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Chapter XI: Research

1. Background and context
2. Overview of the present state of knowledge
3. Research to be carried out
4. A few recommendations

1. Background and context

The dry tropical forest is represented by a large number of ecosystems, ranging from dry deciduous closed forests to shrub savannas. These cover widely varying areas and correspond to more or less degraded patterns as a consequence of the various types of constraints they are submitted to.

These different formations only began drawing the attention of forestry services and a few researchers after about 1930, and this mainly in areas of relevance to botany and phytogeography. However, over the past few years, the tropical forest has attracted the attention of public opinion concerned by the medium-term consequences of deforestation on climate change, the loss of biodiversity and the future of the people whose survival depends partially on maintaining forest ecosystems.

This latter aspect is essential, because it is forecast, for example, by the year 2020 West Africa will have 60 percent of the population living in towns compared with 40 percent in 1990. In order to be able to accommodate these 150 million new town-dwellers, foresters and agronomists will be expected to make an enormous contribution because enhancing agricultural potential (by combating desertification and by the silvo-pastoral management of natural woodlands) and supporting the installation of the urban people (producing fuelwood) will be two fundamental tasks awaiting them.

Questions relating to research in the dry tropical zones arise today in an impassioned climate, which does not facilitate the definition of objectives based on consensual and concerted work.

In the developing countries forestry research has often merely imitated the structures set up in the developed countries, and very frequently without any real economic and scientific integration, which explains recent failures. By way of illustration, forestry research in developing countries has failed to take account of the natural forest management needs. Forestry research has no skilled staff, and sometimes it no longer has any identity, and is incapable of mobilizing the very few resources at its disposal.

This situation is certainly not specific to forestry, and agronomic research itself could be analysed along very similar lines. However, in agronomy the shortcomings have still a long way to go before they reach the same critical stage, certainly because of a higher level of adaptation to needs, more sustained effort in vocational training, and a more effective exploitation of international co-operation.

2. Overview of the present state of knowledge

Knowledge of the woody plant formations in dry tropical zones is still descriptive and sectoral and work on the dynamics of their evolution are still too punctual, specific and too new to provide all the basic elements required to practise sustainable silviculture or silvo-pastoralism in the areas to be managed. This is illustrated in all the case studies that follow: knowledge of the productivity of the forest stands is limited to a mere estimate, with severe lack of accurate data, backed up by a prior and properly monitored experimentation.

Functional research projects on the growth of stands in terms of harvesting and of human and livestock impact have been undertaken haphazardly for about ten years or so by foresters. But for the moment, few research projects have been pursued while the others are still far from being completed.

In short, most of the forest ecosystems in the intertropical dry zone have been described and inventoried only partially, and above all on scales which are unsuited to forest management studies and implementation, while the evolution and functioning of these ecosystems are the result of complex biological interactions of which not enough is understood yet. Furthermore, the knowledge of the forest by the local people, constituting a vast and unique source of information is, in a large number of cases, declining.

However, the successes are not to be disparaged. Trial networks exist, the knowledge is scattered, but multi-disciplinary teams are being set up and the problems are being ranked. In addition to the research which is discussed in Part Two of the study, some research projects are also cited in the chapter entitled Other Projects in Part Four.

As far as the socio-economic study of silvo-pastoral systems is concerned, a great deal of work has been done including the study of the tree/bush potential in terms of multiple products: woody, fodder, fertilizers, etc., but the research is often confined to diagnosis, and there are very few integrated regional management enterprises. To be noted that virtually no account whatsoever is taken of externalities and of the impact of silvo-pastoral systems on the environment (which depends on ecology research).

Research into forestry policy taken as a whole is rare. Conversely, studies have been carried out on some of their components. Much research has been conducted by economists and sociologists into the economy of different crops, commodities, markets, land tenure system and methods of appropriation. These analyses have often been carried out with a sectoral objective, but they provide a great deal of information which helps to understand the effectiveness of forestry policies.

At the same time, the implementation of a Tropical Forestry Action Programme has provided researchers with a considerable pool of information. Lastly, research into agricultural policy can also help to provide methodological benchmarks. But despite all the work that has been undertaken, all of these fragments of knowledge are still insufficient to be able to build up research into forestry policy. Yet the subject is still essentially a virgin ground, and is still waiting to be more clearly defined.

3. Research to be carried out

The direction to be given to research stems from what has just been said. The approach proposed in this paper mainly aims at emphasizing the research considered to be strategic, which takes up clearly identified issues and above all takes account in the long term of the development needs of the region concerned.

Box 31: Programming research draws traditionally a distinction between two types of research

- Strategic guidelines and adaptive actions, or even more so ‘strategic research’ and ‘adaptive research’. The former are characterized by their objectives and the means mobilized to attain them while the second relate to the design of tools, the establishment of knowledge and know-how needed within the context of a given situation.

