Lecture notes: prepared for the occasion of the symposium "New development relations between North and South".

    Venue: University of Twenthe, Enschede, The Netherlands
    Date: April 18, 1996.
    Author: Paul Romeijn
    Original language: Dutch
    Status: Dutch version in print
    Full Copyright and Translation: Treemail
    Email address: treemail@vr.nl

(Introduction and terminology Preamble ;)

Reciprocity, equivalence and sustainable development are established key-expressions in Dutch development jargon. Recently, the Dutch also introduced you to the ill-defined terms 'ontschotting' and 'milieugebruiksruimte'.

At a time when I had not the slightest clue as to what the expression 'milieugebruiksruimte' could possibly mean, I was informed that this was something to be 'filled-in'. I was astonished and consulted with my neighbor. As a civil servant of the Ministry of Environment, he could be expected to be knowledgeable on a subject like this. He informed me that 'Milieugebruiksruimte' is the discrepancy between environmental stress and the environmental carrying capacity. "Good heavens", I replied, "is this determined for each individual substance, and for different media such as water, soil and air?" His reply was negative, thus creating problems which the Ministry has not yet worked out how to deal with successfully. It was, however, his dubious pleasure to be able to inform me that the 'milieugebruiksruimte' of the entire Netherlands is in the process of being mapped for posterity at the Ministry.

Every once in a while the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Aid, DGIS, translates its policy documents into English (A World of Dispute, December 1993) in order to profile The Netherlands as a 'guiding country' within the framework of globalization. On these occasions, the expressions 'ontschotting' and 'milieugebruiksruimte' read as follows: 'decompartmentalisation of policy' and 'environmental space'. The expression on the faces of my English colleagues, when asked about the possible meaning of these terms, can only be described as utter bewilderment.

Let us now take a closer look at how The Netherlands supports certification initiatives in order to 'fill-in' the available 'environmental space' of forests in general, and of tropical forests in particular.

Certification of forest management and forest products

In 1991, the Dutch Parliament approved of the Government's Position Paper on Tropical Rainforests (RTR, 1991). Within the goals outlined in this Position Paper, international efforts to coordinate the establishment of a certification system for forest management and forest products feature prominently.

To a large extent, the issue of certification in forestry stems from the perceived need for sustainable forest management. In turn, the current interest in sustainable forest management stems from broad-felt concern over depletion of the forest resource and is part of a growing need for global resource management (Clark and Munn, 1987).

The concept of sustainable management finds its origin in German forestry where, in 1713, Hans Carl von Carlowitz introduced the expression in his Sylvicultura Oeconomica. In the course of all the centuries that have since elapsed, the expression has been redefined many times over. The emphasis on what should be managed in a sustainable manner has shifted accordingly. Production, stock, production factors, economic output are but a few of the many items that have, at one time, been perceived as the key factor in defining the sustainability of forest management (Oldeman, 1994; Romeijn, 1996). From this it can be deduced that the term sustainability cannot be regarded as an operational criterion, until we have established precisely what the term refers to (Oldeman, 1994; Romeijn, 1996). The ongoing international discussions on certification of sustainably managed forest have, as yet, not produced a definition that is operational for professional forest managers (Palmer, 1996; Romeijn, 1996).

Another aspect of the introduction of certification is costs. Both within and outside The Netherlands, there are some indications that the consumer is indeed prepared to pay a surcharge for responsibly produced timber (Greenpeace, no date; ISF, 1995; WNF, 1995). The surcharges for consumers are thought to lie somewhere between 3 and 5% . Understandably -at least to those who comprehend the considerable sums of money these percentages represent (for estimates from WWF-NL see Ozinga, 1995)- we are witnessing a worldwide proliferation of timber-labels and certifying agencies (Intermediair, 1996; WNF, 1995). This development is further fuelled by rumors within the International Timber Trade Agreement, ITTA, that all forest management worldwide will have to be 'sustainable' by the year 2000. For years The Netherlands has lobbied for such a ruling to apply to tropical countries only. However, The Netherlands was forced to take a step back, mainly because a ruling like this would violate the Dutch supported GATT free-trade rules (also see Kolk, 1995).

There is also a dangerous side to the introduction of shaky or ill-founded certification of forest management or forest products. To illustrate this point, albeit at the danger of oversimplification of this complex subject matter, consider the following risks:

1) the surcharges on timber related products are used to finance corruption that surrounds the issue of certificates

2) trade and exploitation continue on a business-as-usual basis

3) the Dutch Government is contented that it has conveyed a clear 'green message' to its citizens, so they have the 'feeling' that something has indeed been achieved.

