Forestry policies, institutions and programmes

Costa Rica

Costa Rica promulgated its new Forest Law in 1996, thus laying the foundations for the present forestry policy and introducing a new concept: instead of providing incentives for massive reforestation and forest production, forest conservation is promoted and payment is made for the environmental services provided by forests, while new public bodies are created that give the private sector a considerable role in proposing and implementing policies. The new law redefined responsibility for the forestry sector, assigning it to the State Forest Administration and setting up three institutions to work with the latter: the National System of Conservation Areas, the National Forest Office and the National Forest Financing Fund. A Forest Conservation Certificate mechanism was also set up, and such certificates are intended to compensate owners for the environmental services generated by their forests if they are conserved or sustainably managed.

In the new perspective of the 1996 Forest Law and the 1997 regulations, Costa Rica¿s forestry policy encompasses such fundamental concepts as the following:

  • Forest issues are addressed within a comprehensive, country-wide view, combining conservation with the promotion of productive forestry activities and facilitating the participation of the government and the private sector in such management. Chapters II, III and IV define the roles of the institutions responsible for implementing forestry policy.
  • No change of use is permitted for forest land, nor may forest plantations, whether public or private, be established there, with a few limited exceptions.
  • Forest harvesting may not be carried out without a management plan, which must have prior approval from the forestry authorities.
  • Forest conservation is encouraged through the creation of the Forest Conservation Certificate system and the National Forest Financing Fund, which establishes rules and procedures for the release, application and control of such certificates.
More recently, in 1999 and 2000, a process of consultation with various sectors was carried out, with a view to adopting an updated national forestry policy. This process was supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Global Forest Project, and representatives of various government bodies and civil society took part. The policy was officially approved by the Ministry of the Environment and Energy in mid-2000.

The new policy document comprises two parts ¿ forestry policies and the national forestry development programme ¿ and is based on the present situation of the country¿s forestry sector and on consideration of the main elements in international dialogue on forests, with a view to incorporating pertinent lines of action. The present process addresses the need to analyse the forestry situation holistically. Forest management cannot be seen simply in terms of harvesting resources, but must encompass a broader dimension. Moreover, the sector contributes no more than 5 percent to the gross domestic product, despite the fact that forest land represents 60 percent of the country¿s total land area. The institutions have been incapable of clearly defining the long-term role that the forestry sector should play and allowing the secure, responsible participation of the private sector. Progress has been made in defining 26 percent of the country as protected areas, and also in the present legislation. However, these advances do not constitute a sufficient guarantee that resources and activities will be properly managed within a long-term framework of trust.

Costa Rica plays an active role in international forestry dialogue, as was shown by the commitments made at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

The country was recently one of the candidates to host the Secretariat of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF).

It has also been one of the leading countries in initiatives resulting from international conventions, for example those regarding payment for the environmental services of forests and the mitigation of climate change. As a result, it has a number of forestry projects financed by various donors, including the following:
  • The Global Forest Programme: since September 1998 this programme (PROFOR ¿ GLO/95/104/11/31) has been providing support to Costa Rica for sustainable forest management and the formation of links and alliances between the public and private sectors, and has given financial assistance to three institutions for this purpose (the National System of Conservation Areas, the National Forest Financing Fund and the National Forest Office).
  • The Establishment of a Programme for the Consolidation of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor Project: this project has been receiving support from the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) since 1999 and from UNDP and the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) since 2000.
  • The Community Bank Project within the Regional Forestry Programme for Central America (PROCAFOR): Regional Component II, starting in 1999, concerning Forest Business Management and Marketing (Finland).
  • The country is working with UNDP, within the framework of UNDP¿Capacity 21, to carry out institution building in the forestry sector.
  • The Forest Development Fund is another instrument created by the Debt-for-Nature Swap Mechanism, with support from the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland.
  • Negotiation of carbon certificates: under this mechanism, 200 tonnes of non-emitted carbon were bartered to the Norwegian Government and private sector, the proceeds being used by the National Forest Financing Fund to pay for environmental services.
  • In 2001 the Ministry of the Environment finalized the National Forest Development Plan.
Under Environment Law 7554 of 1995 and Forest Law 7575 of 1996, the Ministry of the Environment and Energy is the institution in overall charge of Costa Rica¿s forestry sector. These laws define not only the structure and role of the ministry, but also the roles of its various departments and other bodies that assist in its management task.

