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Money-Making Forestry Projects Urged in Third World

October 22, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ An expert panel on Tuesday urged a multibillion-dollar investment in money- making forestry projects to reverse the annual loss of 27 million acres of woodlands in developing countries - an area about the size of Missouri.

″The cause of deforestation is rural poverty,″ said Maharaj Muhtoo, operations director of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. ″It is important ... to give people incentives to look after their trees. One of the most important incentives in life is the income generated.″

Muhtoo told a news conference the biggest cause of loss of Third World forests is slash-and-burn farming, in which poor farmers burn a forest to make a field, use it for crops until the soil is exhausted and then leave it barren.

The result is loss of firewood, use of dung as fuel instead of fertilizer, growing soil erosion, declining farm productivity, hunger and famine, he said.

Because of the pressure on farmers to produce food, ″it takes time for them to realize they are digging their own grave,″ Muhtoo said.

The nine-member panel convened by the U.N. Development Program, the World Bank and the World Resources Institute, a Washington think tank, recommended investing $8 billion over the next five years in forest projects, half of it from international lending agencies and half from governments and private investors.

This would represent double the current investment, said institute president Gus Speth. Although banks and governments have not committed themselves to the project, he said, ″I think we are well on our way.″

The panel’s report concluded that workable projects in 56 countries surveyed were the ones that involved farmers making money.

A.W. Clausen, president of the World Bank, said fuel wood, fodder, fruit and timber enterprises ″can be bankably viable projects.″

He said the World Bank hopes to convene a forestry conference next year to consider how to put the panel’s report into action.

″Vast government projects don’t work. The reason is simple. People cut down other peoples’ trees, not their own,″ said Peter McPherson, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which helped finance the panel’s study.

Muhtoo said projects in India, Korea and the Philippines show that ″people see money in trees and they grow them. The result is environmental conservation.″

The report said the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 1.5 billion people are cutting wood for fuel faster than it can grow back, and that 125 million of them cannot find enough wood. If nothing is done, it said, 2.4 billion people will face wood shortages by the year 2000.

One success story cited by the report occurred in Gujarat State in India, where ″farmers recognized the income-generating potential of growing trees to meet the market demand for poles.″ The rate of return on investment was 213 percent after the first year, it said.

Another was the Subri River project in Ghana, which posted a profit of $878 an acre by abandoning slash-and-burn techniques in favor of selective timber cutting, using waste wood to make charcoal, planting plaintain and cassava among the remaining trees and planting fast-growing, multipurpose species of trees in open areas.

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