The Strategic Forestry Plan was prepared in response to a request by the USAID/Ecuador Environmental Team to further define project-specific opportunities for forestry activities under the USAID Sustainable Forests and Coasts project. The Plan is consistent with the Project´s approved annual work plan and identifies opportunities that could be considered within the broader Project context depending on the availability of financial resources.
A group of Forestry Specialists (Chief of Party, Claudio Saito, Chemonics Forestry Expert John Nittler, and the Project´s Forestry and Non-Timber Product Specialist from subcontractor Rainforest Alliance, Christian Teran) provided information for the Plan following a series of site visits from October 25 to 31, 2009 and from January 18 to 22, 2010. In order to prepare the plan site visits and meetings took place in Quito, Esmeraldas, the Gran Reserva (GR) Chachi (including visits to the Pinchot Institute’s field activities), coastal watersheds corresponding to the Reserva Marina (RM) Galera San Francisco, and the Ayampe River watershed. The visits aimed at meeting with key forestry sector stakeholders to gather insights, experiences, and lessons learned for developing the plan. Mr. Nittler and Mr. Terán prepared a trip report and presented findings to the USAID Environmental team after Deputy Chief of Party, Arnaldo Rodríguez, consolidated and finalized the Strategic Forestry Plan.
The overall goal of the USAID Sustainable Forests and Coasts Project is biodiversity conservation and is therefore also the starting point and overall objective of the Strategic Forestry Plan. During start up, the Project, together with USAID and the Ministry of Environment (MAE) selected six geographic work areas for Project activities based upon their importance to biodiversity conservation. These areas contain varying levels of forest. Opportunities exist for promoting sustainable forestry, protection, and restoration via activities that can help to minimize threats to deforestation and increase biodiversity conservation. To this end, in preparation of the Strategic Forestry Plan, the forestry specialized evaluated the forestry sector in each site and selected three sites for developing forestry sector strategies, as detailed below.
The coastal region of Ecuador is made up of many different ecosystems and micro-habitats, with the high levels of biodiversity, but the remaining forest continues to be under tremendous threat of land conversion for agriculture expansion, cattle production, and over-exploitation of economically-valuable timber species.
The Government of Ecuador (GOE) has committed to conserve forests and biodiversity and has launched several programs aimed at conserving forests. The most important (for the project’s objectives) is Programa Socio Bosque, which uses a payment for conservation framework. Others include ProForestal, which was created to promote reforestation, and the newly developed mechanism called Socio Manejo that contributes to the conservation and adequate management of forest resources. These efforts provide a framework for the GOE on environmental and forest policy. Unfortunately, the ongoing modes operandi for extracting wood from natural forests potentially threatens the gains that could be made through such innovative programs and international positions.
USAID lessons learned in other regions (Reserva de la Biosfera Maya and Bolivia) have shown that forest conservation is far more efficient when a sustainable use is allowed, wherein the human groups can obtain direct benefits from the forest (like timber or mangrove concessions), hence fostering social mechanism of control, than strict conservation schemes, based on external control systems like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Certification has been promoted to enhance forest management in countries where governance capacities are insufficient to adequately manage natural resources and enforce pertinent regulations, given that certification relies largely on non-governmental organizations and private businesses. In Ecuador, only 21,300 ha (less than 0.2% of forests) 3 were FSC certified under two existing permits (Ebeling y Yasué, 2008), and there were also no further Chain of Custody certificates among processing companies.
Strategic Forestry Plan Summary
The Plan defines forestry and conservation activities in the following three project areas selected for forestry activities: (1) GR Chachi; (2) Galera, Bunche and San Francisco River watersheds (all related to the RM Galera San Francisco) in the province of Esmeraldas; and the (3) Ayampe River watershed in the province of Manabí. These three areas (out of the six project areas) were selected based on the specific types and levels of remaining forests in each area, and the importance of those forests for biodiversity conservation.
