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The role of forest policies and institutions in achieving sustainable forest development

J. Tohá G. and S. Barros A.

Jaime Tohá G. and Santiago Barros A. are forestry engineers who are currently consultants with the FAO/TCP/Chile Project Organizational Restructuring of Forestry Administration.

An adaptation of the position paper for the Eleventh World Forestry Congress, "Policies, institutions and means for achieving sustainable forest development ".

New trends in public forestry administration

The proper organization of forestry administration must be regarded as a key factor in achieving the objectives of sustainable forest development. This concept has been reaffirmed at major international fore.

In many countries, the organization of public forest administration is undergoing analysis, owing to reasons internal to each country as well as external factors. From this perspective, the adoption of new institutional models presents the great challenge of incorporating elements such as the adoption of structural adjustment programmes, the transition from centrally planned economies to market economies, the incorporation of expanding mechanisms for participation and the promotion and coordination of massive participation by interest groups.

On the basis of these findings, Pettenella (1997) describes a number of trends and formulates some questions as a way of orienting discussion on the subject.

External trends influencing forestry institutions

· The process of globalization of policies and institutions, which arises as a result of the community's growing preoccupation with the situation as regards natural resources.
· The search for increasing levels of efficiency in public administrations.
· The need to extend levels of participation in decision-making.

In the authors' opinion, and taking the opinions of Pettenella (1997) further, the point of departure for the formulation of any statement of forestry policy and, within this ambit, of the nature and role of the institutions, must be a clear definition of the market instruments and of the public instruments which form part of that policy.

Organizational changes

As a result of the trends referred to earlier, it is worth while drawing attention to the initiatives aimed at strengthening cooperation between bodies, improving the quality of the services provided by public bodies, using non-regulatory instruments, promoting decentralization and considering privatization processes.

These initiatives must be directly linked with the aim of guaranteeing increasing levels of quality in the services provided. Permanent mechanisms for the control of management, the use of organizational structures that are more level and systems for evaluation through action and feedback from users seem very important factors in increasing efficiency and also creating the perception of a transparent implementation of the public function.

Another aspect of the reorganization of public institutions is represented by the process of decentralization or regionalization, which seeks to delegate functions and the mechanism of decision-making at the regional and local level - a mechanism that at the same time facilitates citizen participation.

However, the most controversial instrument of institutional rationalization is described by Pettenella (1997) as privatization, whereby the public administration of forests of a commercial nature is separated from that which is nonprofit making.

In this connection, the authors believe a comment should be made on the foundations of the institutional model being studied in Chile, with the support of FAO, which seeks to separate those regulatory and control functions specific to the public administration from those which, being government responsibility, such as the prevention and control of forest fires and pests and the administration of the government's forest assets, may be exercised by private law bodies which are in a position to employ market mechanisms without being cut off from public control.

Institutional models

Pettenella (1997) presents four main models of institutional organization:

· In some countries, forestry matters are dealt with by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry or by the Ministry for Rural Development.
· A second model is constituted by a Forestry Ministry.
· In other countries, such as Argentina, responsibility for forestry is divided between two ministries: the Ministry for Economics, Finance and Planning,
which has control over the commercial development of forests; and the Ministry for Environmental Resources, which has control over the protection of natural forests.
· In other cases, as in Zambia, a Ministry for Natural Resources has been created on the basis of the fact that forest resources are regarded as a public asset.

Sectoral forest planning has moved to incorporate not only economic but also environmental and, particularly, social concerns

Sectoral forest planning has moved to incorporate not only economic but also environmental and, particularly, social concerns

Formulation and implementation of forestry policies

In the past 30 years there has been a major development in forestry policy. Today it may be said that such a policy has become transformed into a discipline with a properly scientific foundation. However, it is still doubtful whether this discipline has actually been a positive element in the development of forest reality and related matters.

Merlo and Paveri (1997) explain which components of forestry policy are showing real progress and which are lagging behind, notwithstanding their present status of a scientific discipline.

