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The purpose of British colonial forestry in the nineteenth century was to ensure that the colonial state maintained control over the forests in order to ensure a steady supply of timber. The imprint of colonial forestry in the Mekong Region is still felt today, as states continue to wrest control of forests from local communities.
During the late eighteenth century, Britain's oak forests were increasingly exhausted by the demands of the Royal Navy for shipbuilding. In 1805, the British launched the first battleship constructed completely of teak from Bombay. By the mid-nineteenth century there were well over one hundred British teak ships and the British appetite for teak appeared insatiable.
In 1856, the British hired Dietrich Brandis as superintendent of the teak forests of Pegu division in eastern Burma. At the time many of Burma's teak forests were in areas controlled by militant indigenous groups such as the Karen. Brandis, a German botanist who was later to become inspector general of forests in India, aimed to assert state control over Burma's teak forests. Under the "taungya" system, which Brandis helped establish, Karen villagers provided labour for clearing, planting and weeding teak plantations. In return they were allowed to plant crops for the first few years between the trees. As the teak trees grew, villagers were moved to new land and repeated the process. As a result of this process, many villagers became dependent on the state forestry service and local resistance to the state takeover of forests became increasingly difficult.
Raymond Bryant, of King's College in London, describes how the formerly rebellious Karen were effectively co-opted into teak reforestation: "The taungya forestry system was attractive precisely because it was a means to regulate, and gradually eliminate shifting cultivation from Burma's forests. In effect, each acre planted was an acre no longer available for use by the hill Karen."
Neighbouring Thailand was never colonised by the British, but the taungya system of forestry lives on today in the service of the Thai state. Since the 1960s, the Forest Industry Organisation in Thailand has established a series of "forest villages" in which villagers carry out a form of taungya forestry. The FIO created the first forest village at Mae Moh in northern Thailand in 1968, with the aim of reducing shifting cultivation and increasing reforestation. However, villagers are allowed no say in the management of the plantations and receive no income from the trees in the plantations. Neither do villagers receive land titles under the forest village scheme. As the late Ted Chapman of the Australian National University pointed out in 1980, FIO's reforestation amounted to little more than the confiscation of land which villagers already used.
In July 2001, two of FIO's forest village plantations were certified under the Forest Stewardship Council system (see WRM Bulletin 64). Yet the FIO's forest villages were considered out of date more than twenty years ago. In 1978, Ted Chapman pointed out at a conference in Thailand, "Taungya reforestation, as it is now practiced in Thailand, is clearly out of step with recent recommendations by FAO, IUCN, and other organizations concerned with the welfare of dwellers on the forest margins." Surprisingly, FSC-assessors SmartWood did not recognise FIO's version of colonial forestry as the out-dated system of exploitation that it is.
Meanwhile, the Lao Government is developing its own form of internal colonisation through taungya forestry. Last year, after an ethnic minority family in southern Laos cleared 10 hectares of land and planted it with rice, Department of Forestry officials informed them that the land was to be planted with 4,000 tree seedlings. The family will be allowed to harvest their rice this year. However, they are worried that they will not be allowed to use the land next year. While the family stands to gain nothing, the government got the land cleared for free to establish a teak plantation.
The Department of Forestry organised local villagers into work teams and trained them in planting the seedlings. Once the seedlings were planted, the Department of Forestry demanded that villagers maintain the plantation. This will involve several years of weeding and continuous fire control.
The tree planting coincided with the planting of farmers' own crops, leading to labour shortages in the farmers' own fields. A villager told researchers, "We are confused about why we are planting these trees, when we get nothing in return."
Ironically, the tree planting was carried out on Arbour Day. On Arbour Day, according to article 46 of the Lao Forestry Law, Authorities should "Be enterprising in planning and widely mobilizing all labor forces, and capital from all parties, including the armed forces, civil servants, primary and secondary students, and people to participate in planting trees. After planting, attention must be paid to the maintenance and protection of the planted trees so that they can grow and develop."
The Department of Forestry is certainly enterprising in its use of villagers' free labour and it has obeyed the letter (if not the spirit) of the forestry law. However, its actions have soured relations with villagers who are resentful of having their labour exploited for a teak plantation which will not provide them with any benefits.
By: Chris Lang, e-mail:
The "Revised Forest Strategy of the World Bank Group" approved on October 31, 2002 makes some very significant admissions like: "There is a close link between the livelihoods of the poor and forests, and '(it is a) largely false notion that the poor are the cause of deforestation in developing countries'."
"The reality is that the flow of funds into forests ... will continue to be dwarfed by investment in activities that may have damaging impacts upon forests". And: "The Bank must have an appreciation of how its action and investments in other sectors, or at the macroeconomic level, will impact on forests and forest peoples".
