Participatory forest conservation in Southwest lowland rainforests of Sri Lanka

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  • J. For. Res. 5:195-199 (2000)

    Short Communication

    Participatory Forest Conservation in Southwest Lowland Rainforests of Sri Lanka

    Wataru Yamamoto RECS INTERNATIONAL Inc., Tokyo 160-0023, Japan.

    Natural forest in Sri Lanka has been decreased significantly in the last few decades. The remaining natural forests especially in floris- tic region seven have undergone less conservation efforts in the past. Considering the capacity of the government and dependence on forest resources by local villagers, the only way for conservation of these forests in the Southwest lowland is forest management through local participation. Management plans for community-based resource management have been completed. However promotion of such management requires integrated measures, which are beyond jurisdiction of Forest Department. A holistic approach with political commitment concerning buffer zone villages and economic incentives with income generation opportunities supported by external inputs are expected to be implemented as a matter of urgency.

    Key words: biodiversity conservation, community-based resource management, participatory forestry, Sri Lanka

    An exceptionally high level of endemic flora in Sri Lanka has been attracting researchers since the end of the last century (Peeris, 1975; NARESA, 1991). The increasing demand for land by agricultural development due to the increase of the population as well as economic interest in timber has result- ed in the rapid depletion of natural forests (Wijesinghe, et al., 1993). In effect, many endemic species are presently con- sidered to be in danger of extinction (Gunatilleke and Gunatilleke, 1991).

    Southwest lowland rainforests cover the floristically richest area in Sri Lanka (Gunatilleke and Gunatilleke, 1990). How- ever, remaining natural forests have already become reduced to only small patches. National Forest Policy in 1995 focus- es on biodiversity conservation and forest management with local participation (FPU, 1995b). Management plans, aiming at community-based management for selected forests, were completed by IUCN in 1995 (IUCN, 1995a-e). The actual mechanisms for implementing the plans are being searched lbr by the government with local communities. In order to outline participatory forest management in Sri Lanka, its historical background and present status at the national level and on- going activities at local level are in need of study.

    This paper first reviews the historical background of forest management in Sri Lanka and phytological status in Southwest lowland rainforests. The on-going participatory approaches lbr forest conservation in Southwest lowland rainforests by the government will be described and discussed with the aspects of political commitment and external inputs to support these efforts.

    Brief History and Current Forest Policy in Sri Lanka Forest cover in Sri Lanka has been decreased significantly

    since the beginning of this century (FPU, 1995a; Legg and Jewell, 1995). The first comprehensive aerial photographic survey, undertaken in 1956, showed a 44% forest cover (Andrews, 1961) most of which is considered to be natural. The inventory survey carried out in 1983 showed a 26.6% nat- ural forest cover (FAO, 1986). The latest forest map based on

    1992 satellite remote sensing data supplemented by field sur- vey shows only a 23.9% cover of natural forest in Sri Lanka (Legg and Jewell, 1995). These data indicate that the rate of deforestation has been 42,000 ha/year from 1956 to 1983 and 54,000 ha/year since 1983 (Wijesinghe et al., 1993).

    After the critique of the continuous massive timber harvest promoted by the Forest Master Plan in 1988 (Gunatilleke, 1988), the government imposed a logging moratorium from natural forests in the wet zone. Extensive biophysical surveys were undertaken under an Accelerated Conservation Review (ACR) in 1989-1990 and National Conservation Review (NCR) since 1992. Based on the results, 32 tbrests containing endemic flora and fauna have been selected as Conservation Forests for strict protection with a total extent of approximately 60,000 ha (Liyanage, 1995).

    The National Forest Policy (NFP), 1995, shows clear direc- tions for the development of the tbrestry sector toward con- servation with the private sector's involvement. The policy acknowledges the limitation of government ability to manage all the forested area and shows a strong lbcus on the conser- vation of biodiversity, soil and water to avoid further heavy depletion of natural forests. In order to do so, the policy emphasizes the empowering and building of partnerships with local people and communities, NGOs, and the private sector in all the aspects of forest management. The policy is also directed at developing home gardens and other agro- forestry systems as one of the key strategies in order to meet the increasing demand in both subsistence and industrial sec- tor.

    The Forestry Sector Master Plan (FSMP) in 1995 catego- rized four types of forests for different protection levels (Table 1). The application of the new classification is on- going. The difference between Class III and IV is confusing. It seems that Class III includes natural forests and Class IV only plantations. In Class III and IV forests it is likely that land can be leased on a long term basis to local villagers, local communities and companies to promote private reforesta- tion.