The Plan summarizes the following four main causes limiting forest management in Ecuador that foster deforestation:
- Fragmented ownership pattern of forest resources, a situation that causes value chains to be complex, opportunistic and hard to control, since logging in small lands is unpredictable. This factor also limits the access of timber to high-value end markets because there is no regular flow of timber, transportation costs are high, and there is a lack of technical sawing. This situation provides opportunities for middle-men living in or around the forested areas, who buy illegal wood from small land owners.
- Lack of control and illegal markets. There is no effective enforcement of forestry laws in Ecuador. The National Forestry Agency is severely underfunded. As mentioned before, forest conservation is far more efficient when a sustainable use is allowed, than strict external control systems.
- Unclear land tenure: lack of ownership, unclear land borders, and land tenure within protected areas or private land tenure within Indigenous lands all favors deforestation: land owners and squatters alike systematically cut forested areas in order to prove ownership while limiting access to Programa Socio Bosque and ProForestal.
- Lack of private or community ownership on underground resources: even setting aside a natural forest for conservation and management is no guarantee to its preservation, because rights to underground resources (oil and minerals) belong to the GOE, which has the authority to concession to third parties, reducing the incentives for forest conservation.
In developing the Project´s Strategic Forestry Plan there are two reasons to keep the importance of biodiversity conservation at the forefront. First, and foremost, sustainable forest management, protection, and restoration activities will help to reduce threats on critical ecosystems. Second, working with the stakeholders in the selected areas will allow for sustainable changes in attitudes related to natural resource management. To achieve sustainable use of Ecuador’s forests, it is crucial that the private sector be involved with value chain development in areas conducive to natural forest management, plantations, and agro-forestry systems. The overarching strategy for commercial forestry activities in the USAID Sustainable Forests and Coasts Project will be based upon engaging the private sector and serving as an honest broker between the private sector and resource holders.
Unlike many previous efforts, the Project’s direct role in implementing commercial forestry will be limited to gathering, analyzing, and disseminating information; building awareness; identifying public and private partnerships (PPP) opportunities along value chains; and providing strategic technical assistance and training inputs to overcome major obstacles. Project funding will not be used directly to produce forest management plans, plant trees with commercial value, or other direct-investment interventions. To confront these challenges the USAID Sustainable Forests and Coasts project will apply the principles of adaptive management in order to adapt and learn, and ultimately make adjustments to its implementation strategy if needed.
The Project´s Strategic Forestry Plan presents five strategic pillars for forest management and conservation designed to reduce threats to biodiversity and improve the overall enabling environment of sustainable forestry while recognizing that some activities may go beyond the Project´s original objectives and resources. The five strategic pillars are as follows:
- Strategy 1: Conserve natural forests with high importance to biodiversity, mainly within the GR Chachi, the Ayampe River watershed and the remnants of natural forest in the coastal watersheds of the RM Galera San Francisco.
- Strategy 2: Strengthen forestry value chains in natural production forests, with the area of the highest potential being the GR Chachi and perhaps small pockets in the Ayampe River Watershed.
- Strategy 3: Restore degraded forests to foster biodiversity conservation, in the coastal watersheds related to the RM Galera San Francisco, which is the area with the largest extent of degraded forest/lands, and much of the upper reaches of the Ayampe River watershed.
- Strategy 4: Develop Plantations and Agro-forestry Schemes. Areas where there is the most potential and need for these interventions are in the RM Galera San Francisco watersheds and the Ayampe River watershed.
- Strategy 5: Forestry policy
Overall activities include the development of Environmental Management Plans and the implementation of corresponding activities; land titling, access to Socio Bosque and Proforestal, reforestation of native species, strengthening of non-timber forest product (NTFP) value chains (including tagua nuts, kapok and bamboo), exploring opportunities for commercial plantations (replacing pasture or monocultures), using native species like balsa (Ochroma piramydale), laurel (Cordia allidora), and amarillo (Centrolobium sp.); generating alliances for conservation and promoting social-based systems for control, surveillance and monitoring. Additional potential activities include technical support to the GOE (particularly to the MAE and Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Aquaculture and Fisheries –MAGAP), at the policy level.