Degradation of tropical forest resources is closely linked to illegal or excessive use, which is explained by a number of often-coincidental factors (or pitfalls), such as:
_ Climatic: desertification, flooding, hurricanes, etc;
_ Demographic: including a global rise in needs and thus growing pressure on natural resources (demography and standards of living are linked here);
_ Political: including state or government insecurity, inability to ensure sustainable and monitored management and absence of international consensus in the form of a forest convention;
_ Economic: including an erosion of living standards and the indirect impact on resource harvesting and a drop in government resources for the management of protected areas and managed forests;
_ Financial: including little reinvestment to maintain forests as a source of multiple products or which, if it does occur, is often out of all proportion to the benefits and services provided;
_ Institutional and regulatory: including unaccountability among village communities for natural resource management that are, in fact, considered free and for free access by local people and, in the case of some natural resources (mainly fuelwood, wildlife and non-wood products) that are the sole responsibility of the state, the inability of the state to assume its duties;
_ Circumstantial: such as industrialists' preference to focus on "sure" commercial species that are well known on markets, such as Meliacea species (e.g. Swietenia, Khaya, Cedrela and Entandrophragma) in order to minimise commercial risks;
_ Conceptual: such as the classical "conservationist" concept of nature conservation, which excludes man to the detriment of socio-cultural and economic needs and has not gained popular participation and can thus lead to unexpected results;
_ Psychological: with distrust (sometimes deep-rooted) among various stakeholders (e.g. government, private companies, communities, ecologist movements, NGOs, researchers, donors, etc.), which prevents the development of positive and negotiated actions to settle conflicts over forest resources (there are numerous examples of such problems, including: the chimanes in Bolivia; the Deng-Deng in Cameroon and the current conflicts in Indonesia);
_ Ergonomic: in other words, that tropical forests represent a hostile and difficult context to work in for many people and which these people consider leaving sooner or later due to family, professional or cultural constraints; and
_ Technical: including the ignorance of the precise nature of resources and the best way to harvest them, alongside inconsistency and incapacity for resource maintenance and replenishment.
The time factor can also lead to many failures if it is not considered properly, including:
_ The replenishment of forest resources that requires a lapse of time that is deemed excessive by many decision-makers, beneficiaries and even technicians;
_ The time lapse required for research aimed at identifying the forest's evolutionary mechanisms often leads to failure due to experimental exhaustion and lack of sustained technical and financial support; and
_ Temporal perception is variable and incoherent according to each stakeholder, their scale of values, the issues and approaches. For example, the impatience of decision-makers and donors can lead to short cuts, choices and approximations that speed-up results, but can consequently lead to results that are disappointing or misleading. The validity and technical sustainability of forest operations are also subject to changes in opinion. Opinions are exposed to changes in aims brought about by changes to international trade law and also by variability in short-term priorities, irrespectively of the knowledge gathered on current options that are sustainable.
The diversity of forest ecosystems is another source of diverging and conflicting interests and which heightens difficulties in study and approach owing to its inherent complexity. This is illustrated by:
_ The conflict between "conservationists and developers", which should not take place but nevertheless persists;
_ The dichotomy between forest fragility and their protection role. Forests cover fragile and relatively infertile soils, which can become laterite if degraded rapidly. However, they also represent one of the most robust ways to protect and rehabilitate such soils;
_ Difficulties in applying silvicultural rules to tree stands with similar specificity, nature, structure and evolution that are not identical to the original site where such rules were developed. This problem with silvicultural experiments is combined with the challenge of successfully applying techniques that have been tested in accessible, well known and well studied modestly sized forests, in other large forest areas;
_ Problems of appropriate resource assessment, which require a lot of common sense in order to avoid expensive and/or badly designed inventories that lead to inappropriate harvesting regimes and recurrent problems, such as: inaccurate estimates of productivity; inadequate rotation periods; and poor management planning; and
_ The impossibility of precisely reconstructing the nature, structure, composition and production functions of a primary forest used (even moderately) for timber production. For example, commercial Meliacea forests in tropical South and Central America (Swietenia, Cedrela), dryland and humid forests in Africa (Khaya, Entandrophragma, Lovoa), Dipterocarp forests in Asia (Shorea, Parashorea, Dipterocarpus, Dryobalanops, Vatica) and many other types of tree formations such as those with Burseracea (Aucoumea, Dacryodes) have taken thousands of years to develop and can not be recreated after disturbance, even in the long-term.