- ‘Basic research’ projects are designed to obtain a detailed understanding of the operating processes and ‘applied research’ projects are designed to find specific solutions to particular problems.

By way of example, a strategic research project can set out to produce a model of the functioning of the natural forest ecosystem, while an adaptive research project may relate to the adjustment of silviculture of one particular species, but one which is known in a particular environment. At the same time research on the physiology of the nutrition of that same species may lead to basic research projects and experimenting its association to a particular crop would lead to ‘applied research’.

The first dichotomy relates the state of knowledge and objectives, the second links them to the very nature of knowledge. Clearly these approaches are complementary, they interact and they draw on each other. Effective research programming cannot ignore any of these elements.

The main areas of strategic research and investigation to be privileged, and the experimental, scientific and pragmatic disciplines and approaches which consolidate them, are the following:

a) Knowledge of the ecosystem and its functioning

So far it has been the nature and the extent of forest stands which have been monitored. From now on it will be necessary to have information on the forest (and animal) dynamics and structure, which will make it possible to associate to each pattern, or type of site, the tools and data which are needed in order to make a model of them and explain the way they function.

To do this it is urgently necessary to design and develop experimental field programmes which will make it possible to quantify the dynamics of the plant and animal components (growth, mortality, regeneration).

- Growth: This mainly involves understanding how ecosystems are reconstituted following different types of exploitation (logging, grazing) or after fire. The work should lead to the production site and site potential maps (type maps and models) while specifying the behaviour of the main woody species covering vast zones, such as the Combretaceae and the role of different animal clusters (wild or domestic) on these sites.

- Natural or induced mortality: This investigation accompanies the study dealing with the competition between trees and grass cover, in terms of hydrous, anthropogenic and climatic environment, which translates in water table variations, irregular rainfall, recurrent logging and range utilization, etc.

- Regeneration: Particular attention must be paid to the reproduction processes (by sprouts, root suckers, layering) of the different species in terms of their auto-ecology, evolution of their seed stocks, phenology and behaviour (rooting types, etc.). Physiology studies provide a good understanding of the functioning of plant ecosystems. They must be given priority development to be able to undertake natural ecosystems’ modelling for the protection and the improvement of the latter.

These three components of dynamics are intimately linked to the whole issue of biological diversity. It is thanks to the efforts that will be made to understand the functioning of ecosystems that the co-called ‘biodiversity’ domain will be able to be properly tackled.

Lastly, the complexity of these thematic research issues should not conceal the fact that the main technical hurdle is pragmatic and logistical in character. The experimental work has to be carried out in space and in time at the research levels which make it possible to make complementary aspects coincide, and to produce protocols and models which are neither too finely tuned nor too vague, but tailored to meet the needs of sustainable management.

b) Managing the ecosystem

To directly deal with the issues in this area, the above-mentioned knowledge on the functioning of ecosystems and of their capacities to respond to disturbances must be exploited in order to propose logging, silvicultural and silvo-pastoralism rules which will conserve, improve and optimize the potential of the stand being managed.

The research to be pursued or promoted may be classified under two headings: environmental knowledge and management, respectively.

Knowledge of the site (area) to be managed: its extent, nature, and extension require traditional skills in botany, inventory and stratification which are well-known but little or badly used.

Systematics (for plants and animals) is almost extinct because of the lack of practitioners both in the rural world and in the scientific world, and yet it is indispensable if biodiversity is to be properly monitored, or ecosystems characterized.

Dendrometry is still poorly comprehended because of a lack of internationally recognized experimental designs and the exchange of technical information between countries. This applies to such elementary methods as those related to wood, grass and animal resource evaluation. The effort must therefore be made to maintain and disseminate traditional skills in the field of systematics and in dendrometry but also in forestry biometrics. But this knowledge of the milieu requires new skills such as remote sensing and GIS. Remote sensing in the broad sense of the term (from aerial photography to radar images, including satellite imagery) is an ideal tool, which is always being improved and renewed for evaluating forest lands. In the same way GIS are remarkable instruments to be used to analyse and manage ecosystems. Countries in dry zones can in no way be deprived of these technical innovations.

Knowledge of the environment is fundamental but sometimes neglected. It comprises three main approaches: socio-economic; policy; and commodities.

For the first two approaches, it is important to establish a hierarchy among human, economic and political factors that are susceptible of influencing the drafting of a sustainable management scheme.

For example, within the framework of decentralization, the ‘new’ fiscal measures to be applied both as forest management and as development tools should be tested in a real life situation. In the same way the behavioural and economic consequences of commodities, particularly fuelwood, on both the rural and the urban markets should be examined (including the notion of the labour market). At the same time, on a case-by-case basis, the real negotiation forums should be identified, together with their terms of reference/powers and legitimacy.

The ways of appropriating wood and non-wood resources which vary widely from one region to another must necessarily be studied and taken into account, because these are very often the cause of the ineffectiveness of field work (for example, better knowledge of the needs and objectives of the pastoralists and the agro-herdsmen).

