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Research and training requirements

Research and training in southeast Asia in relation to priority areas of the programme on the use and management of natural resources

Sanga Sabhasri


The Programme on the Use and Management of Natural Resources (NRP) of the United Nations University has as its aim to correct the misuse and mismanagement of resources which have been contributing to the pressing global problems of human survival. development, and welfare. The United Nations University does not have a campus and students nor offer degrees but rather is designed to stimulate and reinforce intellectual endeavour in developing countries. Institutions in various parts of the globe will form a network to execute the projects. This paper provides background information on the work of the NRP in Southeast Asia, especially in countries where natural resource conservation problems have reached crisis status.

Natural Resources in Southeast Asia

Countries in Southeast Asia are considered to be relatively rich in both renewable and non-renewable natural resources. Renewable resources are forests which offer a variety of commercial timber. aquatic systems which include fish and other sea animals, and energy resources. Non-renewable resources include inland and offshore minerals, oil, and natural gas This paper focuses on renewable resources, particularly forest resources, since these are the chief concern of the NRP.

In general, these resources have been exploited for industrial purposes for over half a century and also exported to industrial countries. They are. therefore, the source of foreign exchange for Southeast Asian countries

Moreover, these resources have been used for centuries for food as much as for sources of energy. The villagers use firewood as the principal energy source, and timber is the primary building material. The average villager requires one to two tons of firewood each year. The supply of firewood and timber has been obtained freely in the past from the nearby forests.

The rapid population growth and the great demand for food production are the factors affecting this resource and its environment The population of Southeast Asia increased by approximately 100 million from 1960 to 1975 In Thailand the rate of increase of 3.1 per cent raised the population from 26.4 million in 1960 to 42.3 million in 1975. The population explosion is a common phenomenon among Southeast Asian countries and the demand for firewood and greater food production has rapidly increased. This demand, consequently, has been largely met by bringing more forest lands into cultivation.

Indonesia is considered one of the most richly forested countries not only in Southeast Asia but also in the world. The wide range of its forest types extends from coastal mangroves, swamp forest, and lowland rain forest to the savannah woodland and dry monsoon forest of Lesser Sunda. According to official statistics. some 1 2 million kmē. or approximately 63 per cent of the country, was forestcovered Recent satellite pictures of Java indicate that only 12 per cent of this once lush island now has tree cover. In the watershed of the Solo Brantas and Citarum river systems in Indonesia, forest cover is well under 10 per cent It was reported by Dr. Otto Soemarwoto that the silt load of the Citarum increased by a factor of seven over a recent threeyear period.

The total forested area in Peninsular Malaysia is about 20 million acres of which only 8.1 million acres are considered as Productive Forest Reserves. Of these, about 5 million acres have already been logged and only 3.1 million acres are considered to be still in the virgin state. Increased exploitation and mechanization in the logging industry have given rise to concern about excessive felling and extraction damage to the tree growth under the Malaya Uniform System.

It was reported that of the total virgin and loggable forests, about 3.2 million acres lie in agri-conversion areas. Based on the current rate of harvesting the agri conversion areas, it was thought that the forest would be exhausted within 12 years.

It is claimed that in the Republic of the Philippines the total area of forest is about 75 million acres and this represents over 40 per cent of the country. However, satellite photographs of the Philippines show that deforestation is far more advanced than official statistics reveal and that the forest cover is probably only one-fifth of the country's total land area.

In Thailand, the forest survey made in 1962 indicated that 57 per cent of the total area was forested land, but in 1974 a survey by remote sensing techniques showed that only 37 per cent of the total area was left as forest. The 1978 report is that illegal logging activities have left Thailand with only 30 per cent of land forested. The rate of forest deterioration has been as high as 1,3 million acres per year recently. The forests in the northeast show the highest rate of damage, with only 33 per cent of the land remaining as forest at present. During the past 26 years some 13.3 million acres of the forest in the northeast have been damaged and this represents over 50 per cent of the area of Northeast Thailand.

