Case study: Madenica

The weakness of the law, however, is illustrated by the case of the Madenica company. In 2009, around 700 trees were felled indiscriminately in the Cárdenas municipality close to Nicaragua’s southern frontier with Costa Rica by a company known as Madenica (Maderas Preciosas de Nicaragua). Madenica had been sowing a plantation of teak in the frontier zone since 2003 and therefore felled the species which were native to this area. According to a report by the Nicaraguan Forestry Authority, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, the Environmental Attorney, the Cárdenas municipality and the police, Madenica’s actions covered 41 hectares of land and nearly 700 trees, some of which were under prohibition. The report detailed the damaging effects of the clearance to the vegetative cover, the biomass, wildlife, soils and the integrity of the forest.[1]

For this crime, Madenica was fined a sum of US$10,000 and their forestry manager a further US$5,000. The timber companies are content to pay such paltry fines and continue with their illegal schemes.


[1] Lésber Quintero (June 2009) ‘Gigantesco despale en zona fronteriza’, Freshwater Action Network Central America (FANCA).

Raising funds for REDD

There are two mechanisms for raising the funding required by REDD initiatives:

Government funding: This mechanism would be financed mainly from funds derived from the auction of emission allowances in the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme and others, as well as developmental assistance funds.

Each rainforest nations would monitor deforestation at the national level against a generally agreed baseline. Payments would be made on the basis of deforestation reductions at country level. Each country would set up its own strategy to invest these funds to continue to receive annual transfers.

Market-based: This mechanism would be financed by allowing companies in Annex 1* countries to offset part of their emission reduction obligations through REDD.

Project owners and developers would validate and certify projects under generally agreed guidelines and approved methodologies. Each project would invest the carbon credit revenues according to local and regional conditions. These results would be inspected periodically by independent auditors at project level.


* There are 41 Annex I countries and the European Union is also a member. These countries are classified as industrialized countries and countries in transition


Source: International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) (March 2009) ‘Financing REDD: meshing markets with government funds’, IIED Briefing, IIED, London.

Community forestry in the Maya Biosphere Reserve

This item was briefly mentioned in the Prospects section of Chapter 6 of the book. Fuller details of the project are given here.

Community forestry is not a dream or a utopia. It already exists in Central America. It is seen as an alternative model for forest management, in that “community entrepreneurs with local social and environmental accountability will have more incentive to manage forests sustainably and deliver poverty reduction.”[1] Despite all the problems of governability and violence that the country suffers, Guatemala stands out as a pioneering example of such community forestry enterprise, and boasts the largest community-managed certified forest area in the world.

The Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) is an area of 2,112,940 hectares in the Petén province of Guatemala. A total area of 445,804 hectares in the MBR’s multiple-use zone is managed through community forestry concessions granted by the Guatemalan government.[2] Allowing timber extraction within the reserve was a controversial move, but the National Council for Protected Areas stipulated that all concessions in the MBR should operate through the FSC certification scheme.

The Association of Forestry Communities of Petén (ACOFOP) was established in 1995, as an umbrella organisation of community groups – consisting of 23 campesino and indigenous communities – committed to communal forest management and promoting social, ecological, economic and political sustainability in the multiple-use zone of the MBR.[3] ACOFOP assists communities with policy matters and provides a platform for communal sharing of ideas and technical support.

In collaboration with ACOFOP, a community owned company, FORESCOM S.A., was set up in 2003 to help reduce certification costs and provide key services including management of the certification process, investment in equipment, promoting value-added products, expanding markets for lesser-known species, and developing links with local buyers.[4]

A 2008 Rainforest Alliance report confirmed the effectiveness of the community forestry model as a means to protect and maintain forest cover in the MBR.[5] The report found that between 2002 and 2007, the average annual deforestation rate for the FSC certified concessions was twenty times lower than for the entire MBR. With regard to wildfires, area burnt on FSC concessions declined from 6.5 per cent in 1998 to 0.1 per cent in 2007, whilst in the MBR as a whole the area of forest burnt annually varied between 7 and 20 per cent. The authors attributed the success of the managed forest concessions to sustainable management practices demanded by FSC, as well as NGO and government-supported programmes which promote environmental awareness and community vigilance.

