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An institutional, framework for development oriented forestry

J. Gonzalo Fernández Tomás

J. GONZALO FERNÁNDEZ TOMÁS is Associate Professor of forest policy, administration and economics in the School of Forestry of the Universidad Politécnica, Madrid.

Whether a country's forest resources should be state- or privately owned is a highly controversial and widely discussed question and the answer will vary from one country to another according to prevailing political philosophies,

However, the special characteristics of forest resources and the way they have been used in the past seem to indicate state ownership as the most appropriate model for developing countries, especially those with mixed or decentralized economies.

The main justification of this view is the multiplicity of benefits deriving from the use and even the very existence of forest resources. Many products and services of forestry that contribute to the welfare of society as a whole, and that are frequently of a public goods character in the strict economic sense, may have no market value or there may be no markets where they can be bought or sold. Such, for example, are the many so-called 'intangible" or "indirect benefits" of forestry and the aesthetic values of forests as a source of relaxation and recreation of increasingly urbanized societies.

Another factor in favour of state ownership is the fact that forestry investments need long periods of time to produce tangible benefits. These benefits can take a century and even longer to become effective. So the private investor who puts capital into a forest cannot expect to see the fruits of his efforts during his lifetime. Psychologically as much as economically this fact greatly reduces the level of private sector investments.

What is needed is a change from current attitudes focused on knowledge of the resources to an approach directed primarily toward man and his needs.

A final important consideration: the wood, the standing tree, is the production capital, and its annual growth-taking a year as an accounting period-is the product which automatically becomes capital growth. This makes the decapitalization process temptingly easy. The capital and the product can be sold on the same market and at the same price, both measured in equal units. The immediacy of the availability of money, highly valued in the private sector, tends to act as an incentive to sell and against the conservation of forests. The negative effects of private ownership of forests have often been observed-in particular, their physical consequences, the degradation of forests as a result of improper management methods, selective cutting being the most typical example; also, the destruction of watersheds and consequent loss of water resources; soil erosion; and export of logs with disregard for their potential added value by processing at home. Finally, the attitude of foreign firms which are frequently unwilling to make long-term investments in a country should be noted.

Unfortunately, public administrations have often been as inefficient and negligent as the private sector in the use and protection of forest resources. In many cases destruction of resources has occurred on publicly owned forest lands; in other cases governments have adopted extremely conservative preservationist policies, as if the interests of trees were more important than those of human beings.

In short, whatever our position on forest resource ownership, there are problems of an institutional nature to solve. If we accept state or public ownership, it will be necessary, first, to apply the complex process of changing the structure of ownership but, also, to create institutions that can ensure the conservation of forest resources, i.e., not only their preservation, but their rational and efficient use. Actually, these institutions do not exist now in most of the developing countries and, where they do exist, they are in an early stage of consolidation.

If on the contrary we accept private or mixed ownership as the most convenient, the state will have to develop not only the institutions we have mentioned but also others which may be necessary to solve the conflict between private and social evaluation and avoid the danger of its consequences in the allocation and use of resources.

In either case the state will have to create organizations, services, campaigns, and other institutions of a public character.

In most countries there seem to be three different social groups having clearly defined attitudes on forest resources.

· The first group is made up of people whose economic welfare depends substantially on the existence of forests. This group includes the small and large forest owners and the rural populations which use forest lands for their livelihood, without owning them. Owners of medium-sized forest lands are, we believe, not very frequent in land-tenure schemes.

The small owners and non-owners in general are basically interested in obtaining agricultural land for their subsistence crops or open spaces for raising their livestock. To them forests are an obstacle to their way of life, which explains why this group is mostly responsible for the destruction of forests, sometimes by fire and at other times through excessive cutting or overgrazing.

The large forest owners are frequently inefficient in the management and use of their forests, apply selective cutting, often neglect cultivation practices for the maintenance and improvement of forest areas and usually only in cases of obvious monetary profitability do they resort to reforestation. Their attitude tends to be that forests are an exhaustible stock rather than a renewable resource.

· In the second group we find forest administrators, professionals and technicians. Apart from their executive activities which certainly constitute their main task, this group is-or should be responsible for the formulation of sectoral policies at the administrative level, that is, at the level of interpreting general policies, laws and regulations. But, above all, this group should be in charge of education and information: educating the public and informing politicians and decision-makers.

Above all, education should provide ways of thinking rather than "stocks" of information which sooner or later are outdated or forgotten.

Though this group is better informed than the majority of the population on the importance and benefits of forests, it is at times influenced by intellectual conservationist movements or individuals from more advanced countries and this can result in their adapting a strongly conservationist attitude. This, we believe, can be as unreal and as damaging to society as the destructive attitude of the forest users and owners of the first group.

