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Chapter Four: Future Perspectives - The alternative policy studies

Latin America and the Caribbean

Natural forests cover 47 per cent of the land area of Latin America, and the Amazon basin accounts for one-third of the world's tropical forest area. These forests are an important source of products, fuelwood and employment for local people, a major source of foreign exchange for governments, serve important functions in protecting watersheds and freshwater resources, act as a storehouse for carbon and support a significant portion of the world's biodiversity (Daily 1997). As reported in Chapter 2, Latin America is still losing around 58 million hectares of natural forest per year, although the rate of deforestation in, for instance, the Amazon has slowed considerably since the mid-1990s.

A recent study by CIAT/PNUMA (1998) shows that 84 per cent of deforestation in Latin America is due to expansion of the agricultural sector, 12.5 per cent is due to logging and 3.5 per cent is due to the construction of infrastructure. In addition, demographic pressure, unemployment and inequitable land distribution are important drivers for the further degradation of forests. An increased and unsustainable intensification of land use is projected. At the same time, there is a gross imbalance between destruction and reforestation, with only 1 hectare planted for every 25 hectares destroyed. The combination of these trends leads to the prospect of increased soil degradation, more frequent flooding and the degradation of freshwater resources.

Forestry policies in the region have been focused largely on the tropical rain forests, concentrating on protection and sectoral perspectives, and have not been well integrated with economic and social strategies. Lack of finance, technology, personnel and training have all hindered environmental management; furthermore, in some countries, large and complex legal frameworks are coupled with unclear definitions of the responsibilities of the environmental institutions involved. Clearly, forestry policy in the region has not, overall, been effective. One important reason is that policies have failed to take account of the diverse functions of the forest and the differing needs of forest users and inhabitants.

Comprehensive forest policy frameworks at national level are fundamental to sustainable forest management in Latin America. National forest programmes demand a broad inter-sectoral approach at all stages (formulation, implementation and monitoring). Moreover, they should be tailored to each country's social, economic, cultural, political and environmental situation. Appropriate policies could include direct control of government-owned forests and indirect control using fiscal incentives in the form of taxation, subsidies and forest credits; other incentives such as the granting of private property rights; market reforms; the introduction of community forestry schemes; and improvements in extension, research and education.

The alternative policy study carried out for GEO-2000 (UNEP 1999d) indicates that these policy tools could be used to stimulate programmes in ten different areas:

Packages of these policies adapted to national conditions could achieve a number of goals simultaneously. These include:

A broad range of alternative policy tools could be used, and individual countries could select from this mix a policy package suited to their own social, cultural and economic conditions, thus making for better integrated forest policies.


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