The Tropical Forestry Action Plan: Course Correction

Solving the enormous problems linked to worldwide tropical deforestation is like navigating a ship through a life-threatening storm - nobody knows if we're going to make it. Right now the only ship we have is the Tropical Forestry Action Plan (TFAP).

TFAP started as a set of guidelines in 1985. Co-sponsored by World Bank, World Resources Institute, United Nations Development Program, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), TFAP provides a strategy for conserving tropical forests and lays out a framework for action by governments and development organizations. Its main objectives are to protect special areas for ecosystem and wildlife value, as well as genetic resources; to promote and improve sustainable forest management; and to develop partnerships with local people.

For the last five years TFAP, which is coordinated by FAO, has been the catalyst for directing resources and guiding developing nations toward a solution. Because most of this work has been in the planning and policy areas, there's been little progress in reducing actual deforestation. In 1990, several reports critical of the plan were released by the World Rainforest Movement, the World Resources Institute, and by FAO itself through an independent review. The following major deficiencies of TFAP were identified:

  • objectives are not specific
  • too much emphasis on commercial forestry
  • insufficient analysis on the causes of tropical deforestation, which arise primarily from outside the forestry sector
  • failure to promote biodiversity, conservation and sustainable forest management
  • failure to involve nongovernmental and community-based organizations in the TFAP process
  • implementation has been donor-led and project-oriented (top down), instead of recipient-driven and process-oriented (bottom up)
  • administration of the plan should be carried out by a distinct FAO program, instead of the FAO department of forestry.

    This assessment reflects widespread agreement that TFAP has not met its original objectives and needs to be restructured. Over the past year, FAO has responded favorably to the above criticisms as a result of considerable pressure from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and donor governments concerned with the urgency of halting tropical deforestation.

    For example, the U.S. State Department is withholding $500,000 appropriated for TFAP until (1) "tfap has been reorganized, with an international steering committee and secretariat independent of the food and agriculture organization, (2) the responsibilities of tfap have been broadened to include areas outside the forestry sector, and (3) procedures exist to ensure increased participation in national tfap plans by affected populations...."

    In March 1991, TFAP's co-sponsors held a meeting with broad-based participation in Geneva, Switzerland, in order to discuss a restructuring of TFAP. It was the beginning of a consensus-building process toward a more decentralized TFAP. The Geneva meeting and follow-up discussions with its participants have led to various proposals that have yet to be finalized. Some of the proposed changes include the following:

  • Reformulated TFAP objectives with mechanisms to ensure objectives are met and progress is monitored.
  • An independent, international consultative group (CG) with a broad base of about 40 members, and co-sponsored by FAO, UNDP, and World Bank, would be formed to provide strategic advice, establish priorities, discuss problems, and promote dissemination of information.
  • The new process would be country-driven, not donor-led. The heavy coordinating role now performed by the FAO TFAP unit would be dispersed among all actors in the process, i.e. developing countries, donors, NGOs, other international agencies, etc. Other FAO TFAP duties would be taken over by CG.

    Many more details concerning funding, CG membership, finalizing objectives, and developing partnerships among actors will emerge from continued consensus building until final plans for a restructured TFAP are released later this year.

    For more information:

    Howard Hjort
    FAO Liaison Office for North America
    1001 22nd St. NW, Suite 300
    Washington, D.C. 20437, U.S.A.
    Tel. (202) 653-2400
    Fax (202) 653-5760

    Robert Buschbacher
    Tropical Forestry Program
    World Wildlife Fund and The Conservation Foundation
    Washington, D.C. 20037 U.S.A.
    Tel. (202) 778-9511
    Fax (202) 293-9211