Forests in developing countries are generally used as a source firewood and of land for farming. Approximately 1.5 billion people in developing countries use wood for cooking and heating. Up to one billion cubic metres of firewood is used every year, providing about 80% of people’s energy needs. The practice of slash and burn agriculture provides rural livelihoods, however, once cleared, land can be used for only one or two years. Such agricultural practices impact negatively on the environment, resulting in erosion, landslides, and floods, and cause a lack of water during the dry season.
The area of grazing land in the world is 3 trillion hectares, accounting for 23% of the land surface of the Earth. Desertification as a result of livestock grazing has occurred all around the world, for example in the Sahel in Africa, the Sudan in North Africa, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, the Himalayas and in the Andes. Such activities result in devastating erosion, land degradation, and forest destruction. Some governments are acting to reduce the demand on forests. For example, in the republic of Korea, the government subsidises the use of alternative energy sources, providing 15% of household energy spending. In the Andes and the Sahel, government expenditure on alternative energy meets 25% of household needs.
East Timor’s tropical forests ecosystems are unique. East Timor’s forests have important functions, for example they are reservoirs of biodiversity, function to buffer water supply, and provide non-timber forest products. Research is required to investigate the structure and function of forest ecosystems. We do not know what will happen to our forests in the future - we can only guess from what we have already experienced. Environmental degradation locally and globally is causing acidification of soil and waterways, thinning of the ozone layer, global warming, rising sea levels, species extinction, and concomitant degradation of natural ecosystem processes such as nutrient cycling.
The aim of forest resource exploration and exploitation is to raise people’s socio-economic condition. However, the distribution of income is not yet equitable. Very few of the general population are able to enjoy prosperity, including those who live in the mountain and forest areas. People stay poor, because wood that is logged illegally by the community is smuggled out by irresponsible business people. This is one example of the social inequity between wealthy business people, and the local population.
The geographical location of East Timor is between latitude 8º17'-10º22'S and longitude 123º25'-127º19'E. The general source of livelihood of the majority of the population is farming and livestock breeding. The total land area of East Timor is 14,609km² and the forest area (based on Indonesian Land Use Planning), is 699,000ha. Ninety one percent of this forest area is subject to major human impacts, including burning and shifting agriculture. The area of productive forest is only 45,211ha, while the majority of land classified as forest is actually grassland, savanna, and regrowth forest.
For the wood industry to produce a minimum of 6000m³ of basic commodities, a standing volume of 21,500m³ is required. The volume of wood cut, however, needs to take into account harvesting levels appropriate to ensure sustainable yields. At the moment wood for East Timor’s reconstruction needs is being imported.
The Problems with Forestry in East Timor
Current forestry problems in East Timor are as follows:
1. Government structure is unclear, and so there is no clear forestry policy.
2. The government budget has limited funds for implementation of forestry activities.
3. Forestry organisational structure is still limited, with inadequate recruitment of national staff due to administrative, financial, and other constraints. A work force, however, has an important role in the implementation of forestry activities in all regions of the country.
4. Lack of strong governmental mechanisms for the implementation of existing government regulations.
5. Lack of accurate data on forestry potential for all forestry regions in East Timor.
6. High unemployment, which is increasing the pressure for people to exploit forest resources. In conjunction with this, due to the rise in fuel and oil prices, people are relying on burning wood to meet domestic energy needs.
7. The rate of illegal logging is high all over East Timor.
8. There are no surveys or forest inventories regarding forest potential to use to compile national forestry data.
9. There is no national regulatory system for issues of land tenure.
10. During this Transition Period, forestry has not been seen as one of the priorities in the allocation of development funds from the World Bank.
Opportunities and Strategies
The Division of Agricultural Affairs together with the Forestry Unit currently have responsibility for the development of forestry activities. The Forestry Unit has worked hard to develop a national forestry system that is integrated and efficient. Programs are being prepared that provide opportunities for the resolution of national forestry problems. Positive indications for forestry include:
1. The issuing of Transitional Government Regulation no. 2000/17, in regards to the prohibition of logging and the export of forest products.
2. The issuing of Transitional Government Regulation no. 2000/19, in regards to protection/conservation of natural areas.
3. Regulations regarding a conservation approach to forest management demonstrate national concern about the management and use of forest products.
4. There are local and international NGOs that have forestry programs.
5. There is financial support from the international community for the development of national forests.
6. There are professional groups in the forestry area that are ready to devote themselves to forest development.
The exploitation of the forest resources must take into account ecological processes. Forest resources are part of functioning forest ecosystems.
Technical, economic, social, political and institutional issues must be taken into account in the exploitation and management of forests. The following discussion addresses these issues.
The exploitation of forest resources must be in line with the function and condition of the forests and must be in accordance with the results of full forest inventories. It is hoped that the silvicultural system being formulated will be fully tested in the field, and not based only on theory. Additionally, it is hoped that development of forest plantations will only occur in those forests areas that are not currently productive, such as in cleared areas and regrowth areas and also where tree planting is critical to reverse land degradation.
The exploitation and management of forest resources must be regulated so that it can be accounted for economically. It is hoped that economic exploitation will not only include timber production, but also conservation management and non-timber forest products.
The exploitation and management of forest resources must provide adequate social advantages, especially to communities living in/near forested areas. Socio-economic benefits can be gained through provision of employment and by the affirmation of the rights of communities to exploit certain forest resources. Forests can clearly play a role in raising the quality of life of those that live in and around forests. This in turn will raise the level of community participation in the management of forest resources.
National forest policies must in essence aim to raise communities’ quality of life. Good policies will result in balanced use of and access to resources, will end conflict, and will ensure that communities participate in decisions about resource use.
There needs to be increased participation in forest management by government, cooperatives, and the private sector, as well as increased coordination of organisations actively involved in managing forest resources.