Designing and implementing successful sustainable forest management means respecting basic rules. Many of these rules have been learnt from numerous forest management operations in the tropics over several decades. These rules allow for a shift in evolution from simple and rigid models towards complex ones that are closer to reality.
The simple models were The complex models are also
for revenue for resources
based on control also stress training
a limited risk a shared risk
for species for biodiversity
for wood for products
At present, the most common approaches to sustainable forest management are largely analytical and based on technical models of forest ecology. However, sustainability has to be considered globally by integrating knowledge from many different disciplines. The challenge is to create approaches to the formulation and implementation of sustainable forest management that are both operationally feasible and multi-disciplinary in nature.
Participatory forest management, for example, is a recent evolution towards such an approach. It works with a common set of methodologies that take into account the following stages in order to achieve improved forest management:
_ managing rights and ownership patterns;
_ reconciling scale constraints - from local to international;
_ adapting management to suit the various stakeholders;
_ using economic procedures that are valid for everyone;
_ communicating, instructing and following through changes; and
_ supporting participatory methods.
Past experience has shown that forest management for sustainable wood production can compromise the production of other forest goods and services. Now it is acknowledged that sustainable forest management means also taking care to maintain the productive, protective and ecological functions of forest ecosystems. Sometimes wood production enters into conflict with those other forest functions, especially when it conflicts with the activities of people living in the forest. However, non-wood forest products are often considered secondary products because their market potential and importance for subsistence are significantly underestimated. Non-wood forest product production is likely to be the main motive for local people to participate in sustainable forest management.
Trees are slow-growing perennial plants and the dynamics of tropical forest formations take place over time scales ranging from several decades to several centuries. The long time that tropical forests take respond to management activities means that forest managers and policy- makers must also think in the long term as well. However, this long-term approach conflicts with current financial and economic techniques that typically stress the short term and which are often very important tools used in forest management decision-making.
There will also be considerable methodological and measurement problems with thinking in the long term, especially in assessing the results of silvicultural practices. Furthermore, it is no longer simply a question of assessing the effects of silvicultural practices on the forest ecosystem, but also the long-term possible consequences of silvicultural practices on other systems (e.g. agronomy, climate, water, etc.).
Global ecological changes (e.g. the "greenhouse effect") should be viewed in a global context, but actions should take place at all levels. For success at the local level, there also has to be a favourable policy environment at international and national levels.
The international environment. The last 25 years has seen the emergence of an awareness of a number of sustainability and environmental issues (see Box 1).
The national environment. Land use planning takes place within a national framework and consequently so do choices regarding the determination of the permanent forest estate. Fairly accurate assessment of resources and their evolution over time are essential as part of this process. The supply potential of different products, whether they are industrial, food, pharmaceutical, artisanal, or other, should also be assessed as accurately as possible. This includes a need for research and information about the productivity of forests.
In addition to information about forests, information about capital and labour productivity should be collected, as should information about wood product supply and demand. Broader information about how the national environment might evolve and how industry and resources might respond to changes in markets is also important.
The presence of an overall land use policy is a necessary prerequisite to action on sustainable forest management. It must be emphasised that this is predominantly a political debate where technical specialists often have little input. The forest manager should develop technical activities within the context of the development strategies or options that have been chosen. The role of the state should be to supply a suitable environment in terms of policies, legislation and regulations and simple and flexible management methods should be designed so that local communities can easily employ them.
Box 1: The international environment
UN Conference on the environment. Stockholm. Creation of UNESCO and the Man and Biosphere Programme (MAB).
Creation of the African Timber Organization (ATO).
Creation of the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO - operational since 1987).
Establishment of Tropical Forestry Action Plans (TFAP) by FAO and, later, National Forestry Action Plans (NFAP).
Development of the concept of sustainable development.
Rio Summit (Earth Summit): declarations on environment and sustainable development, forests; conventions on biodiversity, climate change and desertification. Establishment of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD)
Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF). Kyoto Summit: agreements to limit carbon dioxide emissions.
The local environment. Some transfer of forest management responsibility to local communities is now a generally accepted means of action to support sustainable forest management. This generally involves two complementary approaches:
_ the patrimonial approach, which is predominantly social and based on a heightened sense of responsibility and solidarity among generations that is strengthened by constant partnership; and
_ the village area approach, which is predominantly eco-geographical, with activities centred on the development of infrastructure and human resources and the improved management of natural resources.
In management plans designed for local level, land, resources and equipment have to be managed in harmony with all stakeholders.