br>Smallholders in the Amazon are one of the most important actor groups for achieving long-term maintenance of the remaining forests. They manage vast areas of forestlands based on customary rights, and possess significant local knowledge about their resources. Smallholders have been exploited and marginalized throughout centuries within paternalistic societies ruled by economic and political elites. More recently, in response to pressure from emerging societal movements, many national governments, supported by the international community, have recognized the rights and roles of smallholders living in rural, often still forested landscapes.
During the 1990s, Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) proliferated throughout the Amazon region as a promising approach to halter deforestation and biodiversity loss, as well as to mitigate climate change. While SFM initially focused on the capacities of professionally working timber companies managing public forests in concessions, soon the need became obvious to consider the smallholders living in and from these forests. This gave rise to the concept of community-based forest management that primarily relates to the management of timber by small local forest owners based on legally authorized management plans grounded in the principles of Reduced Impact Logging (RIL). Accordingly, many different governmental and non-governmental organizations, supported by the international donor community, started initiatives to support this new approach.
However, after many years of promotion of community-based forest management, experiences have been rather ambivalent. Despite some impressive success stories of some forest development projects, only very few smallholders adopted the proposed management schemes. This lack of broader success indicated a lack of compatibility between the regulatory and market frameworks for community-based forest management and the capacities and interests of smallholders. This raised the more general question if and to what degree the management of forests for timber under the specific conditions of the Amazon region is a feasible option for smallholders to generate the urgently required income in a sustainable way.
Against this backdrop, this study aimed at analysing the effective potential of timber management for smallholders in the Amazon to provide orientation for the formulation of policies to promote community-based forest management for the benefits of smallholders. The study considered two critical impediments to community-based forest management: the locally absent technical skills and financial means needed to act successfully in timber markets; and a low abundance, unsatisfactory regeneration and productivity of marketable species in natural forests. Related to this, it is often argued that smallholders tend to seriously overexploit and damage their forests if not controlled. Accordingly, the study followed four research questions: i) What possibilities do smallholders have to engage in timber markets?; ii) What is the commercial potential of their primary and secondary forest areas?; iii) What are the effects of smallholders’ timber logging on forests?; and, iv) What are the possibilities for long-term management of timber resources?.
As part of the EU-financed international research project “Forest management by small farmers in the Amazon - An opportunity to enhance forest ecosystem stability and rural livelihood”, this study addresses these three questions by empirically analysing 21 communities in four forest regions in Bolivia (Riberalta), Ecuador (Macas) and Peru (Pucallpa and Puerto Maldonado) selected for their relevance and representativeness regarding regional contexts in terms of markets characteristics, smallholder’s management strategies, and forest characteristics. The analysis included three studies:
i) A market and value-chain analysis to understand the role of smallholders in contemporary timber markets and to identify the barriers and potentials to make forest management an attractive source of income.
ii) An analysis of the monetary value of timber in smallholders’ primary and logged areas.
iii) An assessment of the effects of smallholder’s logging activities in primary and secondary forests on forest structure and composition through comparisons between primary and logged farm forests.
In these studies, farm inventories were carried out in primary, secondary, and logged forests. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with smallholders about timber management practices, generated incomes, production costs, and timber marketing. Secondary information and expert interviews complemented information particularly related to the scientific names and ecological characteristics of the inventoried trees, production chains, and relevant legal aspects. Multivariate and univariate approaches were used to analyse farm forests, and to classify smallholders according to their forest management strategies. In a final step, the findings were used to calculate the financial and ecological potential of community-based timber management under consideration of different area size, logging intensity, and productivity scenarios.
