Many public policies encourage and promote the destruction of rainforests for economic or other reasons. These policies (and the great amounts of money which they bring with them) are extremely powerful in comparison to efforts and measures to protect, restore or regenerate natural systems. Many changes are necessary with regard to government land policies in most tropical nations, such as:
a. Government commitment to land reform and redistribution: Much of the land in tropical countries is concentrated in the hands of the few, and must be redistributed to rectify the extreme imbalance in land ownership. Land ownership must not be a privilege simply for the wealthy. The government must provide secure land title for all, without the proviso that the land first be “developed” (that is, deforested).
b. Government commitment to change national agricultural and colonization policies, which offer land free or at low cost to any settlers who “improve” forest land by logging it and establishing farms and pastures: Agricultural subsidies encourage farmers to utilize marginal lands and to clear forests for cropland. Farmers are also encouraged to use pesticides and fertilizers and to irrigate with often scarce water resources. Governments should instead support intensive rather than extensive agriculture to maximize production on already converted land. These subsidies and policies have been discussed extensively in Part III.
c. Government commitment to eliminate or reorient agricultural development plans involving rainforest removal toward better utilization of already-converted land: The government should link agricultural fiscal incentives to soil, water, and timber conservation measures. Along with these efforts, the government should support research on agroforestry and intensive agricultural practices, so as to obtain maximum benefit from land already under agriculture.
d. Government commitment to reform in the granting process for timber concessions, and the elimination of other fiscal incentives to forest destruction: At the moment, governments in most tropical countries have tax and fiscal policies which favor the timber industry (and other activities which impinge on forests, such as agriculture) at the expense of forests and ecological protection. As one sound alternative, new fee systems could be based, not on the area of the logging concession, but on the volume of trees felled. The value of the species of timber taken should also be factored into the concession fees. Concessions should be given by competitive bidding (currently, many, if not most, concessions are given on the basis of political connections, payoffs to officials, and patronage), and the terms of logging concessions should be lengthened to encourage responsible timber extraction and to reduce the incentives to “cut and run.” The issuing of timber concessions could additionally be linked to requirements for reforestation after the extraction of valuable timber species.
e. Government commitment to establish fiscal policies to encourage forest retention, not only in the public but also in the private sector: The environment must be considered when policies and economic decisions are made. The separation of economic policymaking from environmental policymaking must be ended, a common occurrence since government agencies are often isolated from one another. Until economic agencies become responsible for the environmental impacts of their policies, little progress can be made. At present, the governments of many tropical countries provide substantial tax benefits for deforestation, a recipe for catastrophe. On the contrary, timber companies must be taxed in line with the real value of the timber, for example, rather than at a “discounted” rate. Another mechanism to tax resource utilization fairly would be to tax resource depletion while lowering general corporate taxes. Governments must also eliminate the fiscal incentives for clearing land for farms and, particularly, ranching.
f. Government commitment to provide the necessary tools for sustainable logging: This should include technical information, legal changes to support this type of operation, and infrastructure for timber management. Timber concessions should be issued for long terms (more than one cutting “cycle”), so that timber companies would have an incentive for reforestation and sustainable logging management.
g. Government commitment to encourage reforestation of deforested land: This might require giving timber companies low-interest loans to fund regeneration and protect biodiversity, for example. Additionally, timber companies and/or individuals could be given tax cuts for reclamation and reforestation efforts. Basically, cheaper capital is required to provide incentives for reforestation. This could be provided in part by international institutions (which instead often support wide-scale destructive “development” projects, such as dams). Timber concessions should be issued with the proviso that reforestation will be undertaken by the timber company.
h. Government commitment to establish and expand reservations for indigenous populations: These areas must be protected from incursions by others, particularly commercial logging, fishing, mining and agricultural interests.
i. Government commitment to set aside large areas as fully protected ecological reserves with no encroachment permitted: Funds must be provided for monitoring, maintaining, and policing these reserves. This must include the provision of technical and scientific assistance in denoting and maintaining reserves, as well as providing trained staff and rangers to assist with and monitor these reserves.
j. Government commitment to assisting local conservation efforts and organizations, rather than opposing their activities with its policies.
k. Government commitment to return a higher proportion of forest tax revenues to the management of forest lands. At present, few of these revenues are returned to benefit the forests or the people living near them.
l. Government commitment to form family planning and population policy organizations, and commitment to establish and support health and family planning clinics.
Of course, such solutions are problematic, as governments are often unwilling to lose the immediate financial benefits of deforestation. They so not wish to think about future losses resulting from their policies. Governments also frequently have relatively little control over the situation on frontiers, and lack political support for conservation. There is enormous pressure to deforest from local politicians and businessmen, as well as multinational corporations, which move into tropical countries under substantial government incentives.
m. Case Studies:
i) China has recently issued some new forest policies, although its previous policies had been mainly exploitative and have degraded and destroyed huge areas of former forest land. Although Chinese forests are mainly temperate, some of the management plans proposed may be instructive. These new policies include technical training and education of forestry officials in new methods of forest management at local and provincial levels; land management planning; mandatory conversion of marginal farmlands to forest; the resettlement and reeducation of forest workers and gatherers; establishing shares in private ownership; and funding research on forestry issues. As an example of novel land management planning, forest lands will be divided into commercial forests and nature preserves, the latter being expanded and protected. Where marginal lands are returned to forest, the loss of farmland will be compensated for by providing 30 years of free food to farmers who have lost their farms under this policy. Government-owned forests will be contracted to communities for management and for use for non-timber products, such as mushrooms and ferns. Under this new policy, forest plantations will provide timber, while natural forests will remain as reserves (Zhang, et al., 2000).
ii) Brazil, about which much has been said in this document, may be realizing the consequences of its current policies. Recently, it has adopted an Amazon forest policy which, if implemented, would conserve large areas of the Amazon rainforest. This policy has provisions which include protecting 80% of rural properties as forest reserves, requirements for licensing logging, burning and deforestation, provision of coordinates for areas to be cleared, prohibition of burning during the dry season, and other regulatory measures. To enforce these provisions is and will be difficult, despite the passage of an “environmental crimes” bill in 1998, due to the vast area of the Amazon forest and the relative independence of Brazilian states. However, the environmental crimes act provides penalties, and there is some attempt to coordinate state and municipal governments in environmental planning, through the G-7 Pilot Program for Conservation of Brazilian Rainforests. The government is also attempting to control access to federal lands (Nepstad, et al., 2002). For the success of these projects, there must be successful integration at various levels of government, adequate funding, and sufficient monitoring capacity, not to mention the political will to resist the forces which have conspired to destroy so much of the Brazilian Amazon.