Toward Sustainable Economic Development: The Model Forest Approach

In forestry circles, environmental conservation and economic progress have generally seemed diametrically opposed--conservation initiatives often facing opposition for fear that they may affect livelihood opportunities and vice versa. But it doesn't have to work that way. As model forests have shown, the pursuit of alternative economic opportunities and livelihoods can actually augment sustainable forest management by creating mutually beneficial partnerships between the often-conflicting pursuits of the forest industry, communities and conservationists.

"A lot of the conservation initiatives to date have focused on protecting a particular area, its biodiversity or other aspects with a fairly narrow focus," says Peter Besseau, Executive Director of the International Model Forest Network Secretariat (IMFNS). "Model forests look at the situation in a holistic way and recognize that communities are living elements in an ecosystem. As such, we have to find ways to accommodate their justified expectations for a decent quality of life."

To that end, model forests engage communities constructively toward environmental protection, but in ways that make sense to them and that help them sustain existing livelihoods or develop alternative, more sustainable ones.

"In many cases, solutions that work are based on things people already know how to do, involving resources that are already being used in some way," says Besseau. "Model forests improve the quality of use and the end products. They don't try to create miracle solutions. Rather, it's an incremental process of assessing resources, building capacity among communities, and what can reasonably be drawn from them."

In doing so, model forests encourage and build communal understanding of sustainable development within their specific context.

In addition, by providing a neutral, non-threatening forum, model forests encourage a participatory process that fosters the development of novel solutions for economic development. This benefits individuals, communities and other stakeholders, while furthering the goal of sustainable forest management.

Model forest partnerships work to translate the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable forest management into practice in ways that are understandable and meaningful to local communities. They impact a wide range of issues from governance to conflict abatement to education and integrated resource management. In this article we look at four model forests from the vantage point of economic impacts that model forest partnerships are registering at the community level.

Chiloé Model Forest: new economic opportunities shift attitudes

Chiloé Model Forest serves as an excellent example of how the inclusion of communities through a participatory process can shift attitudes in favour of sustainable forest management.

The forests of Chile's Chiloé Island have long been threatened by clearing land for agriculture and excessive timber harvesting, which is mainly used to heat homes.

"Over the years, the Chilean government tried various methods to change this, including preaching about biodiversity and the need to protect forests for the future, and policing the forests and imposing fines," says Juan Carlos Collarte, Chairman of the Regional Model Forest Centre for Latin America and the Caribbean (RMFC-LAC). "The latter strategy exists, but it is inefficient."

Even the creation of a national park on the island in 1982 was unsuccessful at preventing tree poaching and other unauthorized uses of the forest. It wasn't until the Chiloé Model Forest was created in 1998 that the situation began to change.

Since its inception, the Chiloé Model Forest has collaborated with various stakeholders to develop new industries that generate income while encouraging sustainable forest use. This has been achieved though education and training, community participation, infrastructure development, the use of traditional knowledge, and direct project investment.

Alternative livelihood activities such as cultural and rural tourism, construction of traditional community houses, charcoal production, basket weaving, wood carving, nut harvesting and the production of natural dyes have already increased incomes for local communities and discouraged unsustainable forest uses.

"One cubic metre of firewood costs about 5 000 Chilean pesos," says Martin Cox, Project Coordinator for the Chiloé Model Forest. "But the same amount of money can be earned by making a handicraft out of just one piece of firewood. That's the direction we're trying to move in."

A unique blend of forest and culture

Some of the greatest benefits have resulted from the development and gradual implementation of an integrated development plan for the communities associated with the Model Forest. This includes the development of a new cultural guiding industry on Chiloé Island.

"Chiloé is a special attraction of its own because it provides a unique mixture of forest and culture," says Patrick Twomey, who works with the Chiloé Model Forest and communities to develop the local tourism industry.

People who once earned a living extracting resources from the forest have been retrained as cultural guides, and now earn a living providing a range of services to tourists such as hiking, horseback riding, guided tours, and teaching about the traditional use of forest resources.

"During the peak tourism season in January and February, guides can earn nearly a year's wages," adds Twomey. "The effect is enormous, even though it's not a huge amount of money. Cultural guiding has also given people and stronger voice in their communities, and developed an understanding of the need to protect the park and other virgin forest on the island as a means of tourism."

