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Bolivia - 03 May, 2021
Research by Instituto Boliviano de Investigación Forestal (IBIF) motivated the Bolivian government to issue a new decree in 2020 that allows the use of low-cost and low-impact logging technologies. This will greatly improve timber harvesting options and diversify management options for small-scale forest producers.
A large part of Bolivia’s forest is owned by, or designated for, indigenous peoples and local communities. They are allowed to cut and sell trees, as long as they have an approved management plan. In practice, however, these people have seldom been able to carry out logging activities independently, because the government prohibited the use of low-cost technologies, such as chainsaws, for commercial purposes. Logging became the prerogative of companies that had the resources to invest in heavy equipment and industrial sawmills. Local people stood on the side, watching the trees being dragged out of their forests. Although they received some financial compensation for each extracted cubic metre, it was the timber companies and middlemen who benefitted most.
To remedy this situation, TBI’s partner in Bolivia — Instituto Boliviano de Investigación Forestal (IBIF) — wanted to make the government aware of an alternative model. IBIF therefore became part of a research consortium to evaluate the feasibility of low-cost technologies that are better adapted to local capacities and resources. The consortium involved IBIF, the University of Freiburg in Germany, and the private companies Canavalia Servicios Verdes and Hiller S.A. Financial support was provided by Andreas Stihl AG & Company KG and Tropenbos International.
The study was conducted in the Indigenous Territory of Lomerío. It focused on mobile technologies that are affordable and have a low impact on the environment, such as chainsaws and portable attachments to turn roundwood into sawn timber on site. The study also looked at different ways to get the timber out of the forest, either by using motorbikes with trailers, animal traction, or by people carrying the wood on their shoulders. Data was collected from forest operators in local indigenous communities, and included 255 samples of five tree species. The analysis showed that mobile chainsaw milling is technically feasible, and is financially very attractive for local producers.
With these study results, IBIF started lobbying, involving many cups of coffee with government representatives at the national level in La Paz, and at the departmental level in Santa Cruz. It helped that IBIF had a long history of collaboration with the relevant agencies, and that government representatives were open to change. It also helped that IBIF’s recommendations were backed up by a university, two private companies and an indigenous umbrella organization. Eventually, the Forestry Directorate asked IBIF to co-write Supreme Decree No. 4359, which formally allows the use of low-cost technology to harvest timber.
On 12 October 2020, the decree was issued. Although at first sight it may look like a minor regulatory change, its potential impact on local forest producers is enormous. By allowing the use of low-cost technologies, the decree will reduce local communities’ dependence on commercial timber companies and middlemen, consolidate their forest management autonomy, and increase the possibilities for benefitting from natural resources, while reducing environmental impacts. It is a milestone in Bolivian forestry history.
This article is part of the TBI Annual review 2020,
due for release in May 2021