Friday, April 25, 2008

What can Africa learn from Brazil’s resource management techniques?

File this under: Peripheral issues of rising food costs. In Brazil, where we’ve long heard tales of falling Amazon trees to make room for lumbering, gassy cows, but now environmental groups are teaming up with farmers and rancher types to create certification systems for eco-sponsible soy and beef production. The argument: If farmers can make money becoming eco-friendly, they’ll have more incentive to be eco-friendly.

There’s a long-standing debate within environmental groups on how much voice to give business interests. In this story, however, the argument goes that giving ranchers a seat at the table will insure that environmental laws could be better followed.

The same goes for logging companies. One of the issues facing Brazil is that many of its forests are privately owned, making environmental laws difficult to enforce. Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva offered land concessions to timber companies promising to practice proper forest management on the country’s still substantial public forests. It’s an important – and forward thinking – step because world timber demand is projected to remain high, making the depth and breadth of the Amazon basin looking increasingly attractive for timber concerns everywhere. Setting the foundation for proper forest management could make things easier in the long run.

Similar issues are affecting Benin. (See, I told you.) The World Rainforest Movement – viewpoint: “Community-Based Forest Management is not Only Possible it is Essential” – argues the country’s growing population has driven up demand for arable land. One village sitting within the lgbodja region has made available 5,000 hectares to initiate forest management. That, along with hedgehog breeding and bee keeping, may provide alternative economic activities that will keep villagers from cutting down more trees to plant crops. The plan is to move to other villages in the area. Another worry is that non-local farmers have been encroaching on the forest land, cutting trees to plant. As tenants, these roving farmers cannot plant trees. Conflict could be alleviated if the tenants are also given a stake in matters.

In Cameroon, we can see the counter-factual. (What happens when nothing is done?) Rapid forest degradation can be blamed on industrial logging without any national or local oversight. Environmental groups blame the government which looks the other way as industrial logging companies use a free hand over the land. The end result: Cameroon is Africa’s leading timber exporter with little affect seen in the country’s GDP.

Not so fast, says a World Bank report. Slash-and-burn agriculture and fuel wood demand could be responsible for up to 90 percent of the country’s deforestation. But really, the report goes on to say, they are secondary effects of tropical timber harvesting. The issue is that timber industry activities are closely linked to happenings in the agriculture sector – which must deal with growing population and low productivity – and the political economy: namely, a lack of commitment to reform from the government, especially the executive branch; opposition to reform from key actors – foreign logging companies and Parliament – and, taking these issues into account, failure by actors to devise a compatible forest strategy outside of “give it all away for whiskey and prostitutes.” (I made that last part up.)

No comments: