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The Political Economy of Deforestation

AS A MANIACAL TREE LOVER, my first act when I moved to California was to sleep in a virgin forest of each major Sierran and coastal species. Curl up, with one arm over the smooth root of a giant sequoia, occasionally look for a star through the distant branches, dream deeply in an ancient, ancient boudoir. I feel shy discussing the political economy of deforestation. As an "old fart" ecologist who's heard this deforestation discussion for many years, I worry about repeating the same old same old. Here goes.

The Most Sketchy History of Planetary Deforestation

The conversion of forests to other uses (especially agriculture) and the impoverishment of existing standing forests has been a consistent theme of the 20th century. The trend has many pre-1900s pockets. Greece lost its famous oaks to the axes of northern invaders in pre-Hellenic times. In the 1700s and 1800s, the oak-hickory forests of the American mid-western and southern deciduous forests all fell to wheat, corn and tobacco farms. The forests of southern Europe , Iran , Afghanistan , the Middle East , much of highland China , Nepal , Tibet and Sahelian Africa have been replaced by a shrub/grass complex. Various- kingdoms in West Africa (900s through 1300s) deforested areas for metallurgy, especially smelting.

The global timber trade began in the colonial era, starting in 1550 but accelerating after the post-Napoleanic Wars. Countries that had the transport, capital, technology, and political means extracted wood products from every region of the world. The Thai teak trade, the British extraction of naval stores from the American colonies, and Ghana 's African mahogany trade are three such sagas. In the twentieth century, industrial economies continue to tap the forests of developing economies to meet their own demand for construction wood,  veneer, and plywood. Time after time, private investors join national commercial and political interests. Together, they cash in on the short-term profits to be made from timber exports from capital-starved nations. The most recently popularized example is the clearing of rainforests for timber and the replacement of these forests with pasture for export beef cattle. On the other hand, the developing economies have.been, until very recently, completely dependent on the northern industrialized nations (including China) for paper. Their export of timber has, in many cases, almost balanced their import of paper yielding no net gain in income.

The role of national governments has remained somewhat the same in colonial and post-colonial times. National governments can create an economic environment that accelerates or decelerates deforestation or the impoverishment of standing forests. During the colonial period, colonial taxing policies (especially in Africa) forced men into the timber trade by making them pay in cash (not kind). At that time, the only cash-producing economy in southwest Africa was timber. Today, in Mali for example, taxing of the rural poor forces them to cut firewood for the urban market even though they know that they are cutting too much.

In addition, joint agreements between nations, concessionaires and trading companies and, more recently, bilateral or multilateral agency agreements have been a major accelerating force in deforestation. For instance, in the colonial period, companies received timber access and cutting rights in exchange for building railroads. Today, the World Bank tries to stabilize external debts with loans to projects that accelerate deforestation. The Brazil Polonoroeste Project, India 's Naramada Valley Dam Project, and the Indonesian Transmigration Project (all, in part, supported by the World Bank and other international development banks) have subsidized, encouraged or required millions of acres of deforestation.

There is a Japanese variant (1950s) which did not rely on Western capital. Early in this century, Japan realized that harbor facilities and imports were cheaper than local harvesting in rugged mountains. While this saved Japan 's forests ( Japan is one of the most forested nations despite high population), it led to a complex history of Japanese access and use agreements to forests in Southeast Asia and the Soviet Union . This pattern has recently been repeated in the Pacific northwest of the U.S. (a long story).

In short, the global timber trade is merely one aspect of a complex net of economic activities that consume varied natural resources (minerals, soils, water, petroleum) and alter arable, grazing and timbered lands on a worldwide scale.

Stabilized Forest Regrowth

Certain nations post-1900 U.S. , Japan , and Europe (but not the Soviet Union ) stabilized their forest coverage, although not with the same species that previously existed. What can be learned from this stabilization? First, the intensification and mechanization of agriculture (maintaining or increasing production on equal land areas) reduced the demand for new farmland. In New England farmland was left fallow, major grain farming switched to the Midwest , New England soils wore out, and wage labor migrated to the cities. The abandoned northeastern farms regenerated. This is the major acreage of reforestation in the U.S. far surpassing tree plantations or reforestation schemes. The second and third growth New England forests are, in fact, exceptionally diverse because they naturally reseeded. Recently, suburban sprawl and acid rain have reversed the expansion and regrowth of these temperate broad-leafed forests.

