Governments of Switzerland and Indonesia Host Key International Workshop on Forests

Country-led initiative to Support the UNFF on Decentralization, Federal Systems in Forestry and National Frest Programmes : 27- 30 April 2004

26 April 2004 — Since the early 1990s an increasing number of governments at the local, regional or provincial levels have been taking on the role of managing national forests – an area that was once felt well left in the hands of central governments. In at least 60 developing countries, forest management responsibilities now rest in one degree or another with mayors, town councils and local authorities

So far, the results have been mixed, sometimes benefiting forests and sometimes not. Finding out what helps and what hinders successful decentralization of forest management will be one of the key aims at this week’s Interlaken Workshop on Decentralization and Forest Management.

In some cases, greater local control has protected forests against excessive logging, increased public participation in decision-making processes and brought marginal groups into the political loop. In other cases, local élites have exploited decentralisation to their own advantage, leading to increased forest destruction and increasing the poverty of millions of the world’s rural poor.

But whatever the outcome, the fact is greater local control of forest management is now more the rule than the exception. According to David Kaimowitz, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research, –one of the organizers of the workshop, along with the Governments of Switzerland and Indonesia– the international forestry and environmental community must move on from arguing the pros and cons of greater local control of forests.

"The fact is, local councils and state governments around the world will play a greater role in managing national forests. The international community must now focus on helping developing countries find the right balance between central and local forest management – a balance that benefits both forests and the millions of people who rely on them. This will require international support for a whole range of development activities," Mr. Kaimowitz said.

According to the World Bank, 240 million people in the developing world depend partly or fully on forests for their livelihoods. For many of them, forests provide a range of subsistence and commercial livelihood opportunities, including the harvest, sale and personal use of fuelwood, medicinal plants, bushmeats and furniture, handicrafts, and timber for local housing. "The challenge is to ensure neither the forests nor the rural poor are the losers when local governments start making decisions about how to use natural resources," Mr. Kaimowitz said.

The general consensus is that best way to do this is to strengthen mechanisms that make local and regional governments more accountable to their electorates. When there is no accountability or transparency in making forest decisions, the more politically or financially privileged members of society often dominate the economic opportunities that result from decentralization. Such opportunism often harms local livelihoods and can also prove disastrous for the environment, as often it is the local community that best knows how to sustainably manage the surrounding forest.

Most people do not realize that in many large forested countries, provincial and state governments have been responsible for most forestry matters for a long time. These include Switzerland, Australia, Canada, and India. Countries that have just started to turn more power over forests to the state and provincial governments – like Brazil, Indonesia, Mali – can learn a lot from them.

According to Mr. Philippe Roch, Director of the Swiss Agency for the Environment, Forests and Landscape, although Indonesia’s decentralization is still in its early years, it has similarities with Switzerland’s own experience of decentralized forest control. He says the key to successful decentralization of forest management is in finding the right balance between centralized and regional control.

"Switzerland has a long history in sharing forest and environmental responsibilities between the central and provincial governments. Under current regulations, the cantons, political parties and other relevant stakeholders must be consulted when important decrees and other projects with far reaching effects are prepared. Stakeholders participate not only in the development of forest policies and programmes but also in any major undertaking that involves forests. This is crucial to making appropriate forestry policies. In Switzerland formal consultations are carried out several times a year between the Cantonal Forest Directors and the Cantonal Senior Foresters." Mr. Roch said.

Mr. Roch said his Government was proud to co-host the Interlaken Workshop with the Government of Indonesia and CIFOR. "The Swiss people are concerned about the global environment. Our support for the Workshop is an expression of that concern. Also, I’m sure the workshop will help Switzerland learn about some of the forestry challenges we face."

The Secretary General to the Republic of Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry, Mr. Wahyudi Wardojo MSc, said Indonesia was still in the early stages of decentralizing natural resource management.

"Decentralization is just beginning in Indonesia and we have a lot to learn. But the Indonesian government accepts it is here to stay. That is why we’ve sponsored the Interlaken workshop – to show our commitment to decentralized forest management and to learn from other countries. Decentralizing forest management in Indonesia has room to improve, as there have been mistakes leading to deforestation. Ultimately, if managed properly, decentralization will benefit both forests and the people of Indonesia. But it must be done in a step-wise approach and through close liaison at all government levels," Mr. Wardojo said.

One of the key issues for Indonesia, according to the Secretary General, is ensuring revenues going to local governments from forestry activities are also used to improve forest management.

A major focus of the Interlaken Workshop will be the problems that occur in the transitional phases of decentralization. One of the key aims will be to identify why greater local control of forests has worked in some countries but not in others. This will require looking at a range of issues, including:

  • the environmental role forests play in such areas as watershed functions, biodiversity conservation and climate change, which extend beyond local, regional and national boundaries
  • the factors driving conflicts related to forest resources that occur between local, indigenous and other people
  • the need to consider the interests of stakeholders at various levels, including local, state and provincial governments
  • the policies at the national level dealing with forest rehabilitation, logging practices and illegal logging

Background to the Interlaken Workshop

In March 2002 at the 2nd United Nations Forum on Forests the Governments of Switzerland, Indonesia and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) announced they would organize a country led initiative to support the UNFF in facilitating international dialogue and the exchange of information in decision-making related to decentralization. The purpose of the country-led discussions is not to determine if the growing role of local and regional governments is effective or ineffective but, rather, to find ways to improve the quality of "on the ground" forest-related activities.

