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1. Introduction

A basic premise of the FAO Model Code of Forest Harvesting Practice (DYKSTRA & HEINRICH 1996) is that it is possible to conduct forest harvesting operations in ways that are consistent with the concept of sustainability. This requires that such operations do not compromise the forestís potential to regenerate properly and to yield products that are essential for the well being of both current and future generations. Consequently, timber resources must be utilised by means of efficient practices that comply, on the basis of clear legal regulations and adequate planning and control instruments, with all aspects of environmental and socio-economic sustainability.

The natural forests of Mozambique, although vast and rich in biodiversity, are dominated by low stocking levels of commercial timber species and low increment of wood biomass. The scattered distribution of timber resources particularly affects commercial harvesting by imposing long access distances. With increasing distance, harvesting and transport costs progressively dissipate the resourceís in-situ value up to a point where commercial use is economically no longer feasible (HYDE et al. 1996). Addressing socio-economic sustainability of natural-forest management in the tropics, PRETZSCH (1997) suggests an inductive approach by means of case studies in order to verify its performance.

Timber production in Mozambique is considered to be a driving force for industrial development in rural areas, having the potential to create an economic and structural basis for small-scale industry and handcrafts and to offer employment opportunities (DEJENE 1991). At the same time fuelwood, non-wood forest products, and game meat contribute considerably to subsistence of rural communities (DNFFB 1996). Although both utilisation patterns might be practised complementarily within an integrated system of forest-resource management, they are perceived as antagonistic concepts. Commercial harvesting claims legitimacy through its anticipated economic benefits. However, specific information on its efficiency is scant and needs to be established by means of applied research (FAO 1998).

By conceiving and applying a set of operational, organisational, energy, and financial indicators the present case study investigates the efficiency with which forest harvesting is actually conducted in Mozambique. It identifies impediments and their impacts on production and costs, and derives proposals for improvement. Results suggest some substantial conclusions as to which obstructions have the largest impact, and which requirements must be accomplished in order to improve the efficiency of commercial timber harvesting in the natural forests of Mozambique.

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