THE issue of who will govern the world's forests, and how,
is hotting up again. The Commission on Sustainable
Development (CSD) has set up the Ad hoc Intergovernmental
Panel on Forests (IPF) to recommend what should be done by
the global community to better manage the world's forests. At
the Earth Summit (1992) in Rio, NGO'S like CSE had successfully opposed the proposal for a global forestry convention.
The convention would become a tool for strengthening
bureaucratic management of our forests, instead of deepening
We knew that despite our temporary victory at Rio,
the real battle was still to come. In March 1995, we were invited by the director general of the UN's Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO) to a special meeting on forests and forest-
people. That meeting was to precede a meeting of the world's
forest ministers. Interestingly, even though FAo has the charter
for the management of forests, it has been the playground for
agriculture ministers. This then was the first time FAO
convened a meeting of forest ministers.
Not surprisingly, the unsaid agenda was to give FAo a
leadership role in global forest management. Worse Still, FAO
was reviving the idea of the forest convention. A draft statement of the forest ministers - ostensibly the result of their meeting
- was prepared even before their arrival,
and leaked out to us. It said that the ministers resolved to work on the "need, or otherwise, to proceed towards a legally binding
instrument on forests". The recommendations of this meeting would go to CSD and
could well have been accepted. After massive lobbying, the FAO backed out and the
statement was watered down. The CSD then
decided to set up the Ad Hoc IPF. The Panel
has to submit its report in April 1997.
Of the five agenda items of the IPF, item
5 is politically the most important. It calls
for the study of international organisations
and multilateral institutions and instruments, including appropriate legal mechanisms. Therefore,
the panel has to recommend to governments if the existing
forest-related global institutions and instruments are adequate, or there is a need for new institutions/legal instrument.
Multilateral agencies and multilateral instruments are
all desperate for survival, and each wants to bag the mandate
to protect and manage Southern forests. In 1993, roughly
us $1.5 billion was given in overseas assistance for forests.
This comprised of grants (71 per cent) and loans (29 per
cent). But the multilateral agencies controlled only 13 per cent
of the money transfered.
But for us the main issue is not which institution will do
the work, but what work has to be done. Forests are local
resources, best managed by local communities. Therefore, It is
time to redefine the role of multilateral organisations in this
1 Another parallel issue is also gaining momentum - the
'development of a set of criteria and indicators (c&i) for the
"sustainable management of forests". This process has been
underway since Rio. The idea is to use the c&i for labeling
which woods are ecoftiendly and vice versa. Across the world,
there are at least four c&i initiatives underway, and many
more are still taking off.
In addition, there is the initiative led by NGOS -like World
Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Forest Stewardship Council
(FSC). The FSC offers its services to national governments as a
"certifier of certifiers" for trade in forest products. These initiatives are vying wit4,each other for legitimacy. One can also
hear the call for developping a "harmonised" c&i - that is, a
single set of criteria for the entire forests of the world.
These are reasons for serious concern. Firstly, the single
mok important criterion and indicator for
sustainable forest management has to be the
direct control of local people in forest management. How can this process, led as it is,
by supra-national agencies who see trees
and not people, ensure that this criterion is
followed? A study of the current c&i shows
that in most cases, people are not even mentioned, and if they are then, at best, their
participation is sought, not guaranteed.
Besides, since forests are local resources,
the c&i have to be first developed by local
communities and then 'harmonised' into
global standards. In fact, what is happening
is that criteria developed for 'green trade'
are being palmed off as criteria for green
forestry. For the deprived millions who live
in them, the vast tropical forests are habitats. The extraordinary diversity of forest types and use by the
forest people, and in particular, the diversity of life, cannot be
coded into a national or global c&i. This can only be done for
the single-use, humanmade, monoculture forests of the
It is our strong belief that the c&i process is controlled by
the pulp and timber lobby of the temperate North. The real
worry for the South lies in this process becoming the logical
input into a legal framework, which will then govern its
adherence. The forest convention then would not be far away.