The market analysis revealed that the number of species with commercial potential for regional or international markets differed largely between the study areas. Whereas in Riberalta, Bolivia, 15 tree species were regarded as commercial, 22 commercial species were regarded as such in the Pucallpa and Puerto Maldonado regions in Peru, and up to 80 species in the Macas region in Ecuador. Accordingly, the stocking commercial volumes in the analysed forests varied from around 20 m-3 in Riberalta, Pucallpa and Puerto Maldonado, to up to 80 m-3 ha-1 in Macas. The specific numbers strongly varied between the different smallholder forest stands due to previous logging practices and local forest composition. Also, the prices paid by local traders for timber varied strongly. For Cedrelinga cateniformis, a timber tree species found in all the study regions, the price varied from only USD$ 3.7 in Riberalta, to USD$ 6.7 in Pucallpa and Puerto Maldonado, up to USD$ 16 m-3 of round wood in Macas. Accordingly, the monetary value of stocking timber volume for one hectare varied from USD$ 0 in a logged farm forest located near Riberalta, to USD$ 1,324 in a smallholder forest located in the Macas region.
The analysed households used this potential to different degrees. It is possible to distinguish five general categories of smallholders: (1) Those not dependent on income from timber; (2) those requiring occasional income from timber; (3) smallholders requiring complementary income; (4) those obtaining their principal income from timber; and (5) smallholders specialized in timber harvesting and trade. Depending on market opportunities, forest conditions and the strategy of the smallholder, incomes from timber varied from USD$ 194 yr-1 in Pucallpa and Puerto Maldonado, to USD$ 216 in Riberalta, up to USD$ 2,589 in Macas.
Forests previously logged by smallholders showed significant differences to pristine forests regarding basal area, number of trees and DBH distribution of the principal commercial species. Particularly, a large shift towards smaller size classes was observed. In secondary forests, the commercial timber potential depended in particular on the regeneration and dominance of commercial tree species. In some young secondary forests, dense regeneration of pioneer species with a commercial value in local markets dominated the forest composition. In other cases, only few commercially interesting trees were found.
Projections of timber production for the next thirty years resulted in the volumes: between 7.4 m3 ha-1, 12.2 m3 ha-1, and 20.9 m3 ha-1 for Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador respectively, with large variations depending on previous logging practices. These values translate into Annual Allowable Cuts between 0.05 m3 ha-1 yr-1 in a stand located in Puerto Maldonado, up to 1 m3 ha-1 yr-1 in a still pristine forest in Ecuador. Considering the average forest areas of smallholder farms of 53 ha in Bolivia, 46 ha in Peru, and 31 ha in Ecuador, the yearly harvestable volume per smallholder is around 11.5 m3 yr-1, 12.5 m3 yr-1, and 7.2 m3 yr-1 in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador, respectively. These translate into potential annual incomes of around USD$ 45 (Bolivia), USD$ 84 (Peru), and USD$ 115 (Ecuador) for the three countries. The potential annual net income also strongly varied depending on transport distance to the nearest road and the availability of horses and chainsaws. Thus, income prospects of forest that were three hours distant from a road were around USD$ 200 yr-1 compared to USD$ 1,000 yr-1---- for a forest located near a road.
These findings suggest that timber management can be financially attractive for smallholders particularly if value is added through the cutting of planks. However, in practice, this potential depends largely on local marketing possibilities and timber prices, the possibility of integrating into value-added chains, as well as the size, composition and state of the forest. In case of vibrant timber markets that absorb large volumes of a wide range of tree species, the financial attractiveness of timber logging is high. Even under less favourable conditions, smallholders tend to develop strategies to take advantage of an eventually existing potential for generating income from the logging of timber in their forests. The identified timber use strategies employed by smallholders in the study regions, although not under control of the forest authorities, so far have only moderately changed the structure and composition of forests at a level comparable with the one documented for sustainable timber management schemes. Timber growth projections for forests that have been logged by smallholders are comparable to those of logged areas under management plans.
It can be concluded that the management of forests to produce timber can be attractive for smallholders as a complementary source of urgently required income while contributing in parallel to the long-term conservation of significant forest areas in the Amazon. Against this backdrop, it is highly recommended to more intensively support smallholder forestry in the region, above all by the formal recognition of local management schemes and a substantial improvement of local conditions for the commercialization of timber.