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Peru’s smallholder farmers need state recognition for timber production, study says

Fallow forestry can generate public revenue, rural incomes and climate benefits
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Tablillas drying on site, Contamana, Loreto, Peru. © Robin R. Sears

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Smallholders who produce fallow timber on their farms in the Peruvian Amazon would benefit from a regulatory mechanism to help transform the informal sector’s supply chain into one based on equity and sustainability, according to a recent study.

Peruvian authorities should recognize the property rights of smallholder farmers and offer those who produce timber a simple registration process to give them access to this market while preventing environmental degradation from illicit tree felling and wood burning, the authors wrote. Local governments and civil organizations could also provide administrative and technical assistance to farmers so they can produce high-quality timber.

The study, which was conducted by the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), focused on non-Indigenous smallholders with farms ranging from 5 hectares to 50 hectares in the lowland rainforest region of the central Peruvian Amazon. It also incorporated data on the fallow timber supply chain through interviews with mobile mill owners, wholesalers, administrative intermediaries, brokers and forest authorities.

Fallow forestry, which enables farmers to naturally regenerate timber species on arable land, is a byproduct of shifting cultivation between forests and fields. This helps land users to maintain soil fertility, control pests and weeds, and provide wildlife habitats and forest products. The small-dimension lumber – known in Peru as tablillas – is produced from the fast-growing trees in fallow forests and is sold for income.

Smallholder farmers who produce tablillas wouldn’t be the only beneficiaries of formalization, according to Robin Sears, a CIFOR-ICRAF associate who led the study.

“Sawyers and mobile millers would also gain security in transporting the processed wood from farm to market because having proper paperwork would alleviate bribes and other risky transactions,” she says. “And the buyers in the ports would benefit as they would not have to pay to arrange paperwork for undocumented lumber, or to pay bribes to the port authorities.”

   Fallow in its first year, Contamana, Loreto, Peru. © Robin R. Sears

The authors found that the state’s promotion of smallholder forestry would help meet national timber-production targets, boost farmers’ incomes and increase government revenue. It would also contribute to Peru’s climate mitigation goals by commercializing – instead of burning – woody biomass on farms.

Peru’s nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement on climate change aim for an unconditional 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide equivalents below “business as usual” by 2030. They specifically include forestry as an adaptation sector, along with an economy-wide mitigation pledge.

Formalizing fallow forestry could help Peru meet its NDCs in three ways, according to Sears.

First, rather than burning felled trees in the shifting agriculture process, farmers would more easily contribute that woody biomass to the timber supply chain, thus avoiding greenhouse gas emissions. Second, a more secure supply chain could motivate farmers to dedicate more of their land to timber production rather than annual crops, thereby increasing forest cover on their landholding, resulting in more carbon sequestration. Third, with a secure supply chain, farmers might earn more income from farm-based timber production and be less likely to participate in logging in mature rainforest, thus reducing emissions related to forest degradation.

While regulations for Peru’s Forest and Wildlife Law were enacted in 2015, they generally exclude small-scale practitioners and fallow forestry from any of the array of legal mechanisms it establishes, including its innovative National Forest Plantation Registry. The informal – but highly efficient – supply chain that emerged from the lack of regulatory oversight could serve as the basis for an adaptive approach that enables fallow timber producers and traders to participate in the sector in a more equitable and sustainable way, the study found.

“The policy dimension is not the only bottleneck when it comes to inclusion of fallow forestry in the registry,” Sears says. “In villages where the plantation registry was piloted, we found that third-party actors were trafficking timber through the registry process. Therefore, good policy must be accompanied by a balanced approach that informs producers of their rights, supports the registry process and monitors behavior.”

   Milling tablillas in Contamana, Loreto, Peru. © Robin R. Sears
   Tablillas quinilla in Contamana, Loreto, Peru. © Robin R. Sears

Deregulation of the supply chain would free up state forestry officials to focus their attention on improving sustainability in the trade of high-value timber species in Amazonia that are of greatest concern, according to the study. However, most importantly, tens of thousands of smallholder farmers in the Peruvian Amazon who produce timber would benefit from state recognition and support for fallow forestry.

“Rather than focusing on the regulation of these smallholder systems, the state should see them as ‘low-hanging fruit’ that would be easy to adopt for achieving goals related to poverty alleviation and sustainable forest production,” says Peter Cronkleton, a senior scientist at CIFOR and a co-author of the study.

Formalization is practically impossible under the current regulatory framework because the state fails to recognize and appreciate the fallow forestry systems. This is evident by the stoppage of timber flow when the state intervenes in the trade, and engagement in the informal supply chain becomes riskier for all actors, the authors wrote.

   In situ milling of fallow timber with a portable mill, Contamana, Loreto, Peru. © Robin R. Sears

However, if producers were authorized to harvest and sell timber, it could provide leverage for the farmer to negotiate a more favorable arrangement for the timber sale. Meanwhile, optimized production would improve the sustainability and quality of the timber, boosting business for millers and wholesalers further down the supply chain, according to the study.

“The strength of smallholder systems is that they are adapted to local conditions and the capacities of the producers involved,” Cronkleton says. “As a result, farm forestry should be promoted as a sustainable option for rural development in the Peruvian Amazon.”

The study was funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, and received additional support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

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For more information on this topic, please contact Peter Cronkleton at p.cronkleton@cgiar.org.
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