Moreover, community forestry has reduced uncontrolled settlement and created an alternative to clearance for agriculture or cattle ranching. In addition to conserving the natural resources of the MBR, jobs have been created and economic opportunities expanded for people living in the reserve.

It should be noted that international support, in terms of financial and technical assistance, has been critical to the success of community forestry in the MBR. One concern is that reliance on subsidies and the local feeling of having certification imposed from above, have prevented the communities from developing a sense of ownership, thus threatening the long-term sustainability of the projects, especially as finance is gradually withdrawn.[6]

Other threats to the scheme are presented by the current use of the Petén region by drug traffickers – see Chapter 9 – and by attempts to decentralise and municipalise control of activities in the forests. In their attempts to democratise the Guatemalan state and society, the 1996 Peace Accords promoted decentralisation of the country’s forest sector to the municipal level. Whilst the motive was honourable, in practice, many forest communities, which particularly in Guatemala are also indigenous communities, have found that they have even less power and control over the forest resources which they have traditionally managed than they had during the country’s long ‘civil’ war. The continuation of this trend is a threat to genuine community management of forest resources.[7]

But arguably the most threatening of all the dangers to the idea of community forestry in the Petén is the structure of power. In Guatemala for decades if not centuries, rural communities have been subjected to abuse, discrimination, repression and state terror, tactics used to ensure the continuation of the economic and political dominance of a small oligarchic establishment that bolsters its own power and control with military might and international finance.


[1] Op.cit. (Macqueen, 2008).
[2] Gómez, I. and Méndez, E. (2007, 2nd edition) El caso de la Asociación de Comunidades Forestales de Petén (ACOFOP): análisis de contexto, Centre for International Forestry Research and Programa Salvadoreño de Investigación sobre Desarrollo y Medio Ambiente, Bogor, Indonesia: www.cifor.cgiar.org/Knowledge/Publications/Detail?pid=2465 (accessed 11.09.09).
[3] See ACOFOP website: www.acofop.org/
[4] León, R. D. (2006) ‘Experiencia en el proceso de comercialización de productos maderables – FORESCOM, Petén, Guatemala’, Paper presented at international conference ‘Small and medium forest enterprise development for poverty reduction: opportunities and challenges in globalising markets’, CATIE, Turrialba, Costa Rica.
[5] Hughell, D. and Butterfield, R. (2008) ‘Impact of FSC certification on deforestation and the incidence of wildfires in the Maya Biosphere Reserve’, Rainforest Alliance, www.eco-index.org/search/pdfs/fsc-peten.pdf (accessed 10.09.09).
[6] Op.cit. (Cashore et al).
[7] Hannah Wittman and Charles Geisler (2005) ‘Negotiating Locality: Decentralisation and Communal Forest Management in the Guatemalan Highlands’, Human Organisation, 64 (1), 62-74, Society for Applied Anthropology.

Assassinated members of the Olancho Environmental Movement

This figure is refereed to in the book as Box 6.1 (Page 112)

The original version of this text box included the names of the intellectual authors of the assassinations listed. Understandably, Pluto Press would not include these names and altered the table to the version which appears in the book. We were hoping to include the original here in the website, but have been strongly advised to add nothing more than has already appeared in the book version.

Box-6.1-cleaned-up-version-page-001-880x1024

Illegally logged precious wood seized, Nicaragua

A joint operation by the Nicaraguan Navy, National Forest Institute and the National Police seized 20,000 board feet of illegally logged precious wood in the South Caribbean Autonomous Region near La Ceiba. Three people were detained. The captured wood included mahogany and granadillo.

Among its other duties, the Nicaraguan Navy is charged with protecting Nicaragua’s environment. Unrestrained illegal logging was a particular problem in the 1990s during which a flight over Nicaragua’s southern rainforest revealed many clear-cut areas thinly surrounded by a screen of trees.

Expansion of the agricultural frontier for farming and ranching is another threat to Nicaragua’s remaining rainforest.


Sources:

El Nuevo Diario (Managua), February 12, 2018.

NicaNotes by the Nicaragua Network and the Alliance for Global Justice, February 14, 2018.

Reforestation Efforts

At a local level in Central America, small-scale initiatives for reforestation abound. Schools, universities, local civil society organisations and NGOs, church groups, solidarity groups – so many of them promote their own small reforestation schemes in their own locality. It makes good copy for local and national newspapers and other media outlets as well as reflecting well on the group that initiates and promotes it. It is not right to be disparaging or cynical about such initiatives – it is appropriate that we should all get involved in such efforts and in local terms they can make a genuine difference to water quality, soil conservation, biodiversity, the air we breathe, the general wellbeing of our local environments, and they reflect an overall human desire to work for the good of the planet; but set alongside the national rates of deforestation and the rampant corruption and flouting of laws by the timber industry, in total, it is sad to say, these efforts are relatively minor.

On a larger scale, however, from reputation and from the figures for deforestation rates given earlier in this chapter, one Central American country, Costa Rica, stands out as having turned deforestation into reforestation. The following paragraphs examine whether the reputation is deserved.

Figure 6.1 in the book illustrates Costa Rica’s achievement, but we need to ask how this has come about, especially given that Costa Rican environmentalists and conservationists were as vociferous in their protests about deforestation in the country during the 1990s and 2000s as they had been in the 1980s.

Throughout the late 1990s, various environmental and conservation organisations complained that the 1996 Forestry Law actually opened up several loopholes for loggers, rather than closing them.[i] Following a campaign of protest against deforestation caused by timber company Stone Forestal, three leaders of the campaign (Óscar Fallos, María del Mar Cordero and Jaime Bustamente) lost their lives in a fire. A few months later, David Maradiaga – like the other three, a member of the Ecologists’ Association of Costa Rica (AECO) – died in suspicious circumstances. Gerardo Quirós, a member of the Association for the Preservation of Flora and Fauna (APREFLOFAS) was killed by loggers in Sarapiquí because of his constant denunciations of illegal logging. Jorge Aguilar, another member of APREFLOFAS, was also killed.[ii]

Regular denunciations and protestations by environmentalists some may say are to be expected regardless of what is happening on the ground, but others in Costa Rica were certainly concerned that the reality of deforestation on the ground was being falsely converted into an undeserved reputation for reforestation in the media. In May 1998, the journal Mesoamerica reported that government information that Costa Rica had experienced a net gain in forest cover had been met with denunciations of then-Environment Minister René Castro’s pronouncements on the grounds that he had downplayed ecologically essential information and had “incorporated unreliable figures that allowed him to distort the facts.”[iii] Specifically, “Castro factored in 126,884 acres of deciduous forest that had not shown up on previous [satellite] images, and 32,500 acres of newly reforested land, which enabled him to report a net gain.”[iv] It is also worth noting that the 1996 Forestry Law allows a reforested site to be re-logged after only fifteen years, despite the fact that some tree species take over 100 years to mature.

A year later, an article by Tracy Solum in the same journal reported that:

The logging industry has played a major role in the deterioration of Costa Rica’s forest cover. There are logging operations in most parts of the country and in many areas, such as the Osa Peninsula, operations are being carried out illegally. A new Forestry Law was approved in ’96 that many critics claim has facilitated access for logging companies to Costa Rica’s few remaining unprotected primary forests.[v]

The Central America branch of the Freshwater Action Network (FANCA) offered an opinion in 2010 on how the administration of Oscar Arias (from 2006 to 2010) had managed to continue the conversion of Costa Rica’s deforestation into its image of reforestation and environmental protection: “While the government publicises its campaign for extensive tree planting (mostly limited to exotic species planted in monocultures by lumber companies), aerial photographs of the pineapple expansion show the massive elimination of forested areas, even in protected river zones.”[vi] This supports other evidence from a year earlier cited in the Costa Rican Semanario Universidad which suggested that former forest areas had been invaded during the 2000s by agricultural plantations for crops such as pineapple, banana and coffee.[vii]