  • 196 J. For. Res.5 (3) 2000:

    Table 1 Classification for protected areas and production forest. Class Land use purpose Activities allowed Area covered

    Strict protection for Research National heritage biodiversity, soils wilderness areas and water and his- strict nature

    I torical, cultural, reli- reserves gions and esthetic values


    Conservation with Scientific research Non-extractive uses Regulated nature-

    based tourism Control collection

    of NWFPs

    National parks sanctuaries conservation forests


    Forests for multiple Sustainable wood Other forest uses buffer zones to production reserves for pro- protect Class I and NWFPs duction Class II forests

    Forest plantations and Other forest IV agroforestry systems reserves for pro-

    in state lands duction

    Source: FPU (1995a).

    Case Study 1 Biological diversity in Southwest Lowland rainforests

    In Sri Lanka, 70% of forest comprises dry monsoon forest, and lowland rain forest occupies only 9% (Legg and Jewell, 1995). A large part of recent deforestation has occurred in the dry zone due to agricultural development. However, South- west lowland forests in the densely populated wet zone have also been shrinking to smaller patches by development of tea, coconut, and rubber plantations and home gardens. Illegal timber harvesting took place despite strict control by the For- est Department (FD). Because of dense human population, threats to biodiversity are greatest in the wet zone, particularly in the south-west (FPU, 1995a).

    Sri Lanka can be divided into the 15 regions with distinct floristic elements (Fig. 1, Ashton and Gunatilleke, 1987). Southwest lowland rain forests in the wet zone (region 6 and 7) contain floristically the richest area in the island (Gunatilleke and Gunatilleke, 1990). Ninety-three percent of woody species studied in the wet zone are either endangered, vulnerable or rare according to the IUCN Red Data Book clas- sification (Gunatilleke and Gunatilleke, 1991). Floristic region 6 has a relatively large forest area (Sinharaja forest is well- known as a world heritage) with adequate protection (Ishwaran and Erdelen, 1990). However, floristic region 7 includes a few isolated forest fragments on lowland hills between the front edge of central highland and the coast (Fig. 2). These lbrests have been identified as Conservation Forests for Class II pro- tection allowing only non-extractive uses of forest resources. 2 Forest interaction with rural communities

    The human population in the southwest lowland live most- ly by farming and have a relatively low income. Emigration is substantial and much of the income is derived from Colombo. Tea, rubber and coconut plantations are the major sources of employment opportunities. Rice is grown in the middle zone, however productivity is the lowest in the country. Trans-

    Fig. 1 Floristic regions of Sri Lanka. Source: Ashton and Gunatillake, (1987). 1, Coastal and marine belt ; 2, Dry and arid lowlands; 3, North- ern intermediate lowlands; 4, Eastern intermediate lowlands; 5, North- ern wet lowlands; 6, Sinharaja and Ratnapura; 7, Southern lowland hills; 8, Wet zone freshwater bodies; 9, Foot hills of Adam's peak and Ambagamuwa; 10, Midmountains; 11, Kandy and upper Mahaweli; 12, Knuckles; 13, Central mountains, Ramboda; 14, Adam's peak; 15, Horton plain.

    Region 7 .~ l Region ~ . _ ,

    Fig. 2 Natural forest area in southwest lowland rainforests. Source: Legg and Jewell (1995). Note: This figure shows all natural forest blocks larger than 20 ha.

    portation to Colombo is better on the coast with direct train connection and flat roads, but most of the villages in the buffer zones are rather isolated. Land holdings are small (mostly smaller than 0.5 ha in Matara district (IPID, 1996)), with a high component of slope land in the buffer zones.

    Traditionally, forests have been utilized by local villagers for grazing live stock, collecting fuelwood, building materials (timber, rattan, bamboo), sticks to support planting betels and tea, medicinal plants, food (mushrooms, honey etc.), mining clay for brick making, hunting wild animals (hares, porcupines, mouse deer, samburs and wild boars) and shifting (chena) cultivation. The economic value of forest for local vil- lagers is significant. The study at the villages near Kan-

  • Yamamoto 197

    dawattegoda forest showed that the value of the forest resources of a household is more than three month average earnings per person employed (Table 2; IUCN, 1995a).