Conversely, professional foresters as a group have often proved to be incapable of formulating policy, contributing neither opinion nor information, limiting their own role to the purely technical. It should be noted that, with regard to information and education, foresters as a group have been effective in very few countries.

Some remarks on two points of interest concerning policy formulation. In many countries policies, laws, institutions and even education and forestry research programmes seem to have been the result of a "demonstration effect" through which these countries have tried to imitate the behaviour of other more advanced countries instead of analysing their own situation and real needs. As for the attitudes of the forest administrators and professionals discussed above, they obviously constitute an institutional problem than can and must be solved. The solution can probably come from a restructuring of the forestry schools programmes and a reorientation of the foresters' professional attitudes. By this, we mean that they should become more oriented toward the needs of people and less toward traditional industrial forestry needs.

· The third group is the silent and indifferent majority within or associated with forestry which tends to be unaware of the potential and significance of forestry. Its attitude, however, is a consequence of the failure of forestry administrators and professionals to vividly illustrate the contribution which an intelligent use of forest resources can make to the solution of many political, social and economic problems. They do not, for instance, demonstrate the ways in which forestry and forest industries can be put to work to deal with unemployment, rural emigration, balance-of-payments problems and the redistribution of wealth. Outside professional circles-and sometimes even within them-we seldom find a clear view of the forestry sector's potential for dealing with, or at least influencing the solution of, most of these problems.

The indifference of this large group within the forestry fraternity is important to the extent that it results in a similar indifference among politicians and legislators toward forest resources, an indifference which is reflected in policies, laws and regulations. There is a popular saying in some South American countries-- "Trees don't vote"-which sums up the altitude and the situation.

The general task of setting goals and formulating policies belongs to institutions of a national or at least regional character to which forestry is only one more sector of the economic system. The policies devised for each sector will be consonant with the needs of the population and the resources that the country possesses. Accordingly, it is essential that the forestry sector be clearly defined and all its activities coordinated internally. A central body responsible for the integration of the forestry sector into the economic system and internal coordination within the sector is necessary. The consequences of the absence of such a body can be seen in many countries-fragmentation of decisions without an adequate chain of command, and activities scattered through separate, far removed, rather unconnected administrative branches. A list, far from exhaustive, of activities and functions which should be structured and channelled within an adequate institutional framework could include the following: planning and formulation of forestry policies; ownership and related aspects; management utilization; regulation and control of resources; education of forestry professionals; research; education of the public and extension work in the countryside.

Very few countries could claim that their hand-tenure structure foster good forest management. In Spain, for example, there are about 6.5 million forest owners with an average forest holding of three hectares, and many other countries have a similar ownership pattern. However, we believe that a good forest land-tenure structure is a basic institutional prerequisite for forestry development. Consequently, whenever the ownership pattern constitutes an obstacle to development, two alternative choices are possible from an institutional standpoint: either change the ownership structure or keep the existing structure except for minor changes and create complementary institutions through which the system can be improved.

Professional foresters have often proved to be incapable of formulating policy, contributing neither opinion nor information, limiting their role to the purely technical.

The first choice, changing the ownership structure, would include, among other things, the public ownership solution either extended to the total forest area or at least to a part of it. This solution, we may recall, has been proposed by governments which are very far from having a socialist or central planning approach. In 1933, for example, the United States Secretary of Agriculture submitted to the President an exhaustive report on the country's forest situation. In his covering letter the Secretary of Agriculture wrote:

"The main recommendations, as the only assured means of anything approaching a satisfactory solution of the forest problem, are for: a large extension of public ownership of forest lands; and much more intensive management of all publicly-owned lands" (1).

Another solution related to the first line of action would be a change in the ownership structure, maintaining private property but introducing changes in the size and even the location of the different holdings, so that the resulting structure would be more adapted to management purposes.

Both policies could perhaps solve the problem of small owners and large estates, mentioned at the beginning of this article.

A final, difficult issue to handle under this heading is that of illegal settlements, created by squatters, persons who establish themselves in forests and on agricultural lands without any legal grounds for doing so. This happens frequently in Latin American countries. In some cases these people were granted the right of ownership of the lands on which they were already settled and which they were using mainly as grazing lands for their herds. This measure was possible wherever the occupied land belonged to the state.

Such a solution was never a good one because it :led to the destruction of vast stretches of forest lands. In general the settlers practiced subsistence agriculture, such as slash-and-burn farming or intensive stockraising, and this was too often carried out on lands totally unsuited for these uses. But there is another important reason for the failure of this policy. It is the lack of technical and financial assistance which should complement any well-planned settlement programme if it is expected to be at all successful.