In other parts of the world, agriculture has increased production by expansion. Large expanses of forest have been cleared or greatly modified for peanuts (Africa), cotton (Africa), rice and tea (India), coffee (Africa and South America), and local grains such as millet, tef, maize, sorghum. Recently, land clearing for beef export has reduced forests in much of Latin America . This conversion of forests to other uses is a major, usually undiscussed, topic in deforestation.

Second, the U.S. , Japan and Europe made a significant shift to both coal, petroleum, hydro- and nuclear power for heat energy for both homes and industries. This took the burden off wood. Wood became part of "middle-class primitivism" the male-does-the-barbecue with charcoal and mesquite chips, cuts the ceremonial Christmas tree, and burns the ceremonial yule log. In other nations, wood still provides all the home cooking fuel and heat.

Third, Japan , Europe (especially Britain ) and the U.S. switched to using other nations' wood resources and "banked" their own. Having depleted the Carib and northern Central and South American wood stocks, Europe extracts wood from West Africa and Malaysia . U.S. timber and wood products come from the Philippines and Brazil . Japan , Taiwan , Korea , Hong Kong and Singapore all extract timber from Indonesia and the whole of southeast Asia. In the U.S. , access to and use of foreign woodstocks also allowed the American wood-products industry to have a very enlightened policy (comparatively) on regrowth of softwoods. The American industry had a "window" in which to make long-term (not quite sustained) investments in private forests as well as learn how to efficiently grow trees on farms.

Fourth, the extraction and trade of wood products has a technological component. For instance, tropical woods have a fiber structure that has resisted pulping. However, with new methods, tropical wood can now be separated into fibers and made into paper. Tropical forest cutting is changing from selective cutting for specific trees to clear-cutting for-both timber and pulp. The terms of trade (bargaining hardwoods for paper) may also change as developing countries begin to manufacture their own paper.

Fifth, hardwood products have definitely become luxury items. The price difference between a solid oak or mahogany table top vs. a table top with oak or mahogany veneer plus plywood vs. a formica imitation-wood table top is a symptom of global hardwood scarcity. Our children will probably live in a world of hardwood substitutes (e.g. aluminum chairs, fake paneling, particle board) as good hardwood logs become as rare as elephant ivory. The rate of hardwood regeneration will be controlled by technologies and markets for recycling paper products and wood, product substitution, government controls on extraction, luxury pricing, and process advancements (i.e. making more efficient use of the total log).

Finally, Europe and the U.S. have supported some regrowth because of the conservation movement and tourist industry. For instance, the tourist industry has become a major incentive for less developed nations to preserve forests within National Parks. The conservation movement can take credit for preserving quality forests (interesting species and high species diversity) more than for large acreages of reforestation. Still, only 6 percent of U.S. virgin forests remain, and much of this forest will be cut because of the high prices of old-growth timber. Almost every major U.S. endangered-species battle (the Mt. Graham spruce squirrel, the red cockaded woodpecker, the spotted owl) is really a battle over old-growth forest or rivers.

Quick Summary

The crucial new aspect of the global wood-products economy is this: the industrialized nations of Europe , Japan and North America had the opportunity to relax exploitation of their own hardwood forests and utilize the forests of other regions of the world. The new developing nations not only need the income that comes from selling their hardwoods but have no alternative regions to exploit to meet their own needs and slow down the exploitation of their own resources. Combined with the unstoppable growth of the human population, the "new global economy/ecology" implications are obvious: the regeneration and long-term sustenance of the developing world's forests will have to come from a very different organizational and financial base than now exists. We would all do well to avoid becoming armchair ecologists and begin to conceive of global actions that will help formulate this new organizational and financial base.

Lessons and Actions

(1)  For many parts of the developing world, the trade in timber as a major commodity has been far less important than the expansion of export agriculture.

To take pressure off the remaining forests, agriculture in developing nations needs intensification. There is simply no easy way to stop the conversion of forests to agriculture without slowing population growth and producing more food per acre.

Agricultural products serve two goals: feeding the people and cash income from exporting. The non-petroleum countries in particular require export-derived cash from crops or minerals to purchase much needed petroleum-based goods (especially fertilizer). It may be possible to slow forest conversion by creating special export agreements.

These export agreements would guarantee price stability and commodity markets. In exchange, the developing country would agree to set aside particular forests. Price stability for exported agricultural products as well as price stability for imported petroleum products are as important as profits in the third world. These are risk-avoidance, not risk-assuming economies. Stabilized currency is part of this issue.

