A greener future | Daily News

A greener future

Public participation – a must for sustainable forest strategy

For the people in Sri Lanka, forests have always played an important role. They have shaped our culture, our history, our sagas and our traditional songs. Their diversity has provided vital products and amenities to our society including quality habitat for wildlife, biodiversity of plant and animal communities, clean water and aesthetic benefits.

It is in this background we need to take a look at the latest report on our forest cover. Statistics reveal that our closed canopy natural forest cover in the country, which stood at 80.0% of land area until the turn of the century had dwindled to less than 29% by 2016.

President Maithripala Sirisena is quite concerned about the situation. Addressing the FAO parley in Rome recently, he said that the government is committed to plant five million trees by 2020 and increase the forest cover to 32 per cent.

If the President’s bold challenge is to be fulfilled, the writer believes, four initial requirements must be met before the campaign starts: First, identify the land to be reforested; second, arrange for the required budget and third, seek suitable technology needed and fourth, canvass people's maximum support.


Areas that need to be brought under tree cover will necessarily be mainly government land. This would include degraded and scrub forest lands, waste and unused lands, grazing lands and pasture, river canal and tank banks, along national and state highways, village roads, etc.


Planting five million trees with two years needs high technology.

Today, there are many advanced systems used in replanting. One is the usage of drones. A drone, mounted with an air gun, will be able to seed a hectare of deforested land in less than half an hour – a job that would take four people using conventional tree-planting methods more than six days.

Thailand and Japan are utilising this system. The scientists are now improving the structure of the “delivery vehicle” – how to drop seeds into the ground so that they have the best chance of germinating.

Miyawaki method

Another system widely used elsewhere is known as Miyawaki system. It was designed by Akira Miyawaki, a Japanese scientist. He has planted around 40 million trees all over the world, and in 2006, won the Blue Planet Prize, the equivalent to the Nobel Prize in the environmental field.

His method is based on what’s called “potential natural vegetation”- a theory that if a piece of land is free from human intervention, a forest will naturally self-seed and take over that land within a period of around 600 to 1,000 years. It will develop species that would be native and robust requiring no maintenance.

Miyawaki’s methodology cuts it down to 10 years. His system is simple. Firstly, you identify what nutrition the soil lacks, what species are most suitable to be grown in this soil and what biomass is abundantly available in that region to give the soil whatever nourishment it needs, (e.g. animal manure or press mud). Secondly, you amend the soil to a depth of one metre and plant saplings that are up to 80 centimetres high, packing them in very densely- three to five per square metre. The forest itself must cover a 100-square-metre minimum area.

This grows into a forest so dense that after eight months, sunlight cannot reach the ground. At this point, every drop of rain that falls is conserved, and every leaf that falls is converted into humus. The forest needs to be watered and weeded for the first two or three years, at which point it becomes self-sustaining.

Miyawaki’s methodology is a natural process and this had been successfully adapted by many countries successfully.

Public participation

Public participation in forestry has become an issue of growing importance in world-wide forest policy discussions over the past few decades. However, in Sri Lanka, various forms of participatory forest management have been successfully practised for centuries. Since the UN Rio Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, the need for interaction between forestry and society and the concept of public participation have been recognized as integral to sustainable forest management.

There are a number of reasons for encouraging public participation process in forestry. Most importantly, it will improve public understanding of forestry issues and mutual recognition of interests. It can also stimulate involvement in decision making and, in the process, identify and manage conflicts in a fair way agreeable to all parties.

It may be true and a globally accepted fact that active participation of public and other non-governmental parties will be beneficial for all parties concerned. But caution needs to be taken that all parties involved should have an equal opportunity to express their opinions and an equitable chance to assert their interests and rights. Because of the voluntary nature of the process, no decision can be imposed on anybody.

Finally, public participation in forestry should be a means to develop better-informed and more widely accepted forest management outcomes. In this sense, public participation represents a tool to enhance the social sustainability of forest management.


When we study other countries’ experiences, we come across three types of public participation process in forestry. (1) Forest policies, programmes and plans: This participatory process takes place at an early stage of decision-making in order to anticipate conflicts and to enhance transparency and social acceptance of policies or plans. (2) Special forest projects: In these cases, public participation aims at promoting direct public involvement in the implementation of special forest project. (3) Advisory boards: Generally, these are permanent types of forum that help the public to be better informed and to have a more direct influence in forestry-related matters.

Participatory management is much more than a technique, it is a way of thinking and acting for both decision makers and participants. All problems or conflicts may however not be solved within the participatory process. Creating a climate of good faith and involving all stakeholders in cooperative problem solving is a true challenge for public participation.

The successful countries’ experiences also reveal that natural and local tree varieties, including non-timber forest plantings, will have to be the cornerstone of the replanting strategy. The main objective should be to ensure environmental stability, ecological balance and preservation of biodiversity. However, the strategy should also consider, as a secondary matter, to meet the needs, protection and privileges of villagers living close-by.


It is obvious that to become successful in this strategy, the government will have to be the largest fund provider. It is doubtful whether private sector will have the same commitment and perseverance to carry on with this type of a project, unless attractive benefits are offered.

A reasonable allocation from the budget will be necessary to match the estimated contribution of forests to the GDP. It is a worthwhile investment because we are not even taking into account the ecosystem benefits contributed by them. Forest development is every citizens’ responsibility and, therefore, must become an integrated activity. That is why public participation is a must to maximise the effectiveness in caring for the forests and to move towards achieving excellence.

Our neighbour, India has recently formulated policy plan for participation of public sector in a forestation. It may be a good idea, if Sri Lanka takes a cue from them and introduce policy guidelines for public participation to our forestry programme. 


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