The second approach also relates to both, the commodities sold directly (fodder, pastoral commodities, energy or hunting-related commodities) and potential production inputs (litter, soil maintenance, carbon storage, genetic diversity, etc.).

This involves a twin task:

* firstly, to better understand the forest products and improve their quality, extraction and harvesting;

* secondly, to evaluate the economic, social and cultural value of the forest, and the external related benefits.

Lastly, managing the ecosystem, in the proper sense of the term, is based on the research mentioned earlier and constitutes the practical outcome of all research endeavours translated into field demonstrations which will generate new know-how.

Each project, programme or activity designed for forest resource management must be able not only to test specific designs or methodologies but also to generate new information. This is the idea of ‘research-action’ which forms part of the experimental framework and its application to the real environment. One such example could be the implementation of silvicultural practices (such as felling and systematic extraction of some categories of wood) whose usefulness has been demonstrated in terms of increment (growth) dynamics in a controlled environment and at specific dates. However, on a large space-time scale these silvicultural practices may show conflicting outcomes such as harmful effects on biodiversity and beyond suspicion, ecologically beneficial effects on soil cover and protection.

This research-action approach must be privileged in every development programme and project because not only does it directly meet the expectations of all the different economic or social parties involved, but above all it is a major source of operational knowledge and improvement.

The most relevant areas here are: silviculture for the design and perfection of pruning, thinning out, sprouting techniques and extraction methods as well as management of stands (simple coppice and coppice selection systems); silvo-pastoralism for the management and shaping (surgery) of fodder trees, maintaining and managing water points etc.; management for setting up compartment layouts, defining rotations, establishing optimum timetables for action, and rules of access to pastoral resources and to non-wood products.

Furthermore, there are two other areas to be borne in mind: revegetation of degraded soils, and conservation/improvement of fertility, which require agro-forestry and planting techniques (which are not examined here in great detail) on the one hand, and on the other hand monitoring the evolution of the environment and its effects in terms of ecology, which is now only in its very early stages, because of an inadequate number of field actions.

4. A few recommendations

The purpose of this final paragraph is not to provide an accurate evaluation of the dry forest management research capacities. It would be not only difficult but pointless. Conversely, what can be stated is that international aid still falls short of what would be required in view of the challenges and this inadequacy is amplified by the weakness in vocational training. Most of the countries in dry tropical zones depend on the training institutions in developed countries, whereas the latter are not always able to take account of the specific features of the tropical environment.

Furthermore, the number of trained scientists who could or would like to become involved in research, and even in the application of research to forest management, is still too low.

Documentation and information are essential. The weak potential of forestry research requires great efforts to be made in order to enable everyone to acquire quickly the knowledge they need. Technically speaking, this could involve promoting publications, databases, information networks, etc.

Who should do it and how? The research institutions in countries in dry tropical zones, being dependent upon national funding, find it difficult to draw on external aid which is made conditional upon their capacity to define regional-scale development objectives, namely objectives on an interstate scale. The tropical research institutions in the developing countries also find it difficult to mobilize the financial resources they need to sustain the long-term programmes they nearly always conduct in co-operation with national institutions. However, they do know the partner countries very well, and have sound know-how regarding development and vocational training.

Furthermore, the International Centres such as CIFOR which was only established in 1992, and the Regional Centres of which the most representative is CATIE have a wide-ranging mandate to lead and undertake research and training, which they find difficult to take upon themselves precisely because of their meagre resources and their dependency on the research institutions mentioned earlier.

Lastly, amongst the organizations (partnerships, programmes, associations) which play a more or less direct part in research and development in the dry tropical zones, there is, for example, UNESCO’s MAB programme, UNEP, IUCN, WWF, etc., but it is above all within the existing information networks of the IUFRO and FAO that the scientific community must seek references and the common denominator for implementing concerted research activities. One reason for this is that effectiveness demands international co-operation focusing around exchanging information, sharing training facilities and exploiting the results by associating teaching, research and development.

It would therefore appear appropriate to organize, or reorganize, dry tropical zone research around three points:

- Pooling facilities in order to enhance the structures whose capacities are recognized, by restricting the scope of their objectives in order to ensure complementarity between different institutions. This may hurt the sensitivity of particular institutions or even countries, but it does provide the possibility to focus resources and skills within one single network (supported by the developed countries) composed of efficient links in each country or region.

- Programming research within such a network would avoid scattering financing and funding. Coherently setting priority objectives and intermediate stages, or stages already completed, would ensure credibility for the purposes of attracting international aid.

- Technology transfer by setting up training facilities linked to this dry tropical zone forestry research network would undoubtedly be one of the most important investments. Merely increasing training credits is more illusory than useful. What is needed above all is to link research to teaching skills in order to set up training programmes (from technician stage to doctorate level) that respond to the real needs and to the field conditions. This is to be carried out within the framework of universities, which share their testing facilities with this dry tropical zone forestry research network.

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