AgroNoticias Latin America & The Caribbean

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Balancing agriculture and forestry resources in Latin America and the Caribbean: the cases of Chile and Costa Rica

In the last decade, tropical areas have lost 2.2 million hectares of forest in favor of 3.5 million hectares for agriculture. The chilling ratio between deforestation and agriculture is a major highlight of FAO's State of the World's Forests report (SOFO 2016). The report clearly points at large-scale agriculture as being largely responsible for the clearing of forest areas worldwide. The effort to be more productive at all costs, the arrival of new social habits, or the constant pressure to feed the world's population are some of the reasons that could explain this phenomenon. But to meet the growing global demand for food the answer is far from over-exploiting forest areas. Instead, according to the report, "highly-productive, sustainably-managed territories" would suffice.

The 2030 Development Agenda calls for an integrated, coordinated, and indivisible approach to the sustainable development goals. If we stick to that perspective, sustainability should never be an isolated concept, but more like a prism in which consistent and balanced nutrition, management of environmental resources, and livelihoods should merge and articulate consistely. Therefore, even if extensive farming could respond efficiently to the growing food demand on a global scale, that same integrated perception of sustainability would evidence what a sacrifice of natural resources this would imply, jeopardizing the livelihoods of many. How to achieve an effective formula guaranteeing agricultural production globally without sacrificing forest areas in the process?

Some countries in the world have managed to maintain or even increase forest areas without impacting its agricultural production negatively, or putting food security at risk. In the case of Latin America and Caribbean, these countries have been Chile and Costa Rica. Agronoticias spoke to Hans Grosse and Jorge Cabrera, study coordinators in Chile; and Ronnie del Camino, who has been in charge of the Costa Rican case.


Chile, the progressive, institutionally-driven adaptation


The Chilean study has been carried out by the team of Hans Grosse and Jorge Cabrera, who answered our questions.

- The case of Chile is interesting since it represents a fairly good adaptation to circumstances. In the last decades forest areas have increased and food security has been achieved, ¿what have been, in your opinion, the determining factors for this to happen?

- In general forestry and food development grew by independent paths without actually competing in any way, being the key to reach equilibrium. On the forestry side, the great plantation growth due to private efforts with public support, reforesting much eroded land on steep slopes, considered unproductive, without economic value and without agricultural potential. This development increased dramatically the timber supply from plantations (about 99%) reducing by this way the pressure on native forest, which eventually began to recover in many areas.

When afforestation started, Chile’s potential to be planted was about 5 million hectares. Half of this area had been planted reaching actually about 2.5 million ha of fast growing plantations. In the agricultural part structural changes were the result of economic openness, which allowed focusing development in the most profitable areas by limiting those not so advantageous. This market opening oriented specialized production for export, supported by public instruments in irrigation and fertilization. Together with economies of scale by increasing the surfaces of individual crops (especially in medium and large farmers) allowed more productivity with a growing GDP and a more or less stable employability since 1990. The country now produces a wide variety and quantity of needed food products, being a major fruit exporter.

Import figures show significant numbers for corn and wheat, corresponding to demands of semi -industrial chicken and pig production (not for human requirement). Occasionally the country is making some food donations after certain natural disasters. The economic level achieved by the country, has ensured the availability of food, either by producing them or having the ability to import.

- ¿What has been the role of Chilean policy in the preservation of forests?

- There have been several factors that have influenced this to happen: The strengthening of property rights and a number of sectoral promotion instruments have influenced plantation success. The fact of having arranged incentives for afforestation involved the creation of a fast growth forest that currently feeds 99% of the forest industry, removing pressure on native forests and giving them a chance to recover.

A law that encourages since some year’s economic recovery of native forests is a tool to recover forest for sustainable use increasing economic and environmental value and on the other hand ecological conservation. Chile’s wide network of public and private national parks and forest reserves contribute to the conservation of native resources, especially forests located in southern Chile.

- ¿Do you think the Chilean model could be applicable to any neighboring country? ¿Which one, and in what way?

An initiative like incentivizing forest plantations to recover bare soil is applicable to any country where forests have been destroyed by fire or other practices. A key for to be successful is that the amount of incentives is interesting enough to the forester, covering at least 75-90% of the real costs, and that state investments really become plantations to recover the soil and tend to be productive. To make happen foment, pay of grants and control related state institutions must exist.

On the other hand there must be a critical surface potential to project a forestry business. To this should be added a public – private sector capable of undertaking forestry and industrial projects taking into account association figures to generate competitive units. Achieving this is not easy, but is potentially applicable to any neighboring country of Chile considering their economic, social and geographical characteristics.


"In Costa Rica the environmentalist point of view, which is mainly urban, has taken away opportunities to improve the livelihoods of the rural population"


The team of Professor Ronnie del Camino has been responsible for coordinating the study in Costa Rica. Despite similarities to the Chilean case, the country shows a different evolution of its forestal management system.

