Reforestation and Relaxation: Volunteering and Eco-Lodges in Asia

Spread the love

The importance of reforestation in Asia begins to discuss the fact that Asia has the highest rates of deforestation compared to other continents and the impacts this is having environmentally. It explains that the environmental impact of deforestation is leading to disastrous results for the ecosystem, such as habitat loss and extinction of species. Also mentioned are the impacts on climate and local communities before changing to discuss the economic benefits of reforestation. This is a good link between the two points, climate and communities, and economics, one that could be further highlighted to show the connections. The environmental impacts are some of the most revealing information in this essay and lead to a detailed analysis of the economic benefits, which sets up a persuasive argument around the importance of reforestation in Asia.

The introduction to this essay provides a clear and succinct account of its direction and the relationships between information, sometimes even using paragraphs. It is structured with topic sentences at the beginning of each paragraph linking ideas from the content of the essay. Generally, the main point of this introduction is to discuss the issues of deforestation and its effects in Asia along with the opportunities created by ecotourism and volunteer work. These points are brought together at the end of the introduction with a well-written thesis statement, which identifies well the issues, impacts, and creation of opportunities before going on to state the essay’s intentions of evaluating these sectors.

Importance of reforestation in Asia

The increasing worldwide demand for agro-industrial products, shifting cultivators, and the challenges that face the conservation of critical biodiversity hotspots make reforestation a significant environmental issue in Asia. Approximately 57% of the world’s tropical forests are located in Asia, predominantly in countries which have high population growth and an increased regional and international demand for timber, minerals, and other forest products. The forests of Asia are some of the most biologically diverse in the world, providing habitat for thousands of species of flora and fauna. Unfortunately, many Asian countries are not immune to the deforestation and forest degradation that has occurred in other tropical countries such as Brazil, the Congo countries, and Madagascar. The catastrophic haze that blanketed Southeast Asia in 1997 and 1998 graphically illustrated the environmental cost of failed land and forest fires in Southeast Asia. This episode was a result of the local and regional social, economic, and political factors that have led to forest loss, degradation, and increased vulnerability to fire in recent decades. This has had a significant impact on the loss of biodiversity and threatens the future of several globally important peat swamp areas. In the hills and uplands, the consequences of deforestation are increased frequency and severity of floods and landslides. In the watersheds of the Ganges/Brahmaputra and Mekong rivers, deforestation and forest degradation have a direct impact on the hundreds of millions of people that live in the region, decrease in dry season flows with adverse implications for agriculture and food security, and increased vulnerability to natural disasters. The people living in or near forests are obviously the best hope for forest conservation, but often they have little choice but to degrade forests in order to meet basic needs and lack the knowledge or tools to do so in a sustainable manner.

Benefits of eco-tourism and volunteering

In the Philippines, loss of fuel resources from overcutting of timber has caused a great increase in charcoal and bark gathering for fuelwood. This has resulted in the destruction of entire mangrove systems and overexploitation of public forests for secondary growth timber resources.

Moreover, timber extraction often results in the devaluation of other resources. In the process of logging, roads are built over rugged terrain and unskilled workers are imported to timber camps. These workers often overhunt and fish for animal food, and the roads provide access for subsistence farmers who damage soils in steep sloped valley floors. Often, steep and degraded lands are abandoned to become fire trails or invasive alien weed species.

The economic impotence of nations struggling to preserve natural resources or to support economic development is profound. For example, the governments of the many South Pacific islands are considering exploiting their tropical rainforests for timber resources. Although timber exports may provide a limited increase in national income, the value of the forest as a resource for future generations of islanders is incalculable. Timber resources are not only non-renewable, but the loss of export revenues from tropical hardwoods will be offset by the much greater value from the forest as a biodiverse habitat and a producer of water, soil, and resources.

Reforestation Projects in Asia

Asia is home to more than 60% of the world population and about 70% of the world’s poor, many of whom depend on natural resources for their livelihoods. According to the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000, the region with the largest gain, by far, is Asia. The forest cover increased by 1.9 percent or 17 million hectares, largely due to large-scale afforestation in several countries. Economic incentives remain the primary rationale for reforestation in many Asian countries. The economic benefits to the government, local communities, and the rural poor can be significant. The projects often generate employment and income opportunities for some of the region’s poorest people. Economic pressures on land and resources in Asia are likely to remain high. Many countries have learned from unsustainable experiences and have started to modify the way forests are managed. This presents opportunities for significant shifts in the way people think about and manage forests, which will ultimately benefit the environment and its inhabitants. Economic reasons need to be reinforced with stronger environmental considerations to fully achieve sustainable forest management. This is often difficult due to lack of awareness and/or caring for the environment, but the increased welfare from forests means that the economic incentives are, in fact, positive steps to greater sustainability.

