Asia-Pacific Forestry Week - final reflections

22 November 2011 | News story

During Asia Pacific Forestry Week (APFW), private enterprises, non-governmental organizations, and influential players in the environmental and forestry sector came together to debate the challenges and opportunities that Asia's forests face. Kristen Carusos of IUCN’s China office gives her take on the proceedings.

All APFW participants agreed that the impact of reforestation, afforestation, and forest management programmes should extend far beyond the protection and management of forests to improve not only the livelihoods of indigenous and local peoples but also promote biodiversity and reduce carbon emissions.

The condition of Asian forests affects local communities, countless plant and animal species, natural disaster prevention, and food security. Many non-profit non-governmental organizations and intergovernmental organizations have done an excellent job of raising the living standards of forest communities while incorporating green sustainable development and promoting responsible forest management. These organizations truly set an example for the private and public sector because they maximize the benefits of protecting and managing Asia's forests.

The Treedom group was one of the few private enterprises represented at APFW. The Treedom group works with several organizations to plant trees for carbon off-setting and for livelihood improvement. During their presentation they gave an open and honest insight into the challenges they faced during their carbon-offsetting reforestation project in Thailand. From threats of setting fire to the reforestation site to adverse climate conditions to basic logistical problems such as how to get the planting supplies to the site, they identified many common issues reforestation projects face, whether in the private or public sector.

The reality is that there are several international, regional, domestic, and local challenges that foresters face. There are countless variables that need to be considered for a successful forestry project, programme, or initiative and several problems that, try as they might, foresters have little to no control over. For example, when dealing with indigenous communities, the question of ownership is heavily disputed. It is difficult to break ground on a project without knowing whom the land belongs to. Many organizations have set up land tenure institutions in order to further clarify land ownership.

Forestry organizations throughout the region and the world must constantly balance several important components of forestry management projects. The livelihoods of forest communities, providing incentives to investors, carbon-offsetting, increasing and sustaining biodiversity, and logistical and technical aspects are just a few of the many complicated challenges that foresters face.

It is not just the amount of seeds planted, but the span of the benefits of these trees to the local communities and the environment. Foresters want to maximize the benefits across a wide variety of sectors and they must ask themselves what the most important goal is that needs to be accomplished. One issue that could have been further discussed is the extent that forestry projects take into consideration food security. Sometimes livelihood, reforestation, and afforestation projects shift local employment from agriculture to the cultivation of forests and this has an effect on food supply and food security.

Illegal logging is an international problem and international and regional organizations and institutions need to come together to curb the illegal timber trade. Every stage of the supply chain has to be fully monitored to ensure that documents are not being falsified and that the timber is actually being legally harvested. This supply chain ranges from the moment the tree is cut down by a local rural worker in one of Asia's forests to when a consumer on the other side of the world buys a wood product. Even the most socially and environmentally responsible corporations and enterprises cannot always fully guarantee that the wood used in their products has not been harvested illegally. It is an unfortunate truth that corruption, lack of transparency, and loose enforcement of forestry laws play a huge role in the uncertainty of legality of timber. Policy makers, NGOs, and IGOs are working together to create more safeguards in the timber trade to secure legally harvested timber such as the recent European Union Due Diligence legislature and technological advances that help further trade and monitor the timber supply chain.

Even when countries have strong domestic illegal logging laws and regulations, they cannot explicitly control how other countries harvest timber and deal with the illegal timber trade. Regional cooperation is vital and countries cannot just tackle illegal logging and forestation management within their own borders. Illegally logged timber can still be unknowingly imported and thus can also be exported all over the world. The implementation of safeguards to ensure that illegally logged timber is not imported was something that was not heavily emphasized during the week but it remains a huge issue throughout the region and across the world.

Progress is being made every day with the collaboration of local people, IGOs, NGOs, private enterprises, and governments throughout Asia. Forestry is a complex and complicated issue, but the benefits and impacts of responsible forestry span far beyond the forest communities themselves. Forests play such a vital role in the environment and ensuring that they are protected is a necessary step in saving our planet from degradation and destruction. Though faced with several obstacles and challenges, the organizations and individuals involved in APFW are promoting the global initiative to save, secure, and manage the world’s forests. Their efforts are leading the international community towards a more environmentally-oriented society that understands the essential value of forests.