There do not seem to be any doubts that the process of policy formation has shown major advances in recent times, a point substantiated by the technical and political debate on forestry policies which has taken place in different parts of the world and which confirms growing participation by interest groups. Particularly important is the fact that this process shows, at least on paper, the interest - and even the participation - of non-forestry sectors in the debate. In the formation of forestry policies account is taken today of non-forestry policies such as agricultural, environmental, industrial, fiscal, commercial, etc. policies whose effects are significant as fares forestry is concerned.

Julio (1996) draws attention to the fact that, in the formation of a policy, aspects which are of importance (such as sociocultural, economic and geo graphical ones and those relating to safety) have to be considered.

Other advances of importance may be achieved through the application of computerized tools such as expert systems. Sukadri (1997) outlines the use of a flow chart which employs sustainable management criteria and indicators formulated by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), which is developed to show the relations between the criteria, the indicators and the policy. To define these relations a prototype model of an expert system is used which assumes that five main criteria must be fulfilled in order to achieve sustainable forest management. These are: the basis of forestry resources, the continuity of the flow of forest production, the level of environmental control, socio-economic effects and institutional structures and principles. By evaluating the indicators for each criterion it may be determined whether they are fulfilled.

It is in the ensuing stages of forestry policies that there is scope for criticism, specifically as- regards the initiation of operation, the checking of the results and evaluation and revision.

Merlo and Paveri ( 1997) point out that in many developing countries complete processes for the formation of policies, particularly within the ambit of Tropical Forests Action Programmes (TFAPs), have been carried out. They also point out that, notwithstanding the foregoing, policies are very often only in the state of sound formulations in the policy implementation stage, although the necessary resources are lacking and so is any kind of political will to put them into concrete form.

Merlo and Paveri (1997) conclude that many of the reasons for a specific policy being unsuccessful are connected with not having the necessary instruments for the policy to materialize. On this subject, these authors hold the view that such policy instruments or tools constitute the heart of the forestry policy process.

Sectoral forest planning

Forest planning has made very rapid strides in recent years. According to Contreras (1997), one of the reasons accounting for this advance is thought to be the development of a growing feeling of frustration resulting from planning having lost its image of being an effective tool in the decision-making process. Advances during the last ten years in the application of methodologies with an increased technology element have resulted in doubt still existing as to whether better decision-making is being achieved.

The factors which have had an impact on the improved development of forest planning are numerous, although Contreras ( 1997) singles out the following main ones:

· A displacement of the centre of gravity of the planning process from economic and commercial matters to environmental considerations.

· Project planning has been sustained by greater skill in measuring and evaluating the externalities of forest resources at the local, national and global level.

· The incorporation of social aspects, which has allowed a better understanding of the different perspectives of the different interest groups with a relevant role in the sustainable management of forest resources.

· The understanding that most of the factors which have had an effect on the deterioration on forest resources have led to recent efforts to study the link between the management of forest resources and the development which has taken place in allied areas of economic activity.

· The acceleration of the process of the globalization of the world economy has also meant that planning is necessary in order to restructure institutional models, both at the national and international level, and the mechanisms to face new demands.

In the authors' opinion, the factors pointed out by Contreras (1997) are of great importance and substance. All have a common denominator which this study is attempting to bring out, i.e. that the postulates of sustainable forest development will only be able to materialize insofar as an objective which is even broader, such as sustainable global development, is a reality. Forest development must contribute towards this end, incorporating the political, social and economic variables of its environment in its rationality.

Contreras (1997) refers to a number of aspects which have had an effect on the limited results of forest planning, mentioning among them the uncertainty surrounding certain unclarified aspects in relation to the physical effects of certain policies or measures, such as forest exploitation, and limitations with regard to the methodology for the valorization of certain services, such as biodiversity. He also refers to institutional factors and, especially, the negative effects of corruption.

In this connection, the authors think that planning and evaluation methodologies need to be applied which are stable in terms of time and which consider the negative or positive impact in the long term. It is possible that certain programmes entail social deterioration and even, initially, an aggravation of the situation of poverty. In the case of Chile there has been much discussion concerning the displacement of peasant populations resulting from the development of pine and eucalyptus plantations in Region VIII of the country. This has caused concern on the part of the National Congress, although subsequent evaluations by the Ministry of Agriculture tend to show that the social and economic impact has a positive effect overall. by creating a greater number of direct and indirect jobs and which are of better quality.