Overview of reforestation initiatives

“The Kunming Principles for Sustainable Development in the Asian Region”, drawn up in 2000, states that countries in Asia require sustainable development that can only be achieved by raising public awareness on environment and development and mobilizing public support, particularly in terms of developing local initiatives and programs. Reforestation is one such initiative that can provide a sustainable environment and generate public support. However, various reforestation projects in Asia are often marred by the absence of clear goals and priorities, the lack of participation of stakeholders and the local community, and the dearth of data and information. Randomly conceived projects many a time end up doing more harm than good. In order for any reforestation initiative to be successful in achieving the objectives, there is a need for a systematic and sustainable approach in planning, implementation, and management. This requires preparation of a clear plan of action and long-term strategy and the identification of target areas where maximum benefit can be attained. A participatory approach involving involvement of the local community and other stakeholders, particularly for decision making and in the post-fire/fallow clearance and planting activities, is crucial to ensure that project activities are matched to local needs. Step by step monitoring and evaluation of the project will enable to assess whether the project is on the right track and achievement of set objectives. At present, there are very few successful reforestation initiatives in Asia that have been able to adopt such an approach. One such project is the Brunei Heart of Borneo Reforestation Initiative. This project is being implemented in three districts of Belait, Temburong, and Tutong. The main objective of the initiative is to protect and rehabilitate the Ulu Temburong National Park and Labi Forest Reserve areas by 2008. The target group in this case is the local community and immigrants’ village settlements, as they are the ones whose encroachment activities i.e. agriculture and unsustainable logging are the main causes of deforestation in these areas. In order to discourage these activities, alternative options and income generation activities for the target group must be provided. This can only be achieved if there is evidence showing that the park and reserve areas have greater economic value compared to present land uses by the target group. An impact survey revealed that there still exists a wealth of traditional knowledge of forest and riverine products and the desire to maintain use of these products among the villagers. This has led to the planning of micro-enterprise activities utilizing these resources. The project has been endorsed by the Ministry of Home Affairs to become a pilot project for both districts, to test community-based natural resource management and it has now become a part of a national-level initiative to introduce a forest resource inventory and monitoring system.”

Successful reforestation projects in Asian countries

Reforestation has been successful in some Asian nations. In Korea, it has been national policy for a few decades. One result is that the heavily logged-over nation has gone from only 35% forested to 65%. Taiwan has also put an emphasis on reforestation and has been relatively successful. In Thailand, Green World Foundation has focused on empowering stateless individuals in reforestation efforts. Their latest project combines reforestation with rice cultivation, providing a self-sufficient and sustainable use of the land. In the Indonesian state of Kalimantan, a project named Urun Khatola has combined the needs of local communities and orangutans. The area of Central Kalimantan has one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation, and work in the area has often been both illegal and unsustainable. This project has successfully enforced a government logging ban in the area and has used locals to reforest and protect the land, whilst teaching them agricultural techniques that will allow them to maintain the area without further harm to the environment. This will provide a long-term solution supporting both the people and the environment.

Challenges faced in reforestation efforts

It is important for one to understand that there are many obstacles to overcome in reforestation efforts in Asia. These range from government policies to environmental fluctuations. Salafsky et al. (1993) suggest a variety of reasons reforestation results often don’t meet expectations in Asia. A secondary successional ecosystem has at least 19 required attributes, states West (2006). The gap between the actual cause (felling for timber and agriculture) and why and how this has changed over time needs to be understood to be able to influence a positive change. For example, southwest China has socio-economic problems as well as ecological. The poverty-stricken Guizhou province was once home to diverse, thick forests. Due to large-scale ring barking to sell firewood and to clear land for agriculture, the landscape is now almost barren. Ignorance on the correct procedure to bring about change to the environment means it is unlikely to induce reforestation. Of those interviewed in Jigong Mountain, too few know the main cause of deforestation and understand the importance of letting the forest regenerate instead of continual cultivation. The lack of knowledge amongst local people is a difficult obstacle to overcome. The Chinese government projects suggest that cultivating cash crops in forested areas will increase the incomes of rural inhabitants throughout China, but according to Salafsky et al. (1993), the switch from subsistence farming to cash farming can actually lead to further degradation. This was the case in NE China where, after the completion of forest plantations, pressure increased on nearby natural forests for firewood, timber, and grazing to meet household needs because there was an increase in the population of outsiders hoping to acquire land for agriculture. This simulates a desire to take resources from natural forests and can involve cutting of plantations if the cash crop is not successful. Economic migrants following infrastructure improvement are linked to deforestation and forest degradation. An example in Cambodia shows that resettlement of local people from other parts of Cambodia to the Eastern plains to replace Khmer Rouge victims is causing further deforestation because they are cutting down the forests in their new villages to sell timber and clear land for cultivation.