Also in 2010, Pablo Síbar Síbar, a member of the Térraba indigenous peoples of Costa Rica, interviewed specifically for this book, explained his community’s experience of the Costa Rican version of deforestation thus:

We went to prison because our town has been devastated by the loggers and because there was one last forest of 40 hectares remaining and we did not want them to cut it down, but the Ministry of the Environment (MINAE) and the National Indigenous Commission (CONAI) had given permission; and we were put in prison because we blocked the road in what was indigenous territory.[viii]

The evidence cited here is limited in what it proves, and as already remarked above, cynics might question whether protesting environmentalists have a sufficiently broad view of the overall picture; but even those in government do not deny that Costa Rica’s reforestation figures depend heavily on the inclusion of single species tree plantations. There is mounting scientific consensus that, whilst tree plantations may store carbon, they also tend to severely restrict the diversity of biological life.

Furthermore, there are now enough examples of community destruction and disharmony caused by the creation of such plantations for us at the very least to question the wisdom of cultivating single species tree plantations. And if more cause for concern is needed, then a considerable amount of recent research appears to show that plantations created for the production of agrofuels (such as palm oil) actually release more carbon in the process of that production than they store. Brian Tokar, for instance, reports on two 2008 studies from Princeton University and the University of Minnesota “which showed that industrial biofuels are often net contributors to global warming.”[ix]

Regardless of Costa Rica’s record on reforestation, it seems appropriate in this section to give the reader a sample of the small-scale reforestation efforts being made around Central America.

Chico Peña, a member of the Salvadoran NGO COMUS (United Communities of Usulután), noted that the population in most of the department of Usulután

during and after the war became dependent on farming, on maize and beans to live; and that’s the reason why there is deforestation in the zone. The campesino’s way of life with farming is one in which you can’t live by trees. You have to fell the trees in order to sow the maize.[x]

This small-scale deforestation has been a major challenge for COMUS, and in their efforts to counter it they have had to be realistic and to promote a mixture of trees and food crops rather than simply saying “Don’t fell”. Techniques such as live fences, partly forested areas that can also be used for grazing (silvopastoralism), coffee shaded with larger trees, and fruit orchards are all part of their reforestation promotional programme with the campesino families with whom they work.

In Nicaragua, the Federation of Secondary School Students, the July 19th Sandinista Youth, and authorities from the National Forestry Institute (INAFOR) and the Ministry of the Environment (MARENA) launched a National Reforestation Campaign in 2010 with the goal of planting 1.5 million trees. The Campaign depends on the voluntary help of school students, and many schools have created ‘Ecology Brigades’ to carry out the work and to work on other environmental issues.[xi] Additionally, a number of schools and local government authorities have initiated their own reforestation campaigns independent of the national campaign.

In Panama, the International Development Research Centre is working with groups of the Kuna and Emberá-Wounaan indigenous peoples to restore plant biodiversity in parts of the Darién region. Many parts of the region are being cleared to make way for cash crops and groups of these two peoples are losing species which have been important to their culture and survival for many generations. The project aims to maintain and enhance the local peoples’ traditional knowledge and use of the identified species with sustainable management policies.[xii]

The reforestation projects just described are only a minute sample of so many such projects in Central America. They are extremely worthy and worthwhile and as already noted, they make a difference. But their effect so far has done little to halt the rampant deforestation carried out by other sectors of society.