Guide work has provided much-needed alternative employment for four members of the indigenous Huilliches community of Yaldad, whose traditional livelihood of fishing was threatened by red tides in early in 2003. Chile's national forestry corporation, CONAF, is now funding a larger program to train guides for the entire island.

The guides also earn income from another model forest project, the annual "Biodiversity Fair" which is held each February in Castro, the capital of Chiloé. The fair, which began in 2002, evolved from the long-standing community festival, and now attracts some 30 000 people over five days.

"The fair celebrates local culture and provides a market for artisans and others. The model forest has introduced an educational component to that, and people responded very quickly," says Twomey. "The concept of conservation didn't exist here before. Now people attending the fair are celebrating biodiversity and are more aware of the role they play in it. The effect is quite powerful."

Chiloé communities have also been actively involved in the development of many other projects. Each year the Model Forest holds a "concurso" or call for proposals, from which it selects and co-finances between 10 and 15 projects that meet the general objectives of the Model Forest while benefiting local communities. To date, this process has resulted in direct community investment in 60 projects that have improved incomes for people living on the Island.

Shifting views, changing attitudes

The development of these and other economic opportunities is gradually altering the old view of the national park as something that takes away land toward one of a mutually beneficial partnership. And the effect has extended beyond the Model Forest. Now, rather than simply cutting down non-park forests for firewood, neighbouring communities are developing value-added handicraft projects and discussing the establishment of other private parks. To enhance this new attitude, the Chiloé Model Forest is also developing a centre to promote environmental education.

In addition, because of the positive experiences and success stories coming out of Chiloé, the Government of Chile has established a second model forest and is in the planning stages for a third.

"The process is empowering and supports the view that conservation comes from empowerment, not from imposition," says Twomey. "That's an interesting change that's happening even in the forestry ministry, which has a new political agenda involving communities. That is what the model forest has been talking about for six years."

For more information, please visit www.imfn.net or contact rverbisky@idrc.ca.


Gassinski Model Forest: sustainably building on local resources

Despite Russia's vast forest resources (one-fifth of the world's forested area), they have been over-exploited at the local level, threatened by high-grading illegal logging, petroleum and mineral exploitation, and other pressures. In spite of these challenges, the Gassinski Model Forest (GMF) has successfully encouraged the development of sustainable livelihoods in Russia's Kahbarovsk Krai province for the last nine years.

One particular project-carried out in collaboration with Canada's McGregor Model Forest in the province of British Columbia-focuses on the sustainable, diversified exploitation of natural resources. Interventions are small-scale, resource-based, focused on satisfying internal and export markets, and are designed for ease of replication elsewhere in the country. Key outputs include:

  • training of project participants
  • improved market research
  • increased economic growth and employment opportunities

According to Krai officials, this Model Forest project is one of the few development initiatives that has had an impact at the village level

A significant component of the GMF project was the development of the region's value-added wood processing capacity by identifying a few products that require minimal capital investment and training to become more productive. The project has assisted in the acquisition and installation of wood processing and drying equipment. Training was also provided in lumber drying techniques; in the manufacture of furniture, thermal windows, and doors; and in the construction of Canadian-style wood frame and round log homes.

"As a result of this project, employment in one indigenous village, Nanai, increased from 20 per cent to more than 60 per cent since they started to process logs and develop enterprises locally, and adding value to them by producing finished products," says Peter Besseau, Executive Director of the International Model Forest Network Secretariat (IMFNS).

Because one-third of the population in the Model Forest is indigenous Nanai or Udege, the project has also worked in partnership with indigenous communities in the development of alternative livelihoods. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, during Russia's economic, social and political reconstruction (Perestroika), many indigenous people lost their jobs and put their hopes on natural resources. But with no equipment for timber harvesting, they relied on non-wood forest resources and fish. However, those did not generate enough income to provide for their families.

In developing its plan for sustainable forest management in the region, the GMF Association therefore gave strong priority to sustainable resource-based economic development opportunities for its community. The Association also strove to ensure sustainable forest management and the integrated use of forest resources. They also looked to business development for indigenous peoples, and other forest-based communities, based on cultural heritage, non-timber forest products, and arts and crafts.

Efforts focused on increasing local production of non-timber forest products, and enhancing their market acceptance, by improving the quality and presentation of the final products. This provided employment in rural areas where few economic opportunities exist.