Forestry research, particularly with regard to the forest agricultural interface, must be strengthened for sustainable forestry development. in the photo: a trial plot on e local farmer's land in Viet Nam

Development of human resources, education and training

Guevara (1997) points out the need to adopt a new paradigm for sustainable development, based on the definition given by the Brundtland Commission stating that "sustainable development attempts to satisfy current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to fulfil their own needs". In this connection, it is pointed out that current needs will have to be relativized for the benefit of future generations. Along the same lines, reference is made to the fact that most Eastern cultures believe that a country's level of development is directly proportionate to the level of education and training achieved by its population, the latter term being taken in its broadest sense.

The concepts of sustainable development expressed by Guevara ( 1997) lead to the need to establish sustainable societies. The foregoing entails a new ethical attitude in which the attitude to forest resources is included. This can only be achieved through education, training, research and overcoming problems.

The materialization of the concept of sustainable society demands a permanent exchange of knowledge, an exchange with other societies with great respect for the environment, an educational process right from the first level, appropriate means for the exchange of information and access to the latter and the effective exploitation of the experience and talents of native peoples and minorities.

Following this line of thought, challenges of great magnitude arise for forestry research which are linked to the need to identify formulas for objectively contributing to people's well-being.

In tropical forests, the generalized methods of exploitation have proved to be unsustainable. This situation stems from various factors, among which may be mentioned: abject poverty as a result of macroeconomic policies, soil use, structural and institutional deficiencies, shortcomings or inadequacies in education and training, lack of research, flaws in the transfer of technology, poor communication with local communities and others.

In the face of this situation, it is suggested that the solution must be achieved through the improvement of education, training and the intensification of research in its perspective as relating to sustainability, the need for more technical cooperation, adequate levels of participation and appropriate policies and legislations.

In the absence of either government of common property regulation, resources are easily degraded. In the photos: Illegally harvested forest and fuelwood on sate at the roadside In Malawi

In the absence of either government of common property regulation, resources are easily degraded. In the photos: Illegally harvested forest and fuelwood on sate at the roadside In Malawi

The proper implementation of this set of measures ought to be reflected in an alleviation of poverty and a more appropriate use of forests.

A key element in this process, which has been embarked on in the direction of sustainable development and its projection towards better horizons and quality of life, must be the improvement of the levels of specialization and semi-specialization on the part of the labour force.

Integral forest development requires a multiplicity of specialities, among which reference may be made to extension workers, technicians and forestry engineers, biologists, economists, sociologists, anthropologists, experts in community development and skilled and semi-skilled workers.

There seems to be full agreement with regard to the fundamental role which basic research must have in the option of sustainable forest development, so that a priority ought to arise for channelling the necessary resources for it. Considering the high cost of scientific and technological development, the model of regional or intercontinental centres constitutes an adequate response to this challenge. In the authors' opinion, professionals and scientists involved in forestry must, if they are to be effective in their mission, have the capacity to understand and deal with the social and political developments in which forestry is immersed.

It is also the authors' opinion that the definition by Guevara ( 1997) of the relations which forestry professionals must have with other natural phenomena and, above all, as regards the relationship of forestry problems with social and political developments, is decisive. In this connection, the finding that, for forestry development to be genuine, it must be an element which objectively contributes towards alleviating poverty and increasing the availability of goods and services is most interesting.

Guevara (1997) concludes that the results of research should be disseminated and socialized in an appropriate way, so that forestry is transformed into a cornerstone of development and that the institutions must be consolidated and influential politicians shown that forestry activities are profitable.

In the authors' opinion, the above concept is of decisive importance. Without human sustainability, the sustainability of natural resources in a world where there is a prevalence of hunger, child mortality, poverty and marginality cannot be constructed. The sustainability of forest development will only be a reality insofar as it constitutes a significant contribution towards overcoming those scourges.

Priorities for international forestry research

New imperatives are arising, as far as research is concerned, from the fact that those countries which have sustained more rapid economic growth are those which have invested more in science and technology.

Today economists are using the resources invested in research and development (R&D) as indicators of economic potential and prospects of prosperity. Many industrialized countries invest 3 percent of their GDP in R&D, while most developing countries invest far less, frequently under 1 percent.

