‘Conservation matters, but we cannot ignore people’s needs’

Cara Rockwell explains the importance of understanding how families in the Amazon use the forest.
Cara Rockwell in the Peruvian Amazon. CIFOR.

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Why is it important to see if timber can be harvested in Brazil nut areas? Why don’t we just leave the trees there for conservation reasons?

While as biologists we all recognize the importance of safeguarding large tracts of old growth tropical rainforest, the reality is that we cannot ignore the needs of people living in or around these forests.

Forest products and other environmental services are essential to the well-being of thousands of families in the region.

As such, we must strive to balance economic and environmental goals. We do not recommend that concessionaires cease harvesting timber, but we do recommend ways in which they may protect their Brazil nut resource, based on results from our study.

Did you find much support – or indeed resistance – to the idea of harvesting timber in these areas?

All of the concessionaires with whom we were working are of course in support of harvesting timber, as they all do it.

But they do have concerns, particularly with regard to forest regeneration and nut crop yield. We can’t forget that of all the various actors involved in this particular topic, the concessionaires are the ones with the most to lose if this integrated management system does not work.

They have an invested interest in protecting both the timber and the non-timber forest product resource bases.

Could you interpret this as a conservation measure (introduced restricted logging to prevent major deforestation)?

Well, of course, the Brazil nut concession example in Madre de Dios is a special one, as the concessions are controlled by the regional government, and are not outright owned by the concessionaires.

As such, concessionaires cannot engage in full-scale deforestation within the concessions. But in general, yes, I would say the more economically valuable a forest is to the smallholder, the greater chance is that he/she will conserve it. Brazil nut and timber tend to demonstrate complementary harvest patterns in the region: Brazil nut is removed from the forest during the rainy season from December to March, and timber is generally harvested during the dry season which is April to November.

So, it makes sense that Brazil nut concessionaires are turning more and more to timber sales, as Brazil nut is collected and sold during just a few months out of the year.

You talk about what seems like a small number of trees (one or two trees per hectare). What happens when you go higher than that?

Results from our study indicate that nut production levels of Brazil nut do not decrease when harvested in areas where only one or two timber trees are being removed. But we did find one case where intensity levels were slightly higher – three to four trees per hectare, and nut production did decrease in comparison to zones of lower harvest intensity.

Keep in mind that we found this situation in only one concession; the tendency in these concessions is to harvest around one tree per hectare.

It makes sense that Brazil nut concessionaires are turning more and more to timber sales, as Brazil nut is collected and sold during just a few months out of the year.

Cara Rockwell

But we think it is an important subject to address, because the demand for timber is increasing the region, and concessionaires may be inclined to increase their investment in logging activities.

What was the most surprising thing in your research?

I’m not sure it was necessarily surprising, but it was certainly inspiring to confirm that concessionaires have successfully been avoiding Brazil nut groves during timber harvests.

During the course of our study, our field team conducted interviews with the concessionaires, and all stated that they were staying far away from Brazil nut groves or adult Brazil nut individuals.

And when we analyzed the data, we confirmed that in most instances, the logging crews have been cutting commercial stems at least 50 meters from Brazil nut trees.

Now, it is always possible that there are fewer timber trees located in the Brazil nut groves – and so, less interesting for logging crews – but we don’t have the data to confirm that potential scenario.

But I strongly believe that the concessionaires with whom we were working are very concerned about potential damage to the Brazil nut population, and are thus making concerted efforts to protect the resource base.

This research was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). CIFOR’s research on forests, climate change and sustainability forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry

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