Improving forest peoples tenure rights reduces poverty and improves forest conditions, says new study
While Asia's rapid growth has lifted millions out of poverty, persistent pockets still remain in areas beyond the embrace of development. Some 450 million people in Asia-Pacific live in and around forests, depending on them for subsistence, shelter and a way of life, which has been indigenous to their societies for generations. However, their status remains largely unacknowledged as governments retain administrative control over two-thirds of forestland in Asia.
"Lack of political will and a strong preference for the expansion of industrial concessions (both for logging natural forests and agro-industrial plantations) and protected areas are limiting the scope of forest tenure reform in some countries," says the new report Forest Tenure in Asia: Status and Trends by Ganga Ram Dahal, Julian Atkinson, and James Bampton. "Increasing demand for bio-fuels and extractive-industry commodities (particularly in China, Indonesia, India and Malaysia) has also driven the conversion of many forestlands, posing considerable threats to the livelihoods of local people."
In contrast, forestlands designated for use or privately owned by local communities and indigenous peoples currently comprise only 27% of the region's legal forest estate, and forestlands under the private ownership of individuals and firms total almost 6%.
The report, launched at the Asia–Pacific Forest Week, in Beijing, China, during 7-11 November 2011, was produced by RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests, with funding from the European Union and the governments of Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom through the European Union's Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Facility managed by the European Forest Institute (EFI). It builds on previous regional tenure studies undertaken by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) and the International Tropical Timber Organization.
"In order to promote the sustainable use of natural resources and formulate relevant policies, governments need to understand tenure trends," say the authors. "Increasing privatization and community-based management in forestry have brought about rapid changes which have also determined who benefits or loses in the competition for economic goods and environmental services provided by forest ecosystems. Tenure security is a strong incentive that motivates the protection or destruction of forests."
The report does note, however, that positive developments in China, Nepal, the Philippines and Vietnam have led to an increasing transfer and expansion of ownership rights over forest resources (i.e. trees and timber) by local communities and individuals over the last 20 years. Yet, in other countries the area of public forestland being granted as concessions to private companies for timber and agricultural industries has increased at an even greater rate, with private sector actors outcompeting local communities and indigenous groups in gaining rights over forest resources.
This, despite the mounting evidence that devolving management of forests to local communities and indigenous peoples through community forestry and related schemes offers huge potential: forest conditions and biodiversity improve while greater economic benefits accrue for local people. However, good governance, appropriate regulatory frameworks, capacity development of rights holders, and strong supporting institutions remain necessary prerequisites to achieve such results.