Changing the landscape of international forest policy

14 May 2003, Panama City, Panama

The International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) has been a successful experiment in international negotiations and has much more to contribute towards the sustainable management of tropical forests, according to a new book by Professor Duncan Poore to be launched here today.

Changing Landscapes, which is published by Earthscan, reviews the evolution of policies for the sustainable use of tropical forests through a history of ITTO. It provides an introduction to the ecological, historical and socioeconomic trends that have influenced contemporary forest management and explores the complex political forces that have shaped the trade in tropical timber and its regulation.

The book also traces the origins of the International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA) and shows how it gave rise to a unique intergovernmental organization, perhaps the first of its kind to promote both the development of a natural resource and its conservation. The book gives a candid analysis of the Organization's performance in both its formulation of policy and its efforts to implement such policies in the forest.

For example, Poore finds that "no doubt [ITTO] could have been more effective; it has missed some important opportunities". But he concludes that the Organization "has been influential in altering and refining the nature of the forest debate out of all proportion to its size and budget. It has also been able, within limits, to transform policy into practice. It has been a good international investment."

However, the future of many tropical forests remains uncertain, says Poore. One of the main reasons is that the sustainable management of natural tropical forests is often not competitive as a land use; therefore, the forests are often cleared for more profitable uses.

Poore therefore proposes a model called 'adaptive management', in which the forests are managed as accumulating capital assets that can be tapped when there is a need to raise capital or where there is a special market opportunity.

"A prerequisite will be secure tenure, which might be by governments, companies, private individuals or local communities," he says.

Professor Poore urges forest negotiators to heed the lessons learned from the ITTO experience, particularly since negotiations are about to commence on a successor agreement to the ITTA.

"Intergovernmental bodies ... are often criticized for being bureaucratic, expensive and ineffective, yet the rapid trend towards globalization means that they will play an increasing, and important, role in shaping the world's future. New models for the way such bodies should work are, I believe, desperately needed. ITTO was first devised to address a specific concern but it has evolved into something much broader; in the process, negotiators have created something new, and the lessons to be drawn from it are many."

Professor Poore served as scientific director and later as chief executive of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), and also as director of the Commonwealth Forestry Institute at Oxford and as Professor of Botany at the University of Malaya.

Changing Landscapes: the Development of the International Tropical Timber Organization and its Influence on Tropical Forest Management is published by Earthscan Publications Ltd. It can ordered from: Earthscan, 120 Pentonville Road, London, N1 9JN, UK; Fax 44 (0)20 7278 1142;;