As we have seen, changing the land-tenure structure is a choice which requires for each of the three patterns examined the establishment of different types of institutional organizations. In all cases it seems clear that there is a need for a body responsible for selecting the best ownership structure from a technical, and not a political point of view, and for establishing it by means of expropriation, changes, exchanges or any other measure authorized by the political and legislative bodies. Once the best suited ownership structure is established, these organizations should be replaced by others responsible for technical and financial assistance to the new owners in the case of private ownership, or by organs in charge of forest conservation and management fin the case of public ownership.

Another solution designed to keep the ownership structure basically intact while promoting the proper use of forests seems to be that of a legal and fiscal nature; that is, to set up incentives for certain types of forestry practices and penalties against others. This is a typically regulatory task, normally executed by some branch of the forestry services.

It may be useful at this point to mention a problem which has arisen in the reform of the land-tenure structure carried out in some countries. These agrarian reforms had been conceived mainly for agricultural lands, without paying much attention to forest lands. They lacked consistent guidelines concerning the distribution of the forest lands involved in the process, giving rise to situations which threatened the forests with extinction, a thing which could have been avoided by a detailed study of the characteristics and requirements of this type of resource. Administratively speaking, two of the basic functions-management and exploitation-apply to public lands and the other two regulation and control-concern primarily privately owned lands. All of them have been, traditionally, and should continue to be the responsibility of a single agency, the forest service.

This forest service is obviously the most suitable institution for management and control of the forest sector. Therefore, if the forest service is to be rationally fitted within an administrative framework it should at least be involved in all the activities and procedures relating to forests and forest products, and should be able to act in close cooperation with the other sectors of the economy.

We believe that there are two basic requirements for the proper functioning of the forestry service. The first is the existence of a well-designed forest law. The second is sufficient financial support to maintain efficient and well-trained professional staff and a field organization.

A detailed examination of the forestry organizations of most countries would probably show that none of the characteristics and requirements mentioned previously are found in practice. The forestry administrative offices have often been confined to low levels of different administrative branches mainly engaged in other types of activities. In general, legal and financial support is very limited.

As we mentioned earlier, the main cause of this situation has probably been the absence of broad perspectives in these agencies which have been oriented entirely toward the resources and have been unable to transmit the idea of the importance of the forest sector to policy-makers and high-level administrators, let alone to the public. For example, it seems clear to us that most forest services, at least in developing countries, have not analysed and studied the economic and industrial aspects of the utilization of forests with the same attention they have dedicated to the biological aspects. In general, there has been and still is a lack of serious analyses of supply and demand, market studies, forest development programmes and forest industries, cost/benefit analyses, land-use planning studies, not to mention studies of a sociological nature.

As for information and education, foresters have been effective in very few countries.

We have talked about the importance of forestry education in connection with the attitudes of forest administrators and professionals. We have seen that a broader and more dynamic approach to the activities of these professionals is needed. As far as the study programmes in universities and technical schools are concerned, this means a change in the traditional emphasis placed on resources, that is, on the biological approach so as to direct attention to the social sciences. There is also a need for more attention to inter-disciplinary studies and a larger quotient of generalization instead of too much specialization. Above all, education should provide ways of thinking and attitudes rather than "stocks" of information which, sooner or later, are outdated or forgotten.

Another aspect closely related to training is informing and educating the public on the importance of the forest sector, thereby changing widespread attitudes of public indifference to forestry and the forester's role in development. The various professional or other types of associations connected with forestry activity are obvious primary agents for this kind of information and public relations work.

There seems to be considerable controversy about the type of research which should be conducted in developing countries: basic or applied, costly or low-cost? But it is generally agreed that these countries do need research and experimentation.

We believe that research is necessary in the developing countries for the following reasons:

· To assist in the adoption of new technologies and discoveries made in other technically and scientifically more advanced countries.

· To aid in the practical solution of specific major problems which arise in certain circumstances, provided the research required is not too costly and has reasonable probabilities of being conducted successfully.

Large and small sums have been spent on research by developing countries and the results have not always been encouraging. The failure was due quite often to lack of coordination and continuity or indifference to an interdisciplinary approach, but also to too much emphasis on the theoretical aspects of research, especially in universities.

Much more could be said about the institutional framework for forestry development, especially about research, education and financing. But the basic requirement without which forestry development cannot take place is change as an attitude. There must be a change in the orientation of policies, laws and in administrative, teaching and research bodies; a change from current attitudes primarily focused on knowledge of the resources to an approach directed primarily toward man and his needs.

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