"If local people are able to use the forest for their livelihoods, they are much more interested in conserving that forest."
Steffen Reichle, Conservancy Scientist
With 118 million acres of forests — 48 percent of its territory — Bolivia has more tree cover than Central America and Mexico combined.
Until recently, however, the country was on its way to being denuded because those forests — which historically covered nearly one-half of the country — were being cut in a haphazard fashion. A limited number of private companies monopolized the industry and concentrated on a few high value species such as mahogany. Roads gouged out to reach preferred forests further strained the environment by contributing to erosion, water pollution and unplanned settlements. The expansion of the agricultural frontier, particularly soybean and large-scale ranching, and human migration from other parts of the country has put added pressure on Bolivia’s forests.
That devastation prompted the Bolivian government and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to create the Bolivia Sustainable Forest Management Project, known as BOLFOR. BOLFOR was officially launched in 1993, with the goals of protecting Bolivian biological diversity and keeping the country's forests, soils and water healthy by promoting sustainable forestry.
Because BOLFOR was so successful, a successsor project, BOLFOR II, was launched in 2003. USAID selected The Nature Conservancy to coordinate the project.
The success of the BOLFOR II project has led to:
- The protection of natural forests and large-scale biodiversity conservation;
- Increased habitat protection for endangered species, such as jaguars, giant otters harpy eagles, blue macaws, forest tortoises and mahogany trees;
- Local economic development in indigenous and local communities;
- Increased benefits to Bolivian communities from sustainable natural forest management;
- The promotion of sustainable forestry in Bolivia and across the world.
How it works
Through on-the-ground technical assistance and training in business organization and administration, as well as forest management best practices, community members have learned through BOLFOR II how to profitably run a sustainable forestry enterprise and manage their forests.
BOLFOR II also promotes the development and implementation of norms and regulations that prompt more sustainable harvesting and use of timber and non-timber forest products. The project also encourages public investments and community participation in local government planning processes that support local forest productive initiatives.
And by monitoring 50 species of birds, reptiles and amphibians in research plots of sustainably managed forests, BOLFOR II scientists have noted no species losses.
Conservation and community development success
Though finishing up at the end of 2008, BOLFOR II has achieved significant successes both in biodiversity conservation and sustainable community development:
- Protected forests. Over 11 million acres of forests — an area larger than Switzerland — can now only be used for sustainable forest activities, ecotourism or conservation.
- Continued biodiversity. Monitoring and research results show that Bolivia's forestry model promoted by BOLFOR II has a minimal impact on biodiversity.
- Less deforestation. Studies carried out by the Conservancy and partners show that deforestation rates are lower in sustainably harvested forests than in non-managed forests — lower, even, than in some national and municipal protected areas.
- Improved incomes. Families involved in 14 (of a total of 16) community forestry enterprises participating in BOLFOR II benefited from an average 23% increase in their timber forestry management income comparing years 2004 and 2006.
- Investments in community and social programs. Communities participating in BOLFOR II benefited from the investment of forest management profits in basic community education, infrastructure and health projects.
- Increased market opportunities for community forestry enterprises and timber companies. By helping community enterprises negotiate contracts, improve efficiency, and reduce waste, BOLFOR II helped community forestry enterprises and local timber companies secure more than $5 million of timber and wood product contracts with local manufacturers and international buyers.
- Stronger forest policy. Through BOLFOR II’s work with national and local government, forest policy that promotes sustainable forest management has been put into place.
By strengthening forest-based sustainable development, BOLFOR II promotes a viable, long-term conservation strategy that preserves biodiversity, contributes to the welfare of local communities, and promotes Bolivia’s participation in the global economy.
BOLFOR IIs successes have been achieved through partnerships and collaborative efforts with the Bolivian government; departmental and municipal governments; local communities; and local partners, including Centro Amazónica de Desarrollo Forestal (CADEFOR), Instituto Boliviano de Investigación Forestal, Fundación José Manuel Pando, and Consejo Boliviano para la Certificación Forestal Voluntaria.
Learn more on the official BOLFOR II website.