Within the ambit of natural resources, investment in R&D in the agricultural sphere fluctuates between 2 and 3 percent, whereas in the forestry sphere it is less than 1 percent. Studies carried out by the Center for International Forestry Research in 1993 (cited by Sayer et al., 1997) on the subject concluded that R&D investment in forestry was less than any other human activity.

The need for forestry research has been recognized; however, this recognition comes at a time when the conventional sources of public research resources are frozen or tending to decrease. Nevertheless, the World Bank has pointed out that some of the countries where a substantial proportion of tropical forests are concentrated, such as Brazil, Indonesia, India and China - which are expected to be among the main economic powers - will continue investing significant resources in research, so that it may be anticipated that forestry research will also be favoured.

It is likewise anticipated that multinational forestry corporations will play a growing part in the use of forest resources; for this reason it may be expected that they will show some concern for the sustainability of forestry resources and, on that basis, it might be assumed that they will have to devote resources to research and development.

In this connection, the authors feel it should be emphasized that there is a need for a systematic effort to be made in the forestry policies of developing countries in order to differentiate those areas of research which must form part of the public function of institutes or centres of research from those spheres in which financing must clearly be private responsibility.

Just as it is necessary to have more scientific development, so it is necessary to change the concept of the culture of science with a forestry application. In fact, an important part of research is linked to the objective of increasing yields from timber production, in subjects such as genetics, management, forestry treatments, industries, etc. However, it seems evident that many of the aspects which affect the situation of a particular forest production are governed by effects which are extraneous to science, as in the case of infrastructure, agricultural policies and commercial policies, human resettlements, fiscal policies, etc. Hence the need for the scope of forestry research to be more universal and for research to cover a broader scientific culture.

The authors consider that one of the constraints to a more integral development of forestry is the trend towards self-isolation on the part of forestry scientists and professionals. Rather than hoping for the goodwill of politicians or decision-makers, the forestry sphere needs to be incorporated in the policy and scenarios where decisions are taken; for this, there has to be progress in research and professionals and scientists with a far more universal vision of the combination of developments which have an impact on the real situation of forests.

Solberg (1997), in agreement with Pettenella (1997) and with opinions expressed by the authors in the first part of this study, deals with subjects such as the globalization of policies and the need to extend participation in decision-making, and comments that forest management has changed and has to be oriented towards its multiple benefits; for this, a harmonization of sectoral and intersectoral policies and also the fulfilment of international requests are required. He subsequently incorporates a major element in maintaining that, at the present time, the best backing of research has to be available for the formation of policies.

The analysis by Solberg (1997) is primarily oriented towards reviewing what information is needed by those taking decisions on the formation of policies, defining whether research is satisfying these needs and seeking ways of improving the important interaction which must exist between those taking decisions and researchers.

In general, it appears there are problems in relation to incorporating the best and most recent research in the formation of policies. Frequently, researchers are more interested in their own concerns than in collaborating towards defining priorities for providing information to politicians and these, in their turn, blame researchers for not working on relevant projects which provide the information needed now and not within time frames they cannot, or are not prepared to, wait for.

Solberg ( 1997) suggests various courses whereby this situation can be improved, in terms of the improvement of research itself; politicians and their advisers; and better interaction. The authors fully agree with these approaches, although they feel that two aspects of great importance, which should come before the undeniably relevant dialogue between researchers and politicians, are involved in the subject.

The first refers to the unavoidable definition of the role which falls on the state as far as research is concerned. With this public role defined, the state has to prioritize its resources towards the lines of research encompassed by this role; this, if it is clearly defined, will certainly fulfil most of the information needs of politicians.

The second relates to the coordination and prioritization of research which is being carried out in the country with other funds which are obtainable (international cooperation, private sector, etc.).

In this connection, the authors feel that mention ought to be made of one aspect of the new forestry institutional setup which is being studied in Chile. As far as the case of research is concerned, the public role is being reviewed and prioritized and for this set of activities the government will contribute directly to its financing; the project will be implemented by the Forestry Institute and a number of other specialized government bodies. For the purposes of coordinating and prioritizing these research studies and those others which are financed on a different basis, a Council for the Coordination of Forestry Research would be established within the Forestry Subsecretariat; council, the Forestry Institute would act as an executive secretariat. This mechanism must be aimed at preventing duplication, fostering the multidisciplinary approach to the lines of research in which the areas of greatest priority for the country are being developed and, of course, placing the best and most up-to-date information at the disposal of politicians.