Objectives of the workshop include:

  • Analyzing the implications of decentralization in key aspects of forest management for the development of National Forest Programmes (nfps) and to identify strategies for nfps to effectively address this issue
  • Sharing experiences of countries that have decentralized their forestry systems with countries currently rapid processes of decentralization, including transitional aspects of decentralization
  • Deriving lessons learnt from countries that have implemented decentralization that are relevant to other countries in the process of decentralization
  • Preparing proposals for consideration related to decentralization, federal/centralized systems of forestry and their implications on nfps for UNFF 4 (3-14 May 2004 in Geneva)

Background Fact Sheet

Federal Forestry Systems around the World:

  • Indonesia: Decentralization aims to hand over political, financial and administrative authority from central to local (district/city) governments, so that local governments can facilitate and guarantee better public services. The Minister of Forestry retains the authority to issue licenses for forest product utilization but technical recommendations from the Head of the District are required as the main reference in issuing such licenses. Revenue collected from forestry activities is divided proportionally, with 80% going to the respective regions and 20% to the central government.
  • Switzerland: Under the Federal Constitution, the cantons, political parties and other relevant stakeholders must be consulted when important decrees and other projects with far reaching effects are prepared. Stakeholders participate in the development of forest programmes, policies and major forest undertakings. Dialogue between Cantonal Forest Directors and the Cantonal Senior Foresters is institutionalized, and occurs several times a year. The Confederation and the cantons must ensure the authorities and the population are informed on the role of forests, their condition, and general matters to do with forestry and the timber industry.
  • Brazil: Many states have their own forestry laws. The federal Ministry of Environment has given responsibility for regulating forestry activities to those states that demonstrate they have the capacity to carry out those activities. Sales taxes collected from forestry activities go to the state governments, which pass 25% of the money they receive to the municipal governments. Both the federal government and state governments manage their own protected areas.
  • Canada: Provincial governments own two-thirds of the forest. They give out the forest concessions on that land and receive the royalties from the timber produced there. Each province has its’ own forest policy and forest laws. The Federal Government has mostly a coordinating role in formulating a national forest strategy and a centralized role in sponsoring research.
  • Germany: The states own and manage one third of the forest. Federal forest laws provide the framework for most specific state forestry laws. The state government provides technical assistance and many forestry subsidies, and are responsible for designating protected areas.
  • India: The state government forest departments manage over 80% of forests. Federal laws and policies guide those activities. State government forest corporations harvest, process, and market timber, and establish plantations. Some state governments control the trade of forest products beyond state borders. A 1993 Constitutional Amendment gave local governments control over a range of natural resources management and planning functions.
  • Nigeria: The constitution makes state governments responsible for forests. Each state has its own forest policies, legislation and services. There is no federal forest legislation. State governments determine how forestland is classified and used, award timber concessions and receive royalties. State governments get most of the forestry revenue, and sometimes share it with local governments or traditional rulers.
  • Russia: Formally, the federal government still controls most forest and the decisions related to their use. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s 89 republics and other autonomous bodies have gained increasing control over forest affairs. These regional governments strongly influence most decisions made by the forestry departments and enterprises operating within their boundaries. Regional and local governments receive 60% of forest taxes and royalties.
  • United States: State governments own and manage approximately 5% of forests. They also have responsibility for regulating forest use on the 60% of forests that are under private ownership. Each state has its own forest practices legislation governing logging company practices. The Federal Government owns and manages about 35% of the forestland and pays county governments up to 50% of the revenue received from selling timber. States and the federal government each manage their own protected areas.
  • Australia: The states and territories decide how forestland can be used and regulate logging. Together with the Federal Government, they have prepared Regional Forestry Agreements that provide guidance regarding land use and timber production. Each state has its own laws and codes of practice. States and territories manage most of the protected areas. Twenty percent of the taxes from forest activities go to the states and territories.

Key elements in decentralizing forest management:

  • Effective, open and two-way liaison and coordination between the central and regional governments is essential. Each party must have a clear understanding of each other’s roles, responsibilities and legal authority in the sharing of forest management.
  • Government processes at all levels regarding forest management must be transparent and accountable, and include adequate public participation in the decision making process.
  • Municipal governments must have sufficient human and financial resources to be able to manage, monitor and protect forests effectively.
  • Local governments often need a greater understanding of the long term value of forests. This requires a slow process of civic education and cultural change.
  • In handing greater responsibility to local governments, it is important they are not given the more burdensome tasks and the least valuable resources to a manage. This serves as a disincentive to local authorities to manage their forests sustainably.
  • Political stability at the regional or local level, supported by proactive civil society groups, can better ensure forests are managed sustainably. Similarly, stability at the central level also enhances the decentralization process.
  • Appropriate sharing of decision-making authority and responsibilities for forest management between different levels of government is crucial. This includes effective financing arrangements and revenue sharing mechanisms.

For further information and interview opportunities: