|Commercialization of Non-Timber Forest Products in Amazonia (NRI, 1993)|
In general, market development has not resulted in improved welfare for extractors because of both the sociopolitical factors and the aviamento-based production and marketing systems. Nor has an increase in the value of the standing forest, even when based on less risky domestic markets, necessarily resulted in safeguarding the resource, as the babaçu case study shows.
Essentially this is because market development has taken place in a socio-economic and policy context (of frontier expansion, and resource privatization) inimical to the welfare of extractors and resource conservation, a situation not helped by hyper-inflation which erodes earnings from forest products, encourages extractors to invest in livestock, and results in falling real interest rates for competing land uses. On the positive side should be noted the recent Brazilian policy changes on roadbuilding and cattle ranching incentives.
Most analysts (Anderson, Browder, Homma, Torres and Martine, and Cleary) seem to agree that extractive products are likely to remain marginal in the search for sustainable natural resource management systems in the Amazon region. Rubber and Brazil nuts in particular are undergoing a gradual, probably terminal, decline in their role as the basis of extractive economies in many areas. Other important products like babaçu oil (undergoing substitution), açai juice (affected in the market by cholera), and rosewood oil (suffering depletion) have also recently diminished in importance in extractive economies.
Homma (1989) sees substitution as inevitable due to the inability of extractivism to respond to the need of the market for a constant, uniform product with an elastic supply. Rubber and Brazil nuts therefore fit into the historical boom and bust cycle that has characterized internationally traded extractive products over the centuries. Products for local and national market are far less prone to these consequences.
There are therefore major fears for the economic viability of extractive reserves if based solely or even mainly on extractivism. Unless extractor groups can successfully diversify into other sustainable uses of the forest, the outcome is likely to be increased clearance for subsistence agriculture and cash cropping, followed by migration when the soils lose their fertility. The loss of extractivists means loss of the knowledge base for sustainable forest use.
There are strong arguments to focus future efforts on the development of multiple product forest management in extractive reserves, which provide the tenure and institutional basis in which such resource use changes can equitably take place. Anderson (1992) argues for a research and policy agenda aimed at transforming extractive reserves into viable enterprises. There seems to be a high potential both for sustainable yield timber management and NTFP production in the context of agroforestry systems based on indigenous swidden farming practices.
The danger of market-induced extractivism is that it can lead forest peoples into narrowing their livelihood base. This is likely to cause adverse welfare and resource impacts in the longer term. Thus the market development of extractive products should take place within an integrated approach in which the diversity and interdependence of livelihood activities is centrally important (Cleary, 1992).
Finally, if the North wants relatively environmentally benign extractivism to continue, and therefore satisfy its priority of biodiversity conservation (a priority only partially shared by extractor populations and Amazonian governments) it may have to find a way of adequately remunerating the users.
Although there is a consensus that expectations have been overstated, support for extractivism is still the necessary short-term palliative while the longer term approach of diversification of forest management is developed, since there are no immediately accessible sustainable forest management alternatives for extractive populations.