A "sectoral" approach, in which forestry is isolated from agriculture, livestock and fuels, has not been successful.

(2)  Industrialized nations took pressure off their forests by switching fuels.

In countries deforesting for firewood, subsidized prices for propane, butane or kerosene heating/ cooking fuels will take some pressure off forests. The price of the petro-fuel must be held competitive with firewood. The petro-fuel price ideally should be just below firewood. Encouraging petro-fuel stoves is only feasible in urban areas. Again, price stability is important if the urban public is to switch from wood to petro-fuels. In rural areas, the additional transport cost pushes petro-fuel prices beyond the means of most villagers.

Some donors, including the World Bank, have suggested raising the market price of fuelwood. This will not reduce deforestation in rural areas where fuelwood is outside the monetary economy. Even in rural village markets, the price of fuelwood cannot be increased too much. Raising prices simply forces fuelwood into the black market and increases woodpoaching.

In some rural areas, new, more efficient wood stoves have reduced firewood consumption by 20 to 40 percent. Laws against the use of charcoal (such as those enacted in Ethiopia and Senegal ) have also helped reduce the inefficiencies of wood-fuel use.

(3)   The links between corporate interests and government encouragement of economic development lead us to the role of political lobbying and "perverse incentives" in deforestation.

"Perverse incentives" are economic incentives that encourage non-sustainable use of natural resources such as forests. Brazil wins the award for the most perverse incentives for ecological destruction in recent times. Subsidized loans, tax exemptions and investment tax credits encouraged deforestation for cattle ranching. Thirty percent of the cleared rainforest can be attributed to these perverse incentives. The result is an enormous financial burden on the government, rapid degradation of soil fertility, rapid loss in cattle-ranching profits, and massive deforestation.

The most amazing lobby is, of course, the Pacific Northwest timber lobby in the U.S. They have caused changes in the measurement of board-feet and trade laws; modified environmental laws and access laws (roads vs. roadless areas), etc. But this is an old story retold in the histories of the land companies of the Parana pine forests of South America and the loggers' lobby in Tasmania .

At the moment a rather immature but increasingly powerful "Green movement" is the only alternative political lobby. There is no lobby for sustained yield and biological diversity within the corporate community or international development banks. The Green movement will force laws that will be populist but may lack the more sophisticated understanding of international trade, pricing and organization that corporate minds can supply. Upcoming laws, for instance, may prevent paper made from tropical wood pulp or rainforest hardwoods from entering the U.S. and other European markets. Corporations, multinational banks and labor interests have a choice of taking the lead or being forced, nation by nation, into a more reasonable and updated forest management policy.

No bilateral agreements will be effective. A multilateral agreement on timber harvesting will be necessary. Without this global agreement, some other nation will simply step in and corner the deforestation market. Japan is a major contender for this role.

In 1987, the International Tropical Timber Organization was formed. It now includes 24 consuming nations and 18 producers. They account for 70 percent of all tropical forests and 95 percent of all tropical timber exports. They do not try to control pricing but try to increase market intelligence, reforestation, forest management, and local processing of logs. They are the International Whaling Commission of hardwoods.

We may need to think locally and act globally. That is, thinking must start with the watersheds logged and the best management practices for long-term, multi-purpose forests. The actions will be international in order to harmonize local watersheds with global forestry products' trade and extraction.

(4) Since colonial times, local populations have been uprooted in order to meet the cash needs of their families.

Uprooting has had a major influence on deforestation by destroying "sustained-yield traditions" based on passing specific trees and cutting rights from one generation to the next. In Niger , at the time of birth, the umbilical cord is buried with a hardwood or other slow-growing tree and the tree dedicated (an assigned asset) to the baby. In colonial times, cash taxes were so high that men migrated to find cash jobs to send back money to avoid losing family lands. Sometimes uprooting was the by-product of other circumstances. For instance, in Kenya , health services reduced childhood mortality; therefore too many sons survived for the amount of family land. Uprooted sons have two choices: deforest more land for agriculture or migrate to the cities for industrial labor. Yet in many nations, there is no industrial base.

In addition, in the name of long-term sustained yield, many colonial governments designated forest reserves. These reserves limited access by traditional peoples who had always controlled wood harvesting on a local level. The new (neo-colonial) nation-states adopted these reserves and "nationalized" the forests. They did not return stewardship to village control. Nationalization of trees and forests has meant that "outsiders" (especially urban traders) have equal access and use rights to forests for firewood and other products that local people claim are under village authority. The urban traders do not re-invest part of their profits into reforestation.

