The same story repeats itself the world over. Big logging companies move into an area, take out all the high value timber and move on. Boom turns to bust, and jobs vanish as quickly as they appeared – end of story. Or is it?
Not according to Miguel Pinedo-Vaquez and his four co-authors. Their paper, “Post Boom Logging in Amazonia”, shows how small-scale foresters have taken over from the big guys in the floodplains of Amapa in Brazil, and now do things the right way. Their story goes as follows:
In 1970, the area the authors looked at had seven large sawmills and four plywood mills. Their owners quickly exhausted the six high value timber species that interested them, and by the early 1980s they had shut down all of their mills. Most of the skilled laborers migrated to other areas.
Nevertheless, twelve of the mills’ former employees established their own small family-run sawmills. With no more high value timber to work with, these sawmills broadened out to a much wider range of timber species. Local and regional markets also emerged for poles and firewood. As a result, there are now markets for 36 different tree species.
Meanwhile, local small farmers were finding it harder to earn a living from agriculture, due to a disease affecting their banana crop and increasing competition from other regions. Some responded to the new market opportunities by managing their fallow areas, forests and home gardens to produce poles, firewood and timber. Now when the farmers clear new plots for
agriculture they first harvest the timber. Then after growing crops for a couple of years they leave the land fallow and use those fallow areas to produce wood. Opening the forest canopy to plant crops promotes the regeneration of timber species that cannot tolerate shade. Careful weeding and protection of young seedlings permits a high proportion to survive. The
farmers also plant valuable timber species in their home gardens or allow them to regenerate naturally. They use girdling techniques and other practices to hasten the growth of timber trees in the forest.
This new approach to forestry has proven both sustainable and profitable. Farmers now devote a lot of time and energy to nurturing their forests. Previously exhausted high value timber species have begun to make a comeback in farmers’ home gardens. The farmers earn money in the short-term from selling poles, firewood and timber from fast growing species, and the
slower-growing species serve as a form of savings. The incomes they earn far exceed the minimum wage. The way their activities complement each other lets them use their labor more efficiently and by selling such a diverse set of forest and agricultural products they reduce their risks.
There are still few examples of sustainable large-scale commercial logging in the Amazon. But, as Pinedo-Vasquez and his colleagues have shown, there are other ways of doing business.
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