- The implementation of administrative measures has laid the basis for forest protection in the country. Could you explain this process a little and tell us why it was necessary in Costa Rica?

- One of the first measures taken by the country, starting in the early 70s, was to build its national system of protected areas. So the country, though its state lands, said that a change of use from forest to pasture, agriculture and urbanization would never happen. Over the next 20 years, until the beginning of the 90s, the country managed to secure a protected area system that protects 26% of the national territory. The process was made to ensure, through the declaration of protection, that national lands would remain under guard.

Also, from the beginning of the 70s Costa Rica was suffering a strong process of deforestation, which was accelerating, mainly due to conversion of forests into agriculture and livestock areas. The growth of livestock produced an impact on water supplies in various parts of the Pacific Coast. This also encouraged migration from the countryside to cities in very high rates. Finally, like all good dreams, in the mid-80s there was a drop in meat prices, which caused an economic collapse in many farms.

The Government of Costa Rica then established an incentive; first for reforestation and then for the management and protection of forests, called Certificate of Forestry Feed. This system was able togenerate interest in many owners to plant, maintain and manage their forests. However, that just was not enough incentive to stop deforestation. Therefore, the state passed a new forestry law (7575-1996), which created a system of payment for environmental services, to promote the development and protection of forests. At the same time, however, it forbid the change of use for any land that is under natural forest. This means there was an incentive to permanent financing (though not covering all the demand) and a prohibition (deforestation is punishable by law).

It is interesting that despite the protection of forests was not an explicit objective the promotion of tourism, there was a positive effect on it, especially with the growing demand for visiting natural beauties among audiences of different category. The situation has been rather that tourism has favored environmental policy and not that tourism policy include environmental components.

- Costa Rica can boast of being one of the most environmentally conscious countries of the Latin America and Caribbean region. Do you think that fact has contributed to this balance between agriculture and effective management of natural resources?

- I think Costa Rica has had considerable skill as a country (their organizations and leaders) in promoting environmental care in the country, but at the same time communicating that policy internationally. This has resulted in an important channeling of international resources for environmental projects, especially in forests, trying to protect biodiversity, water, landscape vulnerability against floods and landslides.

This is laudable, since agricultural and cattle areas have not increased, and forest areas have been recovered. There was an imbalance though: efforts to keep public and private protected areas untouched has produced a contraction in the timber forestry sector, the surfaces of forest plantations, and forest areas under public management..

Owners do not have sufficient economic incentives for timber-producing forest management, so production has fallen and imports have grown strongly. It's time to do a reassessment that combines the good management of protected areas, forests and plantations aiming at sequestering carbon and timber production. One could argue that the environmentalist opinion, mainly focused on the urban, has taken away opportunities to improve the livelihoods of the rural population.

- Unlike the other Latin American country mentioned in the report (Chile), Costa Rica anticipates a growth in population.

Could that growth force a change in the management of resources in the future?
Are there any measures in the making to ensure food security in case the population grows?

- There are many ways of observing food security, total self-sufficiency of a growing population (though declining rate) being one of them. At the other end you find the generation of enough income to buy the necessary food for the population. Again we will have to find a balance, and we are taking steps towards that. Costa Rica has a strategy for food security, improving agricultural productivity of small and medium farmers.

In this regard there are two main pillars to improve productivity and reversing land degradation: agroforestry and forestry systems, for which there are good technologies in the country. Furthermore, these systems serve to capitalize the farm especially taking into account the important asset that fine wood trees can be.

But it is necessary, moreover, to generate increasing income in rural areas through timber production from forest plantations, through natural forest management and especially throught the management of secondary forests that cover a considerable area. Forest production has the advantage of being located in rural areas, thus limiting or reducing migration to cities, so it can generate substantial revenues to strengthen the livelihoods of the population.

In any case, it is worth adding that any solution must be thorugh integrated management, with Costa Rica being a country of small and medium landowners, each farm has within it both agricultural and livestock production and forestry. These should complement each other in space and in time to protect forests, food production, and also to generate income from timber and non-timber forest products.

Costa Rica has made remarkable progress by stopping deforestation, but there still is a long way to go. it needs to create a solid forest culture that allows coexistence in the territory, forest protection; timber, plant and animal production.


Photo 1: Kids in Viñales, Charles Pieters via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Photo 2: Forest area in Brazil, CIFOR via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0) 
Photo 3: Kids Playing, Alba Soler via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Photo 4: Forest Light, Joseph via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Photo 5: Chilean forest, Rafael Edwards via Flickr (CC BY- 2.0)
Photo 6: Timber workers in Ecuador, CIFOR via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Photo 8: Hummingbird in Costa Rica, Howard Ignatius;via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Photo 9: Costa Rica, Annais Ferreira; via Flickr (CC BY- 2.0)
Photo 10: Costa Rica, Ralph Earlandson; via Flickr (CC BY- 2.0)



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