Forestry companies and farmers usually treat tropical forests pretty bad. It’s not hard to see why. Destructive practices are often more profitable, at least in the short-run. The agencies that regulate forests tend to be bureaucratic, under-funded, and corrupt. People lack skills and information and find it hard to focus on the future.
Still, despite all this, some people manage forests well. They plant and nurture trees, harvest carefully, and encourage certain species to regenerate and grow. Understanding why may help to find ways to get others to follow.
’Constraints and Opportunities for Better Silvicultural Practice in Tropical Forestry: An Inter-Disciplinary Approach’, a Forest Ecology and Management article by Bradley Walters, Cesar Sabogal, Laura Snook, and Evaraldo de Almeida, looks at cases from Philippines, Brazil, and Mexico to get a sense of that.
Filipino farmers in Bais Bay and Banacon Island started planting mangrove trees to get wood to build houses and fishing traps because their other sources ran out. Later, they realized the trees would protect their homes and fish ponds and found new markets. Land got scarce and planting trees was a good way to claim it. At first just a few dynamic farmers planted trees, but it was attractive and easy to imitate, so others joined them.
Companies in the Brazilian Amazon plant trees to make sure their factories have raw materials and because the law says they have to. Small farmers want something to leave to their children and to make their tenure more secure. Both prefer mahogany and parica because they have high prices, grow fast and are easy to manage and get seeds.
Quintana Roo’s community enterprises in Mexico have tried to manage their forests since 1986, when they got the right to harvest them. Government agencies, donors, and a few dedicated local foresters have helped. The communities rely heavily on mahogany, and must find ways to produce it sustainably before it runs out. Most seedlings they planted in skid trails and felling gaps died. Thanks to research and training, they now plant more in areas with larger clearings, where mahogany does better.
These cases show once again that success requires secure tenure, favorable markets, clear and consistent rules, limited access to un-managed resources, simple observable practices, good technical support, and well-informed, dedicated, people. So that’s what we must keep working on.
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The full reference of the article is: Walters, BB, C Sabogal, LK Snook, and E Almeida. 2005. “Constraints and Opportunities for Better Silvicultural Practice in Tropical Forestry: An Inter-disciplinary Approach”, Forest Ecology and Management, Vol. 209 (1-2) April: 3-18.