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Improving forest regulations and policies

A number of countries have recently adopted new forest regulations. For example, Bolivia adopted a new forestry law in 1996 (Law 1700) which makes stateowned forests available to private companies through concessions provided that local and indigenous populations are involved (Tomaselli 2000). The amount of forest land under protection is also increasing - from less than 10 per cent of total forest area in tropical South America in 1990 to more than 14 per cent in 2000 (FAO 2001a).

Market-based instruments such as certification can also contribute to sustainable forest management, and Bolivia, Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico now have 1.8 million ha of forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (see box) - far exceeding the area of tropical moist forests certified anywhere else in the world (FAO 2001a). Shade-grown coffee is another example where such instruments have the potential to protect environmental resources and to address local concerns (see box).

Shade-grown coffee - harnessing the market for sustainable development
When North American consumers pay a premium for shade-grown coffee, incentives can be created for Mexican farmers to maintain the biodiversity of the land on which they traditionally grow coffee in the shade of the existing forest canopy. By relying on inherent natural predators and barriers to protect their crops from pests and on the natural fertility of the soil to nurture the plants, they avoid costly and often damaging fertilizers and pesticides. Their diverse agrosystems can continue to provide habitat for migratory songbirds, insects and other fauna that may otherwise be threatened by conversion to large plantations of sun-grown coffee, while preserving the cultural values, livelihoods and integrity of small communities. By realizing the market value of shade-grown coffee, the economic logic for clearing forests is drastically reduced, while incentives to conserve and sustainably use the forest increase (Vaughan, Carpentier and Patterson 2001).

The area of plantations increased from about 7.7 million ha in 1990 to about 11.7 million ha in 2000. These plantations, composed of mainly Pinus and Eucalyptus species, are concentrated in the Southern Cone and in Brazil, Peru and Venezuela (FAO 2001a). Regional policies on forestry plantations are mainly oriented towards recovering degraded land. In some countries, there are a few areas where plantations have played a key part in increasing forest cover and bringing in large amounts of foreign exchange. In other areas, plantations are an economic alternative to other land uses (such as agriculture) and thus help to reduce deforestation. However, plantations contain significantly less biodiversity than native forests (Cavelier and Santos 1999).

Most governments receive international support to formulate environmental policies, strengthen institutions, and establish structures and mechanisms to improve monitoring and evaluation. Most of the internationally supported programmes and projects are linked to global concerns such as biodiversity conservation and climate change. Examples of such initiatives include the PPG 7 Pilot Project in Brazil, the BOLFOR Project in Bolivia (FMT 2002) and the Iwokrama International Centre in Guyana. International organizations are active in the region and efforts to address problems through regional collaboration are gaining ground. The Central American Council for Forests and Protected Areas advises on policies and strategies for sustainable use of forest resources and conservation of biodiversity while the Treaty for Amazonian Cooperation between eight South American countries fosters collaboration on activities in the Amazon Basin (FAO 2001b).