Valuing benefits

The valuation of benefits arising from forest reproductive material raises several questions.Some key ones are: (1) What are the potential gains to be obtained by selection and breeding? (2) How does this translate into increased monetary benefits from the plantations established and/or products produced? (3) What does this mean in the way of sharing of benefits among the various stakeholders involved, particularly local communities? and (4) What are the potential risks and costs involved if things go wrong?

Potential gains

The correct choice of species is an essential foundation for achieving gains. If you start with the wrong species, the result can be total failure, in which case no gains are possible. However, assuming that you have a range of potentially suitable species, gains can be huge, with differences of one or more orders of magnitude between the performance of the best and worst species. Potential gains from selecting provenances within a species can also be very large, especially for species that have a wide distribution covering many climatic and site types. It could be 300% or more. It is therefore important to include provenance trials with species trials where there is a likelihood of a wide differences in performance between the provenances of one species. Further selection of individual trees within the best provenances and breeding of tht most desirable ones will provide significant gains that depend on the characteristic being selected for and its heritability. Improvements in a trait such as growth rate (low heritability) will be lower than a trait such as branch angle (high heritability).

Monetary benefits

Gains in some traits, such as growth rate or form, which are easily translated into improved, marketable products, are relatively easy to convert into monetary benefits. However, traits that are non-marketable, such as soil amelioration or amenity, will be more difficult. Often it may be easier to estimate the potential costs of using inferior material than the other way round. Despite the difficulty of estimating monetary benefits (or costs), an attempt should be made, as such estimates are a powerful tool in justifying programmes of selection and improvement of forest reproductive material. The relative cost of seeds etc. is small when compared with overall costs of plantation establishment, and can vary from a fraction to a few percent of the total. It is therefore rarely worth economising on their cost.

Benefit sharing

The importance of equitable sharing of benefits that arise from selecting, improving and using forest reproductive material is emphasised in the attention this topic is given in agreements concerned with biodiversity etc. There will be many opportunities to share benefits directly in programmes concerned with, say, seed procurement - where local communities can participate in field activities. The future benefits that are obtained by selection and improvement (as enhanced performance of planted trees and forests) can also provide opportunities for sharing. But it is more difficult to decide on equitable shares for these benefits without a clear agreement. Such agreements, if bilateral, may be so costly to implement that a programme of - say - bioprospecting may not be carried out at all, to the detriment of all parties. It is for this reason that the Treaty proposes multilateral agreements to keep costs down.

Potential risks

The risks associated with incorrect selection, handling and use of forest reproductive material can be substantial. As mentioned above, lack of care in choice of species and provenances can lead to failure or sub-standard performance. But there are also the risks, e.g. when using introduced species, that there may be future unexpected losses of planted trees due to pests and diseases; poor performance due to unidentified factors; undesirable characteristics such as weediness that only in appear in future generations; or redundancy of plantation objectives due to changes in demand for goods and services etc. These potential risks (and the assumptions based on them) should be considered carefully, and even if they cannot be quantified, at least recorded so they can be continuously reviewed.

last updated:  Wednesday, April 18, 2007