[i] Guillermo Escofet (19 September 1997) ‘FUNDECOR: Turning Theory into Practice’, Tico Times, San José, p.7.
[ii] Michelle Soto (14 June 2010) ‘’Luchar con la vida’, Revista Perfil, Tibás, Costa Rica.
[iii] Mesoamerica (May 1998) ‘Costa Rica: Deforestation Debate Unresolved’, Mesoamerica, San José, Costa Rica, p. 11.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Tracy Solum (April 1999) ‘Costa Rica’s Conservationist Image, a Myth?’, Mesoamerica, San José, Costa Rica, pp. 7-9.
[vi] Fresh Water Action Network – Central America (FANCA) (2010) ‘FANCA members sign testimony to the Arias administration’s destructive environmental policy’, FANCA, http://freshwateraction.net/web/w.www_302_en.aspx (accessed 08.04.10).
[vii] Semanario Universidad (2009) ‘País debe seguir incentivando recuperación forestal’, Semanario Universidad, San José, Costa Rica, 3 de junio 2009.
[viii] Pablo Síbar Síbar (11 August 2010) Interviewed specifically for this book by Martin Mowforth, San José, Costa Rica.
[ix] Brian Tokar (September 2009) ‘Toward Climate Justice: Can we turn back from the abyss?’, Zmag, www.zmag.org/zmag/viewArticle/22377 (accessed 09.09.09).
[x] Chico Peña (26 July 2010) and other members of COMUS interviewed specifically for this book, San Francisco Javier, El Salvador.
[xi] Nicaragua News (29 June 2010) ‘Reforestation in Nicaragua’, Nicaragua Network.
[xii] International Development Research Centre (IDRC) (2011) ‘Plant Biodiversity of the Embera and Kuna People of Darien’, IDRC, Canada, www.idrc.ca/en/ev-67584-201_004195-1-IDRC_ADM_INFO.html (accessed 26.05.11).

Timber certification

This figure is refereed to in the book as Table 6.2 (Page 124)

Timber certification is a relatively recent phenomenon which sprang from rising concerns about tropical deforestation. The movement gathered momentum during the 1980s and 1990s which saw a number of campaigns against unsustainable logging from Western environmental NGOs (such as Friends of the Earth and Earth First!), direct-action protests and consumer boycotts.[1]

There are currently a number of certification schemes, of which the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is the most widely implemented on a global scale. FSC is an independent, non-governmental organisation founded in 1993 to provide a means of certifying and labelling forest products which originate from responsible forest management. The idea is that customers will pay higher prices for sustainably produced timber products, and that this purchasing power will stimulate a transition to more sustainable forest management practices.

The simplicity of using a market mechanism to address global forest degradation is enticing. Its supposed advantage is that it compensates for the inherent difficulties associated with regulation in developing countries, and bypasses intergovernmental efforts which may be slow and ineffective. Regulation is also hardly viewed favourably against a backdrop of neo-liberal and free-trade principles dominating the current global economic model (see Ch. 7). William Adams suggests that unwillingness to regulate trade on environmental grounds and support for neo-liberal policies has restricted the WTO’s ability to advance sustainable forestry.[2] However, of course the existence of a market for certified timber does not eradicate unsustainable forestry activity or illegal logging.

Despite the certification model proliferating in Europe and North America, there has been limited success in most developing countries.[3]The number and total areas of FSC certified forests and numbers of chain of custody certificates (to businesses or operations handling FSC certified products) in the Central American countries are as follows:[4]

Total-area-of-forest-page-001-1024x419

The international timber trade is much less important in Latin America than in other parts of world such as South East-Asia and the majority of wood is harvested for domestic use. A report for the United States Agency for International Development acknowledged that “despite the increased interest in forestry certification in Central America and Mexico, a reality is that many of the companies or certified forestry projects have not in fact managed to introduce their products to the international market with any success.”[5]

One solution is to increase trade for the regional market. WWF Centroamérica, recognising the potential in the sizeable internal timber trade, campaign to increase awareness of FSC certification, and particularly to promote the use of certified timber to construction companies, architects and hotels in Nicaragua and Costa Rica.[6]

The pervasiveness of illegal logging throughout Central America is a critical problem for timber certification, as it injects an abundance of low-cost wood into the market, undermining the economic viability of certified products.

The cost of certification is a pertinent issue, as it penalises small-scale producers. It is often noted that the economic incentives are not great enough to induce most forest producers to switch to sustainable methods.[7] FSC have attempted to address this problem by introducing ‘group certification’ and new standards for small and low-intensity managed forests (SLIMFs) which are more sensitive to local contexts.

