by John Revington
"If there is to be even
a small chance to relay the pressures on tropical
biota, fundamental changes in the World Trade
system and the basic relationships between
rich and poor nations must take place."
(Anne and Paul Ehrlich 1988) 
As described in an article in the last issue
(The Causes of Tropical Deforestation) the
basic cause of most rain forest destruction
is misguided development. Any "solutions"
to the problem which fail to recognise the
underlying cause can at best have limited
success, and in many cases, they make the
situation worse. Realistic solutions must
be based on the realisation that tropical
deforestation characteristically involves
the disempowerment of traditional landowners,
and their rights must be respected.
False Solutions: 1. "Sustainable"
Commercial Logging On a governmental level,
attempted solutions to deforestation caused
by the timber industry have emphasised the
necessity of supporting sustainable timber
extraction. Such approaches assume, without
supporting evidence, that rainforests can
be used as an industrial resource base for
timber on a sustainable basis. This has resulted
in more rather than less deforestation. The
International Tropical Timber Organisation
(ITTO) has had to acknowledge that serious
attempts at sustainable management of tropical
rainforests for timber production are on a
world scale, "negligible".
As well as the technical obstacles to sustainability,
the industry has shown itself to be unable
to operate free from corruption. The only
systematic attempt to disclose such corruption
has been in Papua New Guinea, where a recent
inquire concluded that "there can be
no doubt that the timber industry, by its
very nature, is conducive to acts of a criminal
nature and acts contrary to law and proper
government administration. 
2. The Tropical Forestry Action Plan (TFAP),
the first major international initiative to
tackle tropical deforestation, was launched
in 1985 by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation
(FAO), The World Resources Institute, the
World Bank and the United Nations Development
Programme. It claimed to offer a cure for
tropical deforestation and its supposed causes,
but its flaws were apparent from the outset.
It was based on the assumption that poverty
and overpopulation are the main underlying
causes of tropical deforestation and failed
to recognise the role of the developed countries.
It paid lip service to the role of' landlessness
and destructive development, but made no real
attempt to deal with them. The TFAP regarded
deforestation as a result of too little government
control and called for all rainforests to
eventually come under government jurisdiction.
Rather than calling for reforms to inequitable
land ownership, the TFAP often requires annexation
of traditional lands for government forestry
The issue over which the TFAP has been most
criticised is its encouragement of increased
logging. The TFAP sees forest destruction
as a result of poverty, and the timber industry
is assumed to alleviate poverty in rural areas.
Logging is therefore seen as directly reducing
the main underlying cause of deforestation.
To the FAO, the controlling body for TFAP,
the degradation caused by logging, can be
seen as a tolerable trade-off.
Donor countries are becoming unwilling to
fund TFAP projects. Peru, Colombia, Panama
and Argentina have received less than 10%
of the funding required for their national
TFAP projects. The US Senate is now refusing
to fund the TFAP at all, and Britain has said
it will withdraw from the Plan entirely unless
coordination of the TFAP is moved out of the
3. The Limits of Reserve Strategies
A significant proportion of tropical biodiversity
would already be lost if nature reserves,
often initiated by private conservation organisations,
had not been established. However, all too
often indigenous peoples, living harmoniously
with their environment, have been expelled
from protected areas or subjected to controls
that have led to the disintegration of their
cultures.  It is a misconception to believe
that nature reserves can conserve the greater
proportion of the genetic diversity of tropical
rainforests, where the number of individuals
of each species per unit area tends to be
low, but the total number of species can be
enormous. On average, ten hectares of lowland
tropical rainforest in South East Asia will
contain more tree species than the whole of
North America.  It is therefore inevitable
that any large-scale projects which destroy
rainforests will lead to the extinction of
hundreds of species.
Only by providing the widest possible protection
for the remaining primary rainforests will
it be possible to save the greater part of
the Earth's biological diversity from extinction.
Strictly protected nature reserves can only
be a supportive measure in an overall programme
for the protection of rainforest ecosystems.
The creation of nature reserves must not be
used as justification for the destructive
exploitation of unprotected rainforest areas.
4. The International Biodiversity Programme
The World Bank is pursuing the goal of a global
"Biodiversity Action Programme".
Like the TFAP, this plan fails to confront
underlying causes of biodiversity loss, and
is likely to worsen the problem it is supposed
to solve. Loss of biodiversity in tropical
regions is due to the trend towards replacement
of traditional species-rich agriculture and
forestry with monocultures. Yet under the
Biodiversity Programme, monocultures would
be encouraged. The Programme sees the setting
aside of reserves as the solution to the problem,
but the minimum size required for viable areas
of tropical forest is unknown. Worse, the
setting aside of reserves is likely to be
used as an excuse for the unrestricted exploitation
of unprotected areas. The Programme would
also increase the control of biodiversity
by the North at the expense of the South.
TOWARDS REALISTIC SOLUTIONS:
Alternatives to destructive exploitation of
tropical forests are to be found in small-scale
initiatives coming from the grass roots in
tropical countries, not from ill-conceived
large-scale prestige projects such as the
1. Recognising the Rights of Traditional Owners.
The Australian Rainforest Memorandum, produced
by the Rainforest Information Centre and endorsed
by over 40 non-governmental organisations,
asserts that: "The right to cultural
survival for all tribal peoples is inviolable.
