|Balancing Acts: Community-Based Forest Management and National Law in Asia and the Pacific (WRI, 1995, 204 pages)|
|II. Historical Overview: Colonial Patterns of Forest Management|
An inevitable consequence of centuries of lucrative trade in minerals, timber, exotic agricultural crops, drugs, and spices, was that increasingly powerful groups of privileged Asian elites were formed. At first, only aristocratic or otherwise politically connected settlers and entrepreneurs profited from the European-controlled colonial commerce. But, over time, traders and community leaders - generally Chinese or from dominant ethnic groups - were absorbed into the expanding circle of wealth. Slowly, these favored few grew more wealthy (especially in relation to other natives) and coalesced into local oligarchies. Like European colonials, Asian oligarchies flourished primarily at the expense of the rural poor by exploiting their resources and land and ignoring or usurping their community-based rights.
The progression from subordinate to junior partner and, ultimately to sovereign nation-states was enhanced by a steady in- crease in volumes of trade and profit. By the early 20th century, advances in technology and transportation made extraction and plantation enterprises highly lucrative. While agricultural tycoons expanded their holdings, generally at the expense of nearby smallholders, timber concessionaires relocated their operations from degraded forest to unexploited tract. Frequently, migrations of scattered populations of displaced indigenous peoples resulted.
Given abundant forest holdings and steady and growing demand from the colonizing countries, the concession system continued to prosper until the worldwide depression of the 1930s. But before the depression had run its course. World War II erupted and the Japanese army occupied many parts of mainland and insular Southeast Asia. To an area already beset by declines in revenues and the deterioration of infrastructure, the War brought widespread social and economic upheaval. In its wake went 400 years of colonialism.