The result is a confusion in land tenure (tree tenure?). The rules on access and use of trees have not been resolved in many parts of Asia , Africa and Latin America . ( Europe and the U.S. started resolving these issues in the early twentieth century. In the U.S. , of course, debate still rages concerning the proper uses of forests on public lands.) In the minds of many peasants, there is little difference between the colonial and national authorities. Both have undermined the local, village system by preferential treatment of urban or elite power interests within the developing country.

To limit deforestation in developing countries, per-aps the most important needs are conflict resolution between traditional and national authorities and the establishment of secure land tenure. Without secure land tenure, there is no reason for peasants and farmers to be interested in long-term sustainable forests. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is one of the few groups which employ anthropologist-type facilitators to assemble interest groups and work out a consensus, i.e., a signed natural-resource management agreement between villagers and national authorities.

The national governments of developing nations will need encouragement to decentralize forest management practices. Having just gained sovereignty and power from colonial powers, they must now give up some of that power to the people. The writing of new (post-neo-colonial) forestry codes could be greatly helped by sympathetic foresters from the industrialized nations who understand tropical species and how to structure local forestry management.

(5) Is global management of the wood-products industry the best way to decrease and reverse deforestation?

For instance, since the 1950s, log exports from the U.S. to Japan have encouraged a more bureaucratized, centralized, economically rationalized (but less egalitarian) order. Weyerhauser tracks the Japanese market. The Japanese track the American markets (many pulpwood plants in Alaska are Japanese). The new wood-products trade may be more economically integrated and show short-term increases in wood-products income. It may provide a more careful worldwide pattern of timber resource use from the point of view of supply-side economics. But there is less room for participatory democracy and citizen control something that both Americans and, to some extent, the mountain villagers of northern Japan (who have suffered from cheap U.S. log imports) cherish. The "sides" in the new order appear like this: large operators tend to profit from and support recent events in the timber trade; small operators have been hurt and oppose it; industrialists tend to favor wood-products trading; wood workers and small-time entrepreneurs oppose it; port areas both profit from and support it; more isolated rural communities go broke, and oppose it.

Environmentalist concerns are somewhat different they want to preserve old-growth and local genetic varieties in a world rapidly becoming forests of second-growth or monotypic tree farms. They want to protect fisheries, stop soil degradation caused by timbering (long-term productivity), prevent watershed collapse, and stop health problems caused by herbicides currently employed to increase forest regrowth. In a few instances, environmentalists have teamed up with rural communities. They have joined workers in what most economists call marginal sawmills. They have occasionally joined other "localists" to fight for more influence on multinational decisions. Both the "localists" and the environmentalists increasingly understand their isolation from seats of power.

Indonesia , confronted by problems of local unemployment and extractive Japanese timber traders, banned the export of raw logs so they could develop their own de-barking and plywood ustry. Similarly, the U.S. banned exports of raw i from federal lands in order to help local rators but, in part because of the location of e and private lands as well as stumpage fees, this i was not very successful.

Will local decision-making and economic self-determination have any meaning in the global economy? Will local decision-making improve forest lagement compared to an integrated global nomy? If we value economic self-determination, how can we preserve it?

The U.S. Forest Service, despite grave lapses, has been pretty effective in slowing down the grossest Prestation for short-term greed. Public surveillance of national forestlands in the U.S. is thorough and committed. Despite the continued erosion of law by recent administrations and by congressmen of both parties, the National Environmental Policy Act has become a model for international impact analysis. But citizens do not have any real power to control access and use of their own watershed forests. European forestry services and public surveillance have more rigid rules on access and use of forests both public and private. This is not true in developing countries where there are confusions between "public" and "private" land tenure, lack of "case history" law to support land-tenure decisions, and lack of appeal procedures to prevent abuse of existing forestry codes.

How can the international community help other nations increase democratic participation in the management of forests without getting the process fused with a new form of cultural imperialism? How does the international community encourage a legal framework in which a nation's citizenry can monitor deforestation? Do we give up this path and try for global control?

(6) There are many articles and books by economists on real costs of tree removal. Prices do not reflect real costs. Forests are terribly undervalued.

