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But who manages the managers?

MANAGING THE WORLD'S FORESTS: LOOKING FOR BALANCE BETWEEN CONSERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT Edited by Narendra P Sharma Publisher: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, USA Price: Not stated

 
By N C Saxena
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- (Credit: Ajit Ninan)THIS book provides a good overall perspective on the world's forests and the political economy of forest management. Authors with broad experience in many fields present diverse views on key forestry issues and the solutions needed to accelerate the transition to sustainable use of forest resources.

The book argues that government policies of encouraging logging that leads to over-exploitation; low harvesting fees; tax, credit and pricing concessions to timber industries, and surrendering control over forests to private loggers, have also contributed to the fast decline in forest resources. This is in addition to the highly publicised factors of population growth, compulsions of subsistence agriculture and shifting cultivation. Vested interests In many countries, policies have been devised to reward such interest groups that are allied with or favoured by those in power. Forests have also been used as a solution to demographic and economic pressures. The book argues that even where the policies were well intended, they were not implemented properly because timber and agricultural benefits from clearing forests were over-valued and the protective function of forests was ignored.

Moreover, inadequate biological or economic knowledge of forest resources have led to the over-harvesting of a few species of trees, while others have been treated as weeds and destroyed during logging operations. The authors point out that forests should be seen as any other economic asset. A solution within the framework of mainstream macro-economics should, therefore, be feasible if the health of the natural resources of a country is taken into account.

Applying the efficiency criterion would require that watershed forests should not be converted into cropland and forests containing immense mineral wealth should not be preserved as wilderness. From this perspective, the authors go on to argue that governments should initiate measures like sharply hiking royalty levels so that the pace of logging slows down to the level of its regeneration; drawing up concession periods of at least 70 years so that lease holders have an interest in reforestation and scientific logging, and building up the administrative set-up so that policing and reforestation efforts can be implemented properly.

Other measures proposed in the book include transferring forest management to local communities and institutions, giving more importance to non-wood products that can be obtained without felling, promoting agro-forestry and watershed development programmes, and formulating politics that strengthen subsistence farmers so that they become less dependent on forest resources.

The book could be criticised for making the facile assumption that policies benefiting the powerful are made as a result of ecological ignorance and, therefore, could be corrected by better knowledge of the complexities of forest ecosystems. If the ultimate objective of the policy makers is to earn kickbacks, then to assert that they blunder because, of ecological ignorance may seem controversial.

Also, the market does not value environmental goods and services that have characteristics similar to those of other public goods. This lacuna creates conditions for inefficient use of forest resources. Because environmental costs are not internalised, the private and social costs diverge.

Some arguments in the book are not fully developed. For instance, the impact of transferring the ownership of forests to communities has been dealt with very casually. Similarly, one would have liked more discussion on North-South cooperation.

Government policies in the Third World are often a consequence of the growing global demands for tropical timber and the products of deforested lands such as beef, palm oil and rubber. Therefore, unilateral action by these countries would be difficult without the cooperation of the developed world.

N C Saxena is director of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie.

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