The widespread loss of these forest lands causes formidable environmental deterioration. Ravaging flood and soil erosion are prevalent in the area.

In summary, deforestation in Southeast Asian countries threatens all ecological systems and undermines the fertility and stability of the soils, inevitably affecting local productivity. The capacity of soil to hold water is diminished and surface flow, which ends up in flood and silting, becomes more severe. Deforestation is not the only widespread stress in Southeast Asia; there are other misuses and mismanagements of natural resources, including overfishing and over-grazing.

One phenomenon that has occurred as a result of widespread environmental stress and population increase is a migration from rural areas towards towns, from highland areas towards lowlands for employment, and sometimes from lowland areas to highlands for upland farming. This situation has led to social change and tension, a higher standard of rural living and the need for expansion of farming areas for more cash crops. This process has occurred haphazardly without any ecological consideration and without regard for the need for conservation.

The Programme on the Use and Management of Natural Resources

The UNU Natural Resources Programme is aimed at meeting certain vital world needs. Southeast Asian countries will benefit since it will focus on particular problems of the region. The three sub-programmes are: (1 ) The Ecological Basis for Rural Development in the Humid Tropics, (2) Energy for Rural Communities, and (3) Assessement of the Application of Knowledge to Arid Land Problems.

Four project areas were selected for resource system study under the first sub-programme: (1 ) Rural Energy Systems, (2) Agro-Forestry Systems. (3) Water-Land Interactive Systems, and (4) Highland-Lowland Interactive Systems.

The resource systems approach utilized in each of these areas is intended to strengthen existing investigations already in progress in certain Southeast Asian institutions.

Natural Resources Research in Southeast Asian Nations


Several universities and institutions of higher learning in Indonesia play a major role in the investigation of natural resources. Among these, the Bogor complex maintains leadership in the development. The National Biological Institute (NBI), which includes the Herbarium, Zoological Museum. Botanical Gardens, the Treub Biological Laboratory, together with the National Institute of Oceanography, have become major centres of tropical study. The regional Centre for Tropical Biology (BIOTRAP) was established by the Southeast Asian Ministry of Education Organization in 1967 as a regional centre for ecological training and research. At present the institute concentrates on programmes in forest. pest, and aquatic ecology. The Forest Research Institute, the Institute of

Agriculture, and the Bogor Agricultural University are working on ecological aspects of development. The investigation includes forest plantation problems in Java, rain forest management, watershed management. Iand use. research on East Kalimantan, and agricultural management systems in southeastern Sumatra. The NBI is also active in the Unesco Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme. Recently the Faculty of Forestry, Mulawarman University at Samarinda, East Kalimantan, and the Faculty of Forestry. University of Cenderawasih in West Irian announced their programmes in the study of tropical forest environmental problems. The University of Padjadjaran (Institute of Ecology) is concentrating on agro-ecosystems, in particular on studies of village home gardens.


The ecology programme at the University of Malaya offers a degree in ecology. The newsletter Wallaceana a regional publication for the promotion of contact, communication, and information among scientists, is published by J.l. Furtado, who is in charge of the ecology unit of the School of Biological Science. The ecology unit co-ordinates integrative research activities. Comprehensive ecosystem studies have been carried out in a lowland forest reserve near Pesoh. The lake-centred system at Tasek Bera, southwestern Pahang. is designed to study the impact of agricultural development on lake-ecosystem. A third ecosystem study is devoted to coastal mangrove swamps.

In addition to the University of Malaya, the University of Agriculture is beginning a programme of teaching and research in natural resources


The University of the Philippines at Los Baņos has a significant role in research and training for agricultural and forest scientists in the region. There is, however, no formal organization for those interested in ecology. but some faculty members take part in the Unesco Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme. The research programme involves a study of environmental impact of human activities on forest ecosystems: kaingin (forest occupancy) management. Studies of grassland ecology and management are now beginning, in response to a growing interest in development of the livestock industry. The greatest number of ecological research projects in the Philippines have been done by foresters. Because the great emphasis is on agricultural systems study and Los Baņos is the site of the International Rice Research Institute, it is logical that a programme of ecological studies be designed to meet the objectives of agricultural development projects.


