Francisco Novoa, one of the farmers participating in the project, with his citrus and plantain trees.

Francisco Novoa, one of the farmers participating in the project, with his citrus and plantain trees.

Friday we had a meeting with the CEPRODEL clients in the reforestation project .   We organized a presentation by INAFOR, the National Institution of Forestry, about the process of registering conservation land and legally harvesting precious wood.   Because we included in the project valuable lumber with the goal of giving the participants a potential long-term income (most lumber trees take 20 years to mature to a prifitably size), we felt it was important for them to understand the process of legally harvesting and selling lumber.

The representative of INAFOR talked about the benefits of registering forests, and that just since August 2008 INAFOR has made a new policy that invites small producers to register plots under 20 manzanas for just $5 US.  Previously they had charged $28 US and only accepted plots larger than 20 manzanas.  When a plot is registered, INAFOR offers services such as free seedlings to reforest, disease and pest support.   He talked about the need to reforest and conserve forested areas – how many manzanas dissappear each year to firewood and logging, and how that puts water sources and ecosystems in danger.  There are also certain types of trees that are illegal to cut and sell without special permission from INAFOR.   As a reforestation project, it might seem a bit odd to be devoting time to talking about cutting down trees.  I think the idea was for the participants in the project to become familiar with the legal processes of benefiting financially from their trees, as well as the fines involved in mishandling forest exploitation.

Abrahan Escoto Juarez talking to the group.

Abrahan Escoto Juarez talking to the group.

Toward the end of the presentation one of the participants, Don Abrahan, expressed his concern about who was NOT getting this information.  “We are small farmers who do not have to resources to cut down lots of trees, or the connections to sell them, and most of us have very little land to profit off of.  But near my house there is a large farmer who has tractors and chain saws, and he has cleared many manzanas of land.  Some of the trees that he has cut down are on the other side of the river that borders our land, and that puts my water at risk.  Are you talking to him and the other large farmers that have machinary too?  I think they need to hear this information more than we do.

If every small farmer clears a little bit of land it all adds up to a big area, which is the danger in thinking that your little bit doesn’t matter.  It’s a good justification for continuing a bad practice, like continuing to use an herbicide because it’s only a few little acres, or people in the states continuing to drive short distances instead of biking or walking.  It’s such a little piece of land, or such a short distance, it can’t really matter.  It’s also a dangerous way of justifying NOT changing, by thinking that a good thing in such little bit also can’t make that much of a distance.  But it’s hard not to see Abrahan’s point.  The difference is that we can see when big “evil” farmers or companies clear cut, but it’s alot harder to see the cumulative impact of lots of small individuals.

I think Abrahans point came partially from a feeling that because there are so many projects here focussing on small farmers, organizing the poor into groups and educating them on different social and environmental topics, that those outreach groups are missing a part of the population that continue to practice – and profit from – things that the small poor are encouraged not to do – such as exploit large acres of forest or spray chemicals on acres of irrigated corn.

The representative answered that there is a system to fine people who harvest unregistered lumber within a close distance of a river, and invited Don Abrahan to come to his office and file a complaint.  I wonder if he will follow through, and how much of his question was based on a general resentment about having a neighbor with chain saws and tractors.

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