For long it has been argued, largely in vain though, that the responsibility for forest destruction and environmental degradation cannot be placed primarily at the door of the poor and that the new economics of the last decade or so have not only further marginalised those on the margins, but also severely undermined the natural resource and survival base comprising forests, rivers, wetlands and coasts.
However, the strategy lies on a basic contradiction: the agenda of free market liberalisation comes out loud and clear, albeit attempting a back-door entry here. A central message that comes across is that money is the key to saving the forests of the world. Involvement of the private sector finds important mention. It also links up with respective National Forestry Action Plans (NFAPs). India's NFAP, which was prepared in 1999 by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), has projected that we need around US$ 28 billion to protect our forests. But is a "money centric approach" the right one at all?
In the decade of the 1990s alone, India borrowed nearly $350 million from the bank for Phase I of the Forestry Projects in Maharashtra, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh (A.P.), Madhya Pradesh (M.P.), Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) and Kerala. Has this actually helped in protecting and regenerating forests? Has livelihood security of forest-dependent people been ensured? Have the poor benefitted? There are a number of questions, answers of which are needed to get an idea of what the impact of the projects have been. Concern and allegations that Phase I activities were not transparent, they alienated tribals from the forests, led to inter and intra-village conflicts and actually helped strengthen existing inequities and power structures that lie at the root of forest management and conservation issues, have been wide-scale.
Meanwhile, Phase II of the Forestry Projects in A.P. and M.P., with outlays of $108 million each has been approved and the first instalment for A.P. has already been released. That brings us to the issue of poverty alleviation, which according to the bank, lies at the very heart of its revised forest strategy. There are fundamental contradictions here as well. At one place the document appears to accept the more recent definitions of poverty as something that amounts to a lack of assets (physical, financial, human and social) that are needed to generate an adequate and sustainable livelihood. But recurrently it is the "pop and shock" definition of poverty that finds usage --"poverty remains a global problem of gigantic proportions. Of the world's six billion people, 2.8 billion, or almost half, live on less than $2 a day. Of them 1.2 billion live on less than $1 a day." No discussion on larger implication of what poverty is, what the real causes could be and what will have to be the long term solutions.
What cries out for attention in this context is the section in the executive summary titled "Harnessing the potential of forests to reduce poverty". It envisions improving the quality of rural life. The underlying concept for this strategy is a developing world in which rural residents enjoy a quality of life that is not significantly below that available to urban residents; rural communities offer equitable economic opportunities for all their residents --regardless of income, status or gender--; become vibrant, sustainable and attractive places to live and work in; contribute to national development and the overall economy and are dynamically linked to urban areas. It is an articulation that is shockingly out of touch with the world that we live in.
Nothing could be further from the truth, particularly in a country like India which is more than 70 per cent rural and largely agricultural. There is no disputing that there is great poverty and deprivation in parts of rural India, that there is a great deal of inequity and exploitation and that a lot needs to be corrected there. But urban India today? It's collapsing under its own weight. Air and water pollution is rampant, the slums are sprawling, basic amenities like drinking water and sanitation are woefully inadequate, unemployment is high and so is the crime rate. There clearly is no justification for the sweeping nature of the statements and inferences made in the bank's strategy because large parts of the rural world are even today extremely well endowed, rich and powerful. There are areas full of vigour and vitality, where communities have lived and continue to live in peace, happiness and in reasonable harmony with their environments. Thriving economies survive here, which, in a country like India actually drive national development.
So what does one make of this revised strategy of the bank? For one, it puts a huge question mark on the credentials of the bank itself. The confusions are obvious, contradictions are stark and the underlying concept so flawed, that it's difficult to believe it's even been articulated. If the foundation itself is so shaky, one can only shudder to think of the edifice that it will support.
Can this strategy then really contribute to saving forests and helping the poor? Answers can surely be attempted, but the moot question is, will anybody be listening?
Article adapted from The Hindu, February
23, 2003, "Can this save the forests?", http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/mag/2003/02/23/stories/2003022300180700.htm
by Pankaj Sekhsaria,
Kalpavriksh, e-mail: email@example.com
, sent by the author.
The planned Nam Theun 2 (NT2) dam on the Nakai Plateau in central Lao People's Democratic Republic would be 48 m high and 320 m long, with a capacity of about 1000 megawatts. It would create a 450 km2 reservoir with volume of 3 billion cubic meters. Water from the reservoir would be driven through 40 km long tunnels to a powerhouse located at the base of the Nakai plateau on the Xe Ban Fai River. The size of the project and its location will have a substantial impact on regional biodiversity and people. This short paper summarizes some of these likely impacts and explains the position of WWF-Thailand on the dam.
Over the past decade, perceptions of biological diversity have expanded to encompass the distribution patterns of biota, associated ecological processes, and the (often large) regional landscapes over which these interactions occur. Long-term conservation of biodiversity, and the security of local human livelihoods, requires a shift in focus to large spatial scales and, within these, a proactive identification of conservation opportunities. The Nam Theun 2 dam violates these emerging principles by treating parts of a broader ecosystem in isolation.
