The main premises used to construct the scenarios for forest development in Belize are the following.
• The support that the government gives to the forest sector is considered insufficient and is the product of a false impression that the sector contributes very little to the development of the country.
• The structure of the National Accounts, which is used to quantify the contribution of the forest sector to the GDP, mainly reflects the contribution of the sector to industrial development, but does not account for environmental services (for tourism, water and others).
• The forest sector can and should support in a significant manner the eradication of poverty by increasing the role of forests in food security and by generating income for people who live in or close to the forest in rural areas where poverty is most concentrated.
• In order to achieve the above, a political decision is essential so that the country can count on a land use plan that promotes the adequate use of the land’s potential.
• Finally, a modern forest policy, together with a corresponding implementation strategy, is required.
Taking the present state of the forest sector as a starting-point, its tendency during the last few years and the current situation have been analysed in a retrospective manner in order to identify the sectoral and extrasectoral factors that have influenced positively or negatively the development of the sector.
This analysis visualized and characterized the forest sector up to 2020, under two scenarios: the first considered that the forest sector continues to advance in the same way, while the second (desired and feasible) estimates that the identified driving forces are directed positively. Figure 5 provides a blueprint of the analytical processes in the possible scenarios.
Figure 5 Scenarios of the forest sector in Belize up to 2020
This scenario is based on the hypothesis that the forest sector will not undergo significant changes and its development will remain the same as today.
Forest Department. Its budget and staff are not sufficient to cover the needs and demands of the sector, of the country and of the commitments under International Conventions. This means that the Department will be a facilitator of forest permits without the capacity to carry out follow-up activities under its regulatory functions.
Forest cover. If it is assumed that the current forest cover is 1 599 660 ha (73.4 percent of the national territory) and that the deforestation rate has been about 36 000 ha annually (1990–2000), which means an annual estimated rate of 2.3 percent, coverage by 2020 is calculated at 807 660 ha or 37.06 percent of the territory.
Productive forest. Based on the actual availability of 319 000 ha of forest suitable for sustainable harvest and on the fact that this land will also be affected by deforestation at a rate of 2.3 percent yearly, the remaining part of the forest available is 172 266 ha.
Plantations. To date there are 3 000 ha of plantation forests and it should be expected that if new investment opportunities are not created in the sector, few entrepreneurs will invest in reforestation. However, it is assumed that the government will continue making efforts to recover land deforested as a result of natural disasters and pests. It is therefore assumed that by reforesting 500 ha annually, there will be an additional 10 000 ha at the end of the period.
Protected areas. At present the country has 45.3 percent of its national territory under protection, including 158 652 ha of marine reserves. If these reserves are excluded, the remaining area of the National Protected Areas System would be 874 568 ha or 38.3 percent under protection at the end of the period.
Contribution of the forest sector to the GDP. It is assumed that this would remain at 1.6 percent, maintaining the vision of government decision-makers that the forest sector contributes very little.
Degraded broadleaf forest. The broadleaf forest in Belize has been exploited since early colonial days and even the existence of pristine forests is being questioned. The current Chief Forest Officer hypothesizes the latter to be a recent phenomenon since the volume of mahogany timber has been reduced significantly. If exploitation continues in the same manner the broadleaf forest will be placed under severe and significant genetic degradation.
Forest industry. The forest industry is oversized and very few mills are integrated with the forest. Should this situation continue, the industry will maintain itself as long as it recovers its investment, giving little importance to what happens to the forest.
Environmental services offered by the forest. Even though these services are recognized by the tourism sector, which is attracting a growing number of visitors to the country, difficulties in water supply are related to the forest and the mechanisms that mitigate GHGs consider forest plantations and the natural forests as natural carbon sinks. The forest sector in Belize does not benefit from the tourism sector’s contribution.
The positive scenario that coincides with the most probable scenario for the development of the forest sector to 2020 is presented here. It is based on the assumption that the driving forces identified by this study will have a positive effect on the development of the sector.
Forest Department. The Department bases its work on a land use planning exercise for forested lands and has a forest policy that responds to existing conditions. At the same time, the Forest Act has been revisited to address the new national reality and a Forest Strategy has been developed with actions that respond to this new vision. This scenario will create a strengthened Forest Department that will focus its work on the development of the forest sector.
Forest cover. This will be reduced to 58.4 percent of the national territory (1 331 000 ha), with the designation of 319 000 ha for sustainable management to supply the forest industry, plus the incorporation of 10 000 new ha of forest plantations, and the consolidation of the National Protected Areas System in 912 000 ha (40 percent of the national territory).
Industrial development. It is expected that the Forest Department will move towards a scheme of forest harvesting based on certified forest concessions that are within lands suitable for productive forests and that can supply the needs of the forest industry through sustainable forest practices. Thus the integration of forest and industry will be possible.
With regard to forest production, it is expected that the industry will process about 200 000 m3 with 75 percent coming from pine (825 000 m3 of the harvest from 5 000 ha planted yearly, at an assumed average yield of 165 m3/ha, and from 700 000 m3 of the harvest from 5 000 ha of natural pine forests at an assumed average yield of 140 m3/ha). The remaining 25 percent (480 000 m3) will come from the harvest of 16 000 ha annually of broadleaf forests with an assumed average yearly yield of 30 m3/ha resulting from the increased number of species to be used by the industry for the local and international market and based on an adequate sustainable forest management.
It is anticipated that financing for new forest plantations will come from the implementation of projects on lands that are suitable for the mitigation of GHGs, within the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol.
Considering that the existing forest industry is currently underutilized, the strategy to raise forest production of the country by approximately 100 percent does not require additional investment. However, thought should be given to the need to support, with additional resources, the development of the secondary industry, mainly with equipment that would allow a better finished quality of new products (driers, joinery, furniture equipment, etc.). Moreover, this strategy should be accompanied by an adequate marketing and commercial plan that would place the new products from non-traditional species on the national and international markets.
Protected areas. Of the total area of land covered currently by forests (79 percent), and after applying land use planning principles at the national level, it is expected that there will be 37 500 ha of forest that will expand the existing 874 568 ha under protection for a new total of 912 068 ha (40.0 percent).
Moreover, as the strategy for tourism in Belize hopes to increase the number of visitors to two million annually, and is aware that the vast majority will be coming to enjoy the scenic beauty and great biodiversity of the country, it is expected that NPAS will be in a suitable condition to receive a large number of these visitors and that the tourism sector will significantly contribute to the consolidation of the NPAS.
Contribution to food security. It is expected that, as a product of all this development, the contribution to the GDP by the forest sector will be improved, thus significantly increasing its importance in the National Accounts, with an adequate accounting system that reflects in real terms its contribution to the country’s development. Attention must also be paid to management and conservation activities; and by sustainable forest use there will be a trickle-down effect of providing financial resources to rural areas through the creation of new jobs and through the benefits arising from the use of the resources.
Undoubtedly, this second positive scenario will have a significant effect on the quality of life for new generations of Belizeans who would be assured of an adequate supply of water in quality and quantity and would thus enjoy the benefits from the forest in a permanent manner.