International cooperation and the mobilization of resources for sustainable forest development

Meeting the future needs of humankind, such as food, water, health, energy and housing, depends significantly on the way in which forest resources are managed. This is based on the fact that forests are the main body of the terrestrial ecological system and this is a fundamental basic resource. From this point of view, the sustainability of forest development cannot be undertaken as a desire but as an imperative.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, forest resources in many countries are in a precarious situation, owing to the application of incorrect policies, a low level of public expenditure and the existence of weak administrations.

The foregoing situation urgently requires the mobilization of international resources, both in the form of investments and in the form of catalysts of new investments. These resources may be of national or international origin and they may, in their turn, be public or private. International resources may be of assistance towards development or towards investment.

Public international financing may originate from bilateral or multilateral assistance, as is the case with development banks and international bodies.

In the case of private international financing, reference may be made to foreign direct investment, investment portfolios, institutional funds of an international nature, ADRs, external loans, the supply of capital goods and risk capital.

In the authors' opinion, the nonexistence or precarious existence in many countries of environmental regulations is significant for the application of elements such as those described. Linked with the foregoing and independent of the existence or quality of environmental regulations, it should be asked whether international resources oriented towards investment are always, or in which cases they are, a guarantee of projects which incorporate the criteria of sustainable forest development. In this sense, there is implicitly, as it seems, the criterion of Chandrasekharan and Schmidt (1997), since in their study they quote the example of an undertaking which has incorporated sustainability criteria.

International cooperation in the forestry sphere begins increasing with the increase in commercial flows and with the recognition that forest resources are a basic element for economic development.

Official assistance for development includes donations and loans and, in 1993, reached US$1 545 million, of which some 71 percent corresponded to donations and 29 percent to loans. Notwithstanding these figures, it must be taken into account that they only represented 27 percent of requirements. This type of financing has dropped in recent years, as in the case of funds from the FAO Field Programme which fell from US$83 million in 1994 to US$70 million in 1995. In turn, World Bank loans fell from US$278 million in 1994 to US$113 million in 1995.

In the authors' opinion, both the problem of the lack of local commitment and low absorption capacity are, in some cases, due to the lack of an adequate participatory process at the stage when projects are identified and formulated. It has been found that this type of financing does not always reach the countries which need it most; this is probably directly linked to the impression held by donors of the low absorption capacity of many recipient countries.

As official assistance for development has decreased in recent years, the flow of private investments has increased sharply. In the specific case of the forestry sector, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly the amount of private investment in developing countries, although the figures available indicate a level of US$8 000 to $10 000 million of domestic investment, to which foreign investment would need to be added. It should be pointed out that most of these investments are focused on forestry industries and plantations.

The authors feel that there are at least three considerations to be taken into account in the light of the objectives of sustainable forest development. The first refers to the need for private investment projects to incorporate to an increasing extent the concept of sustainability. The second refers to the responsibility in institutional and forestry terms of countries, which have to be sufficiently clear-sighted to develop legislative and regulatory models which, without acting as a disincentive to private investment, adequately decree the validity of the precepts of the sustainable management of the resource.

The third consideration refers to the pressing need for developing countries to introduce environmental legislation which duly protects the sustainability of natural resources, without hampering an expeditious process of private investment. In this connection it should be pointed out that national and international ecologist groups must understand that, on the path to overcoming poverty and backwardness, it is an essential condition that the objectives of sustainable development should be attained and that, with this in view, the mission is to contribute towards works and investments which represent economic and social progress being carried out surely and properly.

Despite the fact that the role of official assistance for development will continue to be less than international private investment, its role will continue to be crucial. In this connection, the technological development which can be impelled through this assistance can influence and promote the activity of private investment.

Just as public investment in forest development is found to be inadequate and declining. the bulk of private investment in the forestry sector is not oriented towards operations which are sustainable. The private sector requires, for its flows to be oriented towards sustainable forms of forest development. that certain preconditions should exist in the form of incentives. One of these is making capital markets aware of the potential of sustainable forest development - by reducing risks in the case of emergent forest industries and covering the incremental costs of internalizing the requirements of care for the environment.