Within the Ministry of the Environment and Energy, the National System of Conservation Areas is in charge of implementing the terms of the Forest Law. This law defines the institutional set-up, stating in Article 3 that the Ministry of the Environment and Energy, as the State Forest Administration, shall carry out its functions through the National System of Conservation Areas, pursuing policies and priorities that are established by the ministry through the Technical Support Unit and fully implemented in the field by the respective conservation areas.

The National Forest Office created by the Forest Law is a non-State public body with its own juridical status. Its tasks include proposing policies and strategies to the ministry for the proper performance of forestry activities, carrying out extension campaigns, and advising Regional Environment Councils and coordinating their activities. The Governing Board of the National Forest Office has nine members, representing the country¿s forest producers¿, traders¿ and manufacturers¿ associations and ecologists¿ groups. The State pays for the running of the National Forest Office, allocating for this purpose 10 percent of sums collected from forest taxes and 40 percent of sums received by the State Forest Administration through confiscation of forest products following violations of regulations. The General Comptroller¿s Office of the Republic exercises control over public funds.

The National Forest Financing Fund is an institution attached to the National System of Conservation Areas of the Ministry of the Environment and Energy, and has its own instrumental juridical personality, unless the aid agency or donor lays down other conditions for beneficiaries. The fund is responsible for channelling financial resources to small- and medium-scale producers through special financial mechanisms for the promotion of forest management and reforestation. Its Governing Board has five members, two from the private sector, nominated by the National Forest Office (one representing small- or medium-scale producers and the other large-scale producers), one representative of the Ministry of the Environment and Energy, one representative of the Ministry of Agriculture and one representative of the National Banking System. The fund is authorized to carry out any non-speculative legal transactions required for the sound administration of its resources, including the constitution of trusteeships.

Apart from the Ministry of the Environment and Energy, there are three other ministries with direct authority in the sector:
  • the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Policy, responsible for promoting the national development planning process;
  • the Ministry of Agriculture, responsible for formulating and implementing policy concerning agricultural and livestock development, which also supports forest genetic improvement through the National Seed Office;
  • the Ministry of Finance, responsible for channelling financial resources to pay for tax incentives for the sector.
There are a number of autonomous and semi-autonomous institutions with specific functions linked to the forestry sector, including the following:
  • the Costa Rican Electricity Institute, which uses water resources to generate hydroelectric energy and is responsible for the good condition of catchment areas;
  • the Public Services Regulatory Authority, the State agency responsible for regulating electricity and hydrocarbon tariffs, which also grants concessions for private hydroelectric generation;
  • the National Energy and Light Company, which carries out rehabilitation activities in catchment areas and along river banks;
  • the Agrarian Development Institute, which is responsible for administering and designating national reserve lands for settlement and harvesting by small farmers; it is also responsible for ensuring observance of the principle of the social function of property, through the promotion and exercise of appropriate legal measures;
  • the Institute of Aqueducts and Drains, which is responsible for managing and controlling all activities connected with drinking water supplies, the disposal and analysis of sewage and industrial waste, and rainwater in urban areas; it also promotes catchment area conservation and environmental protection;
  • the Port and Economic Development of the Atlantic Slope Authority, which plays a dominant role in conservation of the region¿s natural resources, particularly with regard to maintenance and conservation of the Tortuguero canals;
  • the Costa Rican Tourism Institute, with a mandate that includes planning national tourist development; it is closely concerned with ecotourism and tourist promotion policies in protected and coastal areas, and also has the right of veto over decisions on the use of the 200-metre coastal strip, sharing administrative responsibility for this strip with the relative municipal authorities.
Non-governmental organizations have played a major role in forest resources management in Costa Rica.

Last updated: July 2001

last updated:  Friday, February 19, 2010