All possible efforts should be made to support
and safeguard their rights and those of other
forest dwellers, in particular the right to
security of land tenure."  About one
thousand rainforest cultures still exist.
Nearly all of them are in conflict with the
development strategies of the dominant social
classes and international development agencies
that have taken control of their lands and
who consistently ignore their basic rights
and often even their very existence.
It is significant that the most successful
projects to save rainforests are those which
have been carried out in cooperation with
the traditional owners of the forests. In
Papua New Guinea and Ecuador, the Rainforest
Information Centre and other organisations
have been involved in schemes which support
the legitimate development aspirations of
traditional landowners with small-scale autonomous
projects. In 1990, the Colombian Government
gave back half its Amazonian territory to
its rightful Indian owners, acknowledging
that they were the best guardians of the forest.
In Malaysia, Indonesia and the many other
countries where the rights of traditional
owners have been ignored, attempts to save
rainforests have been uniformly unsuccessful.
2. Non-Timber Values
The economic value of keeping rainforests
intact is often overlooked. Rainforests provide
essential and renewable sources of fruits,
fibres, starches, oils, medicines, firewood,
animal products, building materials and other
projects when extraction is well-managed.
However, the value of rainforest goods and
services to local human populations is usually
ignored in the economic analyses upon which
development decisions are based because these
societies often operate with little involvement
in the cash economy.
In many tropical countries, major sections
of the population depend directly on intact
rainforests for their daily needs. The people
of Papua New Guinea, for instance, obtain
60% of their animal protein from rainforest
In large regions of West Africa, people until
recently met 70% of their animal protein needs
from rainforests. This situation changed as
the forests were destroyed by the establishment
of export plantations and the timber industry.
Although the careful management of non-timber
forest products has considerable national
and international; potential, these resources
are being lost through the destruction of
the tropical forests. In the Amazon, over
two million people depend on rubber, Brazil
nuts and other "minor" forest products
without damaging the biological integrity
of the rainforest. Recent studies have shown
that the value of non-timber forest products
often far exceeds the value of timber in tropical
forests. A study in the rainforests of Peru
showed that the economic value of the minor
forest products, including fruits, resins
and medicines which were actually being marketed,
exceeded the value of using the forest for
timber by nine to one. 
However, assessment of the potential of non-timber
forest projects to provide for the market
beyond a regional level must include careful
ecological auditing. Available knowledge suggests
that the specific ecological characteristics
and the soil and microclimate conditions of
tropical rainforests limit the possibilities
for sustainable exploitation to a much greater
degree than in temperate ecosystems.
In fact primary rainforests have considerable
economic potential as a storehouse of drugs
useful in modern medicine.  The economic
benefits from rainforest genetic material
have also been left out of the cost/benefit
analyses of development projects affecting
rainforest areas, although the extinction
of a single plant species with genes that
could be used in an agricultural crop may
well represent a loss of billions of dollars.
3. The Debt Burden
As non-governmental organisations from the
Third World have pointed out repeatedly, there
will be no chance to stop impoverishment of
people and the destruction of nature in most
Third World countries without a solution to
the debt crisis.
The five countries with the largest rainforest
areas are also among the world's most heavily
indebted countries, and pressure to cut and
clear the rainforests to finance debt repayment
has intensified. The conditions imposed by
the International Monetary Fund often force
heavily indebted countries to sell their natural
resources far in excess of sustainable exploitation.
4. Ending Overconsumption and Economic Exploitation
A necessary initial step in ending rainforest
destruction is for each of the world's over-developed
countries to acknowledge the ways in which
it contributes to deforestation and stop them.
It is with this principle in mind that Rainforest
Memoranda have been or are being produced
in Germany, Austria, Australia, Belgium and
the United States. The Debt Burden is a symptom
of the global economic system which enables
overdeveloped countries to exploit poor countries
and consume the world's resources at an unsustainable
rate. Any lasting solution to the problem
of tropical deforestation requires an end
to the present suicidal overconsumption and
obsession with economic growth in the West.
1 Ehrlich, A&P., The Rainforest Times,
Vol.2,1987, FoE London.
2 Poore, D., No Timber Without Trees, 1989,
3 Barnett, T., Commission of Enquiry into
Aspects of the Timber Industry, 1989, Papua
4a The Australian Rainforest Memorandum, 1991,
Rainforest Information Centre, Lismore.
4b Lohmann, L., and Colchester, D., TFAP:
What Progress?, World Rainforest Movement,
5 Survival International, Expulsion from Game
Reserve, 1989, London.
6 Wilson, E.O., in Biodiversity, 1988, National
7 ref 4a
8 Rainforest Destruction, World Rainforest
Movement, 1990, Penang.
10 Colchester, M., in Global Development and
Environment Crisis, 1988, World Rainforest
11 Caufield, In the Rainforest, 1984, Univ
12 Martin, C., Institut für Ökologie
und angewandte Ethnologie, 1985, Mönchengladbach.
13 Peters et al, 1989, Valuation of a Tropical
Rainforest in the Peruvian Amazon, Nature,
14 Wilson, E.O., The Current State of Biodiversity,
in Biodiversity, 1988, National Academy Press.
15 Myers, K, The Primary Source, 1985, WW
Norton, New York.
16 George, S., A Fate Worse than Debt, Pelican,
This article was published in New Renaissance,
Vol. 3, Number 3 (1992) and posted on the
web in November, 2000.