quotas are issued and distributed to the provinces as provincial quotas (ADB 2000b). Government commitment to the protection of forests is best exemplified by the case of Bhutan where, in 1995, it was mandated that the country must keep at least 60 per cent of its total land area under forest cover.

The region contains 60 per cent of the world's plantation forests. Whilst plantation forests are usually a poor substitute for natural forests in terms of maintaining biodiversity, they can supplement and substitute wood and other supplies from natural forests, thereby reducing pressure on and disruption to the latter. They also perform many of the environmental services of natural forests, including carbon sequestration, watershed protection and land rehabilitation, and they provide income and employment. A number of governments are increasing plantations to reap these benefits (see box).

Forest plantations: Asia and the Pacific

The Chinese government began afforestation programmes in the 1970s. Forest coverage increased from 13.9 per cent in 1993 to 17.5 per cent in 2000. By 2001, the total afforested area in China had reached 46.7 million ha. Several countries have ambitious plans for the future:

  • Viet Nam has set a target to create 5 million ha of additional forest area in the next 10 years;
  • the Philippines Master Plan for Forestry has set a target for 2.5 million ha to be planted between 1990 and 2015;
  • China plans to establish 9.7 million ha of plantations between 1996 and 2010; and
  • Australia aims to treble its plantation area to 3 million ha by 2020.
Sources: Chan and others (2001), FAO (2001a), UNESCAP and ADB (2000)

Local community participation in the management of forests has been gaining pace since the late 1970s. In Nepal, regulations for handing over particular forest areas to groups of forest users were drawn up in 1974. Forest users' groups protect, manage, use the forest area, share all benefits among users and possess exclusive rights to forest income (ADB 2000a). Of Nepal's total forestry sector investment, 36 per cent is earmarked for community forestry. In India, Joint Forest Management was introduced in 1990 and about 45 000 village communities in 21 states are involved in managing more than 11 million hectares of degraded forests (MoEF 1999). The community provides any labour required to improve degraded areas and protects the forest while it regenerates. In time the state gains a revitalized forest and the income from selling its products. A portion of the income from selling timber is given to the community in addition to the right to gather non-wood forest products (FAO 2001b)

In Viet Nam, more than 500 000 ha of wellstocked, national forests have been turned over to local communities, mostly of indigenous people, while in the Philippines a system of Integrated Protected Areas attempts to protect biodiversity and involve communities as stakeholders in managing forests.

The PICs have also emphasized the establishment of community-based conservation areas but some countries still lack formal legislation or institutionalized programmes prohibiting the cutting of trees and forests outside protected areas. For some PICs, where customary management is still very strong, there are traditional practices that protect areas from land clearance.

Both Australia and New Zealand are committed to sustainable forest management. These commitments are formalized in Australia's Nation Forest Policy State of 1992 and New Zealand's Resource Management Act of 1991. In both countries the felling of trees and clearing of bush generally requires formal assessment and approval. In New Zealand, more than 99 per cent of annual roundwood harvests came from plantations in 1997 and several forests have received certification through the Forest Stewardship Council (FAO 2001a).