Other challenges which limit the scope of forest certification in Central America, and in developing countries in general include land tenure insecurity, limited business experience and technical capacity of local operators, and inability to meet international demands in terms of consistent quality, type and quantity of timber.[8]

Duncan Macqueen of the IIED (International Institute for Environment and Development) has highlighted the flaws of the FSC scheme –in accommodating for mostly large producer industries who can absorb the costs of certification, failing to differentiate small-scale community enterprises, and failing to guarantee the latter group a fair price. He argues that a marriage between FSC and the fair-trade movement may provide the answer; that a collaboration between FSC and Fair Trade Labelling Organizations International (currently in discussion) could empower small-scale community forestry projects, delivering on both social and environmental goals through reducing poverty and sustaining forests. [9]


[1] Adams, W. M. (2009) Green Development: Environment and sustainability in a developing world, 3rd edition, Routledge, London
[2]Ibid
[3] Cashore, B., Gale, F., Meidinger, E. and Newsom, D. (2006) Confronting sustainability: Forest certification in developing and transitioning countries, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, New Haven, USA
[4] Forest Stewardship Council (2009) ‘Global FSC certificates: type and distribution’ (June) http://www.fsc.org/fileadmin/web-data/public/document_center/powerpoints_graphs/facts_figures/09-06-15_Global_FSC_certificates_-_type_and_distribution_-_FINAL.pdf (accessed 26 August 2009)
[5] International Resources Group Ltd (1999) ‘Improving market access for certified forest products in Central America and Mexico’ (April) http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNACE758.pdf (accessed 26 August 2009)
[6] See the WWF Centroamérica website: http://www.wwfca.org
[7] Gullison, R. E. (2003) ‘Does forest conservation conserve biodiversity?’ Oryx, 37: 153-6
[8] Op.cit. (Cashore et al.; InternationalResources Group Ltd)
[9] See Macqueen, D. J., Dufey, A. and Patel, B. (2006) Exploring Fair Trade Timber: A review of issues in current practice, institutional structures and ways forward. IIED Small and Medium Forestry Enterprise Series No.19. IIED, Edinburgh, UK; also Macqueen, D.J (2008) ‘A cut above: building the market for fair trade timber’ Sustainable Development Opinion, International Institute for Environment and Development (February)

The physical transformation of Central America’s vegetation

The following are extracts from an article by Eric Holt Gímenez, Director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First and a regular commentator on development policy in Central America. The article was originally published on the Oxfam Central America website (www.oxcamex.org.ni/mitch/) soon after Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

Hurricane Mitch may be the most devastating ecological event to occur in the history of Central America. This is because human impact on the isthmus over the last century transformed the original, heavily forested landscape into a wide patchwork of open fields bordered by groves of trees. Pre-Colombian slash and burn rotational systems were converted from small cultivated plots with extensive areas of forested fallow to intensively farmed, non-rotational systems.

Agriculture reduced the ecological succession of the region from multi-storied, high and medium canopy cover to ecosystems made up of low-lying broadleaf plants, grasses and bare soil. The ecological effect of this transformation was an overwhelming shift in the primary store of nutrients from the biomass (trees) to the soil. This shift in the nutrient store and the corresponding disappearance of the rich litter layer was accompanied by a dramatic reduction in the levels of nutrients held in these ecosystems. … Modern farming has been possible only by the addition of fertilisers.

The change in agroecosystem structure and function from biomass to soil and from nutrient cycling to nutrient addition also removed the protective forest cover, exposing the soil and its reduced nutrient layer to intensive tropical rains. Hurricane Mitch may not have been the first hurricane to dump two metres of rain on the isthmus in less than a week, but it was the first time this large an area of Central American soil had been directly exposed to the intensity of that much rain – ever.

The result was devastating. But the terrible death toll and loss of homes due to mudslides and flooding (now followed by hunger and disease) are only preludes … Mitch was the disaster; the crises are yet to come.