7. FOREST POLICY AND LEGISLATION
Responsibility for management of land designated for forestry is generally with the forest departments, which report directly to the ministry of Agriculture/Environment/Wildlife resources within the context of national land ownership arrangements or line ministry responsibility allocation. Apart from a few cases (such as in Swaziland and Mozambique) most countries have long histories of forest management, dating from early 1900s and forest policies that emerged from the 1950s.
A good forest policy is the driving engine for sustainable management. Virtually all countries have developed well-structured policies, many of which have recently been updated under the guidelines of the Tropical Forests Action Plan (TFAP). Some countries have undertaken institutional reform and adjustments such as harmonization of land-use sectoral policies under National Environment rationalization initiatives, and forest master plans.
It is noteworthy that revised national forest policies have opened up participation of the private sector, NGO partners and communities in sustainable forest management for multiple products.
Notwithstanding the policy adjustments, forest management programmes continue to be destabilized by policies that encourage:
- Inappropriate concession agreements that allow uncontrolled log harvesting
beyond sustainable levels; poorly drafted forestry regulations that compromise
sustainable forest practices; lack of enforcement of sound regulations; and
excessive incentives to forest product industries resulting in inadequate
investment in wood processing capacity.
- Land tenure policies that encourage deforestation, particularly tenurial
rules that assign property rights over public forests to private parties on
condition that such lands are `developed' or `improved'. Such rules have
facilitated small farmer expansion into forests, and in some countries have
been used by wealthy parties to amass large holdings for speculative
- Absence of national land-use policy that would guide land allocation
according to land capability and environment impact considerations, including
excisions of forest land for inappropriate alternative usage.
- Pricing policies and investment priorities biased in favour of
agriculture, and farm policies that favour large farmers over smallholders all
of which ultimately retard the demographic transition, make rural populations
more dependent on natural forests for subsistence needs, and increase the
concentration of agricultural landholdings.
- Subsidy programmes that provide financial aid to private investors through
low interest loans and tax breaks that boost the profitability of agriculture
- Low logging fees in public forests, and the charges that encourage
licensees to harvest selectively, taking only the most valuable stems.
Consequently, larger areas are harvested to meet timber demands, opening up
more of the forest to shifting cultivators, while severely damaging residual
trees by logging operations.
- Policies that lead to inadequate valuation of non-traded forest products
hence most woodland products that have non-market values, including
subsistence production and non-marketable or non-use values based on
ecological, spiritual or aesthetic benefits, remain ignored.
These practices and policies promote pervasive influences on forest development and overtime have eroded support and commitment to sustainable management.