Unfortunately, these risks are not illusory. In the tropics, few countries are sufficiently well organized to merely collect their stumpage-fees; this is a simple form of tax levied as a fixed sum per transported log. Moreover, throughout the tropics there are only marginal examples that can truly boast sustainable management (Poore, 1989). But above all, within and outside of the tropics there is insufficient human capacity -in quality and in quantity- to carry out sustainable forestry (Gregersen et al, 1990; IUCN, 1992; Romeijn, 1993). Given these conditions, the increase of corruption would not be hypothetical, whether in the producing countries at the issue of certificates, or at the EU customs services and on a worldwide scale with forged bills of lading. Who can effectively determine the species and check the sustainability aspects of, for example, timber sourced from Cameroon, which supplied with a certificate and a new bill of lading in Liberia, had entered the EU at the port of Genoa from where it can freely be transported to The Netherlands according to EU regulations? Nobody.

Where do we stand?

The process of reassessment ('herijking') taking place in Dutch foreign policy at present, directs its Ministry of Foreign Aid, DGIS, to forge closer links with private enterprise. Meanwhile, time is running out because The Netherlands set the stakes high with its Policy Paper on Tropical Rainforests, RTR, and with its stiff opposition against timber producing countries at several international fora (see also Kolk, 1995). The moment had arrived for us to match all the good intentions with practical success. Two such opportunities appeared to present themselves: the FSC and the Dutch teak investment funds.

The Forest Stewardship Council, FSC, was founded in 1993 and was granted its corporate personalty on October 25, 1995, with major and continued financial support from both the WWF-NL and DGIS. The FSC was founded to create order for the consumer, who is confused by the aforementioned proliferation of certification initiatives. FSC's main goal was and is to facilitate enhanced forest management practices by its accreditation of reliable certification institutions worldwide. Forest products may in the future carry the uniform FSC label, regardless of their origin (RTL-4 television, February 22, 1996).

The year 1993 also saw the breakthrough for Dutch private investment in tropical forestry. By then, WWF-NL had attached its name to the 'Teakwood' initiative from the Costa Rican company Flor y Fauna, and the Dutch Insurance company OHRA started to sell teak investment policies ('Teakwood Rendementpolissen') to the general public (OHRA, 1993). At present, showing a development similar to the proliferation of timber labels, a multitude of teak investment schemes has sprung up in The Netherlands. The investment schemes are quite diverse, but have two factors in common, they operate on the margin of the Decree on the Supervision of Investment Institutions, WTB (spokeswoman for the Dutch National Bank in NOVA television broadcast, November 23, 1995), and they conjure-up visions of great gains (Consumenten-Geldgids, January 1996; FEM, 1995; OneWorld Online, 1996). Estimates on the total sum invested remains difficult in the absence of reliable reports, but it appears that the amount invested in these schemes surpasses 500 million Dutch Guilders (FEM, 1995; USD 1 =3D approx NLG 1.7).

The time had come for the Ministries of Agriculture and DGIS to match their good intentions with action. The WWF-NL vouched for Teakwood's environmental friendliness (WNF-NL Director Woldhek in NOVA, November 23, 1995), and on top of this came a certification for the plantation by the USA based Rainforest Alliance (Bos Info, 1995). The DGIS explored how funding could be channeled to support the expansion of the Teakwood base to many other countries, and - if we are to believe an interview with Flor y Fauna's Director in 'Het Financieele Dagblad' (The Netherlands' leading financial daily newspaper) of April 9, 1996 - these plans had already reached an advanced stage.

In 1993 however, a hick-up threatened the success of this project. A WWF-NL commissioned report on the economic aspects of the Teakwood programme produced undesirable results. The internationally renowned forestry expert, Professor Dr. Julio Cesar Centeno, awarded with the highest WWF honor of the Golden Arc by H.R.H. Prins Bernhard of The Netherlands for his long standing efforts in nature conservation, did not shy away from using the words "possible fraud" when describing the Teakwood project (Centeno, 1993). This report was not published and remained confidential. Teakwood subsequently sent a Dutch court bailiff Costa Rica to measure height and diameter of a few teak trees on the plantation. Observers form both the Ministry of Agriculture and DGIS were present to observe the Dutch bailiff at work as he attempted to refute the Professor's criticism. The bailiff came, measured and conquered. He reported that, in his opinion, the trees were well pruned and that the plantation conveyed an orderly impression. Subsequently, an official report by the Ministry of Agriculture was carefully constructed around the bailiff's record without showing the measurements taken (Oldeman, 1996). In this way the Ministry of Agriculture could draw the conclusion that the yield projections made by Flor y Fauna for the Teakwood plantation were not impossible (LNV, 1993). Well, as we all know, nothing is impossible ... and peace was restored, or was it?

