LIMA, Peru (7 June, 2013)_Brazil nut gatherers in northern Bolivia must play a greater role in overseeing commercial logging being undertaken in their forests, a study warns, or they risk losing control and income as logging operations increase in the region.
“Although Bolivian law allows communities to manage their forests for Brazil nut production and timber, most turn the logging over to commercial companies that are moving into the region,” said Peter Cronkleton, senior scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research and lead author of a study of 10 communities in the department of Pando, where 80 percent of Bolivia’s Brazil nuts are produced.
“Because logging intensity is still fairly low it may not necessarily affect Brazil nut production. But that could change if logging increases or takes place with little regard for the surrounding forest.”
While there is evidence to show that informal logging in Bolivia has had little impact on the regeneration of Brazil nut trees, scientists do not yet know how selective logging affects the trees’ annual fruits production – a relationship being investigated by CIFOR in neighboring Peru.
Until the early 1990s, large companies in Bolivia held contracts over much of the country’s forests that allowed them to selectively log and export valuable timber species, such as cedar and mahogany.
To help forest communities reap greater benefits from their natural resources, a new forestry law was passed in 1996 allowing smallholders and communities with titles to their land to practice sustainable logging.
Although the land of agro-extractive communities in Pando is communally owned, families also have informal rights to the Brazil nut groves within the community lands where they have traditionally worked. Brazil nuts are an important source of income for smallholders in Bolivia, where the amount of money earned by producers has quadrupled (from $6 per bag to over $25 per bag) in the last decade.
When communities have very little involvement in developing forest management plans, they also have very little control over what loggers do.
Timber harvesting was supposed to open up another source of income for these communities.
But the forestry law requires timber management plans, and gaining approval for such plans can be an obstacle for communities that lack the capacity and capital needed to complete them.
“So logging companies are coming in and developing the plans for the them,” Cronkleton said, “often with very little community involvement.”
The study found that six of the communities studied had management plans developed by timber companies. The communities had little say in the plans, he said, which were drawn up by company foresters with labor brought in from outside the community.
“We found that when communities have very little involvement in developing these plans, they also have very little control over what loggers do,” Cronkleton said.
Unless communities are involved in the design of management plans and oversight of forest operations, they run the risk that loggers will not compensate them fairly for the timber they take or that loggers might damage Brazil nut trees when they cut other timber species, he added.
“Timber operations in Brazil nut forests should be required to document where Brazil nut stands are, the distribution of the trees and the steps that will be taken to avoid damaging Brazil nut trees, and acknowledge who has the rights over those trees, to be sure that they have approved the operation,” he says.
Because logging takes place on communal land, “there should also be a requirement that a community institution oversees and approves the logging,” he said.
At first, some communities may not be sufficiently organized to take control loggers in their forests, Cronkleton said.
“But over time, they may learn from experience, become better at negotiating with timber companies and have a better understanding of how logging functions.”
“As long as Brazil nut prices remain fairly high, people have a strong interest in maintaining their forest, and they’re very concerned about a healthy forest. That will encourage them to find ways to mitigate problems that could develop with logging.”
For more information on the issues discussed in this article, please contact Peter Cronkleton at email@example.com
This research is carried out as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.