The Nakai Plateau consists of a gently undulating 1200 km2 basin at an elevation of about 600m, and is part of the ecological system of the Annamite Mountains. About one third of the Plateau is within the Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area, a globally significant protected area for the future of rare and endemic fauna such as the Large-antlered Muntjac and Saola. The Nakai Plateau is not pristine. As in most significant conservation areas in the world, people have altered its landscapes for subsistence agriculture, fished its waters and hunted its forests over thousands of years. This does not detract from the conservation significance of the area, however, either for biodiversity or local livelihoods. About one third of the Nakai Plateau would be flooded by the reservoir of the NT2 dam, securing the destruction of habitats and wildlife populations that presently maintain a significant role in the ecological functioning of the region.
From the traditional perspective of species richness, the Nakai-Nam Theun protected area ranks among the most important in the world. Over 400 species of birds occur there, one of the highest totals for any protected area in mainland SE Asia. These include over 50 species of birds that are threatened with extinction. As part of the Nakai-Nam Theun protected area, the Nakai Plateau has a special role for these threatened species: 35% occur only there, including globally important populations of white-winged ducks and fish eagles.
Until recent dam-related logging began, the Nakai Plateau supported the most extensive stands of old-growth pine forest in the region, with unique variations in tree species composition. One of the most endangered habitats in SE Asia is lowland slow flowing rivers with adjacent forest. The Nakai Plateau, despite habitat degradation, still represents one of the best examples of such habitat in Lao PDR; almost all (180 km) would be lost after inundation if the dam were constructed.
The diversity of habitats on the Nakai Plateau also includes deciduous forest, semi-evergreen forest, secondary forest, seasonal wetlands and permanent streams, which, together with the gentle terrain they rest on, provides excellent physical conditions for high densities of large mammals --a situation that is becoming increasingly rare elsewhere in Lao PDR and the region. Though these densities have been markedly reduced through hunting, they remain significant relative to other forested areas in Lao PDR . More importantly, the Plateau's large mammals reside within one of the largest and least fragmented expanses of forest in the region, which increases their chances of persistence and recovery. Gaur and Elephants for example, are central to, and interact with larger regional populations through intact links to forested areas that surround them. The central role of the Plateau in ecological functioning is exemplified by this intact large mammal community, whose members are able to maintain widespread seasonal movements on a landscape scale.
A relatively abundant prey base of Sambar, Wild Pigs and Indian Muntjacs on the Plateau supports endangered Tigers. The Nam Theun river supports at least 80 fish species, 16 of which are endemic to it. The dam would disrupt hydrological functioning and fish migrations, causing many of these species to disappear. The water diversion scheme of the dam means that, in addition, another water basin would also be disrupted (the Xe Bang Fai).
Every international NGO that has worked on the Plateau recognizes the outstanding conservation significance of the area. Opportunities to care for extant biodiversity and local livelihoods on the Nakai Plateau exist, but need to be developed through collaboration of local people with their government, protected area staff and conservation organizations. This has not happened. Activities such as logging and infrastructure development over the past decade in anticipation of a dam that may never be built, have already had far-reaching and negative ecological and economic consequences. To invoke the very source of so much disruption to the Nakai Plateau as the solution to these problems is clearly invalid. What stands to be lost, both in ecological and cultural terms, can not be mitigated. The Nam Theun 2 Dam is not inevitable. Lao people and the conservation community need not accept a hydropower fate that leaves them with ecological scraps to make the best of --there are positive opportunities on the Nakai Plateau that are much more attractive.
WWF also notes that the case underpinning Nam Theun 2 is unclear. The economic viability of the project is dubious and the demand for the dam's power is also highly questionable, given Thailand's declining projected power demand (the market to which NT2 will export). In addition, there are significant alternative energy options available both in Thailand and Laos, including renewable energy and energy conservation. These have been ignored and insufficiently evaluated.
In short the deleterious impacts of the project on local ecosystems are clear; the justification for the dam and its superiority to available alternatives is not. WWF Thailand is therefore opposed to its construction.
WWF Thailand, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Later this year, the Board of the Asian Development Bank will decide whether to fund a project titled "Tree Plantation for Livelihood Improvement" in Laos. A consortium of consultants is currently preparing the project. However, the preparations are taking place without the benefit of an open public discussion. According to Akmal Siddiq, Senior Project Economist at the ADB, "The draft reports produced so far are not ready for public distribution and will only be available after Board approval."