The Soviets refuse to talk about forest scarcity except to say it's all "inefficiencies in resource extraction." The real market price of sawnwood is hidden by shuffling money administratively. A similar procss in the U.S. hides the real market prices. Timber industries extract wood from federal lands and avoid costs of infrastructure (e.g., roads) and post-harvest environmental degradation (e.g., road washouts and sedimentation of fish streams). American companies can therefore sell the wood at below total costs. The "externalities" or "non-harvesting" costs are partially picked up by the taxpayer through congressional allocations to the Forest Service. In Tongass National Forest ( Alaska ), the U.S. Forest Service spends $100 of taxpayer money for every $1 it receives from private concessionaires. Logging the Tongass cost taxpayers an estimated $50 million in 1988. A guess by the Wilderness Society is that Americans subsidize private logging companies to the tune of $400 million a year.

The question is an old one: What's a fair profit? How much of the difference between extraction cost and market price (sometimes called "economic rent") should go to the government when the forests sit on public lands? How much should be reinvested into reforestation? Because of global environmental concerns, local watershed concerns, and increased need for long-term sustainable forestry, "timber booms" no longer have an ethical and economic function on the planet. In the Philippines , the government captured only 14 percent of market income from logging concessions (1979-82). Virtually all major productive forests in the Philippines have been logged out. In Indonesia , the government captured 37.5 percent during the same period. In the Tongass, the U.S. government captured 1 percent of the extraction costs and less than 1 percent of the value of marketed wood products.

Secondary economic impacts of deforestation may be worse than deforestation itself. This is also an old story. Greece lost its topsoil from deforestation, forcing it into a subsoil economy (grapes, olive oil, pottery) and making it dependent on international trade and a large naval force to import topsoil grains. As early as the 1850s, one can read of watershed management problems in India . The worst floods of almost every major river in South America and Asia can be traced to deforestation in the headwaters. The process continues. For instance, Chinese timber cutting in Tibet has already hurt water quality and increased flooding. The ultimate economic costs in terms of flood relief, health, lost floodplain farming, and housing could never be met by the timber cutters. Good forestry usually succumbs to short-term economic demands.

Finally, forests have been undervalued because their passive economic benefits are not included in settling prices. Forests substitute for engineering. They serve as air cleaners, air moisteners, air coolers, soil builders, landscape stabilizers, carbon dioxide sinks, and much more.

I am not qualified to discuss what should be done to incorporate true long-term costs into the price of
wood products. Educating governments and corporations involved in logging, discussing the ethics of a fair profit and adequate reinvestment in forest care sounds terribly cute and idealistic. West Ger many has a forest licensing procedure (kind of like a driver's license) for both private and public forests that might serve as a model. Placing "environmental damage" bonds is another possibility. Any real-life suggestions out there?                               

(7) How to finance recurrent costs of forest management (thinning, reforestation, nurseries, sustained-yield accounting, and forest service agents) is an unresolved issue at this moment.

Early Francophone West African foresters were all sent to the Ivory Coast to help with the export cutting. No one stayed in the more fragile (yes, more fragile than rainforest) savanna woodlands of the Sahel which held back the spread of degraded grassland (= desertified grassland). As I observed in my recent work in Mali , the Sahelian forestry agents suffer because they do not participate in cash-crop timber harvesting. They sometimes wait for three months for their salaries, forcing them to arbitrarily fine peasants for "illegal" tree cutting and using the fines for their upkeep. Others set fires and then charge the villagers for violating brushfire control rules.

Recurrent costs such as salaries are a major problem in cash-strapped countries. Recurrent costs are handled in industrialized nations through taxing (mostly urban dwellers and corporations) to pay for the Forest Service salaries. These taxes are a public "grant" to maintain the investment in long-term production (tree growth), genetic diversity (national parks) and recreation; There is no significant taxable urban public or industrial base within most developing countries.

Possible Personal Actions

There is no room for self-righteousness. Parts of Europe and North America suffer from acid-rain deforestation. These nations have not shown a quick response despite their ability to mobilize much more easily than the developing nations.

The reduction of nitrous oxides (causing tree damage near cities) and sulfate compounds should be a major focus of any discussion of deforestation.

It is supposedly a simpler problem in northern industrialized nations than in developing nations because of available technologies (e.g., coal bed reactors) and capital.

I was frankly appalled by the blurb on the back of Signal (a Whole Earth Catalog about personal communication tools) that said the new world was concerned with information, not materials. The information world (especially word processors, computers, and photocopying) has contributed to the 320-percent increase in U.S. consumption of writing and printing paper between 1959 and 1986. This is exactly the opposite of what the original Whole Earth Catalog predicted saying that computers, photocopying, FAX machines or video-literacy would save trees. Signal has no mention of a tree in the whole catalog. If there ever was an important information storage and processing device on the planet (weather quality, soil quality, air quality, fire control), it is a tree. Signal did not (as did earlier catalogs) even mention the amount of pulp (tree flesh) required to print the run of books.