In the authors' opinion there is a great possibility, considering that there is an evident relationship between trade and foreign investment and bearing in mind the fact that transnational corporations control two-thirds of international trade, and that these corporations have a great potential in developing countries, both for the development of primary and secondary processing industries and for the promotion of exports of products with added value, on the basis of mutual benefit.

It is also the authors' opinion that the development of bilateral or regional free trade agreements is equally important, whether such agreements are between developing countries (e.g. MERCOSUR) or between countries with different levels of development (e.g. APEC, NAFTA). Considering that the mobilization of international resources is a key element in the success of sustainable forest development, measures aimed at improving the current mechanisms and innovating with a view to new procedures are proposed.

Likewise, in relation to international cooperation, the need to improve coordination mechanisms, preferably as regards the necessity to resolve conflicts between donors and technical assistance agencies, appears evident. In that connection, the joint work carried out by the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme through the development of agreements for partnership programmes (Forest Partnership Agreements) appears to be positive.

At the national level, major efforts at coordination are required, such as coordination between donors, coordination between donors and government agencies and coordination between donors, government agencies and the private sector. Also significant is the effort that needs to be made to achieve adequate coordination at the local level.

The form of coordinating measures relating to the objectives pursued through sustainable forest development continues to be the subject of debate. Apart from the need to orient, control and facilitate the flow of resources through optimized and innovative solutions, a systematic international mechanism is also necessary in order to ensure planned financing for forestry development in developing countries. That could be achieved through a mechanism such as the World Forestry Fund, a proposal which arose from the Ninth World Forestry Congress in 1985.


· For decades the world community has been organizing world and regional conferences on the most varied topics; among them, those relating to the environment and sustainable development stand out in recent times. Such conferences have doubtless been very useful and in many cases resolutions have arisen from them that have, without doubt, led to considerable improvements for humanity.

· At the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, dramatic conclusions were reached on the situation of forestry resources in the world, and especially in developing countries, while a historic commitment was also entered into by the so-called rich countries with the aim of reversing the current situation of deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries. For this purpose, resources amounting to US$56 650 million per year for the period 1993-2000 were pledged.

· In this study, the greatest concern has been expressed at the fact that, after five years, it has been found that this situation has not been reversed. An analysis has been made, from the point of view of forestry policy, the planning of forestry administrations, research and scientific and technological development, as well as through the development of human resources and the mobilization of international resources, of how formulas can be sought which can definitively lead to forestry development through sustainability. In this connection, the opinions of Guevara (1997), according to which sustainable forest development has to take place within the ambit of sustainable human development, are especially on target. In relation to this, forestry researchers and professionals Sayer et al. can not be on the sidelines of the political and social developments constituting the background to the real situation of forests, as was clearly suggested by Sayer et al. ( 1997). Likewise, forestry research programmes have to be imbued on many occasions with contents and themes which place sustainable forest development on a logical path vis-à-vis the need for it to be a medium providing well-remunerated and stable employment, suitable settlements and the creation of wealth and security.

· Forestry policy must take on higher categories with regard to the political, social and economic problems of each country and be functional in national economic and social policies isolated measures of autonomous forestry policies which normally fall through in their implementation. As Merlo and Paveri (1997) have suggested, that requires increasingly interdisciplinary work and forestry scientists and professionals being increasingly familiar with the socioeconomic reality of the forest environment.

· Forestry planning and forestry research of a public nature must reassume a central function on the road towards levels of sustainable forest development. Once the initial effect of the dramatic changes in the world economy in the last two decades has passed, both the role of public forestry research and investment in scientific development and in planning must take on a structural role - a role witch has no link at all with the process of liberating economies.

· The two elements referred to above must be structural components in the configuration of state policies for sustainable forest development and, from their gestation onwards, they must include the participation of the public sector, the private sector, the scientific community and interest groups.


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Julio, G. 1996. Política forestal, conceptos, formulación y evaluación. Universidad de Chile. Facultad de Ciencias Agrarias y Forestal es, Departamento de Manejo de Recursos Forestales, Santiago.

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