The World Bank’s Old Testament of Forestry


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For the world forestry community, the new millennium began with the releaseof the World Bank’s long-awaited evaluation of its forest-related activities, titled ’A Review of the World Bank’s 1991 Forestry Strategy and its Implementation’. The report marks a new era in Bank forest policy both because of its refreshing and blunt style and the Bank’s willingness to publicly debate its content. The Bank’s Operations Evaluation Department(OED) based the report on six country case studies, overviews of Bank forest activities, a review of 600 projects in all sectors directly or indirectly affecting forests, and individual interviews. It is the most comprehensive multisectoral and consultative review related to forests the Bank has undertaken. In a recent workshop in Washington, one Bank official commented that the OED report reminded him of the Old Testament. ’Everyone who believes in the Bible agrees it is the word of god, but each person interprets it as he or she sees fit. Roughly speaking, most people agree on the report’s conclusions about the Bank’s impact. The Bank has successfully promoted reforestation in China and India. However, it has largely failed to curb deforestation in forest-rich countries such as Brazil, Cameroon, and Indonesia.

People differ on why the Bank has found it so hard to reduce deforestation, whether it should have even tried to do so in the first place, and where it should go from here. Each group sees the report’s findings and recommendations from its own perspective. NGO activists stress the report’s conclusion that the Bank failed to implement key aspects of its original policy, such as its commitment to takea multisectoral approach to forest problems. They feel the Bank does not need a new policy. It needs to provide internal incentives for staff to implement the existing policy — which the OED report stresses are currently lacking. The NGOs take comfort in the report’s support for their position that commercial loggers and large farmers are responsible for most deforestation and that globalization, countries’ own trade liberalization and structural adjustment have compounded the problem. They also agree with the report’s call for greater attention to forest governance and illegal logging. Bank officials focus more on the report’s claim that controversy surrounding. Bank forest activities had a ’chilling effect’ on forest sector lending. These officials imply the NGOs themselves are partly to blame for the Bank’s limited efforts because they pressured the Bank into adopting a policy that was too conservation-oriented for governments in forest rich countries to accept. They argue that many benefits of forest conservation are global and that if developed countries want tropical countries to conserve forests they should pay them to do so. This leads them to question how much attention the Bank should give to purely conservation activities. According to them, the Bank’s mission is to alleviate poverty and it is in some countries’ national interest to deplete their forest resources. They also share the report’s assessment that the Bank has limited ability to insist that forest-rich countries reform their policies because its lending is small compared to the large private capital flows.

Within both the NGO and World Bank communities certain groups want the Bank to use conditionality to pressure governments to reform, while others oppose the idea. Each group can point to passages in the report that support its positions. Like the Bible, the only way to know what the report really says is to read it yourself.

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Further reading

You can obtain free electronic copies of the main report in English, French, Portuguese, and Mandarin by writing to Lauren Kelly at A Spanish version will be available shortly.You may also request copies of the Brazil, Cameroon, China, Costa Rica, India, and Indonesia case studies at the same address.

To send comments to the World Bank team currently preparing a new forest strategy, write Mariam Sherman at:

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