What I mean is: actions must always start with personal ethics. Many people try to avoid beef grown on cleared rainforest. This is nearly impossible, because major distributors mix up beef from all locations. The only solutions are: don't eat any beef, or promote a congressional law that requires labeling of all beef, or ban all beef imports from the humid tropics, or eat only beef you know has caused no harm to the environment. All require personal commitments to forest maintenance. The easiest is a beef taboo.

But, equally, how many readers try to reduce their paper consumption? Most of my friends use perforated paper for word-processor printing. One side gets used. It is difficult to turn it over and run it through again because of snags. On the other hand, a sheet feeder can re-use paper that has been printed on one side. All drafts can be done on the back of already-used paper. It is easy to switch to single-side printing for the final copy. My first possible action is then a personal one. Switch to a sheet feeder and make a point to tell your friends why. "Small is beautiful" also means that many small acts can have large effects. In this case, on paper-pulp demand. The same (two-sided usage) can be said for re-using photocopy paper for information networking.

By promoting fuel-efficient stoves, Mali saw a remarkable reduction of demand on firewood in five to eight years. A remarkably short time considering that' there was no reason for Malians to trust still one more idea promoted by the Peace Corps, World Bank and other private voluntary and non-governmental organizations. As with energy, the economics of recycling or increased efficiency in wood products have just begun to be explored.

Ecology and Economy

Note that I have not broached three subjects: the Gaian (biospheric) consequences of deforestation, the ecological difficulties of re-planting trees, and population growth. The Gaian importance of forests in regulating the biosphere's atmosphere and water balance is a whole 'nother topic. The ecology (vs. the political economy) of deforestation is also a whole other topic. There has been an overemphasis on humid rainforests. All forest communities have their own beauty and purposes on the planet. Each suffers from deforestation, species depletion, and requires thoughtful healing. For reforestation to be successful, each ecological technique for sustained-yield or biodiversity preservation requires an intimacy that will vary by watershed or even opposing slopes of watersheds.

I'll end with some African thoughts.

The Sahel is losing tropical woodlands because of a 16-year drought and a 60-mile-southward shift of lowered rainfall. This deforestation cannot be stopped. Most trees will simply not grow in the new rainfall regime. "Planting trees" is way too simple advice to counter the further degradation of the vegetation and the spread of desert-like landscapes. To protect the land for recolonization by trees when the rains (hopefully) return, the Sahel requires protected pastures and, perhaps, re-shrubbing (re-shrub-ation?). Shrubs are the most undervalued form of plant life in environmental thinking because, in temperate climates, they appear so useless. In the tropics, shrub savannas provide firewood, browse for goats and wildlife, increased grass production for cattle and wildlife, medicinal plants and wild human foods.

The reforestation of the Sahel has failed because of many factors: the obsessive focus on trees, poor nursery stocks, no supplemental irrigation during the seedling stage, no additions of microbial inoculae or minerals to the soils during planting, and no way to fund recurrent costs of tree care (similar problems exist in China).

So here's what I mean by new organizational and financial forms. Pick the best organizational form to accomplish the job. In some areas, it will be the nation-states. Some futurists are promoting ethical corporate control. Still others see the solution in education. In parts of Africa , I see the moving force to be religion. In my scenario the Saudi Arabian government promises Islamic Africans a free trip to Mecca, if they care for a grove of 100 trees for ten, twenty years (depends on species, watershed, etc.) The family or village woodlot has guaranteed (by signed agreements) tree tenure. The village receives aid from bilaterals (USAID or Japan) or multilaterals (World Bank, EEC) in terms of technical assistance (inoculum, tools, fuel), supplemental irrigation (if needed), and nursery development (a major gap in development aid programs).

This scenario provides villagers a long-term goal, greater security, symbolic as well as financial reasons for maintenance of the trees, reduced recurrent costs to nationals and donors as well as an integration of secular needs with religion. (Note: in much of Africa , Islam has been the force of democracy opposing tribal factionalism.) The religious solution replaces the "industrialized nation" model in which hidden taxes are used for the long-term preservation of natural capital (watershed management, pasture regeneration). This scenario has only raised eyebrows in Washington , where I first presented it. But, as soon as everyone laughs, they go back to discussing their failures in anti-desertification programs and stabilizing the world's forests.