MYEULINK - Tropical deforestation - Local solutions for global problems

Luis Santamaría participates at MYEULINK

Tropical deforestation is a major global driver of biodiversity loss and climate change. It leads to reductions in biodiversity, disturbed ecosystems services (e.g. water regulation, soil conservation) and the destruction of livelihoods for many of the world’s poorest. Deforestation also produces between 12 to 20% of global greenhouse gases, about equal to the emissions from the entire global transport sector.

The dichotomy between deforestation and conservation has been marked by the confrontation of two opposed ideologies that conceived forested tropical areas as empty spaces, which could be either developed for civilization, or maintained free of human influence as “pristine nature”. Both ideologies ignored the existence of a long tradition of forest use and management by local populations. The emergence of a “third way” (socio-environmentalism) that fostered the human use of forested conservation areas and the key role of the humanized matrix between forest fragments was vital for the reduction of clearing rates in the Amazon. There, the increase in deforestation rate has been halted during the last decade, owing to the confluence of social and policy processes at global, national and local scales; and, because secondary forests reasonably recover biodiversity and ecosystem function over reasonable time frames (years to decades), there are some reasons for optimism.

In SW Asia, in contrast, deforestation rate has increased during the last decade, impacting large areas of primary forest – largely owing to the expansion of oil palm crops. In addition, secondary forests show poorer rates of biodiversity and ecosystem recovery, probably owing to the dispersal/recruitment limitation of Dipterocarps and the larger impact of defaunation (which constrains the recruitment of animal-dispersed trees). In addition, the effects of El Niño droughts, which results in increased burning rates at the Amazon, is even more critical in SW Asia – where they may multiply deforestation rates and C emissions (as in 1997-8), and further constrain the rare recruitment events of mast-seeding Dipterocarp trees.

The expansion of oil palm crops to Africa suggest a comparable scenario, alleviated by a richer fauna of seed-dispersers – but compounded by the expansion of bushmeat consumption and the resulting defaunation.

Controlling deforestation rates at SW Asia could benefit from a combination of local, national and global initiatives, in which the contribution of local stakeholders is likely to be critical. Enhancing forest recovery in SW Asia will demand the wise combination of spatial planning, ecosystem restoration and wildlife management, which are best framed in an adaptive management (learning-by-doing) approach. Adaptive management not only requires monitoring your policies or management actions to evaluate their success and improve them; it also requires the design of policy/management options that facilitate such learning (“policies as experiments”) and ensure transparency and stakeholder participation throughout the complete process. The adaptation of existing techniques, such a variable retention regimes, to forestry and oil-plantation management regimes may represent a suitable arena for the testing and application of this type of approaches. Tropical deforestation - Local solutions for global problems