    All the periphery of the forests has been encroached by vil- lagers to enlarge their land for paddy, tea, cinnamon, cit- ronella and home gardens. A number of encroachments (69 in Kandawattegoda, 22 in Kekanadura, 345 in Vihalakele, and 106 in Kottawa forests) were recorded (IUCN, 1995a-e). The existence of irrigated reservoirs (tanks) located at the edges of the forests allows more severe encroachment to occur (IUCN, 1995e). Since tea cultivation can create a good income on present international markets due to the new markets in Iran and Russia, the expansion of smallholders and home gardens for tea planting is the main problem in the conservation forests located at higher elevations. 3 Conservation efforts with local participation

    Conservation forests are managed for "the conservation of biodiversity (genes, species, and ecosystems), the mainte- nance of ecological processes and services and the preserva- tion of cultural traditions" (IUCN, 1995a-e). The manage- ment plans were completed by 1995 for the Kanneliya, Dediyagala, and Nakiyadeniya (KDN) forest complex, Kan- dawattegoda, Viharakele, Oliyagankele, Welihena, Kottawa- Kombara, Kekanadura forests (IUCN, 1995a-e). The man- agement plans aim at community-based resource manage-

    Table 2 Total value of forest resources at villages near Kandawatte- goda Forest Reserve.

    (Unit: Rs/household/year)

    Villages Kandawatte- Puswalkada Haupe All goda villages

    Average earnings 2290 t995 2730 2363 per month per person employed (Rs)

    No. of sample 15 17 20 52 households

    Roots 200 200 Mushrooms 450 450 Kitul treacle 3000 3000 Hunting/meat 11250 11250 Medical herbs 28 8 21 19 Fuelwood 62 145 172 126 Handles: tools 106 8 57 Branches: roofs 750 750 Round poles 90 29 24 47 Roofing poles 277 75 131 161 Rattan 220 346 800 455 Bamboo 875 86 92 351 Goraka 180 225 600 335 Sticks 925 108 1650 894

    Total 14013 2430 6490 7333

    Source: IUCN (1995a). Note: Data for the table were collected in 1994 by the socio-economic survey of three peripheral villages considered to be fairly typical (Kandawattegoda within forest and Puswalkada and Haupe on the periphery). Fifty two households were randomly selected in the three villages with stratification based on distance to the forest. The value of each product was calculated based on total amount and market prices of forest resources collected by the sample households. In 1994, US$1 ~ Rs 50.

    ment adopting planning and management processes by local communities, the minimization of negative impacts on local communities, accommodation of traditional resource use, direct benefit for local communities and linkage with socio- economic development. Local villagers who are directly rel- evant to these forests are involved in a five stage process of for- est management, namely: gathering information, consulta- tion, decision making, initiating action and evaluation.

    1) Zoning Since conservation survey data did not indicate any edge

    effect, the management plans assumed that biodiversity and endemic species are distributed evenly throughout the natur- al forests. A large protected area is necessary for conserving species with low population densities because of their unequal distribution throughout the forests (Sinhakumara, 1994). However, considering the high dependence on forest resources by local villagers, excessive protection is not realistic. Since large parts of forests belong to cultural and transitional zones, the protected core zone is much smaller than the area of the conservation forests. This indicates the critical status of the protected core zone in the zoning of the management plans which can not be violated.

    According to the management plans, conservation forests are zoned into 1) protected core zone for strict preservation of biophysical features, 2) traditional use zone for traditional har- vest of timber and non-timber forest products (NTFPs), 3) cul- tural zone with sites of cultural and religious importance, 4) recovery zone which requires restorative management intervention, 5) village integrating zone, extensively encroached and 6) buffer zone where socio-economic devel- opment can help achieve the conservation of the core zones. It should be noticed that the concept of buffer zone is for socio- economic development in the management. The existing definition of buffer zones according to the Fauna and Flora Act - one mile wide belt surrounding protected areas - is not realistic. Multiple-use trees like kitul palm (Karyota urens) which yields sap for treacle and raw sugar and pith for food and medicine as well as fodder are planned to be planted at boundaries as a visual and useful sign.

    2) Institutional development The viability of voluntary participatory management by

    local villagers is questionable unless they are properly con- stituted and realize tangible early benefits for their members (IUCN, 1995a-e). The first step, therefore, is to establish and identify reliable local organizations which co-operate with the Forest Department (FD). Provision of economic incentives to maintain forests for their own benefit and the cap...


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