Sharing knowledge, building partnerships

The Lheidli T'enneh Band of Prince George in Canada and the Nanai people have also been working together to identify opportunities for joint economic and cultural projects that will strengthen each of their communities, create businesses, and much-needed employment and income.

Currently, the most promising businesses are based on traditional handicrafts. For example, a business plan has been developed to promote embroidery and sewing crafts and an arts-and-crafts bazaar by local women. One Nanai craftswoman, for example, was granted preferential credit to lease computerized equipment for the production of machine embroidery. She and another craftswoman were also granted a business trip to Canada to learn the fundamentals of setting up a business, which they are now successfully running.

The project is also assisting the Nanai people to improve the marketing of their existing crafts in Russia, Western Canada and the United States. Economic statistics collected from 2000 to 2002 indicate an improvement in the average monthly salary and a decline in unemployment in the Nanai District of the GMF.

"The Gassinski Model Forest has demonstrated important progress towards building partnerships and consensus-based decisions that benefit of both society and the conservation of forest ecosystems and biodiversity," says Vladimir F. Pominov, President of the GMF Association.

Officials are now looking at ways to successfully replicate this model forest approach to economic development elsewhere in Russia.

For more information, please visit www.imfn.net or contact pbesseau@idrc.ca.

Ulot Watershed Model Forest: building on existing livelihoods

In 1996, the rainforests on Samar Island in the Philippines were declared a forest reserve to protect against commercial and local logging and exploitation. The ongoing misuse of forest resources had contributed to the loss of local timber revenues, and increased already existing tensions among local forest-dependent communities.

Despite the creation of the reserve, conflicting policy interests in logging, mining and conservation practices, coupled with fragmented implementation of existing forest management projects, convinced the government to join the IMFN. The Ulot Watershed Model Forest was created in 2000 with a goal, among other things, to demonstrate sustainable forest and land use within a broader conservation context. Part of this strategy included of a focus on the economic development of non-timber forest products.

To date, results have been positive. For example, local communities now harvest rattan and bamboo poles for shelter and construction, as well as a variety of medicinal and culinary plants, fresh water fish and large animals, which are used for food. In addition, local residents gather firewood to meet household needs as well as to sell.

"Forests provide an array of goods and services that are beneficial to the community. When these forest resources are sustainably managed, the communities are assured of their economic welfare," says Lourdes Wagan, Supervising Forest Management Specialist with the Ulot Watershed Model Forest. "More livelihood enterprises are developed based on the non-timber or minor forest products such as rattan, bamboo, and nito, and communities shift away from destructive activities and toward conservation."

"Communities learn to develop partnerships and other strategies for ensuring the sustainability of resources," adds Wagan. "For example, they are encouraged to develop plantations of rattan and other non-timber forest products in order to have a continuous supply of raw materials to support their livelihood. Thus, an appropriate land use becomes necessary and acceptable to them. And they learn to work together toward achieving this common objective."

This type of partnership has also led to the formation of a cooperative for the production, processing and quality control of almaciga resin, a potentially valuable enterprise for model forest communities. The ultimate goal is to get a better price for the resin, which is used in the manufacture of turpentine, varnish and paint, and as a base for making perfume. To that end, the Ulot Model Forest and the Samar Island Bio-diversity Project (SIBP), in collaboration with the Forest Products Research and Development Institute (FRDI) and UNDP-GEF, carried out two rounds of training on proper almaciga tapping.

"The training provided practical knowledge on enhanced resin tapping methods, which were based on scientifically tested procedures aimed at sustaining resin production," says Wagan.

Added benefits

The project has an added benefit-local People's Organizations (POs) involved in resin tapping became more motivated to protect the forests surrounding the Almaciga trees in order to protect resin yields and their livelihood, proving that the use of non-timber forest products like rattan, bariw and nito can also reduce pressure on standing timber.

At present, two groups are actively engaged in rattan furniture and handicraft making. In support of this, the Ulot Model Forest provided training on rattan weaving and handicrafts; preservation and seasoning/treatment of rattan; and finishing of rattan and handicrafts. This has led to an increase in the quality of rattan products, increased orders for products, and a growing interest in rattan plantation and forest protection. The POs involved are also beginning to derive economic gain from this activity.

"Economic activities were chosen based on the availability of resources, preferences and skills of POs, market opportunities, social acceptability, technical capability, environmental effects, and financial support," says Wagan. "Coconut was considered but not chosen, for example, since the price for coconut fruit and by-products were very low."

