ITTO showcases tropical forest success stories

27 August 2002, Johannesburg, South Africa

ITTO projects are making a difference in the way tropical forests are being managed, according to speakers at an ITTO side-event held here during the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

The event, which was moderated by ITTO's Executive Director, Dr Manoel Sobral Filho, was attended by about a hundred people. It featured presentations by Dr José Carlos Carvalho, Brazil's Minister of Environment, Ambassador Beat Nobs, Head of the International Affairs Division in the Swiss Agency for the Environment, Forests and Landscape, Mr Keiji Ide, Japan's Director of Developing Economies in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and ITTO project managers from the Philippines, Brazil and Congo.

Rex Cruz of the University of the Philippines described a project to implement the ITTO guidelines for the conservation of biological diversity in a logging concession in the Philippine province of Surigao del Sur. This involved conducting an integrated resource inventory in the concession area, land-use planning to identify areas in the concession where logging should be excluded, and the development of a co-management regime with local communities to ensure they benefited from forest management. According to Dr Cruz, these measures slightly reduced the earnings accruing to the concessionaire but had a significant positive effect on the maintenance of forest values, including biodiversity conservation and soil and water protection. They also increased employment in the local communities and improved a range of local services.

Zenobio da Gama e Silva from the Technological Foundation (FUNTAC) described a similar project in the Brazilian State of Acre to bring sustainable forest management to the Antimari State Forest. According to Dr Silva, a management plan had been developed with the full participation of local communities to ensure that the forest was managed sustainably and that the people living in the area benefited. An auction had been held to sell the timber and harvesting was about to commence.

Paul Elkan of the Wildlife Conservation Society outlined a third ITTO project attempting to conserve biological diversity in a logging concession, this time in the Republic of Congo in Central Africa. One of the main threats to wildlife in this area, poaching, is being addressed in the project by the establishment of local 'ecoguards' and the development of community-scale farming techniques for the production of alternative sources of protein. In addition, the logging concessionaire, CIB, is training its workforce in reduced impact logging techniques and enforcing hunting restrictions on its staff.

According to Dr Sobral, these projects were excellent examples of what could be achieved in tropical forests with sufficient support at the local, national and international levels. He said that these projects had been able to moderate concessionaire and community behaviour in the harvesting of forests in three different tropical regions, reducing damage to the forest and improving living conditions for the local people. However, he pointed out that the pre-eminent threat to many tropical forests was clearance for alternative land uses such as agriculture; the long time period between timber harvests and the generally low value of tropical timber meant that timber alone could not fund sustainable management in many tropical forests. Both local people and government often perceived agricultural production to be a more profitable land use.

"To counteract the financial incentive for forest clearance, the global community needs to supplement timber production with payments for the services provided by tropical forests, such as water production, carbon storage and biodiversity conservation," he said.

This view was echoed by Dr Carvalho, who outlined some of the initiatives being undertaken by the Brazilian government and many civil-society and private-sector partners. He praised ITTO and its partners for putting its words into action through its project program. But, he said, much more such action was needed.

"The tropical forests of Brazil and many other countries perform services that are valuable to the global community, but they are not being remunerated. In the absence of payments for these services, the only apparent way for countries to receive remuneration for their forests is through predatory use," he said.