And then there was NOVA

In November 1995, a Dutch television programme called NOVA presented an elaborate feature on the Teakwood project. The journalists had obtained a copy of Professor Centeno's WWF-NL report and gave him the opportunity to speak. He had retained his original criticisms which, up to that moment, for reasons of confidentiality, he had been unable to voice publicly. The television programme also featured a spokeswoman from the Dutch Central Bank who advised the Dutch public to be wary of these type of schemes and let it be known that potential investors should consider the lack of information they are provided with as ominous writing on the wall.

The news hit like a bomb-shell (WUB, March 14, 1996) and a continued stream of publications followed (see annex). Questions were raised in Parliament and Ministerial answers were given, even more questions were raised in Parliament and more answers followed. On April 16, 1996, AVRO's Televizier Magazine broadcast that yet more questions were to be raised in Parliament. The Dutch Consumers Association reviewed all teak investment schemes and published a uniform and scathing judgement in its authoritative magazine 'Consumers Money Guide' in January 1996 (Consumenten-Geldgids, 1996). A discussion was started over the Internet, mainly on the United Nations- and professional forestry- related mailing lists. These discussions resulted in more than 3,000 letters from concerned colleagues to Professor Centeno, an unprecedented event in the habitually tranquil world of international forestry.

And what was the result of all this? The DGIS and the Ministry of Agriculture eavesdropped on the Internet, but remained conspicuously silent, not only on the Internet, but also about the repeated use in several Courts of Law of a Ministerial report (LNV, 1993), although the report clearly stipulates (on page 2) that it was meant strictly for internal use by the Ministry of Agriculture. In April 1996, Minister's answers to questions in Parliament showed that the DGIS had cancelled a workshop that it had already commissioned the BOS Foundation to organize. One of the main goals of the workshop was to sound out opportunities for the DGIS co-finance teak projects. The DGIS also cancelled publication of Teak 2000 by Dr. Raymond M. Keogh, a proposal that was meant to help separate the wheat from the chaff among the Dutch teak investment schemes. Flor y Fauna immediately sued one of those interviewed in the NOVA programme for reputed libel (De Telegraaf, 29 december 1996) and demanded a stiff compensation, but Flor y Fauna suffered a humiliating defeat before judge Van Delden in The Hague (GPD, 1995; "Judge chops down teak claim"). Critics of the Teakwood programme were invariably depicted as conservatives, henchmen of the timber trade (Alerta, 1996), people with no notion of forestry, muckrakers (Het Financieele Dagblad, February 22, 1996), or more recently, as having fiddled with their own reports (WNF, March 20, 1996). Left and right an array of organizations and individuals (eg De Telegraaf, February 13, 1996), including Professor Centeno (eg Het Financieele Dagblad, February 7, 1996) were threatened with legal action. More often than not, these threats were accompanied with an appeal for compensation for supposed loss in turnover.

And yet, somehow it all went wrong. Even if the final outcome of this saga is far from clear, one thing is certain, the Dutch investor has made up his mind about Teakwood, he will no longer invest in the programme. And yet more has gone wrong. The floor was wiped with the bailiff's report once and for all (WUB, March 14, 1996) and is, to my knowledge, no longer taken serious by anyone. And still more is bound to go wrong. The author of the Ministry of Agriculture's official report appears to be the President of Flor y Fauna's scientific advisory board (eg see WUB, March 28, 1996) and the Ministerial report had lost its pretence of independence. The fact of this collaboration was not declared when the author presented his declarations of support of the Teakwood programme before several courts. And even more remains to go wrong. According to WWF-NL, their research established that not a single claim was ever made for certification by the FSC of Flor y Fauna's plantations (WNF, January 31, 1996). And yet this is precisely what they had done. It actually happened more than 1.5 million times in advertisements and the like (OHRA, 1996), and even more if we count WWF-NL's own publication (WNF, 1995). One should bear in mind that this is taking place at a time when FSC has not progressed sufficiently to authorize any plantation, anywhere in the world, even to claim any kind of accreditation by the FSC, and at a time when FSC has voiced this repeatedly, publicly and with emphasis (eg FSC, March 11, 1996; FSC, April 1996). All of this cannot serve to bolster WWF-NL's credibility.