Looking ahead, the Ulot Model Forest sees advantages to integrating its approach at the federal level by incorporating it into the national forestry masterplan. Possibilities of expanding the model forest approach to other areas of the Philippines are also being explored.

For more information, please visit www.imfn.net or contact pbesseau@idrc.ca.

China's Lin'an Model Forest: non-wood forest products cultivate growth

Until recently, 80 per cent of farmers' incomes in the Zhejiang Province of China came from felling and charcoal production, while its rich non-wood resources went under-utilized. Today, many families in the county have escaped poverty through the development of and production of non-wood forest products.

The challenge

In the early 1980s, the Government of Lin'an developed a strategy that involved protecting and cultivating forest resources, stabilizing crop production, prioritizing the development of lower hills and slopes, developing indigenous species-based commercial forest, bamboo forest and other non-wood resources, and maintaining a steady increase in forest coverage.

Achieving economic, ecological and social benefits all at the same time remained a challenge, however. There were risks emerging, such as overdependence on bamboo monoculture and aggressive cultivation of steep slopes for shoot production.

Because of the promise shown by the positive effects of land reform, coupled with an inspired local leadership, the Lin'an area was selected for model forest development in 1997. With the birth of the Model Forest, local stakeholders were given a forum to: integrate planning and management; provide a broad range of training and extension services; and, allow local people with economic and other interests to voice their opinions and ideas on issues that affected their livelihood and environment.

When the Chinese Academy of Forestry met with representatives of the IMFN that same year, they had an eye to consolidating, improving and sustaining Lin'an's non-wood products-based economy, including the processing of these products.

This approach capitalized on existing local natural resources combined with science, and advances in processing and distribution, to establish bamboo as a key sector of the rural economy. By 1998, the farmers' average net income was 4.199 thousand Yuan, 24 and five times more than in 1978 and 1988 respectively. Some 70 per cent of this was derived from the non-wood resources trade. To date, the Model Forest community has established 800 000 hectares of bamboo plantations, which provides rural farmers with an income of about US$0.2 billion.

Bamboo shoots to the top

Activities of the Lin'an Model Forest partnership committee have continued to build on this strategy. For example, the partnership conducted a variety of training courses, including one on high-yield hickory and edible bamboo shoot farming techniques. The training involved field studies and visits, lectures and discussions. In the past year, more than 35 lectures were given and more than 2 500 person-hours of training provided.

The bamboo industry is now the economic pillar of rural Lin'an. And the development of bamboo shoots in particular is one of the key avenues by which farmers have increased their incomes. So far, there are more than 30 000 households growing bamboo and Lin'an has become the largest food bamboo garden in southern China

Lin'an also buys fresh bamboo shoots and bamboo logs from elsewhere, then processes and resells them to domestic and overseas markets. With the application of environmentally and ecomically sound bamboo planting technology, market shares and economic profits have improved. As result, many poor villages and families have escaped poverty.

Achieving a balance through Model Forests

Lin'an has also developed its hickory and tea industries. Before the reform, the economic value of hickory was very low. But as people's incomes and living conditions have improved, this "green" organic food has become more popular, driving up prices.

The development of non-wood resources in Lin'an not only benefits the protection of forestry resources, it also enhances the area's scenic value, which has encouraged the development of ecotourism. This, in turn, encourages more people to protect forest resources. More than 10 ecotourism sites have been developed, and in 2001, two million tourists visited Lin'an resulting in a gross income of US$121 million.

The development of non-wood resources has had many other spin-off benefits for Lin'an, such as:

  • reducing farmers' dependence on wood, which benefits the recovery of forest resources.
  • creating positive effects on related industries: for example, during bamboo shoot season, a 30-kilometre bamboo shoot market takes place along the highway. Over 300 trucks are used to deliver goods.
  • encouraging education: as farmers' incomes increased, they realized the importance of education-especially in the disciplines of science and technology-in the exploitation of non-wood resources. As a result, they lobbied to raise the educational standards of their children. Eager to meet the needs of farmers, the township government set up the central school in the township, so that all children could study. Meanwhile, illiteracy has been reduced by 20 per cent through adult night school, where many learned a practical skill.

In these, and many other ways, model forests around the world have come to realize, and effectively demonstrate, the symbiotic relationship that can exist between sustainable forest management and economic and social development.

For more information, please visit www.imfn.net or contact pbesseau@idrc.ca.