If the Board agrees to fund the project, it will be the second plantation project that the ADB has funded in Laos. The ADB's US$11.2 million Industrial Tree Plantation Project started in July 1994, with a target of establishing more than 9,000 hectares of fast-growing tree plantations. According to the ADB's project description, the new project "will build on the successes and lessons learned from the ongoing Industrial Tree Plantation Project".
Last year, Bartlet W. Édes, the ADB's external relations officer, wrote an article about the Bank's involvement in plantations in Laos for the ADB's in-house magazine, ADB Review. In the article, entitled "Back to Trees", Édes wrote that the ADB's project "protects the natural forest, involves local villagers in decision making, and develops a promising new sector in the Lao economy."
In fact, the project does none of these things. ADB-funded plantations are replacing forests with monocultures. Villagers are not meaningfully involved in the decisions which cause them to lose their land and forest to eucalyptus plantations. Economically, the plantations are only viable because of subsidies provided by the ADB and the Lao Government. Under Lao Forestry Law, plantations are exempt from land tax, and the company BGA Lao Plantation Forestry, which benefits from cheap ADB loans, pays only 5 per cent income tax. Meanwhile, the Lao Government gave BGA the 50 year land lease for its plantations rent free, in return for a share in the project (see WRM Bulletin 43).
In his article, Édes stated: "Because plantations are all being established on degraded land --not on natural forest areas-- plantation development in the Lao PDR is unlikely to have the adverse environmental consequences associated with establishing plantations witnessed in other Asian countries."
The ADB's project documents contradict Édes statement. According to a 1995 report by consulting firm Jaakko Poyry, plantations are to be established on "unstocked forest land". The ADB's consultants define unstocked forest land as "previously forested areas in which the crown density has been reduced to less than 20%" and "abandoned 'hai'" [swidden fields]. This definition allows companies to describe villagers' community forest, swiddens, grazing and common land as "unstocked forest".
Bartlet W. Édes notes that the ADB project has established "a policy framework for developing sustainable industrial tree plantations." However, neither the policy framework, nor the policy studies produced for the ADB are publicly available.
In 1999, the ADB funded a study entitled "Current Constraints Affecting State and Private Investments in Industrial Tree Plantations in the Lao PDR" (see WRM Bulletin 52). Snimer Sahni, project officer at the ADB, stated that the document is not available to the public. The ADB's consultants have since produced a "National Strategy for Sustainable Plantation Forestry". Akmal Siddiq of the ADB declined to answer requests for this document.
According to Bartlet W. Édes, "Tree-planting firms negotiate with villagers for the use of forestlands. Commons, swiddens, grazing land, and community forests are protected by the villagers themselves, who must give their written consent to any commercial use."
Once again, Édes' statement is misleading. Villagers do not have the power or sufficient information about the impacts of eucalyptus plantations to bargain with plantation companies. For example, in company documents, BGA classifies up to 48,000 hectares of the land leased to the company as shifting cultivation, grazing land or degraded forest. This is, in other words, land that is currently used by villagers.
Once villagers realise the problems associated with fast-growing tree plantations, they are reluctant to hand over their land to companies. In early 2001, the sub-district leader of Xiang Khai sub-district in Xaibouli district told independent researchers, "Eucalyptus plantations are causing forest, soil and water resource degradation. I do not want anyone to grow any more eucalyptus trees in my sub-district" (see WRM Bulletin 59).
Bartlet W. Édes' most glaring piece of misinformation is his statement, "Herbicides are not used; rather, a biodegradable product called glyphosate is applied to control weeds."
Glyphosate is, of course, a herbicide. It is the active ingredient in a range of products manufactured by Monsanto. Monsanto started selling Roundup, its first glyphosate-based herbicide in 1974. Since then annual sales of glyphosate herbicides have soared to around US$1.2 billion. According to the company, "glyphosate herbicides produced by Monsanto are among the world's most widely used herbicides."
Monsanto defines its glyphosate products as "broad-spectrum, non-selective herbicides." Put simply, glyphosate herbicides will kill just about anything green with which they come into contact.
Glyphosate herbicides are sprayed three times a year between the straight rows of eucalyptus trees in the ADB-funded plantations. The herbicide ensures that nothing grows in the plantations other than trees. Villagers' knowledge and uses of the wide range of plants that grow in the forest are being destroyed as their forests are converted to monoculture.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the ADB is reluctant to encourage an open debate on the impacts of the ADB-funded plantations. The ADB has organised two workshops, which were attended by World Wildlife Fund, World Conservation Society and the World Conservation Union (IUCN). This, according to ADB's Akmal Siddiq, indicates that the project is being prepared with the "active cooperation of and consultation with all the stakeholders".
Siddiq declined to answer questions regarding the Bank's previous involvement in promoting monoculture tree plantations in Laos and declined to release any of the project documents. Instead, he stated, "The project feasibility study will be completed by May. Approval from ADB Board is expected by October."
Chris Lang, e-mail: http://chrislang.org
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