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close this bookAll that Glitters is not Gold - Balancing Conservation and Development in Venezuela's Frontier Forests (WRI, 1998, 60 pages)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAcknowledgments
View the documentForeword
View the documentMajor Findings
View the documentMajor Recommendations
Open this folder and view contentsI. Introduction and Policy Background
Open this folder and view contentsII. Future Resource Use and Large-scale Development Plans
Open this folder and view contentsIII. On the Ground: Venezuela's Forest Policy in the Guayana Region
Open this folder and view contentsIV. Who Benefits from Economic Activities in Forests?
View the documentV. Major Findings: Risks and Benefits for Venezuela's Frontier Forests
View the documentVI. Major Recommendations: Alternatives for Sustainably Managing the Guayana Region
View the documentNotes
View the documentAbout the Authors
View the documentBoard Of Directors
View the documentWorld Resources Institute
View the documentThe World Resources Institute Forest Frontiers Initiative


Over the next several years, Venezuela will make choices that will determine the fate of half of the country: the fragile rainforest region south of the Orinoco River. One path leads to high economic, social, and environmental costs, another to broad benefits that can be sustained.

Venezuela's economy is fueled by oil, which provides over 75 percent of the nation's export earnings and has helped finance major forest conservation efforts in the southern part of the country. But declining oil prices and a weakened economy have left at least 50 percent of the population in poverty and created a burden of massive external debt. Partly to reduce their vulnerability to oil-price fluctuations, Venezuela's policy-makers currently are considering opening up the relatively untouched region south of the Orinoco River to logging, gold mining, and other large-scale extractive development.

Venezuela's southern forests are part of the Earth's last large unfragmented forest blocks - "the Guiana Shield" formation. Though not providing the instant wealth promised by gold, these forests nevertheless are gold in another form - treasure troves of biodiversity and natural services that, if properly managed, can provide substantial economic returns indefinitely. Such ancient forests are found in only a few other nations on this geographic scale: Brazil, Suriname, Guyana, Canada, Colombia, Russia, and French Guiana. As such, they are an irreplaceable part of the Earth's natural heritage.

Is there a way to conserve these resources while at the same time fostering economic growth? This report argues that mining and logging have an important role to play in Venezuela's economy, but that the development policies now being considered for the region will produce less economic returns and greater environmental degradation than other alternatives. For example, small-scale gold mining produces up to $100 million in gold annually that is untaxed, while logging royalties capture only 3 percent of the total value of the wood. Eliminating subsidies on logging, opening future mining and logging concessions to a competitive bidding process, and considering new options for financing forest conservation initiatives could help reduce the conflicts between environment and development.

In seeking rapid economic growth, Venezuela's leaders have not yet put in place a clear policy on environmentally responsible mining and reclamation. For development to be sustainable, forest policies must be updated, environmental monitoring established, customary land rights legally acknowledged, and current environmental regulations strictly enforced. Part of this effort should include more active public participation and longer-term resource planning for the region. These steps are not without costs and will take time to implement, but without them the prospects for sustainable development are bleak.

This report is the latest in a series produced by WRI's Forest Frontiers Initiative (FFI), a five-year, multi-disciplinary effort to promote stewardship in and around the world's last major frontier forests by influencing investment, policy, and public opinion. WRI is pleased to acknowledge the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Netherlands Committee for the IUCN for their support of this project. We also want to thank AVINA Foundation, Phoebe W. Haas Charitable Fund, Sacharuna Foundation, The Wallace Global Fund, The Turner Foundation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Development Cooperation), the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the World Wildlife Fund for support of WRI's Forest Frontiers Initiative.

In Venezuela, as in the other forest frontier nations, we believe that the mutually reinforcing goals of development and conservation can go hand-in-hand. It is an outcome that is vital not only for the people of Venezuela, but for the rest of the world as well.

Jonathan Lash
World Resources Institute