I cite Prof. Dr. Ir. R. A. A. Oldeman, chair of Sylviculture and Forest Ecology at the Agricultural University of Wageningen, as he provides the best summary, as far as I am aware, to describe the interests that have suffered as a result of the bailiff's report: "In conclusion, I point out the substantial damage to the national and international reputation of Dutch forestry and nature conservation, to the credibility of the Dutch civil service as an instrument of policy-, certification-, and project- making, and to the investors who have been lured towards teak policies through the media; all of this brought about by the OHRA/Flor y Fauna teak affair. The most impacting long-term damage of all will hit the tropical forests. As a result, their preservation will be taken far less serious (Oldeman, 1996)."

When viewed from a professional point of view, the entire OHRA/WWF-NL/Flor y Fauna discussion can be seen to center around two main questions that pertain to mid-level management: at what rate do teak trees grow, and were the yield projections presented to the public in a misleading fashion? The fact that this is the root cause of so much discussion in The Netherlands remains incomprehensible to many outsiders, all the more so in view of the numerous ways that were employed in order to dodge and obscure answering these two basic questions in an honest and straight forward way. Because of this, The Netherlands is rapidly disqualifying itself internationally in its self-proclaimed role as 'guiding country' in the far more complex subject-matter of 'global resource management'.

What now?

It would seem that the time for reconsideration is nigh. At the very moment that the Dutch profession has had to answer practical questions in public (because of the private investments that were at stake), it all went wrong. The Ministries that formulate and execute The Netherlands tropical forest policies had entered a field where not only the expenditure of their own budgets was at play. Perhaps they were ill prepared for this novel situation. Because private investors interests were also at stake, other players joined the stage and these players brought their own set of rules. These players include the Dutch Central Bank (eg NOVA, November 23, 1996), the Dutch Consumers Organization (eg Beleggers-Belangen, February 1996); and the rules include the Decree on the Supervision of Investment Institutions, WTB. Finally, the Ministries were unprepared for a world famous Professor from the South who -all of a sudden- could be ignored no longer. He made very effective use of the medium Internet.

At a time when the Dutch 'filling in' of the expression participation mainly occurs at the level of development projects and when DGIS funds are employed to show Walt Disney's Pocahontas video's to Andean Indians (Ir. M. Vervoort, personal communication, January 1996), it appears high time for a -mind you- Venezuelan Professor to addresses Dutch forestry's professional ethics (WUB, March 14, 1996).

Professor Oldeman has recently inaugurated a large training and research project without a single cent of support from DGIS funds, as the proud Rector Magnificus of the Agricultural University of Wageningen informed us (Karssen, 1996). In the mean time countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Canada produce thoroughly considered documents on certification of forest management and forest products, and it seems these documents carry more weight internationally than anything that has been produced by the Dutch Think Tank. How things can change.

Reconsideration could be centered around increasing contention with small steps, but steps that are related to present day realities. The Teakwood affair calls for clarity and swift measures, possibly through arbitration, if only to contain further damage to The Netherlands' international position.

Global resources and environmental problems are all discussed in the international arena, and these subjects are complex, highly complex. In fact, they are far too complex to be disposed of with a mere agreement or the formulation of an idealized picture. In heaven, no doubt, we shall all agree. Rather, day to day problems call for solutions by way of tangible actions and measures. In view of the innumerable international discussions that finally resulted in the establishment of the FSC, it seems incomprehensible that the current FSC office is manned by only 4-5 technicians with some administrative support. We have already gained ample experience in mounting ineffective mini-secretariats equipped with operational powers that in no way match the problems at hand. Before this audience I need only to mention only one example, the Tropical Forestry Action Plan.

A tree can be chopped down only once but when we decide to do it, we are called upon to make optimal use of it. In an imperfect world it is not the perfection of our intentions that counts. Rather, we should perhaps realize that we are doomed to live with one another on this planet. Let us attempt to strike a balance between what is real and what is desirable, and take present reality as point of departure.

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