FSMP – a Strategy for Sustaining Our Forests
BY FAADHILA THASSIM
Increasing demand for land in Sri Lanka has led to a consequent deforestation and depletion of the forest cover inevitably resulting in the need for a plan or strategy for sustaining forests. The recently introduced Forestry Sector Master Plan (FSMP) for the years 2021 to 2030 follows two initial such plans, with the main aim of sustainable forest management, restoration of forest landscapes, biodiversity enhancing and most importantly climate change adaptation.
While this would be ideal for forest and biodiversity conservation, the question as to its feasibility and implementation remains followed by the question as to whether the previous forestry sector master plans were in itself implemented and whether its benefits were reaped.
History of FSMP in Sri Lanka
Former Conservator General of Forests, Anura Sathurusinghe said the very first forestry sector master plan was introduced in 1986 under the forest resources development project adding that this however faced several criticism from the Government, from NGOs and environmental enthusiasts on the basis that it was mainly focused on production forestry and not in consideration of the environmental values and the environmental services of the forest and that it was carried out in a manner which was not transparent and without much stakeholder consultation.
He added that this led to a number of studies being carried out in this regard which was vital for the second forestry sector master plan published in 1995 together with the National Forestry Policy for a 25 year period from 1995 to 2020 which is currently being implemented. This includes not only forests but other related sectors like soil conservation and several other factors including rural development under a project called the forestry sector development project.
The new forestry master plan which is now developing, is the third phase from 2021 to 2030, with the support of the Ecosystem Conservation and Management Project (ESCAMP) of the World Bank.
Forestry Sector Master Plan 1995-2020
This FSMP had three main objectives which were that of conserving the natural forest including conserving the biodiversity, soil and water, to expand the forest cover and the productivity of forest plantations and to enhance the rural economy. Sathurusinghe said, under this plan, 13 programmes were proposed to be implemented and it introduced short, medium and long-term implementation strategies while enabling partnerships as a basic forestry development strategy.
The short-term strategies were for the first five years from 1995- 2000 and these include the approval of laws and rules to give effect to new policies and harmonisation of all policies related to forestry, review and revise all administrative rules and regulations of the Forest Department and other forestry related agencies.
Further short-term strategies included that of strategies for partnerships in forestry development and piloting the same for forest resource management, strengthening sectoral planning capacity, establishment of a permanent forest estate including that of planning the protected area system and defining boundaries and carrying out Environmental Impact Assessments of the implementation programmes and projects.
Medium-term strategies were from five to ten years including expanding the pilot management schemes to cover the whole country, reviewing and updating the FSMP to keep up with the changes in the other national development plans, continuing institutional strengthening and support of all sub sectors and carrying out EIAs as done in the short term strategies. The long-term strategies were for a period of 15 years to monitor forestry partnerships to ensure they are carried out harmoniously and sustainably developed and that the national development goals are attained.
Sathurusinghe added that while most of these strategies are being transferred into action and being implemented , there are still certain strategies and programmes which the department could not implement due to various reasons like the funding constraints as well as different institutional set ups and various other issues. Conservator General of Forests, Dr. K.M.A. Bandara said, challenges faced were that of some targets not being achieved with the implementation period being too long in consideration of the dynamic nature of resource management and conflicting mandate of different institutions and interested groups.
FSMP 2021 - 2030
Sathurusinghe said we are now at the end of the 1995 FSMP and the Forest Department was tasked with preparing an FSMP for 2021 to 2030. The FSMP 2021 to 2030 is to review information on the forestry sector in Sri Lanka, to identify merging issues, to carry out an analysis of national policies, laws and regulations, international commitments and obligations, an analysis of the status of implementation of the previous FSMP, establishment of a vision, goals and targets and to design new investment programmes.
He added that the objective of this master plan is to provide a framework to guide the forest sector management and for operational and financial planning for various stakeholders. He added that this FSMP seeks to contribute to the international goals, UN Sustainable Development Goals and to contribute to the three Rio Conventions and several other conventions. Sathurusinghe further said the FSMP aligns with the six global forest goals of the UN strategic plan for forests for the years 2017 to 2030.
Steps and timeline
Dr. Bandara said while there is over ten months to complete this task, the public launch was in September 2021 followed by survey with stakeholders and consultations will be carried out from September to November. The draft investment programme is to be carried out in November 2021 while consultation and comments will be gathered by the end of June 2022 following which public approval will be sought. The stakeholder consultation process is essential, Bandara said in order to collect information such as the gaps and the lessons from the previous master plans and the priority intervention.
He added that a ‘forest Landscape approach’ will be adopted whereby multiple land uses will be managed in an integrated manner, considering both the natural environment and human systems while the intervention will aim to balance the ecological, social and economic benefits of forests and trees within a broader pattern of land uses.
Selected investment programmes
Bandara said that although nine investment programmes have been identified considering the land use, following the stakeholder consultations, there could be minor or major changes. He added that according to the landscape approach for the forest lands that are not forests and degraded forests, four investment programmes have been identified which include timber supply or forest plantations, natural regeneration reforestation enrichment planting for the forest lands without the forest and for forest lands with degraded forests, the investment programme will be the restoration of degraded forests and the forest protection which include law enforcement and other protection such as protection from fire.
For the buffer lands, he said two investment plans have been identified which include mangrove restoration and watershed protection and erosion control while the investments identified for agricultural lands and agriculture plus forest lands without forests is agro forestry while under the settlements, two investment programmes have been identified which are urban forestry and social forestry.
He further said five cost-cutting programmes have also been identified which include nature based tourism, business technology associated with the forestry and value added intermediary processes along the supply chain mainly considering timber technologies and non-timber forest product. Bandara added that this programme also includes forest research and communication and capacity building which comes under the research knowledge management and communication and the forest and forest cover inventory will fall under the forest monitoring programme.
Other key elements of FSMP 2021-2030
There are certain other key elements of the FSMP which include the review of the international commitments and obligations which will be carried out with consultations, national policy, law and regulations, the synthesis of environmental, technical, social, and economic factors affecting the forest sector, stakeholder mapping and institutional arrangement together with financial analysis and investment strategies.
Is the FSMP 2021 - 2030 feasible and will it contribute to forest conservation as mentioned by authorities? Senior Advisor to the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) and the Chairperson of Friends of the Earth International, Hemantha Withanage said an FSMP will be of use at this juncture where there is several incidents of forest land grabbing but only if its primary objective forest conservation and not if it would result in more logging and giving away of forest land.
He added that although this is a multi-stakeholder process with several expertise, the Government should have the will to protect the forests as currently there is an increase in land grabbing and deforestation and with over 500,000 hectares of forest land at risk with the recent circular 2/2021 issued by the Secretary to the Ministry of Land to demarcate State land.
Withanage said there are several policies adopted in the name of Conservation adding that the question as to whether these are implemented or are carried out just as mere projects arises adding that it is also questionable if the task of FSMP could be carried out in a 10-month period. He added the investment plans under the proposed FSMP is more towards the consumption of the forest than the conservation of the forest, there it is a possibility for protected areas to be conserved but for the rest of the areas to be put into human consumption.
Thereby although the FSMP 2021- 2030 in only in its initial stages and due to be carried out with several stakeholder consultations and strategies, it is crucial that such efforts are directed towards the much needed conservation of forest areas and not result in an increase in the number of incidents of land grabbing and deforestation which would further put forests at risk.