Ecuador battles problems of deforestation
The determination with which Ecuador is conducting its national
reforestation programme is virtually unrivalled in Latin America.
Approved by the Ecuadorian parliament in 1983 84, and launched
in 1985, the Plan Bosque (Forest Plan) is the Government's latest effort to
solve a problem that has concerned several national groups for almost 20 years.
At first glance, it might appear strange to speak of reforestation in a country
where almost halt the land is covered by an impenetrable jungle. It is a fact,
however, that the country's other two wooded regions, the Andean altiplano (the
Sierra) and the coastal area, are witnessing the rapid disappearance of their
forest cover (about 200 000 hectarea a year), particularly as a result of the
sharp increase in the demand for agricultural land and pastures, and in response
to the domestic demand for timber and coal. Denuded of 90 per cent of its trees,
the southwestern area of the country resembles a desert.
In the late 1970s, industrialists in this sector voiced their
alarm clearly: rapid deforestation is a threat to the survival of an industry
which already shows a considerable deficit; in 1981 the losses caused mainly by
wood pulp, cardboard, and paper imports amounted to almost $34 million annually.
And they were not the only ones to request government intervention. In 1980 the
Fundaciatura, a private non-profit organization, joined forces with them to
attract public attention to the risk of erosion and degradation threatening the
country's richest land.
With only $180 000 initially, Fundaciatura launched its
awareness campaign by contacting all ministers and issuing daily press releases
to the media on environmental themes. Its second enterprise, phased over a
period of four years, consisted in sending educational material to 60000
teachers nationwide, for a total cost of $660 000.
Fundaciatura also initiated a reforestation programme in the
region of Cotopaxi, in northern Ecuador. Densely populated and intensely
cultivated, this altiplano region is also very poor. In three years the peasants
have planted 2.5 million trees there and have learned to protect the seedlings
against damage by domestic animals. The areas reforested (always with native
species) are often communal land. In other areas, special attention has been
given to improving small family farms.
Government action is geared to more strictly economic
objectives. The first is to ensure a sufficient timber production to cover the
country's household and industrial requirements. The second is to rehabilitate
land bordering the farms and abandoned fishing areas, and reintegrate them into
the country's economy.
Totally financed by petroleum revenues and with an initial
budget of $12 million, the Plan Bosque is also addressed to inhabitants of the
coastal area and Sierra region, but it mainly benefits the richer farmers and
large landowners. Half the funds allocated by the Government are entrusted to
the Ministry of Agriculture - under which comes the National Forestry Service -
the other half being earmarked for the creation of a line of credit with the
Banco Nacional de Fomento.
The only requirement for obtaining a loan, with a fixed interest
rate of 9 per cent, is that one must own no more than 900 hectares of cultivable
land. The farmer can use his loan to purchase local and foreign seed and start
up production; he also receives agricultural advice during the various phases of
development. If after two years 70 to 80 per cent of his trees are still alive,
he can choose either to pay back his loan immediately or to sign a contract with
the Ministry of Agriculture whereby he undertakes to maintain and cultivate his
forest until the tress reach maturity. In the latter case, it is the Ministry
that pays back the loan; when it is time to fell the tress, 10 to 20 years
later, the farmer will repay the Ministry with no interest. The programme is so
popular that in the first year requests under the Plan Bosque totalled 38 000
hectares, but the programme is geared to finance only up to 20 000 hectares
This is a laudable project, but it has raised some criticism. In
particular, the Government has been accused of reforesting the country in a
disorganized manner, without considering either the subsequent phases of
exploitation or that the domestic timber yards have to be supplied with timber
from different areas of the country, some of which are of extremely difficult
access. In this respect, however, it appears that after the initial phase, the
Government project envisages that its reforestation programme will be oriented
more strictly toward meeting the country's timber and coal requirements.
Another problem is the absence of local know-how in forest
management and maintenance. This problem must be solved if the wooded areas are
to maintain an optimum growth rate. In a recent interview, Roque Sevilla,
Director of the National Forestry Service, stressed the importance of arousing
"forestry awareness" in a country where half the land area is covered by jungle:
part of the Service's annual $1.8 million budget is devoted to educating and
training forestry experts.
The Government is not alone in its efforts to develop Ecuador's
forests: a joint proposal by the Banco Nacional de Fomento and the Ministry of
Agriculture led to the creation, in 1981, of EMDEFOR - Empresa Mista de
Desarrollo Forestal - whose objectives are to develop forests in collaboration
with more than 200 farmer organizations and to promote research with the help of
students from the Chimborazo Polytechnic. This mixed enterprise has an initial
budget of $2.5 million. It proposes to plant fastgrowing species (such as
eucalyptus and Pinus radiata) and use the timber for industrial purposes.