The management and conservation of natural resources, especially renewable ones, is taught at Kasetsart University in the Faculty of Forestry and Fisheries. This has been carried out since the inception of the university itself. Integrated research by foresters and agriculturists has been attempted in upland farming in areas previously and presently occupied by highland peoples. A programme of environmental studies and research has been established in several universities such as Chulalongkorn University, Mahidol University, and Kasetsart University. The Faculty of Environmental Studies of Mahidol University has requested assistance from Unesco to become a regional centre in this field. Though Chiang Mai University does not offer a degree programme in this area, it has joined with Kasetsart University teams in several projects. Since the study area is near the main campus, faculty members have opportunities to work close to the field. Several programmes in natural resource management are now being undertaken at Chiang Mai For instance, the FAO has co operated with the Royal Forestry Department Mae-Sa Watershed Management Research. and the UN Project for Drug Abuse Control is working very closely with scientists from Chiang Mai University. In addition to the universities mentioned, various government departments have also carried out work to supplement the university programmes. For example, the Tribal Research Centre of the Public Welfare Department plays a major role in hill village development. The Unesco MAB programme is also coordinated by the National Research Council of Thailand.


Training and research in natural resource management is carried out by universities and government departments in Southeast Asia. Indonesia. Malaysia. the Philippines, and Thailand offer courses in both management and conservation of natural resources in forest, land and water, and aquatic and marine life. These programmes have already benefited from outside support, especially from the developed countries and other developing countries which can share experiences in these fields. International agencies such as the World Bank, FAO. and Unesco. and foundations such as the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation are already participating. The programme, however, is still in its infancy as far as the actual protection of natural resources goes. Environmental degradation and loss of renewable resources associated with shifting cultivation, illegal cutting of forests, and squatter settlements in forested areas are widespread.

Fortunately. awareness of the misuse of these resources is increasing. A systems approach has been planned to tackle this problem Problems of conservation of renewable resources attract more attention nowadays in public and government circles and in the mass media. Biologists, physical scientists, politicians, anthropologists, economists. and social scientists all show interest in the problem and have expressed willingness to participate. Nevertheless, most interdisciplinary teams and the majority of individual researchers come from the industrial countries.

The Co-operative Programme

The United Nations University. founded in 1973. initiated its Programme on the Use and Management of Natural Resources in 1977. Its aim to develop projects with associated institutions has been widely commended. Moreover, The UNU choice of Chiang Mai University as the first associated institution of higher learning in Thailand is believed to be the right approach because the university is located in the area of northern Thailand which has a pressing need for investigation analysis. The co-operation and dialogue among scientists in developing countries should be an important part of this process. There should be South-South dialogue among countries in the tropical zone as well as North-South and East-West exchanges.

It is well known that the UN University is an organization set under the UN umbrella, but it is hoped that its programmes will be carried out with a different approach from other UN agencies. The research programme will be oriented towards pressing global problems and will be conducted by local experts in co-operation with other developing regions There will be a dialogue between North and South and between East and West. The utilization of local materials, and the co-operation of young scientists under the guidance of senior researchers in specific areas will seek to solve present problems and will lead to secondary benefits such as institution building and increasing research capability within the region. The establishment of a world-wide network rather than a few centres will encourage the spirit of cooperation. This will make better use of the limited resources of trained personnel and will help to ensure that the programme will be relevant to the actual locations of study. The good beginning at this workshop at Chiang Mai University holds out hope for a promising outcome.


Brown, L R 1978. The Twenty-Ninth Day. Worldwatch Institute. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. Inc

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Kunstadter, P., E.C. Chapman, and S. Sabhasri, eds. 1978. Farmers in the Forest. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii

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Thailand. 1962. Thailand Population Census 1960.- Whole Kingdom. Bangkok: Central Statistical Office.

_________.1976. Statistical Yearbook. Thailand. No. 31. 1974 - 1975. Bangkok: National Statistic Bureau

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