Volunteering Opportunities in Asia

There are a wide variety of programs available that differ in terms of the work volunteers will be doing, their length of stay, and the financial commitment required. Volunteer programs can last anywhere from a few days to a few months and requirements for volunteers may include a monetary donation to the organization. Most programs will ask that volunteers be in good health and bring a willingness to learn and work, often regardless of previous experience. The financial contribution expected from volunteers can vary greatly depending on the organization, geographical location, and duration of the program. Costs can range anywhere from free, to up to USD $300 per week, which may or may not include room and board. Basically, there is something for everyone. Step 3 can be taken no matter what, volunteering for conservation and environmental efforts in Asia will not only benefit human society, but have lasting positive effects for the environment.

Types of volunteering programs available

There are a variety of different programs available for volunteers in Asia. These go beyond the actual work of reforestation and emphasize various forms of teaching, education, and community building. Many programs are run through local NGOs and offer the volunteer a more community-based experience. In Thailand, there is an opportunity to volunteer with the Karen and Hmong Hill Tribes. These tribes have fled from Burma due to political persecution and in doing so have had to abandon their traditional farming practices and have encroached on National Park lands. Volunteers work with the tribes to help them re-establish sustainable farms and also work on reforestation of surrounding parklands. There are also similar programs in Malaysia and Borneo, which focus on the indigenous peoples of those regions. There are also several wildlife conservation programs available throughout Asia. These often involve working in National Parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Duties can range from animal observation, maintenance work, data entry, and interpretation. It is quite common for volunteers involved in wildlife programs to live in more remote or isolated areas, providing a nature-based experience. These programs can vary in degrees of legitimacy, so it is important to research work before committing to anything.

Volunteer responsibilities and activities

Volunteers in SAR work 5 days a week, with some of their weekends free. The working day begins with breakfast at 7:30, followed by travel to the work site at 8:00. The team will work until a lunch break at around 12:00, and will then continue work until 4:00. The team will travel back to the lodge for free time and showers. Dinner is around 7:00. On some evenings, volunteer lectures may take place about local culture or work activities. On an average day, SAR volunteers have 4-6 hours of working with a machete within a tropical environment. Off-cutting can be very challenging work, which at times may require digging out old stumps from previous deforestation. Although hard work, many volunteers find off-cutting very rewarding as they can see their progress each day. The faster off-cutting is completed, the sooner rainforest regrowth can occur. Trail maintenance is yet another important aspect of reforestation. By keeping good trail access, future conservation teams will find it easier to access work areas for further projects. Trail maintenance often requires work with a shovel to channel water off trails to prevent erosion. This kind of work is usually less physically demanding, which makes it ideal for those volunteers who enjoy working at a slower pace.

Impact of volunteering on local communities

One of the best examples of this is at the Baan Lek Sermtei temple in Sangkhlaburi district. This temple has very little external support and was unable to generate enough income to maintain its buildings and grounds. Over a period of about four years, PIE project volunteers undertook a variety of work, such as tree planting, construction, and teaching. This not only improved the appearance and atmosphere of the temple significantly but also transferred a lot of knowledge and skills to the monks and novices around environmental issues and how they can work to improve their immediate environment. In the same area, projects can be found where rubbish collection and recycling initiatives have been put in place as a result of volunteers working with the community to identify and solve environmental and social issues.

The overall impact of volunteering on local communities can be hard to measure, but the physical changes are often very visible to local residents and commensurate with the time and effort invested by the volunteers. These changes generally take the form of improved infrastructure, increased skills and capacity, and the building of social capital.

Eco-Lodges in Asia

Eco-lodges were born out of demand for places for ecotourists to stay. Ecotourism generally involves travelers staying in remote or natural areas, while minimizing impact and maintaining a harmonious relationship with the local culture and environment. However, it became apparent that many ecotourists were using such places as national park cabins, setting up camp, or staying with locals in villages. There was no defined place for them to stay. Eco-lodges are the solution to this. They are specifically designed accommodation facilities, providing ecotourists with a place to rest and relax where they can be in or close to nature, and that is constructed and operated with consideration for the local culture, environment, and community.

Consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious and are continually looking for greener ways in which to travel or live, without having to compromise their ever-increasing standards of living. Hence, the global trend toward ecotourism and sustainability. This is a clean, green sector of the tourism industry that is steadily gaining momentum. One quintessential component of ecotourism is that of eco-lodges.

Definition and concept of eco-lodges

There are even professional bodies such as The International Ecotourism Society that have been set up to monitor best practice in all aspects of sustainable tourism including accommodation. Professional eco-lodges will often be accredited by such an organisation and it is worth looking for this when you are trying to assess the real ecological impact of staying in such an accommodation. So it is clear that an eco-lodge is an attempt to marry the concept of a sustainable living with lodging for tourists and make as little environmental impact as possible.

Eco-lodge is a type of tourist accommodation designed to have the least possible impact on the natural environment in which it is situated. This can mean simple things like being built of natural materials (often wood and stone) or having thatched roofs. More complex eco-lodges are designed from the outset to minimise wastage of energy – using solar power or recycling plant waste. What makes eco-lodges different from the normal run of sustainable accommodation is their attempt to be sustainable across all their aspects. Often an eco-lodge will have been designed to meet certain ecological building standards (such as LEED in the USA) and have gone to great lengths to reduce their carbon footprint.

Sustainable practices in eco-lodges

Eco-lodges aim to conserve the environment and integrate with local communities whilst offering a comfortable and often educational hospitality experience. This differs greatly from traditional tourism which usually focuses on the “sun, sea and sand” and often damages the surrounding environment and culture. Most mainstream accommodation providers are profit driven and do not seek to minimize their impact on the environment. To counteract this, many eco-lodges are being constructed in places of natural beauty and heritage around the world. Although some are small operations with a few basic amenities, others are luxurious resorts which offer the eco-tourist a high standard of accommodation with environmental conservation and cultural sensitivity in mind. Ideally, all will have undergone some sort of environmental impact assessment both pre and post construction. This may not always be the case but it’s a good indication as to the level of consideration that has been given towards minimizing the environmental impact from the outset. Many eco-lodges are built using only natural materials such as wood, bamboo, and thatch which require little or no processing and are biodegradable. This style of construction often blends in with the natural environment making it less obtrusive and maintaining the aesthetic. While simply constructing a more environmentally friendly and less obtrusive building is in itself a sustainable practice, many eco-lodges implement various strategies to efficiently manage resources and minimize waste. This could range from something as simple as using energy efficient lighting and appliances to harvesting and filtering rainwater for use in toilets and irrigation. The more advanced sustainable practices are often not visible to the guest and commonly involve staff training and changes in management practices. Although it’s arguably the most rewarding type of tourism, eco-tourism has been sullied by various scandals of greenwashing and inauthentic experiences at the most extreme end of the scale. Because of this, it’s very important for eco-lodges to practice what they preach and maintain a high level of transparency and credibility. A commitment to environmental and socially responsible operations will often involve a certification from a reputable organization. The various systems differ in integrity and requirements; however, a popular and widely recognized eco-certification is beneficial to both the lodge and consumer. These certifications often involve regular assessment, which is an additional incentive for the lodge to maintain or improve its standards in sustainability and conservation.

Top eco-lodges in Asian countries

Kerala, India

Nestled in the small Indian village of Kokkathode, between Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary and the backwaters of Kerala, is Spice Village. Built using local materials and set amongst a spice plantation, this eight-acre property consists of individual cottages and a swimming pool. With the assistance of the native tribal community, CGH Earth has developed an authentic experience of Kerala.


Towards the end of the Annapurna trekking circuit is New Dwarika’s Hotel in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. Despite being only fifteen minutes from the city centre, this luxury five-star hotel prides itself on its traditional architecture and its commitment to promoting Nepal’s cultural heritage. An excellent escape for those who want a break from the chaos of Nepal’s capital, this hotel provides the added benefit of being conveniently located near Kathmandu’s airport for an easy departure.

Tochigi, Japan

Tochigi, just north of Tokyo, is a well-known and inexpensive weekend escape, especially since there are many eco-lodges available to enjoy the countryside. Incredibly stunning and peaceful, this mountainous area protects Nikko National Park. Less than two hours from Tokyo, the travel is easy and well worth the effort to get away from the city. Nikko Park Lodge is a renovated traditional Japanese inn that has backpacker-style dorms as well as private rooms, all with a view.