In working through a study such as this, inevitably a number of themes begin to emerge. Due to the inextricably linked nature of the issues, it is difficult if not impossible, and certainly unwise to attempt to put these issues in any sort of order of importance, although some do shine out ahead of others. There is however one theme that does pervade all and is arguably the crux of the matter, and that is the need for policy to be developed in an holistic manner, not in a piece-meal way as has been fashionable in the past.
The piece-meal approach inevitably introduces distortions which equally inevitably result in market failures. The result of these market failures has manifest itself throughout the region in the significant loss of forest resources, and the disenfranchisement of rural people. The problems faced by governments are thus multiplied in both magnitude and complexity.
The utilisation and protection of forests throughout the world, but particularly in the developing countries with tropical forest, is influenced by a variety of government policies. These policies are both those aimed directly at the forest resource and others aimed at the economy and society in general, such as those affecting tax or migration matters. Unfortunately these different areas of policy reform are kept separate and the implications of one on the other are not often considered.
In the tropical region (which covers the countries in this study with the exception of New Zealand), there are a number of commonalties influencing the management of forests and the severity of forest destruction in the past, and impacting on the ability of governments to control these concerns in the future. These are briefly discussed below.
Accelerating Rates of Deforestation With Logging as a Secondary or Tertiary Cause
World-wide logging is thought to account for only 21% of total deforestation. There is however the associated problem of commercial logging opening up what were previously inaccessible areas, allowing settlers to move in, remove the residual forest and commence changing the land use to some other activity, usually agriculture. Government policies and incentives to log forests have in many cases been the catalyst to the areas being logged in the first instance. In addition to the areas which are completely deforested, there are very large areas of forest that are degraded yet remain classified as forest, even though their productive capability has been severely compromised.
Heavy Emphasis on Policies Geared to Extraction of Benefits from the Productive, Rather than the Protective, Services Provided by the Forest
Past incentives have almost exclusively been directed to the exploitation of the productive resources of the forest. The value of protective services has been ignored although many such services may prove to be manifestly economic goods in the future. More significant still is the emphasis there has been on two economic goods only: the timber stands in the forest and the (generally poor) land on which those timber stands exist. The major omission in such an approach is the failure to recognise the ability of an intact forest system to supply a perpetual stream of income from commercial and non-commercial wood and non-wood forest products. These include food, fuelwood, and medical supplies, as well as fresh water, wildlife habitat and suchlike.
Declining Foreign Participation in Timber Extraction and Processing
Recent years have seen a significant reduction in large foreign or multinational involvement in natural forest harvesting and exporting or processing. There are some exceptions, such as Papua New Guinea, but the trend has been for governments to regain some control over these activities. In some cases this has resulted from a combination of factors such as declining forest resources available for harvest meaning lower profits and government log export bans. Simply demanding greater onshore processing is the type of market failure that has been induced in the past. For example, in Indonesia many so-called processing plants were built to meet government requirements, but the benefit to the local economy or the forest was dubious at best. What is required is an economic environment that rewards those who process onshore and those who work towards sustainable forest management.
Accumulation of Property Rights to the Forest in the Hands of Central Governments
The underlying system of property rights has considerable bearing on the ability of governments to reform forest policies. In the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia for example these rights have been constitutionally bestowed on central or state governments to the detriment of the rural people who traditionally used the forest. In other countries such as Papua New Guinea, the land and forests are held in various forms of customary ownership.
A Shift in Concessions Policies Away from Special Contracts and Toward Greater Reliance on General Law
In the early part of this century, special contracts were commonly used to administer logging and mining activities. These contracts allowed governments to include a wide range of regulations including minimum and maximum harvest levels, use of local labour, safety and concession length. By 1990 the overwhelming majority of timber contracts were subject to the provisions of general law.
Severe Under-pricing of Tropical Timber by the Owners Leading to Serious Wastage of the Resource
Most countries with tropical timber have in the past undervalued the resource. This situation is exacerbated if the value of non-wood forest products is omitted from the calculations. Under-pricing by way of outdated and defective systems has provided false signals regarding the abundance of tropical timber, leading to severe wastage of the resource in harvesting, processing and the end use of the timber.
Attempts to Resolve Market Failures by Government Policy
Inherent market failures are usually compounded by government policy distortions. Thus rather than correcting a market failure, government intervention has often aggravated the problem. Few incentives exist for forest owners to conserve their forests, but there are many cases where forest owners are penalised for not developing their forest for either wood production or conversion to other uses. In some extreme examples people are able to gain ownership of the land only after they have removed the forest.
The Development and Acceptance of Forest Certification
Considerable discussion in recent times has revolved around the concept of forest and forest product certification. While on the face of it this seems to be a laudable concept, the practicalities remain difficult. The magnitude of the trade in forest products alone is daunting, before even contemplating the lack of infrastructure in many places, and the inability of some government agencies to be accountable and auditable. There are some very small scale certified operations occurring now, and undoubtedly these will increase in the future. In general these are run as model operations by NGOs to promote the concept, and fail to address some of the magnitude issues that must be resolved. However, in order to progress this matter there must be a willingness to learn and to accept new ideas. Again this requires a cooperative approach from all affected parties.
The absence of sufficient financial rewards for implementing forest certification (commensurate with costs) is a major issue. This will continue to be the case as long as the majority of products are not certified. While many end use consumers are concerned about the environment, often the connection is not made between the packaging in which their product arrived, and a tropical forest somewhere. The connection is only made when the product itself is sourced from a natural tropical forest, such as hardwood decking.
Unfortunately, to date much of the wood sourced unsustainably from tropical forests finds its way into "low grade" end uses, such as packaging.
To be successful, certification has to have a higher profile through all avenues, including NGOs and governments. Until that occurs, the fundamental problem of certification - higher cost without commensurate reward - will continue.