Commonwealth Forests

bullet1 Chapter 1: The Forest Resource

bullet2 BOX 1.1 Forests in Low Forest Cover Countries (LFCC), Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and on mountains

Forests in these three special situations have several features in common: firstly the local people are highly reliant on them for products and environmental benefits; secondly other people who live beyond the immediate environs of the forests benefit from them; thirdly the forests themselves are subject to the hazards of extreme climatic conditions; and fourthly they often represent genetic resources or natural ecosystems that are not found elsewhere.  Countries in all situations realise the need for afforestation to ameliorate their conditions.

Low Forest Cover Countries (LFCC) have been defined by FAO as those countries with less than 10 per cent of their land under forest.  According to this definition there are 55 LFCC countries reported in FRA2005 (FAO 2006a), of which twelve are Commonwealth countries: four in Africa, one in the Caribbean, three in South Asia, three in South-east Asia and the Pacific, and one in Europe.  Details are in Annex 2.1. A meeting of LFCC in 1999 in Iran accepted FAO’s definition, established the Tehran Process, identified the potential roles of NGOs, the private sector, research and training institutions and the rural poor, and called for increased investment. Rural people in these countries, especially the poorest, are highly dependent on the forest for products such as fuelwood and non-wood forest products such as fodder.  Low rainfall is common to LFCC countries, often combined with high population, and the environment therefore tends to be highly degraded.  Periodic droughts may affect not only the local people but the forest on which they depend, while urban populations, often far from the forest, may also source fuelwood or charcoal from the forest.

There is no internationally accepted definition of a small island developing state. They were, however, given an international political identity with the establishment in 1991 of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). Although commonly called Small Island Developing States (SIDS), some are not small, others are not islands and a few are not developing economies.  Twenty-seven of the 39 AOSIS countries are members of the Commonwealth, mostly in the Pacific or the Caribbean – see Annex 2.1.

Trees are important in SIDS for the provision of products, coastal protection and in support of tourism.  Most Commonwealth SIDS are quite well forested; only two are LFCC (Maldives and Nauru). But forests on island SIDS are especially vulnerable to damage and destruction by hurricanes and typhoons, or tidal surges.  Climate change threatens unique island tree species and ecosystems, which may have developed in isolation; some endemic species are being conserved ex situ.  All Commonwealth SIDS import oil as a fuel, which accounts for a high proportion of earnings; alternative and affordable renewable energy sources, such as wood, are required to reduce vulnerability to price rises.  Isolation from markets also limits their commercial opportunities.

Mountain forests, found in many Commonwealth countries in Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Cameroon), the Americas (Canada), South Asia (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka), SE Asia (Malaysia, New Zealand) and Europe (UK), maintain water supplies and quality, reduce erosion and protect against landslides.  They may have greater biological diversity and endemism than lowland forests but are likely also to be more sensitive to changes in climate.  They provide essential water to both mountain people and to those living downstream while the local people rely on the forests for fuel, grazing and NWFP and outsiders appreciate the scenic beauty and recreational facilities. Mountain forests are often culturally important since they enshrine sacred groves or trees.

Sources:

  1. LFCC:  FAO, 2000.  FAO, 2003.  

  2. Special issue of the International Forestry Review Vol. 4(4), December 2002, devoted to Forestry and Small Island Developing States

  3. Website of the Mountain Partnership http://www.mountainpartnership.org/