Transition Curve?

by Juan L. Mercado

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.

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