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Best of 2014: In Peru, isn’t it good (illegal) wood

A collection of stories about the Peruvian smallholder timber trade, from forest to market.
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Demand for wood remains high in urban areas of Peru, where it is used as a sturdy and affordable building material—and helps to create hundreds of jobs. Ernesto Benavides / CIFOR.

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Peru - BOGOR, Indonesia—The forest has long been seen as a “safety net” for farmers, who can grow trees in agricultural fallows as a sort of “living bank account.”

But what if trying to collect from that account is illegal?

This is what has happened in the Peruvian Amazon, where the law allows farmers to cut down fast-growing bolaina trees for their own use, but not to sell them. If trees are taken to market, the farmers risk fines, having their wood confiscated or being forced to pay bribes along the way.

All this while demand for the wood remains high in urban areas of Peru, where it is used as a sturdy and affordable building material—and helps to create hundreds of jobs.

A series of stories from May of this year delved into ongoing research by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) that seeks to better understand the bolaina value chain—and potentially help to decriminalize it.

Blame for Amazon deforestation sometimes falls on smallholders who clear small fields for crops, but “they are not the villains,” said CIFOR researcher Robin Sears.

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