Brazil today loses less than 6,000 square kilometers of forests — down from 20,000 a decade back, the Economist reports. It spearheads the Amazon Region Protected Areas which is 20 times Belgium’s size. This is the “transition curve, a turning point in seemingly irreversible deforestation.
The Philippines is somewhere near the bottom, along with Mexico, in the Economist chart states. Some argue that we’re even on the upswing, along with India That’d indicate we, too, have began the transition curve.
What are implications for the Philippines — and the region we asked Food and Agriculture Organization’s Patrick Durst based in Bangkok. Married to a Filipina, Durst worked in Asia and the Pacific for four decades. Excerpts of his response:
FAO assessments do indicate a net change in the world’s forested land”. That’s deforestation minus forest expansion. There are a number of buts.
Large replanting does not offset continued large losses of natural forests. These still are being razed at an unacceptable pace And plantation forests, due to structure and composition, can not replace natural forests.
Cutting trees is not deforestation per see, We need wood products for growing populations. Forests regrow, if managed properly. That remains a big “if”. Poor harvesting practices, for instance, , result in failure to ensure regeneration.
“To save the forest, you have to think outside the forest”, World Resources Institute’s Andrew Steer suggests. The are two big reasons for the recent slowdown in tropical deforestation.. One is the easing of population pressures. And the other is hefty improvements in farming from forested lands,
One rarely mentioned aspect is creating jobs. If rural folk had alternatives ways of earning a living, they’ll not clear forests on steep slopes just to earn a pittance. It is a difficult way to survive. Often, they run afoul of sheriffs for illegal encroachments.
In places like Bohol, the forest surge is partly due to Overseas Foreign Workers who send back remittances. This income relieves pressure on the land and forests.
Development workers often glamorize the “need to keep the farmers on the land” In reality, the best thing is to help marginalized farmers transition to jobs that don’t depend on clearing forests and barren soil cultivation. .
Filipino OFWs in Dubai, in and other places, are often sons and daughters of these same upland farmers. Their remittances have done more to help increase forest cover in some parts of the country than all direct efforts by Department of Environment and the National Greening Program to stop clearing trees and plant instead cassava and corn
In Brazil 44 percent of the Amazon is now national park, wildlife reserve or indigenous reserve, where farming is banned;. Much of that area was added recently making it the biggest food exporter of all tropical countries. India sparked the green revolution in India, A third of the forests are overseen by local governments.
Costa Rica is is often cited as having largely succeeded in increasing forest cover by blending incentives “and improving the economy in “ways that drew people off the land and out of the forests.”
Intensification of agriculture is not a foolproof guarantee, Durst cautions. It must link up with policies and enforcement to tamp down forest clearing. Protecting forests does not hinge on simply signing proclamations or executive orders. Such measures do not ensure forest protection A blend of both incentives and penalties are critical. Not just more jail terms.
Policies matter – and the political will to enforce them. Some countries, including the Philippines, have made trees worth even less. By banning or curbing commercial harvests, we make trees worthless in the eyes of managers or owners,
Protecting forests is not a matter of just simply declaring parks and protected areas. Not when people already cluster near forests and rely on them for daily bread, as in the Philippines. It makes more sense to use both carrots and stick. Combine restrictions with incentives and jobs..
Today, payments for forest-based carbon and water are still talk, not reality. And no one can anchor eco-tourism only on trees. You need other attractions. All motivation shifts to planting crops like corn, cassava to oil palm
The key is to provide assured tenure that people have confidence in, Durst argues. Will the tenure system in effect hold say 2, 5, 10 or 20 years down the road? Otherwise, they’ll exploit forests unsustainably.
People covered by community-based forest management agreements here were able to harvest trees after a year. But then restrictions were slapped on. This is hardly a recipe for stability. Under such conditions, it is natural for people to get while they can. They cut whenever opportuinty arises. There is no motivation to manage for the long term.
The problem calls for more than just writing a law. Equally important is the ability and freedom of people to challenge government decisions. Authoritarian regimes are generally dismal failures in protecting forests and other equally-vital natural resources.
The Marcos regime illustrates authoritarian governments operate on cronyism,and corruption, lack of check and balances plus stifling of media. These undercut good governance of forests. The track record documents forests are among the first and hardest to suffer as they are a ready reservoir for authoritarian regimes to exploit for their own benefit.
There is no question that forest management and protection have improved in the Philippines and elsewhere with increasing democratization.